The traditional Melanau tall house. There are only few left standing in the world.
In the 19th century, the Melanaus settled in scattered communities along the main tributaries of the Rajang River in Central Sarawak. Melanau or problematic Kajang speaking tribes such as the Sekapan, the Rajang, the Tanjung and the Kanowit gradually moved and assimilated into Dayak migrations settling in the Rajang. The Melanau people were regarded as a sub-group of the purported Klemantan people.
Today the Punan (or Punan Bah) people are also closely linked to the last riverine dwelling Melanau communities previously inhabiting the middle and upper Rejang tributaries. The Kajang language is kept relatively alive by the isolated Sekapan communities Kapit division of Sarawak.
The Melanau are considered among the earliest settlers in Sarawak. The name Melanau was not used by the Melanau to refer to themselves until recently. They call themselves a-likou meaning 'people of the river'. Legend has it that the name Melanau was given by the Malays of Brunei to the inhabitants of the coastal swamp flats and riverbanks of central Sarawak which might signifies "coast-dweller".