Article by Phyllis Chin, as appeared in LifeAndStyle online magazine. All text and photos are property of Phyllis Chin.
As a local living in Sabah and exposed to the Sabahan way of life, my perception of Sabah is perhaps very different compared to the cultures and customs served up on the tourists’ silver plate. When constantly immersed in it, the familiarity gives a sense as if you know it like the back of your hand and may often overlook the melting pot that is sitting right in your backyard.
And so it is pleasantly surprising and eye-opening then, that Mari-Mari Cultural Village has served up a very different and delectable slice of Sabah’s ‘Olde World’, as we found out when my cousin, her young family and their friend Miranda were visiting from Canada and we were taken on one of the tours through the village. It was a perfect opportunity to experience the village both from a local as well as a tourist’s perspective.
Although the entrance was unassuming, our jovial guide JayJay immediately put us at ease and made us look forward to the tour, which would take 2 hours. Set in an idyllic setting amidst a cool forest only 25 minutes away from town, it was also located next to a soothing stream which provided a constant soundtrack during our trip back in time. The walk itself was pleasant and comfortable; literally a walk in the woods!
The premise of the village was to recreate the 5 main Sabahan ethnic tribes and their homes inside the village. 5 traditional houses, each representing the Kadazan-Dusun, Rungus, Lundayah, Bajau and Murut ethnic tribe, all promising a closer look at their architecture and their ancestors’ way of life. Purists and tourists alike will appreciate that the operator has taken painstaking care to recreate the ‘Old Sabah’ by choosing to use original artisans from the deepest regions of Sabah, and deploying traditional construction methods and materials so as to closely recreate, if anything, the tactile quality of olden days of yore.
Each tribe, although exhibiting similar architectural ( from the style of the house to the construction of and use of similar local timber such as bamboo and acacia ) and cultural sensibilities ( protecting their virgin daughters from unwelcome intruders by constructing a safer sleeping area for them ); also practice quite distinct trades and traits. For example, the Bajau tribespeople are acknowledged to be very skilled fishermen and probably have a sweeter tooth than the rest, judging by their cake-making ability!
Our guide was knowledgeable and kept up a good pace with his introductions and jokes. Unlike other cultural shows which bombard you with nuggets of information, Mari-Mari makes the tour more interactive by having demonstrations where visitors can participate in the smell, sight and touch side of the experience. The bamboo cooking, blowpipe making ( I had never known that each blowpipe used to take 4-5 months to make by hand! ) and rice wine tasting all had us looking forward to the next demonstration. Our Canadian friend Miranda even had a crack at the ‘Lansaran’, the traditional trampoline-like floor inside the Murut longhouse.
The tour was well laid out and ends at the Dance Hall, where we were treated to traditional dances and the Mogulatip, (hopping between bamboo sticks). A scrumptious tea then awaited with a selection of local cakes and delicacies to top off all that learning.
We enjoyed the experience tremendously and liked the interactivity of the tour providing a fun yet educational experience both for adults and children. My little 5-year-old nephew Ee-Han has loudly proclaimed that his favourite was ‘shooting with the long stick’. Who knows, he might just grow up to be an excellent blowpipe marksman!