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Malaysia Sabah Travel

A Tribal Night at Mari Mari Cultural Village

“From southern Palawan, it only takes about two hours by speedboat to Northern tip of Sabah” I remember one of our host tell us delightedly. The Philippines is so close to Sabah that there is so much similarity in terms of culture and tradition. A large part of the inhabitants were trickled down from the southern archipelago of Mindanao when land bridges still exist explaining the prevalent resemblance from the traditions, clothing and even the language. In fact, the word “Sabah” for Malaysians, also refers to the same type of banana we call in the Philippines. In our visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, a village in Kota Kinabalu showcasing 5 of the 32 ethnic groups populating Sabah we get a good portrait of each tribes, showing the distinctness of their character.

A mother and child from the Bajau House
A mother and child from the Bajau House

“From southern Palawan, it only takes about two hours by speedboat to the Northern tip of Sabah” I remember one of our host tell us delightedly. The Philippines is so close to Sabah that there is so much similarity in terms of culture and tradition. A large part of the inhabitants were trickled down from the southern archipelago of Mindanao when land bridges still exist explaining the prevalent resemblance from the traditions, clothing and even the language. In fact, the word “Sabah” for Malaysians, also refers to the same type of banana we call in the Philippines. In our visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, a village in Kota Kinabalu showcasing 5 of the 32 ethnic groups populating Sabah, we got a good portrait of each tribes, showing the distinctness of their character.

A young girl from the Dusun House
A young girl from the Dusun House

Mari Mari Cultural Village by the River

Found at the verdant forest slopes of Kionsom, Inaman, it only took us half an hour to reach the Mari Mari Cultural Village from Kota Kinabalu City Proper. I hear the gushing sound of the nearby river as our group guide Felix orients us on what to expect from the village and the proper decorum during the tour. We passed through a hanging bridge over a beautiful river cascade. Oh how I wish we didn’t come here late in the afternoon so I can take a picture of this picturesque riverside village in good light. Most of the tribes in Sabah live by water, whether in coastal locations or the riverside at the mountains as it is their source of food and livelihood. But the evening veil or the light drizzle was not enough to mask our curiosity as we visit each tribe houses. I’ll only share a cursory look on the tribes as its better to experience the tour yourself.

A Dusun lady cooking using bamboo
A Dusun lady cooking using bamboo

The Dusun Tribe House

The peace-loving, hard-working and hospitable, Dusun Tribe is the largest ethnic group in Sabah composed 30% of Sabah’s population. Most Dusun and its sub-tribe found home at hill-sides and the uplands by the rivers. Our visit to the Dusun house showcases their typical house, tools and sections. Dusun have a knack for drinking as they showed and let us sample their Tapai (rice wine) and Montoku (distilled rice wines). A booth showed us how their tribe cooks a meal using bamboos and talent in producing quality honey. Dusun were traditionally animist but majority of them are now Roman Catholics.

Making fire inside the Rungus house
Making fire inside the Rungus house

The Rungus Tribe House

The Rungus Tribe is actually a sub-tribe of the Dusun more traditionally inclined, clad in black clothes yet heavily adorned with precious beads and brass. We entered their longhouse where their families lived, a low-rise single story hut with a long communal area and rooms on one side where each family lives. Rungus are very close-knit and lives under one roof. A longhouse can contain from 10 up to 75 families. Modern Rungus have longed abandoned living in longhouses and like most Dusun are now Roman Catholics. At the Dusun house, they demonstrated how to make fire by using bamboo. It looks easier than it actually looks.

A rope maker from Lundayeh House
A rope maker from Lundayeh House

The Lundayeh Tribe House

Hunters and agriculturalist Lundayeh Tribe lives mostly upriver hence their name which means “upriver people”. The use of tree barks are very evident on their daily lives from their clothes, ropes and past the hanging young crocodile skulls in their doorway, it is noticeable in their houses.

Preparing the Pandan Juice at the Bajau House
Preparing the Pandan Juice at the Bajau House

The Bajau Tribe House

This nomadic seafaring tribe is a lot closer to home as many Bajaus in Sabah migrated from Mindanao. Here we tasted the familiar Jala (local cookies) and the honey-sweet and savory Pandan Juice. The typical Bajau house here showcased a colorfully adorned bridal parlor and a large kitchen with native tools for grating coconuts.

The jump at the Murut House
The jump at the Murut House

The Murut Tribe

There was much fanfare on our last tribe visit as the head-hunting Murut Tribe. The Murut were the last to renounce the head-hunting tradition and is very wary of outsiders. Head-hunting is a very important aspect in their lives that men used to offer a “head” to the family of their wife-to-be to prove their worth. They use poison darts in blowpipe to paralyze their targets before beheading then. They also seem to be a rowdy bunch as their longhouses have a Lansaran, a trampoline like platform where Muruts must be able to jump high enough to the ceiling to get a “prize”.

A Dusun boy distilling wine
A Dusun boy distilling wine

One People

A cultural show highlighted the evening where familiar faces from all the houses performed captivating performances with a heart-thumping rhythmic ensemble. It was a joy to watch how the cast joyfully performed. In the end, it somehow symbolizes unity among all these tribes. Sabah may be a melting pot where multiple culture converge but they co-exist in harmony with each other. I never expected much from our visit to Mari Mari Cultural Village but I ended up enjoying my time there.

A Dusun honey maker
A Dusun honey maker

Essential Info

Mari Mari Cultural Village can only be arranged as a tour package. Individual walk-ins are not allowed.

Prices:

  • With return transfers for Non-Malaysians (RM 160 for Adults/ RM 140 for Children 5-11 yo)
  • Without transfers for Malaysians/Non-Malaysians (RM 80 for Adults/ RM 70 for Children 5-11 yo)

There are three tour schedules per day: 10am, 2pm and 6pm

Inclusions: English-speaking guide, (Lunch/Tea Snack/Dinner as appropriate), House Tour, Demonstrations and Cultural Performance

Suggested things to bring:

  • Wear light comfortable clothes and footwear for short hikes
  • Poncho or umbrella in case of rains
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Extra cash in case buying souvenirs

Traverse Tours Sdn Bhd
Lot 227-229
2nd Floor, Wismah Sabah
88000 Kota Kinabalu Sabah
Hotline: 019.8204921, 016.8321509

Zest Air flies to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 9:35am from NAIA Terminal 4 (formerly Old Domestic Airport) Metro Manila. 2 hours travel time. Zest Air and AirAsia recently got into a strategic partnership. All Zest Air flights can now be booked through www.airasia.com

On making Tapai (rice wine)
On making Tapai (rice wine)
Gongs at Rungus House
Gongs at Rungus House
A room in the Lundayeh House
A room in the Lundayeh House
Fire making with bamboo
Fire making with bamboo
Serving pandan juice in bamboo cups
Serving pandan juice in bamboo cups
A crocodile skull hanging at a Lundayeh House
A crocodile skull hanging at a Lundayeh House

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