The Magnificence of Mari Mari Cultural Village
Taman Putera Jaya, Malaysia
If you really want to get a sense of the ethnic groups of Sabah then I suggest you head to the Mari Mari Cultural Village which is located in the forest in Kionsom, Inanam about 25 minutes away from KK. Mari Mari means "come" in Malay and is a fitting name for this village museum. The history of Sabah can be traced back 20000-30000 years ago. Sabah is nicknamed the 'Land below the Wind', and is a colourful and rich mosaic of ethnic groups. The village operates as a museum that preserves Borneo ethnic culture and highlights 5 different ethnic tribes. Learn about their history and culture, taste their food and drinks, experience games, henna tattooing, admire the intricate beadwork and watch as the tribes share their dances and music in a final performance which included the famous Murut traditional bamboo dance known as 'Magunatip'. Audience participation was encouraged in all aspects of village life - just watch your ankles if you decide to try the Magunatip!!!
The largest ethnic group of Sabah is the Kadazan Dusuns which form about 30% of the state's population. They worship the Kinoingan deity and the Minamangun spirit - the creator. Their ancestors believed that nature involves four primary spirits and several other individual spirits who keep the cycles of life going. The four big spirits involve the creator, the living human spirit, the dead ancestral spirits and the evil spirit. This tribe are known as the rice farmers.
The second largest ethnic group are the Bajaus which make up about 15% of the state's population. For centuries, sailing over clear waters and living on longboats was the way of life for the Bajau people who worshipped the Omboh Dilaut of God of the Sea. They are sometimes referred to as the "sea gypsies" as they were skilled fishermen who would go hunting with handmade spears. Over time the Bajau people also settled on land as farmers and cattle-breeders. The land Bajau people are skilled horsemen and are often referred to as the "cowboys of the east"
The third largest ethnic group are the Muruts who make up about 3% of the state's population. Traditionally known to be fierce and brave warriors, the Muruts were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting!!! The hunted head symbolized victory and protection of identity as a tribe. It also deemed a Murut man eligible to marry a woman - at least one head was mandatory in ancient times and as our guide explained, the more the hunted heads, the higher his chance of being chosen by the woman of his dreams!!. The Muruts could use blowpipes and weapons with deadly precision. The name Murut means hill people and it is believed that the Murut are the oldest tribe that ever lived in Sabah. Today they provided us with a traditional welcome to the village including a blessing from the high priestess.
In the ancient times, the Rungus were renowned for their communal longhouses which could easily accommodate more than fifty families. The Rungus people are skilled in honey making and also prepare simple sweet foods such as flatbread made from sweetened grated cassava or mashed corn wrapped and steamed in corn husks. They show goodwill by shaking hands and then placing their right hand onto their chest. The Rungus women are known for their intricate beadwork, basketry and weaving on a backstrap loom.
The fearsome Lundayeh from mountainous central Borneo were crocodile-worshipping headhunters, expert rope makers and skilful with their hands - useful because they had a lot of enemies. . It is said that they also had their own alarm system to stop enemies sneaking into the longhouse. On either side of the longhouse, a chicken and a boar would be caged and they would make loud sounds when unfamiliar figures emerged from the jungle. Agriculture, hunting, fishing and livestock farming are their sources of livelihood. The Lundayeh people have the reputation of being the deadliest drinkers of Burak rice wine during the Kaamatan harvest festival celebrations.
I had feared the Mari Mari Cultural Village would be all gimmicky and touristy but I was happy to be proven incorrect. Yes they do cater for tourists but the young Kadazan, Dusun, Rungus, Murut, Bajau and Lundayeh men and women share the knowledge, history and culture of their people with passion and respect. They provide us with a fascinating glimpse at ethnic traditions that would quite possibly disappear.
Do yourself a favour and check this place out. Just remember to liberally apply mosquito repellent as you will be in the jungle for several hours and those little critters love to bite!!!