Mari Mari Cultural Village, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia …Like millions of world citizens around the globe, I too have wondered how the Corona virus pandemic will shape the future of travel. It has been almost three months since most countries announced air-lockdowns, restricted travel, and that a shelter- in- place was imposed. Toilet paper, kitchen towels, alcohol products, bleach, bottled water etc. went extinct overnight!
Social distancing, avoiding crowded places, wearing face masks and frequent washing of hands for 30 seconds with soap and water became the norm. These realities told me quickly, that long distance travel will be put on hold for some time , at least until a vaccine is discovered and made available to the public. For now, the best I can do is to travel within the recesses of my memories to relive those moments when my hunger for discovery and adventure were satisfied.
2011 was my first visit to Borneo. As travel executives, my colleague and I were invited to experience their local tours, one of which was the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Our visit was accompanied by a torrential rain. Luckily, it stopped as soon as we entered the village situated within the jungle. I remembered the sound of the waterfall, the sight of massive rocks and a hanging bridge which took us on the spot where the tribal leader greeted each of us with a shout and shoulder grip. Later, it was explained that he recited a prayer, pleading to the gods to keep us safe from harm and danger.
The village operates as a museum that preserves Borneo ethnic culture. It aims to share the knowledge, history, culture, and tradition of Borneo so that it is not forgotten.
The tour offered us the opportunity to see and experience the culture and lifestyle of how the indigenous ethnic groups of Borneo used to live in the old days, when electricity had not yet been introduced in their land.
The village featured 5 different ethnic tribes in the one village. There were rice farmers. Kadazan-Dusun, which means “originals” or “indigenous people”, respectively. They were recognized as an indigenous nation of Borneo with documented heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2004
The longhouse residents were of the “Rungus” culture., As with most indigenous ethnic groups in Borneo, culture revolves around rice; however, coconut and banana groves provide cash income. Women weave cloth on back-strap looms, and make containers from vine or create beadwork. Many Rungus now work in the towns, and have abandoned the communal life of the longhouse for modern Malaysian society. Traditionally animist, with female shamans, most Rungus are now Christian.
The hunters and fisherman “Lundayeh” which means upriver people or people of the interior. They were known to be agriculturalists and had practiced livestock farming and also were known to be hunters and fishermen.
The cowboy and sea gypsey “Bajau” were known for their seafaring skills.
For many years the Bajau laut people have lived on the ocean in their temporary house boats. Probably, only in recent years that they have made settlements along the coastal area, with their houses built on stilts. The ocean is still their main source of living where they fish, collect clams and mussels, and even do pearl farming.
There was the famously feared headhunting tribe “Murut” who were one of the last ethnic groups in Sabah to renounce headhunting. As with the Iban of Sarawak, collecting heads of enemies traditional served a very important role in Murut spiritual beliefs, besides utilizing it to protect their village from potential enemies. For example, a man could only get married after he presented at least one head to the family of the desired girl.
We were introduced to each tribe’s culinary traditions. The opportunity to cook a chicken dish on bamboo pole was rather awesome. We also tried a shot of rice wine and ginger tea served during the house to house visit.
The tour ended with a cultural presentation of dances, songs and of course, a feast!
As I pondered my experience at the Mari Mari Cultural Village, I was inspired by their resilience to not just survive life’s hardships but best of all, live their life to the fullest by using in a sustainable way what their surroundings had to offer.
Similarly, this was what the Corona virus pandemic is teaching me.
Its time to get back to basics and take our enjoyment from simply living.