Mari Mari Cultural Village in Sabah is located just 25 minutes from Kota Kinabalu City and is one of the amazing living museums showcasing the many ethnic tribes of Sabah Borneo. I was invited to visit this astounding cultural village from one of my Sabahan friends early in January 2010. In this article, I would like to inform my readers that there are a lot of pictures as I could not help but share the beauty of this place and my personal experience with everyone reading this.
We had left Kota Kinabalu at about ten in the morning with a journey through some of the outskirts of the city. The scenic journey felt like I was going back into the rainforest and just when I thought my adventure was beginning, we arrived at Mari Mari Cultural Village. Please note that this place does not do walk-ins and you have to book via tour companies or travel agents in town.
A small structure with a thatched roof was the main ticket office while you could see nothing from the surrounding area which was covered in semi thick lush greenery. Made me wonder if this was the right place while the little signage by the road had confirmed it. Soon after checking in at the hut, we adjourned to what looked like a canopy walk bridge.
For that split moment, Indiana Jones came to mind while I crossed the wooden roped bridge over a stream which led us to the main grounds of the Mari Mari Cultural Village. Now things started to look much clearer as a man-made path led us to our first encounter with the local Sabahan Tribes.
A Kadazan-Dusun traditional home was the first of the ethnic tribes along the path. Made entirely using traditional methods, one could walk around and inside exploring this unique home. Seeing the rooms and how they lived with actual ethnic items located around the home. Just so you know, the Kadazan Dusun tribe is the largest of the ethnic groups in Sabah Borneo.
Kadazan-Dusun boy blowing fire for cooking
Going in through the front door and exiting through a side door brought us to the live demonstrations of how the Kadazan-Dusun people cooked back in the day. They would use a hollow bamboo the size of a 20 cent coin to blow at the fire while cooking food in larger hollow bamboo tubes. At another section, traditional rice wine or Tapai was made using old methods as well. A table is available for tasting this potent local drink in little bamboo cups for visitors here. Without hesitation, I had two cups. Another section actually shows you the local foods consumed by these people and you are free to try some of it.
Rungus Longhouse at Mari Mari
Next down the path was the amazing Rungus traditional house. Slightly on the longer dimensions, the Rungus who are a sub-group of the Kadazan-Dusun people tend to live in multiple communities under one roof. A longhouse head would be the leader of each community.
From a distance, the Rungus Longhouse looks like a semi fort for protection but actually the design is quite similar to the Ibans of Sarawak with exceptions of tradition and a few changes here and there. Walking inside the longhouse gave me a whole different outlook of the Rungus People. They are more a craft and musically inclined tribe with lots of communal gatherings among the neighbors.
Rungus Bamboo Musical Instruments
Video of Rungus Bamboo Musical Instruments being played
Heading further down the Rungus Longhouse, we came across a group of Rungus boys practicing their traditional musical instruments which were all made from bamboo or wood. It was quite amazing to hear the ethnic Rungus tunes they played for us while we observed carefully.
Further down, we visited the third largest tribe of Sabah which are the Murut or Hill People who were once known as the fierce Headhunters of Sabah who according to spiritual beliefs, a man could only get married after he presented at least one head to the family of the desired girl. A similar style of living like the Rungus, the Murut longhouses are usually built on hilly areas therefore stilts of various lengths are used in construction here.
Murut Longhouse at Mari Mari
Built usually along rivers, the Murut tribe practice fishing, agriculture and some hunting using blowpipes. Long hallways with multiple dorm styled rooms line the inside of the Murut longhouse while the general foyer area serves as a community place for all. Cooking, crafting and everyday doings go about while some Murut longhouses may have the unique Lansaran.
Lansaran in a Murut Longhouse
In the middle of the longhouse, I noticed a part that was sunken with a platform supported by a number of extra long trees or thick branches. This was called the Lansaran. I am sorry but there is no English word for this unique skilled game which my friend explained in detail to me how it worked. Next thing, the both of us were jumping on it. Something out of this world if you ask me.
As the second largest ethnic group of Sabah, the Bajau people tend to live closer to the sea areas of Sabah Borneo. There are the Sea Bajau's and also the Land Bajau's while the display here was for the land tribe who are expert horsemen while the women have excellent weaving and needlework skills.
Bajau home at Mari Mari
Looking like a wooden bungalow, the Bajau house sits on stilts with a wooden overall architecture. Nipah leaves are used for the roofing and some parts of the walls while livestock and other necessities are kept under the house. Inside, a traditional Bajau Wedding mock up is demonstrated with various colours of fabrics being used.
Traditional Bajau Game
The above is one of the local Bajau games played by the children and teenagers. A hand-made structure resembling some sort of bird cage cum lamp is hung on a tree where a feathered toy is played by attempting to get it into the cage.
Bajau girl blows fire for cooking
We were fortunate enough to catch the local Bajau people demonstrating some traditional cooking where air was blown via a bamboo into the hot flames beneath the pot or wok. Here, a Bajau girl was seen cooking some local cakes, deep frying them for sampling among the visitors.I tried a few of them and must say they they actually taste quite good.
Another smaller ethnic tribe called the Lundayeh or Lun Bawang is featured at the cultural village. These tribes people are usually found between the border of Sabah, Sarawak and Kalimantan and are well known stone carvers and landscape artists numbering to about 10,000. They are also known as Orang Darat (Upper or Hinter Land People) while some refer to these ethnic tribe as Lun Daye.
Lundayeh House in Mari Mari
Simple ethnic home looking like a Malay Kampung house, the Lundayeh build them on stilts. An open kitchen, veranda and rooms are found throughout the house. Livestock like chickens, birds and pigs are kept in hand weaved baskets around the home while they are also hunters and fishermen. Unique thing about the tribe is that the men wear jackets made of tree barks called kuyu talun and you can see some of the examples hung on the house walls. The Lundayah also called their language Buri Lun Bawang or Buri Tau.
Lundayah ground sculpture of a lizard
The Lundayah tribe are also known as hill people who indulge in farming activities and are excellent landscapers. Just outside the traditional house, a large lizard was created in a mound form on the ground. Quite interesting from the other tribes here. I also came across an interesting article on the Lundayeh tribe.
Walking around the Mari Mari Cultural Village provided me with a fantastic feeling of actually being at these homes with the natural serene rainforest atmosphere and cries of wild birds and insects during my visit here. Because it is located away from the main town area, I think they made the perfect choice for its location.
Mari Mari Cultural Show area
Halfway through the walk, we came across the cultural performance area where ethnic traditional shows are done in the open air. Various tribes would get on stage and perform their respective dances for the visitors at selected times of the day. So please check with your local guide on this.
Mari Mari Cultural Village Restaurant and Souvenir Shop
Finally after walking around this Living Museum, we reached the restaurant and souvenir section of the Mari Mari Cultural Village. If you bought the full package, you would be served a local traditional lunch or dinner with drinks here. However, since I was invited to visit this place, I did not have the chance to do so. The souvenir shop did have a few interesting items if you are a collector of all sorts. I have to say, after visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village, Monsopiad Cultural Village and now this, each of them have their own unique specialties and if you love all things culture, you should make this one of your must-visit places when you visit Sabah Borneo.
Thank you to Mark and Pat who brought me here for this amazing experience and also to learn about the ethnic tribes of Sabah Borneo. If you want to learn about the various tribes of Sabah Borneo, this is one place that you should not miss wen you visit Sabah.
Ticket prices for Mari Mari; Malaysians - Adult RM130.00 Children (5-11) RM100.00 Non-Malaysians - Adult RM150.00 (USD$32) Children (5-11) RM130.00 (USD$28)
Ticket packages include:
Return transfer, English speaking guide, Buffet Lunch/High Tea/Dinner, House Tour with demo, activities and cultural performances.
Getting to Mari Mari:
To arrange a visit to the Mari Mari Cultural Village, you would have to book a tour package from the company. No individual drop-ins are allowed.
What to bring: Mosquito Repellent and a Poncho or Umbrella. Proper walking shoes are encouraged while photography here is simply amazing.
Suitable for Kids? Yes. Very educational and informative. Well laid paths with toilets and rest areas through the cultural village.
Contact details for Mari Mari Cultural Village;
Traverse Tours Sdn Bhd (KPL 3505) Wisma Sabah, Lot 227-229, 2nd Floor Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Telephone: 088-260501, 088-260502 Fax: 088-261503 Hotline: 019-8204921 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org