Today is our opportunity to be cheesy tourists. We’ve decided we are going to visit the Mari Mari Cultural Village and the Monsopiad Head Hunter Village. We have had very mixed reviews on these saying that they are very gimmicky and a waste of time and money. The tours that take you to these places are quite expensive ranging from 150-170RM which includes your transportation, your entrance fee and your guide. However, we have a car that we rented and plan to do both of these tours in one day to save money. So the car averaged out to 140RM/day with petrol and the tours cost 80RM each at Mari-Mari and 40RM each at Monsopiad. So 380RM which is still quite a bit of money but it would have cost us 600RM if we went through the tour companies so it was worth it in my books.
We started our morning by driving to the Mari-Mari Cultural Village. They offer tours 3 times a day and we were determined to make it to their first tour at 10am. We arrive at 9:55am and are greeted directly by staff, told to use the toilet and get ready to go.
Our guide for the next 3 hours is Adam. He starts out by apologizing for his broken English but we found it to be much better than we had anticipated. I understood 100% of what he was explaining to us which I usually understand 50-80%. On top of that, we was a goofy guy, making jokes and clearly just having fun and loving what he does for a living. Your guide here can completely make or break your tour and Adam made ours amazing.
We start out by going to the Dusun tribe house. Adam shows us the Tankob which is where the farmers keep the rice they’ve collected. They hang a human skull from an enemy of thief at the top of the front door to show potential thieves what will happen to them if they are caught. Inside the house, we are given a small history and description on making rice wine. After the description, we get to the good part: Tasting rice wine. I look at Kristi and say “I could get drunk off this”. One of the kids in our group got his from his mom, Adam showed some concern that it was only for adults and asked the mom if it was okay if he had it. The mom nodded, I assume because she didn’t understand. Great, we’re gonna have wasted children on our tour.
We head outside and there is a lady cooking over an open fire. They take hollowed out bamboo tubes, stuff them full of chicken, onion, chili, rice and some spices then cook over the fire for 12 minutes, turning the tube every 10 seconds so it cooks evenly. I personally would just turn it every 3 minutes but I suck at cooking. It was delicious. Some of the most flavorful local food that we’ve been able to taste.
Next we go to another table and get to taste moonshine made from the rice wine. It’s smooth and almost watery tasting. If we do this at every house, we are going to be wasted by the end of this tour and I won’t be able to drive anywhere.
Next we walk over to the Rungus Long House. The Rungus tribe is the biggest in Sabah and are known for their long houses and bead jewellery. First we get to a stand and I’m like “Wooooo! more booze.” Wrong. This is here for us to taste honey made by stingless bees. The honey is extremely expensive costing roughly 250RM for 1kg. This explains why when we go to stores all the honey is locked up behind glass. The girl serving it is dressed in a traditional uniform that would be worn on special occasions. We learn that if they have sleeves on it, it means she is single but if the sleeves have been removed then she is married. I can’t help but giggle at the thought of guys from the tribe going to the club in search of girls wearing sleeves.
Inside the long house you see a series of rooms on the left which is one room per family. Then across on the other side is a huge communal area that all of the families share. This long house is very small by Rungus standards as they build houses that hold 70-90 families at once. I can’t imagine trying to share and area that tight with so many families. Hope you like your neighbors.
Next we went the the Lumdeyah tribe house. This tribe worships crocodiles and landscape a crocodile sculpture… or maybe that was just for show for the tourists. Their house had one feature that stood out from the rest: The roof lifts up and Adam joked around calling it “natural air conditioner”. The tribe keeps dogs as lookout and when they start barking, they lift the roof to look out and see who it is. If it’s an enemy they shoot them with the blow dart gun. Adam then told us all to take turns lifting the roof stating that “it’s heavy”. A couple of the guys got up and tried and lifted it briefly before dropping it. Then Adam locked eyes with me… he’s challenging my manhood. Challenge accepted. Pushing up with my legs I burst the roof up. I try to stable it but it was really awkward. I hold it up on a wobble long enough for everyone to know that it was no accident. Adam announces the winner: Canada. Nobody cheers. I guess the crowd hates the favorite.
Next we walk up to the Bajau House. The Bajau Tribe are Filipino Sea Gypsies and Cowboys. They build their houses up high so that they can keep their horses under it. The Bajau are not welcome here in Sabah, the are not allowed to work or own property. Most of them make money by selling fish. Inside their house is one of the nicer set ups. It was definitely the most spacious so far. This one was so big, Kristi and I even got married in it. (sorry mom I know you wish you could be there)
Outside of the house we were tasting one of their treats that they make. The ingredients include flour, sugar and water mixed into a batter and deep fried in coconut oil. Clearly this has zero nutritional value so it tasted great. We also got to try some local tea.
The last house was the Murut Tribe. Brought to fame for being known as headhunters, this was the most gimmicky part of the entire tour because as we approach the “village” the warriors yell and come out toward us. Then the chief demands to speak to our leader (which we selected at the start of the tour) and they have a conversation with Adam translating and we are welcomed into the village. Then as we enter, a creepy old lady blesses us to keep the spirits away.
We start out by shooting the blow dart gun at a coconut. Being the last one to go as everyone else moved on, I got to take a bunch more shots than everyone. I am thinking about bringing one home so I can shoot my brother or cat when they piss me off.
Inside the house, they are the only tribe that builds a trampoline in the center of their house. Built out of bamboo and flexible wood, the warriors take turns springing each other up as they try to touch something hanging from the ceiling. I jumped on it and regretted it immediately as it was hard on my knees. Adam insisted that he is the worlds best photographer and took our camera… he might be right:
Afterwards we watched a dance performance with a couple traditional dances which were a good way to relax and enjoy the rest of this cultural tour. Then just when we thought we were done, they took us to a big cafeteria where we had a buffet lunch. Some of the food was really good, some of it not so much. This tour was worth every penny that we paid.
We jumped in the car and drove straight to the Monsopiad Headhunter Village about 45 minutes south of where we were. Monsopiad is the name of a famous Kadazan warrior from 200 years ago that took the heads off of roughly 50 enemies. A 6th generation decendant is still alive today and has the very sword that Monsopiad used in his battles. Unfortunately that meant that we didn’t get to see it.
When we arrived, we walked in and the place was a ghost town. A sign stating that the next guided tour starts at 3pm (it’s 2pm now) but the girl at the front desk said we could have a guided tour right now. Perfect.
We start the tour by getting a brief history and our guide shows us a giant rock that the Kadazan worshipped. They would make numerous animal sacrifices to it and would make offerings to the spirits that they believed live inside the stone. The last sacrifice was made in the year 2000. There’s also a myth that they imported this rock from an island on a little bamboo boat after blessing it. It’s interesting that people from all over the world tend to believe in higher powers that we can’t see. We are all different but similar at the same time.
Our guide for the tour was not as comfortable with her English as Adam was. She spoke very fast in what was a strictly rehearsed speech. We walk over to the fire starting area and they show us how to start a fire. Being the only one there, they tell me it’s my turn. I’d much prefer to use a lighter. In this 35 degree middle of the day heat it took no time for me to sweat and get tired and give up. Who the hell needs fire in this weather anyways?
Next up we go to the “games” area. We start out by shooting sling shots. This is awesome. We find out that they don’t use them for hunting though, it’s just what the kids play with. My slingshot is stretched out rubber with barely any stretch left. This isn’t easy. My first clay bullet soars over everything into the river some 20-30 feet in front of us. So I’m not much of a sharpshooter.
Next up is stilt walking. Before they built bridges, they would use stilts to cross the river to protect them from poisonous fish. I don’t understand how anyone can walk in these. Our guide walked around like it was easy. I took one step and fell on my face. This picture is well timed because it looks like I am in much better control than I really am. 0/3 and I am not looking like a very good warrior.
Last up was the blow gun. Luckily I’ve had lots of practice at this. On a board some 20 feet away are a bunch of animals painted onto a board somewhat close to scale. I take my first shot at a bird and hit it in the wing. The guide says “oh so close”. What do you mean so close? I just hit it right in the wing! He laughs and says “Maybe in the feathers.” I grab another dart in a hurry, determined not to go 0/4 in this warrior training. I take aim and shoot a squirrel right in the head. “That one is dead!” I exclaim as the guide laughs. At least I won’t go hungry, I will just have to eat it raw.
The final part of the tour is the house of skulls. It’s set up as a museum with old artifacts and hanging above your head is the 40ish real skulls taken by the Kadazan warrior, Monsopiad.
We learned that the Kadazan warrior was very small and would often use their sword to cut their opponent down at the knees before cutting their head off. Also most marriages were arranged but if a warrior wanted to marry a girl then they had to prove themselves by beheading an enemy warrior. If they failed to do so then the parents would deem him unworthy of their daughters hand in marriage. Intense stuff.
The tour ended rather quickly lasting about 90 minutes. For our money, the mari-mari was far better but we really enjoyed both for their own reasons. If you have the choice to do one or the other, I recommend the Mari-Mari. This was a really great way to spend our day and very educational mixed with fun activities to keep you interested all the time.
We have some days to rest now before we fly to Tawau where we plan to do some scuba diving in Mabul and Sipidan. Good times ahead.