June 16, 2013

[Kota Kinabalu Travel Series] A Tribal Experience with Mari-Mari Cultural Village

Just when you thought that you are already doing good and have so much skills to brag about, you meet people with so much talent and skills that makes you feel so little.

This is my 6th post from my Kota Kinabalu adventure which happened last month when Zest Air flew us to Kota Kinabalu for a familiarization tour.

It was only a 2 days, 1 night event but there was so much learnings, experiences and stories to share. One of the things I enjoyed most is our trip to the Mari-Mari Cultural Village. 

Mari Mari means "to come together" (sama-sama in Tagalog). Interestingly, sama-sama means You are welcome or "same here" in Malaysia.

We got to the place a little pass 6:00 PM and before visiting the old houses (5 of the ethnic groups in Sabah), we met up with the tour guide who gave us orientation with the things that we should expect and what the village should expect from us (proper decorum).

I never expected the adventure would start by crossing a hanging bridge as the sound of the flowing river welcomed us, and the wildlife greeted us on our way to the first house.

Click Read More to see more interesting pictures of Mari Mari Village...

The Dusun Tribe

The Dusun Tribe is known to be the most hospitable and hard-working ethnic group in Sabah. Most of the people of Dusun Tribe has converted to Roman Catholic, but some still practice animism.

The tribe mainly capitalize on rice produce - which they also use to trade with other agricultural products. During the tour, they showed us how rice wines are made - Tapai.  

And we even got to taste the Tapai and Montoku (distilled rice wines). I was a bit hesitant to try them at first, but I wouldn't let the chance pass - the Tapai smelled like vinegar, so with a quick gulp I let the spirit warms my throat and body. It was surprisingly good.

Outside the Dusun Tribe, we found some ladies cooking meals using a bamboo. Bamboo which is the common material for the Dusun house. The tour guide asked us who wants to volunteer to cook a meal. I took the challenge along with 3 other bloggers and found myself mixing chicken meat, raw ingredients and spices.

So we left the food cooking while we explored the next booth..

We learned more about Honey and how Dusun people attract more bees. 
We got to taste the honey too, and it was sweet and delish!

Oh hello there, honey! ;)

The Rungus Tribe

The Rungus Tribe is a sub-group of Dusun Tribe - being a sub-group, probably it also adopts to how they build their houses and keep the families together.

We entered the long house and we were greeted with common hallway and room partitions made of bamboos and tree barks.

One of the many house partitions where one family lives

One Rungus house which is a low-rise house can have 10 to 75 families - they just expand the house and keep the families together.

In the Rungus House I witnessed one of the most amazing skills a man can do - it is not something new, but probably ancient - making a fire from bamboo. I know how to light a fire with a match or lighter, but leave me alone in the forest without anything, I would not survive. These ethnic men truly amaze me. 

Scrub some sheets from the bamboo..

Friction and some right blowing..

There goes the fire.

The Lundayeh Tribe 

Lundayeh means upriver people or people of the interior who are traditionally agriculturalists and practice animal husbandry such as rearing poultry, pigs and buffaloes. They are also known as hunters - which probably explains the crocodile skull that adorns the house.

In the Lundayeh Tribe we witness how the tribe makes vests and ropes from tree barks.

The Badjau Tribe 

Our tour guide shared that the Badjau Tribe originally came from the Philippines, specifically northern part of Mindano who migrated to Borneo. They are known as seafarers or “sea gypsies”, who live in the boat and only settle in a land to bury the deceased.

The Badjaus are known for its colorful costume
and elaborate wedding ceremonies

The Badjaus treated us with Pandan Juice 
and Jala (traditional cookies made of rice and sugar)

The Murut Tribe

The last house tribe that we visited was the Murut Tribe - last ethnic group to renounce head-hunting. Head huting is very important in this tribe as this means power for the family. The Murut Tribe decorates their houses with the heads/skulls of their enemies hanging inside the house as adornment. The head also serves as an offer to the family of their desired lady to prove their worth and power.

The Murut Tribe House has an interesting feature - a part of the flooring collapses and serves like a trampoline - which is used during celebrations - where men are joined and asked to grab a skull from the ones hanging in the ceiling.

This is something that tourists should try and experience.  I did. It was awesome. They do discourage people to actually jump as it takes skills to know the perfect landing or you might hurt yourself. 

You should not also miss trying the local cigarette (for smokers) 
and getting a tattoo!

I am amazed with the talent and dexterity of the locals 
that with a quick twists and turns of their paint tool, 
I got this amazing souvenir!

Before actually heading to the Murut Tribe, we were reminded of proper decorum - and to choose a leader (in which we agreed to be Sir Jim Paredes).

We were informed that the Murut Tribe might mistaken us as enemies, so it is important to stay calm and show our hands (to show we are not keeping any weapons) as we walked in one lane and entered the hall.

With a sign we would know if they have accepted us, and they did - and they welcome us with a cultural show.

I am surprised to see the familiar faces on stage. They are the same locals and tribesmen who earlier welcomed us to their houses - and now impressing me even more with their talents in dancing. I was speechless as I watch them perform, move and dance to the tune of the drums and gongs, without missing a beat and missing one step.

I enjoyed the experience and put down my camera, and witness it with my eyes than through my camera lens. You should definitely see and visit Mari Mari Village.

I want to kick myself for missing the chance to dance with the locals. I was shy. Now I am thinking, I need to go back.

After the tour which lasted for 1.5 hours, we had dinner and our bamboo recipes were served. I don't know how this should actually taste, but mine is edible.

It was a fun tour indeed. 
Thank you for making me see the bigger world, and making me feel small. 

Planning to visit Mari Mari Village? Here's what you need to know:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. I thought we would just watch a cultural show and have dinner that night so I wore long clothes to be proper. ;)
  • Bring hats/umbrellas and flashlight.
  • Make sure your camera can take good pics at night. Mine was a failure. I really need to do a camera upgrade.
  • Bring mosquito repellant.
  • Bring money - there is a souvenir shop inside that sells cheap stuff. Cheaper than in the airport. 

Mari Mari Cultural Village Tour 
Tour can only be arranged via Tour Package. Walk-ins are not allowed.

Tour Schedule: 10AM, 2PM, or 6PM
Admission Fee:

Non-Malaysians RM 160-Adult and RM 140-person Children 5-11 years old
Malaysians RM 140-Adult and RM 110-person Children
Inclusions: Pick up from hotel in Kota Kinabalu, lunch/tea/dinner, English-speaking tour guide, Cultural Performance.

Traverse Tours Sdn Bhd or also known as RIVERBUG Crew
Lot 227 – 229
2nd Floor, Wisma Sabah
Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen
88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Tel: +6 088 260501 | +6 088 260502
Fax: +6 088-261503

Photo Credits:  John Bueno of, Iris Mejia of, Ada Lajara of and Ferds Decena of for taking beautiful pictures of our trip.

Read my other Kota Kinabalu blog posts: 

Zest Air Flew Us to Kota Kinabalu
1Pacific Sutera Hotel: Our Home in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu: Quick Guide: What to Know, What to Do, Where to Eat
Borneo Reef World Underwater Experience

Thank you once again to Zest Air, Sabah Tourism Board, Malaysia Tourism Board and Fleishman Hillard for flying us to Kota Kinabalu and letting us experience this awesome trip!

** Planning to go to Kota Kinabalu? Fly through Zest Air from Manila to Kota Kinabalu - flight schedule every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday -  check out Zest Air and Air Asia sites. I might catch you on the same flight! Who knows, I might go back!

If you like this post, click the like button or the Facebook Share button! Spread the love. Like my Facebook Fan Page at or follow my updates on Twitter @ruthilicious.

If you are reading this post somewhere, it is originally written by Ruth and published in