The days of savage tribesmen and headhunting are history.
From cities to jungle heartland, the people of modern day Sabah, comprising of 32 different ethnic tribes, ranging from Sea gypies in the east coast and isolated inland up river communities, often wow visitors with their exceptional friendliness.
Malaysia's commitment to religious plurality and economic equality has created enduring harmony and peace in multi-cultural Sabah.
The wilderness has largely remainsed till this day, with over 50 percent of the land still swathed in tropical rainforests estimated over 125 million years old, and teeming with endless diversity of unique plants and animals. Noted environmentalist and nature TV documentary producer, Professor David Bellamy once described Sabah as one of the world's greatest natural theme parks.
Anthropologists believe the indigenous natives are descendants of Austronesian ancestry who made their way here no less than 5000 years ago.
The last two centuries saw runs of chequered history in connection with world empires.
The British colonised it through the North Borneo Company beginning in 1881 until World War Two when a brief Japanese occupation took ober between 1942-1945.
After the war, the British Governemnt took over the administration of North Borneo til 1963 when it joined Malaysia on 16 September.
Being a coastal state, modern Sabah is well known for its abundant fresh seafood, friendly people, Mount Kinabalu, Orang-utan Rehabitation Centre, endless stretches of white sandy beaches, world class dive sites and truly world class beach resorts and hotels besides a wide range of idyllic countryside lodges.
Besides political and social stability, Sabah is sheltered from natural upheavals which is best described by the sobriquet "Land Below the Winds" bequeathed by Agnes Keith who authored a pre-war book by the same title.
Nature has allowed the unfettered development of countless species of insects, wild plants, flowers and tropical fruits, in addition to one of the richest marine life on Earth.
Towering above all that is the symbol of Sabah's pride, naturally - Mt. Kinabalu which soars 4095 metres above a range of mountains - the highest between Himalaya and Papua New Guinea, lifting to its height one of the world's top notch biodiversity hot-spot and certainly one of the best protected park destinations for tourists.
Many have called sabah a tropical paradise, a apt description in more ways than one as there are no shortage of good food to enjoy, tranquil places to ease the sooul, things to see, activities to do and the mystical attractions and marvels to lift the human spirit.
The best part of all this is that it is summer all year round, with warm weather, warm seas and of course, warm hospitality.
And where on earth is Sabah?
Barely teo hours flight from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to the west or two hours from Hong Kong to the northwest and only a little bit more than an hour from Manila to the north.
Sabah received waves of immigrants in its pre-history, Austronesians whose ancestors constitute the present day indigenous population. Thereafter, its isolation meant that it was only very cursorily visited Borneo. Up until the mid-fifteen century, Sabah was nominally under the suzerainty of the Sultans of Sulu and Brunei, then a quiet haven of riverine settlements and jungle clearings.
There were trading links with Imperial China and what is now Sabah. As early as the ninth century AD, Borneo was exporting her camphor wood, shells, cowries, pepper and birds' nests to Imperial China. Trade also brought the Spanish and the Portuguese to her shores and though they tried to seize Sabah to augment their various empires, nothing became of their forays.
The Sultan of Brunei's norminal control was curtailed even more after the arrival of James Brooke in the 1840's who cleared the west coast of much of its piracy. A curious historical fact is the short-lived American trading station at the mouth of the Kimanis River. This was followed up by the success of the merchant adventurers, Cowie and the Dent brothers, in securing grants of territory from the local rulers.
Their grants were given legitimacy by the incorporation of the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1881 and the founding of Kudat as the capital. The capital was later moved to the town of Sandakan, an old German trading station called Elopura, or the 'Beautiful Town' which had been accidentally burnt to the ground years before. Sandakan as in the heart of the rich east coast, a venture reminiscent of one of the British writer Conrad's South Sea novels.
To increase the population, the Company encouraged the immigration of the Chinese settlers, drawing Hakkas to the west coast and Cantonese to the east, as well as a lone colony of Shantung settlers on the edge of present day Kota Kinabalu who forsook their windswept plains for the heat and humidity of Borneo.
The pacification of Sabah was not an easy matter and the Chartered Company was forced to quell two uprisings. The first was led by the legendary figure, Mat Salleh, at the turn of the century, though the rebellion concerned the Murut people of the interior who joined forces under the leadership of Antanum in 1917, during the First World War. They refused to agree to British demands for corvee labour and objected to the way bridle paths were built across their ancestral lands without regard for the djinns and spirits of the hills. The British murdered Antanum under the guise of the parley and mowed down his supporters, an act which had blotted the colonial record.
The Second World War brought the Japanese to Sabah and with them the beginning of the end of the colonial era. An elegy for those times was Agnes Keith's touching memoirs 'The Land Below The Wind', which captured the atmosphere of930's Sandakan. A small enclave of colonial buildings still stands on the ridge over-looking what was once the Residency, a forgotten outpost of an Empire.
Sabah suffered heavily during the War and Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu were destroyed by Amercian bombings in the dying days of the War. There are three memorials - one on the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, Kundasang and another in Sandakan, commemorating the death march that claimed the lives of all but six of the 2,400 men who marched from Sandakan to Ranau; and the third at Petagas on the west coast honouring the brave but ill-fated 'Double 10' revolt in 1943, in which a resistance group succeeded in seizing Jesselton for a day and a night before they were forced to retreat by the Japanese.
Subsequent history has been peaceful by comparison and Merdeka, or Independence, was granted on the 16 September 1963 to the state within the Federation of Malaysia.
The three million population of Sabah is as diverse as its ecology. Comprising of a colourful mix of 32 ethnic groups and other non-indigenous people they are all interwoven by culture, tradition, marriage and language. The result is a race and dialect unmistakably Sabah.
The largest ethnic group is the Kadazandusan, making up 1/3 of the total population. They can be found mainly on the West Coast, to the interior. Formerly the main rice producers of the state, the Kadazandusun are now a major force in Sabah's rapid progress towards urban modernisation.
The Bajau were originally the seafarers of Borneo. Many still reside along the coastline with fishing being a major occupation, while others have moved inland and taken up animal farming. Their riding skills on ponies have earned these Bajau the nickname "Cowboys of the East" and their colourful costumes (as well as those of their ponies) are greatly admired.
The Murut reside mainly in the hinterland, with many still occupying the traditional longhouses. Once feared for their headhunting, the Muruts now mainly use their bountiful harvest, and to ensure the same for the next season. Gong-beating competition, Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Queen), buffalo races and other traditional sports, the appearance of the "bobohizan" or high priestess, are all part of this interesting festival.
A majority of the ethnic communities in Sabah are either Muslims or Christians by choice. Hence, in addition to their traditional celelbrations, the respective communities also celebrate Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji, Awal Muharam, Good Friday and Christmas.
The Chinese, who migrated in great numbers to Sabah during the early years of the North Borneo Chartered Company era, make up a large portion of the non-indigenous people. Living mostly in the commercial sectors of the economy. The Chinese has adapted themselves well in Sabah with amny of their traditional beliefs and celebrations such as Vesak Day and Chinese New Year, are still being observed and celebrated in Sabah; not only the Chinese alone but with the community as one.
Places of Interest
Trekking through the wilderness is fast becoming a popular outing among nature lovers. Sabah, with its pristine jungle, is able to offers a wide range of activities from sighting the biggest flower on earth, the Rafflesia, discovering exotic culture in the heart of Borneo, leanring about the ecosystem in the oldest virgin jungle in the world or just wanting to disappear for days in the Borneo forest.
There are numerous trails avaialble to visitors in many parks such as Kinabalu Park and Danum Valley. Some of these trails only requires a couple of hours to compelete, while others will take you deep into the jungle for days, passing through some serene environment and remote villages. Whatever is your preference, you will be able to find it in Sabah.
REDISCOVER THE HEART OF BORNEO BY RAIL
In the 1880s, the so-called "White Rajahs" of the British Crown established the British North Borneo Company by obtaining parts of Borneo from the Sultan of Sulu. The wilds jungles provided grounds for great asventure and potential riches. As the need for alrger plantations grew, the mode of transportation became a major issue for these plantations grew, the mode of transportation became a major issue for these plantation owners and a railway into the heart of Borneo became the only viable solution. By the mid-1880s, the completion of the North Borneo Railway was in sight, stretching from Beaufort to Tenom and Melalap through the Padas Gorge ad to the coastal towns of Weston and Jesselton for port access to English-bound cargo ships. The railway remained as the only means of transportation into the interior until only half a century ago.
The North Borneo Railway-run train, features a Mid-century British 'Vulcan' Steam Engine, the last of a fleet of locomotives that has piled the tracks through Borneo since the 1900s.
The Train accommodates 180 passengers, consisting of 5 colonial-styled carriages. An observation and bar carriage will be added in the first quarter of 2001. Service on board is polished, yet friendly, reflecting the charming hospitality of Borneo.
Apart from the Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday scheduled runs, the North Borneo Railway is avaialble for private group and incentive charters. Reservations for private rail experience must be made in advance.
The North Borneo Railway is built and operated to the highest of international standards and its fully compliant to moderns safety standards.
PAPAR "Rice Bowl" RUN
The North Borneo Railway pulls out of Tanjung Aru Station, leaving the congestion of Kota Kinabalu. Time and history begin to take over. Once pass Putatan, the train veers into the countryside hugging the coast of Kinarut with Lokawi Bay stretching out into the South China Sea. Edging away from the road, the train chugs towards Kinarut for a stop at the station. Passengers are welcome to tour a fascinating Buddhist temple at the foot of the hill.
After Kinarut, the train passes through Kawang, blessed with mangrove swamps and rice 'padi' fields. Buffaloes meander along the side of the track and wallow in 'padi' fields. It seems that time has stood still as the lifestyle has remained unchanged since colonial days.
Whilst sipping on cool lemonade or a range of beverages served on board by polished colonial-dressed train stewards, passengers will see many places of interest along the way, including oil palm plantation, brick factory, the De Fonfaine Memorial, mangrove jungles and the 450 metres Pengalat Tunnel which was built in early 1900s by the British.
The train will cross the Papar River over a steel trestle bridge as Papar, the "Rice Bowl of Sabah" comes into view. The train makes a 20-minute stop here and passengers are free to venture around the town. On the return run, lunch will be served in tiffin boxes, highlighting an exotic blend of colonial and Asian cuisine.
For a thrilling adventure you should not miss doing whatever rafting in Sabah. From a leisurely rafting to a really wild ride, Sabah offers several rivers to fit your excitement threshold level.
For a steady and pleasant ride, the Papar River, about 30 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu, is the ideal river. Another popular river is the Kiulu River, an hour drive from Kota Kinabalu. A ride down Kiulu River is not only enjoyable but also offers a green and serene environment with panoramic views of the lifestyle of the rural indigenous people.
For a more rough and tumble ride, the ultimate whitewater rafting will be the Padas River, classified as grade IV for its spectacular ride. Located just outside of Tenom, it is an hour and a half drive to Beaufort from Kota Kinabalu. From there, you will take a diesel railway train passing lush green jungles from Beaufort to Tenom. Before reaching Tenom, you get off at the starting point at Padas River. After a safety briefing by your guide, you will then begin a really thrilling journey of your life. By the way, the Padas has this affinity of being the most popular river for whitewater rafting.
Nature and Wildlife
Mount Kinabalu is the pride and soul of Sabah.
Bursting through the famed "Spine of Sabah", the Crocker Range, it soars aloft spectacularly into the Borneo sky. Its awesome height commanded reverence from mortals living in its shadow in bygone ages. In fact, it figures centrally from mortals living in its shadow in bygone ages. In fact, it figures centrally in the traditional belief of the once animistic Dusuns in its foothill and the Kadazans in the plains and valley beyond, who for centuries had regarded it as the resting place of their dead - their version of heaven. Until today, Dusun high priests dutifully perform the annual sacrificial rite of killing seven white chickens, near the summit, to appease the spirits.
It is cherished and raved about as the highest peak in Sitheast Asia, which towers 4,095m (13,445ft) above a tangle of mountains. Not surprisingly, one visitor who saw the spectacle in 1990, exclaimed tauntingly: "If you haven't seem Mount Kinabalu, you haven;t seen Southeast Asia." The imposing, snow-free and bald top granite massif rouses man's instinctive yearning to climb to the top for the feeling of being on top of thw world.
The Park headquarters at 1,558m (5,000ft) is well organised with accommodations ranging from hostels to well-appointed chalets. They are very popular and booking well in advance is advised. Daily temperature here varies from 20 degrees centigrade to 13 degrees at night. Many of the annual 170,000 visitors simply enjoy the cool climate here trekking through trails or simply doing nohing. Located at the southern boundary, the parks headquarters is 83km from capital city Kota Kinabalu on good, paved roads.
Poring Hot springs is 43km further to the northeast where natural open-air sulphur health spas, a canopy walkway through the rainforest tree crowns and perhaps a chance to see the Rafflesia (if one is lucky), in addition to reasonable accommodation facilities.
Keen on an exotic monkey watching adventure in Borneo?
Sabah's Sukau is a good bet, by any standard. The riverine destiantion is just a couple of hours southeast of modern Sandakan, not far from the Sepilok Orang-utan Centre.
The species of monkeys and apes are found in a 25,000 hectares of the Kinabatangan Wetlands Sanctuary, rated the highest concentration of primates in the whole f Borneo. Besides, the area has a plethora of animals like the Clouded Leopard, Asian Elephant, Crocodiles, Civet Cats, Otters, all eight species of Hornbills found in Borneo, Egrets, magnificent Kingfishers, Storks, Hawks and the incredible darter which dive into rivers and lakes to pursue fish!
But the most amazing spectacle os the bizzare, three footer, pot-bellied male Proboscis Monkey found nowhere else in the world except Borneo. No fossils had ever been dug up outside Borneo, a point which mystifies scientists.
Its trademark is its overwhelming, pendulous nose which droops well over its mouth. Scientists are still debating what the outrageous nose is for.
Some argue it acts like a thermostat for regulating body temperatures. Others theorise it may be a sexual attraction to the females which do not have such a prominent feature. Another notable but unpublicised trademark of the male Proboscis monkey that have enthralled everyone who comes across it is its state of perpetual erection of it penis. Many are still waiting for the yet to be discovered 'medical breakthrough' for such 'a condition',
Sighting of the Proboscis Monkeys is guaranteed, because they have one fixed habit, that is, they always sleep overnight on trees immediately above riverbanks. Knowing this, tour operators arrange daily evening or early morning river joy rides either along the Kinabatangan, Sabah's longest river, or its tributaries, especially the Menangol.
The Proboscis monkeys are fun to watch because thay are very active. They frolic around like skilled aerial acrobats, leaping through tree gaps and breaking through masses of leaves dangerously and nosily but always making it.
They are also great divers. Visitors have seen them diving 60 feet into rivers and since they are web-footed, they can swim strongly across rivers!
A trip to Sukau also means the chance to see Sabah's longest river, the Kinabatangan, which cuts through the area.
There are about eleven beautiful ox-bow lakes in the area which are rich in fish and prawns.
Riverside chalets are available for overnight accommodations.
Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre
The Orang-utan (Malay term meaning Jungle Man) is an instant crush for anyone who sees it in its natural habitat. Cute, adorable and disturbingly humanlike. Scientists have equally been charmed by them.
"It is one of the most appealing animals on earth," Dr. William V. Bleisch, China Programme Co-ordinator remarked, after a recent trip to Sabah.
The remaining population of this fascinating primate on planet earth are found only in Borneo and Sumatra these days. Not surprisingly, Sabah (formerly British North Borneo) is the best place in the world to see the Red Ape because of a carefully planned conservation programme dating back to the 1930s. This is the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, which is a well conserved 10,000 hectres (43 sq.km) tropical lowland rainforest sanctuary where scores of the primate roam and mate freely. World' figures like Prince Philip had been there, as well as former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.
The best zoo in the world can never match seeing them in the natural jungle environment. It is only Asian primate which builds nests by characteristically bunching leaves and twigs together, scores of metres above the gorund and sleep there at night.
Sighting at close range at Sepilok is guaranteed.
The best chance to see them are 10:00am or 2:30pm, when at least a dozen of the animals emerge for the twice daily feedings of milk and bananas
Getting there is easy, as the Centre is onyl 25km northeast of Sandakan, which has good air links from Kota Kinabalu and local transport.
To get the most out of the experience, especially if you come a long way to see it, one American visitor advised: "Watch the documentary about the ape at the visitors' centre before feeding time:" It greatly helped me appreciate what I saw," he said.
The tropical rainforests have been called the "lungs" of Planet Earth, a critical sustainer of life.
Lowland rainforest especially, usually teem with life right from the forest floors to the very tip of the canopy. Thousand of plant species, many of which not studied, besides insects, birds, mammals thrive in this very high diversity natural "greenhouse" some scientists describe as "the greatest expression of life on Earth."
Sabah's 438 sq.km Danum Valley Conservation Area, located 83km southeast of east coast town Lahad Datu, is an exciting true rainforest where people of the world can step out of the 20th century and return to see the way Earth was millennia ago. Quite apart from the wealth of plant and animal life, the immense tranquility of a real jungle world is so deeply felt man can feel "human" again, some have remarked. One of Sabah's larger rivers, the Segama River, cuts through the area. In addition, it is also catchments for the pristine Danum River, which ass to the area's appeal.
The focus here is a huge spectrum of plant life and their complex ecosystem which also supports a very interesting array of rare fauna. Observations so far tally 275 species of birds, 110 species of mammals including true wild Orang Utans, five species of deer, bearded wild pigs, howling gibbons, giant flying squirrels, flying frogs, magnificent Bulwar pheasants, the Asian elephants and one of Danum's best known beasts - the Sumatran Rhinoceros which still roam in its deep.
The ecosystem here is subject of ongoing international and local scientific studies. A dozen or so Malaysian and Foreign field scientists are working at the Danum Valley Field Centre where facilities range from hostels to a suspension bridge over the Segama, a 40metre high canopy observation platform, where Dutch and American companies fund plant enrichment and reduce impact logging techniques.
At Danum Valley, it is now possible to see 60-million-year old rainforest, with an organised semi government natural tourism set-up that provides proper accommodation, food and trained naturalists to give professional interpretations of the forests.
Sabah is famed for its bird nests harvested from the Gomantong Caves, lcoated southwest of Sandakan.
For centuries, bird nests harvested here formed an important source of supplies to China where it had been and still is, a prized delicacy. A narrow tributary of the Kinabatangan River named Menangol was the only way to reach it in the past but now, it could be reached by road.
It has two caves complexes, one, the more accessible Simud Hitam, which soars to 90 metres high, produces less valuable "black" nests-hardened swiftlet saliva mixed with feathers. The bigger complex, Simud Puteh, is harder to reach but produces white nests which can fetch a whopping US$1,500 per kilo.
The nests are harvested twice a year, the first in February to April and the second, July to September.
The dangerous operation, involving the use of rattan ladders, ropes and poles would prove an interesting sight to any visitor.
Everyone's dream should include seeing the Rafflesia - the largest flower in the world.
The record size, according to the Guiness Book of Records, is a Rafflesia arnoldii, which stretched 91cm or 3 feet in diameter, 1.9cm or 3/4 inch think and weighed 7kg or 15lbs.
In many ways, this magnificently colourful flower is strange and baffling to visitors. It blooms as a single flower which has no roots, no stem and no leaves as well.
In addition, each flower produces just one seed and thise seed can only germinate if it succeeds in lodging itself in the tissue of one particular cissus vine host known as Tetrastigma, which usually crawls along the rainforest floors. This is why the Rafflesia is usually floor bound. The flower extracts food from the vine by extending threadlike flaments into its tissue. Its penchant for attaching exclusively to the Tetrastigma partly explains why the flower is very rare and sighting depends on correct timing, keeping in touch with the local community, and luck.
Some ecologist believe only big animals like wild boars, which accidentally pick up Rafflesia seeds on their hoofs, are heavy enough to implant the seeds into the cissus tissues.
Sabah offers fair chances for people in the world to see this floral wonder.
There are several known sites, such as Proing Hot Springs at the Kinabalu Park which are fairly accessible. But one particular place where this unique flower especially Rafflesia Pricei species occur extensively is a 386 acres Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve which is sited in a forest reserve consisting of a mixture of temperature oaks, chestnut type and highland dipterocarps forest.
The Tambunan Rafflesia Reserve is located conveniently by the roadside of Kota Kinabalu/Tambunan Highways and is only 58km from Kota Kinabalu. At the entrance of this reserve is a Rafflesia Information Centre.
There are eight trails for trekkers including a Rafflesia Trial that leads to the flowering sites.
A visit to Tambunan, only 1 1/2 hours by road from Kota Kinabalu, offers visitors a chance to view the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia, picnic by crystal clear waterfalls, discover lower montane orchids, hike through the rainforest, climb Sabah's second highest peak Mt. Trusmadi (2,642m), relax in a spring-like climate amidst gorgeous scenery and discover the traditions of the Tambunan Kadazandusun people.
One can also enjoy a spectacular view over Kota Kinabalu and the islands beyong, as well as glimpses of Mount Kinabalu to the northeast. Swirling mist amond dense tangle of trees and ferns clinging to the almost vertical hillsides, gives the scenery an eerie beauty.
The Tambunan District covers an area of 134,540 hectares and has a population of about 24,000. At an altitude of 650 to 900 meters, it enjoys a spring-like climate for most part of the year. The terraced rice fields, becoming more lush as the months go by and finally turning to a shimmering gold in December. January is a scene of endless activity as the rice is harvested by hand, threshed and winnowed using woven trays.
Numerous beautiful spots can be found by following the roads leading off the main Ranau-Tambunan-Keningau-Tenom highway. A typical feature of these secret valleys where traditional houses cluster near the edge of a stream is the picturesque Kampung Makatip, accessible by a road tha leads to the left just off the junction of the Ranau road.
The Pegalan River tumbles its way over stony boulders as it threads through the plain. The profusion of bamboo on the hillside around Tambunan is partly due to a colonial edict that for every bamboo pole cut, twenty bamboos must be planted. At least twelve varieties of bamboo known as Poring, which is used for everyhing from housing construction to fences, baskets, mats, household items, musical instrument and food (the edible shoots of one variety).
More beauty can be experienced at the Mahua waterfall, set in virgin rainforest at the edge of the Crocker Range National Park. This is reached by following the road north towards Ranau to Kampung Patau, where a sign beside the school on the left indicates a gravel road leading almost to the waterfall (Mahua Airterjun). About 15 minutes along this road is a flat grassy area near the river's edge where cars can be parked. (In the rainy season, it may be advisable to use a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the final stages of the road.)
From there, it is a 5-10 minutes walk along a well-defined trail leading through a lush forest dripping with bird's-nest ferns, tangled with rattans and creepers, past giant dipterocarp trees, moss-covered boulders and fallen logs. One can picnic near the 15-metre waterfall, one of Sabah's loveliest, and to frolic in the cold clear water of the river while listening to the endless chorus of insects and the call of forest birds.
The tamu (local market) is also the place to find bundles of a fragrant herb known as tuhau, a member of the ginger family that is usually made into a spicy condiment or sambal.
A much smaller but often interesting tamu is held every Sunday opposite the church at Kampung Toboh, north of Pekan Tambunan. You canf ind some locally made handicrafts here, although you can be assured of finding a selection on sale in the Tambunan Handicraft Centre (Pusat Kraftangan) just before the Shell Station near Pekan Tambunan. Young people from Tambunan are taught traditional weaving skills at this centre, and can be seen at work during weekdays and on Saturday morning. The shop sells a range of baskets mats, bags, hats and ornaments made by these students and also supplied by the women from villages throughout the Tambunan district.
The Tambunan Village Resort Centre (TVRC) is a collection of chalets and "longhouse" dormitories made of split bamboo and located on either side of the Pegalan River. There is also a restaurant, motel and entertainment centre, hall and sports field. The TVRC also have two large "retreat centres" located about 10 minutes away.
The Kaingaran road, which leads off the highway opposite the shops of Pekan Tambunan, follows the course of the Kaingaran river towards Mount Trus Madi.
The most attractive of the pitcher plant species called "Trusmadiansis" is found in abundance here as well as other rare
plants. For the adventure seekers, there are several popular nature and wildlife climbing packages organised by local tour operators.
Situated almost halfway between Tambunan and the major town of Keningau is another isolated "retreat" known as the Majora Holiday Farm. Located on the edge of a river 11 km from the main road near Kampung Tiga, Ulu Bundu, the farm is ideal for those seeking peace and quiet, or a base for trekking in the Crocker Range or rafting on the Pegalan River just beyond its junction with the Apin River.
House of Skulls
Borneo's image as a "dark continent" still lingers in some far flung countries because of a long defunct "head hunting"
tradition among its natives. Nonetheless, the practice was widespread two to three hundred years ago.
At least one family in Sabah's capital city, Kota Kinabalu, is happy to show the world a legacy of the human skull from its once dreaded warrior ancestor named Monsopiad, who lived 300 years ago in the predominantly Kadazan Penampang district. Descendant of the head hunter warrior, Dousia Moujing, has faithfully kept 42 human skulls, one leg bone and a 3-foot long sword purportedly used by Monsopiad to cut down his 42 victims.
And following tradition to the dot, these skulls and the long leg bone are presently hung along a groove in the ceiling of
Moujing's house now popularly known as "house of skulls", located at a village named after Monsopiad, some 15km south of Kota Kinabalu.
The victims apparently included attackers from rival villages, rice thieves and fellow warriors from the same village beheaded in duels. Ordinary folks were never his targets though. Heads were usually taken to the jungle and hung on trees to dry before being displayed in the warrior's house. Such a bizarre show of skulls has to be understood in the context of their animist beliefs that the souls of the vanquished would turn out to be the protectors of the victor's village.
Their skulls were thus treated with reverence, not dread.
Kota Belud, 70km northeast of capital city Kota Kinabalu, is one of Sabah's most scenic and culturally rich districts.
Its captivating beauty is immediately apparent with just a short drive into its hinterland where the visitor can see the entire western profile of Southeast Asia's highest peak, Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) soaring majestically in the backdrop above lovely rice plains through which the tempestuous Tampasuk River roars with rushing torrents of pristine waters fed by huge mountain catchments.
Seawards, untouched mangrove swamps spread widely across river mouths in thriving wetlands where it is even possible to sight some families of the rare and bizarre long nosed Proboscis Monkeys in addition to a much talked about natural bird sanctuary that teems with egrets, especially in the evening when they come to roost.
The fertile alluvial soil washed down from Mount Kinabalu and its hills to form vast plains and a rich coastal fishing ground, attracted vastly divergent ethnic groups such as the famed horse loving Bajau, who reportedly came from Johore in the Malay Peninsular, the Irranun believed to have come from Mindanao, Phillipines and the Obians, all of whom are Muslims, to the river mouths, three tribes of traditionally animist Dusuns namely Dusun Tampasuk, Dusun Tindal and Dusun Tabilung, who settle in the interior valleys and hills, who share a district of 1,385 sq.km in size.
The discerning visitor will find Kota Belud's diversity of traditional costumes, dances, music and ceremonies as reflected
in their hand-made product a cultural treasure. For instance, while the Bajau men are famous for their horse-riding showmanship, to the extent that they have been branded "Cowboys of the East", Bajau women are also well known
for their fine woven cloth called Dastar which is very colourfully interwoven with red, yellow, green, orange, gold and
white thread into floral patterns.
The best time to view Kota Belud's striking cultural potpourri is the annual Grand Tamu Besar which is scheduled in the month of November, when all the tribes will come out fully donned in their respective traditional costumes for a cultural
On that day, the Bajaus will come out in full force to stage a grand parade of ponies in resplendent costume dresses and a spirited display of their riding skills.
Kota Belud is famous for its weekly Sunday Tamu (rural trade fair) where items offered for sale range from hill rice to water buffaloes.
The Tamu has for centuries acted like a "common market" between coastal Muslims groups who had sea products like salted fish and household items like cloth in exchange for jungle produce such as herbs, bee wax from the farming and jungle experts, the Dusuns.
Such mutual benefits experienced from each other over time explains the long standing harmony and understanding among the tribes.
Location: Borneo, The Largest of the 13 states of Malaysia, is located on the north-western shore of Borneo Island, between 110 and 115 longitude east and between 1 and 5 latitude north (GMT+8). Borneo shares Borneo with the Malaysian State of Borneo, the sultanate of Brunei and the Indonesian province of Kalimantan.
Area : 124,450 Km2, about 70% under tree cover.
Population : 1.83 million (EST.), 15 persons/km2, 24 ethnic groups, including IBAN (29.5%), Chinese(28.9%), Malays (20.8%), Bidayuh (8.4%), other indigenour and others.
Capital : Kuching City (Pop : 500,000).
Language :Bahasa Melayu (Malay) is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in business and tourism circles. Other languages include Chinese dialects, Iban and several indigenous and dialects.
Religion : Malaysia's official religion is Sunni Islam, but freedom of worship is respected. In Borneo, major religions are Christianity (29%), Islam (26%) and Buddism-Taoism (17%).
Government : Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique system of rotation of Kings, chosen every 5 years among nine state hereditary rulers (Sultans). Parliament is elected every 5 years by universal suffrage and is headed by the Prime Minister. Borneo, as every other state, has an elected parliament headed by a Chief Minister.
Climate : Typical Equatorial Climate, daily temperatures range between 23 c and 32 c throughout the year in ;the lowlands. Rainfall is spread throughout the year, the wettest months (Landas season) being from November to February. Depending on the areas, rainfall averages between 2600 mm. and 4000 mm./year.
Flora & Fauna : About half of all living species are found in south-east Asia's jungles, the Planet's oldest. Borneo is still largely covered by primary jungles, many under National Park Status. Famous species include the Rafflesia Flower, Pitcher Plants, the Hornbill bird, the Orang Utan Ape and the Proboscis monkey, all protected.
Economy : commodity based economy, Borneo being a major exporter of LNG, petroleum, timber and agricultural products. Manufacturing is rapidly increasing, the emphasis being on processing of commodities and , for the future, electronics, information technology and bio-technology.
Currency : Malaysian Ringgit (RM), very stable and fully convertible, no restrictions on import or export. Best ot exchange at licensed money changers or banks, traveler cheques and major credit cards widely accepted. USD 1.00 = RM 2.50 (Approx.)
Working Hours : Government : 08:00 a.m. to 04:15 p.m., Private Sector : 09:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays, Saturday half day. All shops would be open between 10:30 a.m. and 05:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday, but many open earlier and close later and are open on Sunday. Shopping complexes close at 09:00 p.m.
Entry Regulations : Visa free entry for holiday purposes (14 days to 3 months) is given to most nationalities. Best to check with Malaysian Diplomatic Missions for current situation. Passports must have 6 months validity.
Health Regulations : No vaccinations required, unless coming form Africa or South America (Yellow Fever). Most Tropical diseases eradicated, anti-malaria treatment not indispensable, malaria cases very rare in Borneo (most occur in logging camps and very remote areas).
Water : Safe to drink from the tap in towns. Hotels and restaurants provide boiled water. Bottled mineral water widely available.
Electric Current : 220 V/50 cycles , in areas not connected to the grid, generators are often used. Three pin plugs (not American plugs).
Dress Code & Clothing : Casual dress is the norm, light cotton clothing is recommended.
Shopping : Items such as films, batteries, torchlights, raincoats, slippers, etc. are available in all towns. Indigenour handicrafts and textiles, potteries, antiques, etc. are good bargains.
Safety : Borneo is probably one of the safest places on earth, crime rate is low, there are few dangerous animals in the jungles, general health si good, there are no earthquakes, volcanoes or cyclones and there is political stability, racial harmony and tolerance, no terrorism and no internal strife.