Visiting the Rungus


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Asia » Malaysia » Sabah » Kudat
September 7th 2009
Published: September 9th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

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 Video Playlist:

1: Traditional Rungus dancing 7 secs
2: kids jumping 7 secs
3: Traditional Rungus dancing 7 secs
Sunday 6th September 2009

We must have been too early or not stayed long enough at the Kota Belud Sunday Tamu (market) as it was nothing like the LP described it as. For a start, it wasn't huge, there weren't any buffalo and we didn't see any Bajau horsemen. I think this is a case of being too well travelled - a bad case of been there, done that already. Markets are places that draw the tourists / backpackers (we try hard not to be tourists if we can help it), and this one drew us. It was still a good market, heaps of stalls of scrummy looking veggies (neither of us are cooks, but really wanted a kitchen right then so we had an excuse to buy fresh veggies!), fish, plants, clothes, curtains, cooking gear and all sorts of junky nic-nacs. There were stalls of “western” style clothes and the local Malay style, Muslim influenced clothing, but nothing that we'd call traditional or tribal. There were a few handicraft stalls, and a small section of parang stalls (one or two would be really useful at home!), some food stalls (snacks and meals) and what looked (and smelled) like tobacco, sold by the handful.

Other tourists were arriving just as we were leaving. We'll be mean and call them tourists rather than us as we weren't walking around waving our camera around. In fact, it never came out at all, and now we cant share with you what the market was like! Despite the market being closer to town than the hotel we walked to yesterday, we still paid our RM1 for the minibus back to KB. Maybe if we'd stayed, the buffalo and horsemen would have turned up ;-)

We tried to get another bus out of KB, heading towards Kudat, but like the buses coming to KB from Tuaran, these ones also didn't appear to exist. We had to get a shared taxi to another town called Kota Marudu, about 45km away, then wait for a minibus to fill up so we could go the last leg towards Kudat. We weren't actually going all the way to Kudat today. We couldnt meet our CS host until Monday, and as visiting a longhouse was something on our list, we decided to stop on our way to Kudat. Now we are being tourists.

The Rungus are the indigenous people of the Kudat peninsular, a sub-group of the Kadazan-Dusun people who are found across Sabah. They are known for their basketry, bead-work and longhouses. Their longhouses traditionally held one extended family rather than several unrelated groups, although these days most Rungus have abandoned tradition and, like many other indigenous people in Borneo, have moved into Malay style concrete or wooden houses.

One group (family?) of Rungus in the village of Kampung Bavanggazo maintain a couple of longhouses for people to visit and learn more about the culture. So, sure, very touristy, but also actually quite interesting. We went for the overnight package where we got dinner, bed and breakfast, and some “simple cultural entertainment”.

The minibus dropped us on the main road and we had to walk a couple of km to get to the village. In the early afternoon heat and humidity, this was harder than it sounds! We obviously looked tired when we turned up as we were given a “welcome drink” of a fresh coconut, something the American couple arriving later in their hire car missed out on. It was certainly a welcome drink! It was also the only drink to be found out in the sticks there.

The longhouses are made from timber (main and sub framework), bamboo (sub frame and flooring), bark (interior walls) and palm fronds (roof). The whole structure is raised off the ground and there were entrance-ways (door-less) at either end. One half the building was partitioned off into small rooms, the walls made of timber / bamboo framework covered with bark, they didn't reach to the roof though. Each room had a slightly raised platform with mattresses on and mossie nets draped over. The rest of the of the longhouse was communal living space. The bathrooms were out the back, more modern than traditional, and the kitchen was in another (modern, concrete) building.

Once we'd wandered through the longhouse, round the garden and up the road to the other longhouse, looked at the crafts and finished our coconut drink, we'd about done all the activities on offer. It really wasn't set up for more than a 30 minute visit. There was jungle right on the doorstep, but no trails had been made. That was possibly our only “negative” about the experience - there is little to do.

Earlier we said that our coconuts were the only drink available without walking back to the small store by the main road. This was true in the afternoon. We talked to some guys fixing up the new dining area across the lane from the longhouse, they were just putting in the wiring, but the fridge was sitting there ready, and empty. We were told that it would be ready the next day. In fact it was wired up and cold by that evening. And they had even gone out and found some beers to put in it. By the time the American couple and us had wandered over there, the party was already in full swing with the table full of crushed empty cans.

Dinner was a simple meal of rice, salted fish and a couple of vegetable dishes. The “simple cultural entertainment” was also very simple. First some kids did some skipping / jumping with bamboo poles then it was the adults turn. Five men dressed in traditional clothing took their places by the gongs, and one man and four ladies lined up in front of us. The dancing was more of a shuffle, led by the man, hard to describe. When it was over, the women left to take care of the kids and the men came and sat with us and brought out the rice wine.

Monday 7th September 2009

Despite sleeping on a thin mattress on a bamboo platform with no fan, we slept pretty well. Breakfast was very simple, hard boiled eggs, boiled bananas, doughnut type cakes and tea & coffee. The American couple and their hire car were also heading towards Kudat and offered us a ride. We took the long way and went up to the Tip of Borneo first. It was a great opportunity to get there easily, we would have had to take the bus to Kudat then hire a car & driver otherwise.

The Tip of Borneo, Tanjung Simpang Mengayu in Malay or Tanjung Sampang Mangazou in the Rungus language, is a tourist attraction that has only been around for a few years. The piece of land has been there obviously for a lot longer, but the idea of attracting people there is new. Sabah Tourism is promoting it hard, but has yet to pave the road all the way there. Tanjung means tip, Sampang means a junction and Mangazou means battle. According to Rungus folklore, this was the site of a fierce battle fought by their ancestors defending Rungus land against invading enemies. The fleet of Ferdinand Magellan was said to have stopped here for 42 days to repair their ships while on their voyage to circumnavigate the world.

The road, a mix of sealed and unsealed, winds its way through coconut groves and past a long, sandy beach before reaching the tip. The area at the end of the road has been paved nicely, with plenty of parking, a small cafe and shop and even a small cabin for rent. On top of the headland is a globe and flagpole, with a path leading down towards the water. It stops about 20m from the high tide line, but people have clearly gone further. The rock of the headland is a softish sandstone, worn into scallops by the wind. The views along the coast are impressive, sandy beaches and rocky headlands.

We clambered our way down to one of the nearby beaches for a quick swim. The easily accessible western beach had a big swell and signs up warning of rips, so we opted for an east coast beach with gentle waves. It was a climb down through the jungle to get there though, and the beach wasn't all that great in the end. Rocky with slightly stirred up murky water, it was still good to get in and cool off.

Having appreciated that quick swim, our next stop was at a nicer beach. We followed the guidebooks directions to a beach called Pasir Putih, or White Sand Beach. The sand wasn't really white, but it was still a great beach, a long stretch of pale sand backed by coconut palms, mangroves and jungle, and completely deserted. Lovely! We ignored the plastic bags and bottles mixed in with the driftwood, and just cooled off in the sea.

The American couple dropped us off in Kudat and we found separate hotels suitable for our different budgets. We'd called Howard, our CS contact, but he had got held up in KK and couldnt host us until Tuesday. We ummed and ahhed about whether to stay another day here and meet up with him. Our to-do list for the Kudat area was to visit a longhouse and go to the Tip of Borneo. We'd done all that before even getting to Kudat! But from our quick drive through of town, Kudat looks like its got a nice waterfront area and a very colourful Chinese temple, so we thought we'd spend another day here looking round, meet Howard Tuesday evening and head back to KK on Wednesday morning.

We found a food market in the evening, it was quite small so might not be the only one here, and got some dinner. Noodles again for the first time in a while, and there was a stall with cakes! So we got a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of “cheesecake sponge”. Not bad. Cheesecake sponge turned out to be a plain sponge with a kind of cream-cheese frosting, both cakes tasting like packet mix, but who cares. It was a treat!


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