Tag Archives: Bajau

Mari-Mari Cultural Village

tourists try traditional Bajau wedding

“Mari-Mari” means Come Come in Malay. This new cultural village is located in Kionsam of Inanam and received many positive feedback from tourists. There are five indigenous houses in the village for you to see how Sabah ethnic groups, i.e., Murut, Bajau, Dusun, Rungus and Lundayeh lived in their past. The air there is fresh, maybe the village is inside the forest and next to Kionsam River.

Mari-Mari Cultural Village in the jungle

tourists try Lihing the local rice wine
Above: tourists try Lihing the local rice wine

traditional Bajau wedding
Above: experience traditional Bajau mock wedding

Tourists are presented the traditional way of bamboo cooking, rope making, tree bark processing (for making Murut’s cloth), blowpipe making, etc. You also can try out the traditional food and even experience their activities such as blowing blowpipe and smoking local cigarette.

Making Jala

Pandan Juice

Above: trying lansaran (wooden trampoline) in Murut headhunter longhouse

The guide will bring you to visit each houses and explain the ancient lifestyle. Some “staircases” are quite steep. As a local, I find that I know so little about our cultures. At the end of the tour, you can enjoy the performance of traditional dances and lunch after that.

Steep staircase

chicken in longhouse
Above: watch out for chicken dropping above your head

You may try the local cigarette. My grandmothers likes to make her own cigarette by rolling tobacco into dry leaf. The taste is light and not as strong as commercial cigarettes, though it has no filter.

Indigenous cigarette

fire starting
Above: starting fire with bare hands and bamboo in less than a minute

Murut bamboo dance
Above: guests are invited to try bamboo dance

The most interesting part for tourists is probably getting a tattoo. They demo the traditional method to create a tattoo.


Then visitors also can ask them to tattoo a favourite figure on their skin. They use something creamy to draw the tattoo and it will leave a stain that can last for a few days (not permanent). Not sure if you can ask them to draw tortoise on your arm.


Besides Mari-Mari, Monsopiad Cultural Village in Penampang also offers the similar things. If you ask me which one I like better, it is hard to answer coz both have its uniqueness. The best of Monsopiad is its House of Skulls, a real historic heritage, but Mari-Mari gets better cultural experience. FYI, Mari-Mari does not take walk-in tourists, so you need to book the tour in advance.

Photos taken in Inanam, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Regatta Lepa 2008

Lepa-lepa boat

For photographers who like to picture the colourful culture of Sabah, the annual Regatta Lepa is definitely on their list. Not only it attracts the locals, many overseas photographers also come to Semporna to see this grand tourism event. I went there in year 2006. Though I almost ended up sleeping on the street, I always come back again.

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There are two main groups of Bajau tribes in Sabah. Land Bajau lives in West Coast, mainly in Kota Belud town, famous as the Cowboys of the East and their Tamu (Native Market). The Sea Bajau lives in East Coast. They spend most of their time on the boat, which known as Lepa-Lepa. Some call Sea Bajau as the Sea Gypsies. Many Sea Bajau were pirates in the past (now no more).

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Lepa-Lepa sails with wind and was the main transport for Sea Bajau to travel among islands. The traditional lepa boat is nicely crafted and about 20 feet long. Bajau loves to use bright colours in their handicraft and textile, and such creativity also relects on their lepa-lepa. Now it has become a cultural heritage of Sabah.

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The dancers, who dressed in traditional Sea Bajau costum, on the lepa-lepa are also the highlight, especially when you see lot of them dance at the same time, under loud music from over 50 lepa-lepa. I took many many photos of them in year 2006. But this year I was using Canon 400D with polariser. I think the outcome is quite good. Probably you can tell me which lepa photo gallery you like better, year 2006 or 2008, or none?

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The event was good. I also have comment on 2 things. The first thing is — the floating rubbish on the sea is really an eyesore. Now we have more and more tourists. We hope they will see the beautiful islands at Semporna, but not an island of rubbish! Not only it gives tourists a bad impression, the junk will pollute the sea and kill the sealife. Compare to 2006, the year I first visited Semporna, it is getting worse. I also need to spend a lot of time to use Photoshop to remove the rubbish appears everywhere in my photos.

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The second thing – hmmm… the “Kiasu” (afraid to lose) advertisement bunting and commercial logo all over the lepa boats. Don’t get me wrong. Personally I really appreciate the sponsors who support the culture. However, if the sponsors are really, seriously sincere in promoting the culture, they should not overdo the ad, which makes our cultural heritage looks like something else. This year we got coffee lepa, noodle lepa, telco lepa and supermarket lepa. Wonder what will come next… Ice-cream lepa? Bank lepa? Or a Detergent lepa? Just my personal point of view. You can say I am conservative or whatever.


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Photos & Video: Semporna Water Festival, Regatta Lepa 2006

Photos taken in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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