Visitors to Sabah rarely get the opportunity to experience the local culture and the people that are at the heart of the state’s ethnic diversity. More often than not tourists will rarely step off the well-trodden trail in search of adventure, wildlife and the incredible Bornean forest. In a place located in the south-west of Sabah towards the Kalimantan border is a collection of villages and communities known as Orou Sapulot.
In June, the Sticky Rice Travel team packed their backpacks and ventured up to the sleepy village of Sayap that is situated about 2hrs drive from Kota Kinabalu nestled on the north-west face of Mount Kinabalu. Fringed by cloudy forested foothills and not far from the Kinabalu National Park boundary, Sayap offers an abundance of natural beauty to explore and enjoy through low-impact tourism. With a population of a few thousand, this Dusun village mostly relies upon banana, pineapple, rubber plantations, fish farming, rice cultivation, and organic farming as a main source of food and income. The aim of the trip was to commence the construction of a local cultural centre or rumah adat, a structure where the village can preserve their cultural identity and traditional ways of life through a multitude of activities such as dance, music playing, hand weaving, cooking, and a place for celebration.
(LEFT) Rumbia (thatched roofs) weaving and (RIGHT) traditional music playing called “mengagong”
Upon arrival we were greeted by waving passerby and friendly faces that were notably excited about the prospect of hosting us for the weekend while we worked on the project. We were soon split up into our host family groups as we introduced ourselves to the village folk, and as the afternoon rain prevailed we relaxed at our homestays while enjoying a delicious lunch cooked by our host families.
Soon after, we learned about the family’s orchard on the property and shared fresh coconuts with some of the neighbouring children, whom also taught us how to catch our dinner in the fish farms – their skills at such a young age is impressive!
The project site was positioned in a central location for ease of access for everyone in the village, and the aim was to clear the area by means of removing rocks, large boulders, and vegetation. The team wasn’t shy in getting their hands dirty during some serious manual labor which also extended to the construction of a retaining wall that involved collecting stones from the river, mixing cement, and assembling the wall that will border the centre. Throughout our stay it was a humbling experience to see our team working so closely with the community on a project that everyone is so passionate about. The rain every afternoon didn’t dampen the spirits as the laughter and good times prevailed which offered the perfect opportunity for team building!
(LEFT) The Sticky Rice Travel team clearing the project site and (RIGHT) collecting rocks from the river
To help maintain our energy levels, the village would harvest fresh local produce to prepare authentic dishes for lunch every day, including some basic cooking lessons of the preparation of tuhau (wild ginger). The perfect time to relax and experience the warm hospitality of the Dusun people.
We completed our last day in Sayap and it was time to let our hair down! Our wonderful Human Resource manager, Dinna, organised some team building exercises and group activities that were a load of fun and helped to strengthen our working relationships, by learning more about one another and socialising outside of a working environment. Following this, we threw a sarong party where we enjoyed dinner with our host families and achievement awards were given out to those special dedicated individuals who help make the Sticky Rice Travel team so reputable. The goodbye ceremony including the Siri-Siri dance, that is inspired by age old tradition of tinonoudon and mangatap (communal rice processing activity), the graceful choreography imitates the movement from the steps used in rice processing.
(LEFT) Team Leader Bedley Asun – Spotlight Award and (RIGHT) Travel Consultants Nicca Lo and Eva Karistra
The project was a success and the joint effort between the village and Sticky Rice Travel was astounding! Our engagement with the village directly connected the team to the community-run projects Sticky Rice Travel undertakes coupled with the responsible travel ethos that is maintained. The benefits of community-based tourism initiatives that identify small-scale tourism as an alternative livelihood creates local work opportunities, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and appreciation for the environment and culture that make these places so unique.