„Mari Mari“ is a „Heritage Village“ built in the jungle about 20 minutes drive away from Kota Kinabalu. Easily accessable due to its location right next to a country road meandering through the wilderness, you can explore the lifestyles of the 5 largest tribes of Sabah on a guided tour.
80 ringgit (about 20 euros) is the entrance, 150 even including transport to and from KK – for Malaysian standards that is extremely expensive. However, in addition to expert guidance the offer includes diverse samples of food and beverages, entertaining and educational demonstrations of ancient handicraft and finally a music and dance performance. Overall, the program takes about 2 hours.
The marketing experts and travel agents make every effort to create the illusion of an actual village, but very soon it becomes clear that this is a sort of Disneyland for anthropological interested tourists, which is also completely ok. After all, the peoples abandoned their traditional way of living long ago and adapted modern life styles. Therefore better not expect to visit wild peoples, otherwise you will be disappointed.
Having been established in 2008, the cottages of “Mari Mari” were built with great attention to detail by descendants of the respective tribes.
“In our language ‘Mari Mari’ means ‘Come, come,'” explains our guide Izzah, a young woman with Murut ancestry. “We will be visiting 5 different tribes, including a very aggressive one of headhunters,” she tunes us in to the forthcoming events. During our encounter with them we are to be serious, do not laugh and keep our hands on the body, she insists.
The first house to be visited is that of the Dusun, the largest tribe in Sabah. Two young women sitting in the hut in traditional dresses and our likable guide explains that clothing and jewelry of women reveal whether their wearer is married or not. And what about men? “You would have to ask,” says Izzah with a smile.
Our march continues and along the way we visit the huts and wooden houses – partially built on stilts – of the Rungus, Lundayeh, Bajau and Murut and learn how they make rice wine, rope ties, how to kindled a fire or to kill animals by means of blowpipe and poisoned arrow – the latter, of course, only illustrated by targeting a kind of dart board.
Time is running out, and although the march through the village does not bear any significant challenges, we are somewhat exhausted afterwards and enjoy sitting on our chairs watching the performance of the dancers and musicians. Finally, the now hungry guests are served a meal. Although it tastes very good (chicken with rice, fried bananas, fruits), it unfortunately does not contain any of the traditional dishes that we got to know during the tour.
If you plan to visit the village on your own you should check the website in advance to learn at what time the tour starts – you can not simply walk in there without a guide – or bridge the waiting time at the waterfall at the end of the road, just two minutes away, which is also worth a visit – just follow the road up, you can not miss it.