Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Tamu – a Colourful Spectacle of Sights, Sounds and Smells


"INI saya bagi sudah murah (I’m giving you a good bargain)," the lady tells me, her baby sleeping soundly in the sarong slung across her body, ablivious to the ruckus around him. I tell her I’ll take the sarong cloth for one ringgit less than what she’s offering me. She finally gives in as she bags the green batik-print sarong I picked out earlier. I feel satisfied and move on to the next stall.

It is always a thrill to visit the weekly tamu. The tamu, the local lingo for open-air market, is an integral part of Sabah’s community. From the north to the south, every district holds a weekly (sometimes twice or thrice weekly) tamu.

Traditionally, the tamu was not only a place to gather and trade, but for people to fraternize. The origin of the tamu dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The British North Borneo Company introduced the tamu as a neutral meeting ground to foster ties among the vastly divergent ethnic groups and growing numbers of immigrants to the state of North Borneo (Sabah, as we now know it). Each ethnic group specialized in certain produce. For example, the Dusun of the interior valleys and hills produced beeswax and herbs while the coastal Irranun people traded salted fish. The Rungus tribe had hill rice, vegetables and livestock.

Today, the tamu is a colourful spectacle of sights, sounds and smells. Traders, both young and old, flock to the tamu with their goods, some calling out enthusiastically to passers-by to purchase their items.

In Sabah, almost every district has its own tamu. They operate from as early as 6am and begin to clear up by 2pm. In the smaller tamu, such as the ones in Kuala Penyu and Semporna, the common goods traded include fresh produce such as leafy vegetables and yams, seafood, bottled pickles and local fruits.

There is a wider variety of goods at larger tamu, such as the one in Donggongon (located some 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu). Here, not only can you purchase fresh produce, but also fabric, clothes, kitchenware and household items. Stroll around and you will also find a myriad of local handicrafts, from the handwoven waked (basket) to the bamboo musical instrument, the sompoton.

You will be amazed at what else you might come across in a tamu. The sago worm, known locally as butod, is sold as a delicacy. The sight of these writhing and wriggling creatures both fascinates and frightens but, nevertheless, it remains a delicious meal to many.

The tamu is also the best place to buy local beverages and snacks. Rice wine (tapai or lihing) is sold by the bottle.

Although it is usually consumed as a drink, many people use it to add flavour to their regular dishes or to make soup, served with a generous amount of ginger to keep the body warm. You may also come across a variety of local pickles and fermented favourites. Although the mango-like bambangan is worth a try, be warned that the nonsoom karuk (fermented fish) is definitely an acquired taste!

The mother of all tamu is, without a doubt, the annual Tamu Besar (literally translated as Big Market) held in Kota Belud. Not only does the tamu come alive with its lively traders, but alos with a variety of songs, dances and even a beauty pageant for the local girls. In a nearby field, tourists and locals flock to see the ‘Cowboys of the east’ parade on their beautifully adorned horses. The Bajau men proudly don their sigar (a specially-woven cloth headdress) and brightly coloured shirts. The women, not to be outdone, look resplendent in their kain dastar.

Also a highlight is the bareback bull and water-buffalo racing events. The Tamu Besar truly is an event like no other and this is the best time to mingle with the friendly folk of Kota Belud. This year, the Tamu besar will be held on the 24-25 September.

In the heart of Kota Kinabalu city is the famous Gaya Street Fair, held every Sunday. Over the years, it has become a favourite family-outing destination and it’s plain to see why.

Mum loves the variety of potted plants and orchids for sale, whilst dad cannot get enough of the household gadgets and mouth-watering cakes! The kids love the toys and neat little trinkets. As for tourists, many try their luck bargaining for handicrafts or t-shirts. Big or small, near or far, the tamu is very much like the Sabahan experience: never predictable and there’s always something for everyone. (Sabah Tourism Board)

Source: Borneo Post

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