Sunday, January 02, 2011

Kota Belud Tamu - Meeting place of Kota Belud

Kota Belud Sunday Tamu is one of the most visited tamus in Sabah

Dried salted fish are still being traded at the tamu as they have been for centuries

Variety of snacks sold at the Kota Belud Sunday Tamu

Photos courtesy of and Copyright to NYL and Brunei Press Sdn Bhd.


Indigenous to Sabah, the tamu has been in existence for hundreds of years. It is an open-air market held at regular intervals in almost every village, town and city. In Sabah, the word "tamu" means "meeting".

Centuries ago, seafaring coastal people would meet regularly with their lowland agricultural folks to exchange fish, salt and woven cloth for rice, tobacco, fruits and forest products. Today, villagers from both land and sea still attend the highlight of their week, the tamu. They come to shop, to sell their surplus produce or just to meet friends. Depending on the location of the tamu, the ethnic composition of the people varies.

The tamu offers an opportunity to meet the local people, and experience the way they live in distinctly different cultures and yet in harmony with one another and with nature. Noisy, crowded, humid and at the same time, bustling and intriguing, the tamu provides an authentic encounter with the rich cultural, culinary and traditional aspects of the lives of Sabah's many ethnic groups

Probably the most known and most visited tamu in Sabah is the Kota Belud Sunday Tamu, some 75 kilometres northeast from Kota Kinabalu on the road to Kudat. For six days of the week, Kota Belud is a busy but undistinguished town. Each Sunday, however, it springs to life as hordes of villagers from the surrounding countryside congregate at its weekly tamu, undoubtedly the biggest in Sabah.

The market, 10 minutes' walk out of town fulfils a social as much as a commercial role and draws among others Rungus, Kadazandusun and Bajau indigenous groups. At the Sunday tamu, the various ethnic groups tend to cluster together due to the nature of their goods.

The most popular items traded are usually food. Commercially grown fruits and vegetables are widely sold in markets, but the tamu is the place to find wild vegetables, meat and jungle products. This is where you can buy delicacies like sago worms, tadpoles and smoked mouse deer meat.

The Bajau men are famed for their metalworking skills and proudly display their assortment of parang, handmade knives and kris; for practical use in the field and kitchen or as part of their ceremonial costume.

Handmade items for everyday use such as bamboo baskets, rattan mats or for special occasions such as ceremonial daggers, woven headcloths, intricate bead necklaces are also sold.

Traditional medicine made from herbs and other ingredients are also on offer at the tamu.

Kota Belud is the only tamu, which has a purpose-built pound for trading buffaloes. In the past, buffalo trading had to take place in the presence of a chief whose mark had to be branded on the animal to complete the sale. This was to prevent buffalo thieving. Today, with increased reliance on motorised farming and transport, buffalo trading is rare.

In the olden days, dancing, singing, cock-fighting and buffalo racing were part of the tamu. However such events are now seldom seen; they are staged only for special occasions, the most significant one being the annual Kota Belud tamu besar.

However, like everything else, the tamu has been affected by modern life. In the past, the goods on sale at the tamu were natural products from the land or the sea. Now, manufactured goods are taking up more space. Large areas of stalls selling cloths and plastic wares are found within the tamu grounds or nearby. Traditional traders used to be local villagers, but professional vendors, middlemen and migrants also set up shop at the tamu nowadays.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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