Sunday, August 05, 2012

Meeting place of Gaya Street

Gaya Street Sunday tamu abuzz with activity

 Plenty of souvenirs can be purchased here

Brass antiques from Sabah on display

 Local snacks and biscuits are a must-try

 Fresh tropical fruits from local orchards are plentiful

Members of the Kinabalu Artist Group put up their paintings for sale every Sunday

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.

At first glance, trading seems to be the only activity at the tamu, but many social events also take place. In the olden days, dancing, singing, cock-fighting and buffalo racing were part of the tamu. However, such events are seldom seen; they are staged only for special occasions.

Native chiefs once held court sessions at the tamu; today these are held in the Native Courts, which are usually located at the District Office. The one activity that has remained unchanged is the meeting of old friends from other villages. Goods, news, gossip and other useful information are still being swapped over food and drinks.

Probably the most known and most visited tamu in Sabah is the Gaya Street Sunday tamu. Located in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, it has now become one of the most popular open-air markets attended each week by many locals and visitors to the state.

More than 300 stalls line Gaya Street, leaving narrow walkways for the customers. Many more vendors squat outside adjoining streets under large colourful umbrellas, with their vegetables and fruits laid on the ground.

The tamu is full of life even before sunrise. There is plenty to see, and there is always something unusual.

The majority of the vendors here are Malays, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos and Kadazandusun. The unique feature of the vendors is although they are of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions, they are able to work in close proximity, selling many common produce. There is a strong sense of respect and tolerance between the vendors, and to maintain the goodwill and peace there is an unwritten rule among them that they will not hassle or pressure customers into buying.

There is something for everyone - handicrafts, antiques, toys, clothing, souvenirs, vegetables and fruits, cooked food, cultivated plants, traditional medicines and musical gongs. It is common to find produce gathered from the jungle such as wild mushroom and wildlife such as fruit bats, monitor lizards and freshwater terrapins.

Members of the Kinabalu Artist Group display their paintings for sale every Sunday.

There is a 'mobile clinic' manned by the Sabah Nurses' Association where visitors can get simple medical tests, including blood pressure checks. In addition, members of the Society for the Blind also provide foot reflexology and massage at RM20 for half an hour.

Away from the vendors, shops along Jalan Gaya - cloth merchants, hardware traders and coffee shops - also do a roaring trade on Sunday.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday