“Do you live on trees?”
It’s one of those questions people from WM are fond of asking us. If it’s a ‘valid’ question and is due to ignorance about the people of
Sabah, we’re quick to answer them, “No”. If
it’s asked because the enquirer is being mischievous, we’re also quick to
humour him: “Yes… we have an elevator to take us up and down. And we use the
telephone to communicate.”
It’s funny when one considers that we’re a small country, albeit separated by the South China Sea, but many people in WM know very, very little about
Sabah. “Welcome to Malaysia,” they would say when we visit WM and
we tell them we’re from Sabah. It’s as though
they don’t know that Sabah is in . Or if they knew Sabah is
part of Malaysia Malaysia, they’d
think we’re on the where Terengganu is…
or maybe even IN Terengganu itself! East
Sometimes one wonders if they’ve ever seen a map of
Malaysia where Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya are shown in the correct proportion. Or perhaps
they’re only familiar with the map of
the country they see on TV, the one which is distorted and shows Sabah and Sarawak much smaller than the
ballooned up ! Malayan
Why the common assumption that we Sabahans live not in houses anchored to the ground but on trees tops—like the orang utans?
|Photo: Philippe & Sons, Sandakan|
Someone could have seen a postcard of long ago depicting a tree house, and later generations take for granted that life hasn’t changed in the last 150 years. Actually, the tree house must have been built by people who lived on the flood-prone river bank—an ingenious way, I think, to avoid dangerous, wild animals and to keep safe during floods. And since much of NB was dense virgin jungle, it made sense to build houses near rivers for easy access to food and water. Rivers were also important for moving around in boats or rafts.
However, it must be remembered that there are more than thirty suku kaum in
Some, like the Bajaus and ,
traditionally liked to live on river banks. They made excellent boatmen and
fishermen. The Dusun people, on the other hand, were mainly tillers of the soil
and did not necessarily live along river banks. They preferred the hills and
plains where arable land was plentiful and clean water available in springs and
Perhaps one of the reasons the Sabah natives got along well with each other was their trait of minding their own business—making sure that their families had enough to eat, a roof over their heads, etc and they had no time to poke their noses into other people’s affairs or to jaga tepi kain orang lain. They met regularly, of course, on tamu days to barter trade—the upland people with paddy, tobacco and forest produce while the coastal and river people brought their harvests from the sea and river and products—fabric, jars, utensils—they had obtained from other traders.
I haven’t met anyone who lives among the branches of a tree but I don’t mind living in a tree house myself… a tree house that has a great view, modern plumbing and utilizes solar power. Heaven on earth!
Wishing you all a wonderful Kaamatan celebration. Cheers!