Set up about nine years ago, Mari Mari Cultural Village is an evocative reminder of traditional Sabah culture, less than half an hour from Kota Kinabalu. It is also popular with tourists, attracting nearly 200 of them the Saturday morning I visited, creating a few crowding issues.
There are at least 32 tribes in Sabah, with five represented at the village. The experience runs two or three times a day (10am, 2pm, and 6pm if sufficient demand) and involves an hour and a half guided tour (my guide Azul was a huge Coldplay fan he confessed unexpectedly) of representative houses of each of the tribes, followed by a music and dance show, and buffet lunch or dinner.
The village starts with the Dusun, one of the largest tribes, who I stayed with for a night before heading up Mt Kinabalu. The house I stayed in was modern though, the Mari Mari village shows life as it was hundreds of years ago, with bamboo houses. The Dusun were renowned as rice farmers, though the focus at the village was more on rice wine than edible rice. There was also the first fake skull hung up, which featured in most of the tribal areas, their head hunting past being played up a bit I felt for the tourists.
The Rungus tribe lived for safety in longhouses, would could have up to 60 rooms alongside one side of the building, with a couple or family in each. This replica only had five, the one I stayed in at the Sabah Tea Resort had a dozen.
The Lundayeh tribe were renowned warriors, with the head of an enemy required from the potential groom before a marriage would be approved. The carved wooden shields were pretty impressive.
The Bajau tribe had by far the most colourful house, though it was set up for a wedding. As with most of the other houses there was a small room in the roof only accessible by a ladder. This is where unmarried women would sleep, to keep them away from the men, with the ladder removed at night…
Finally were the famously feared headhunting Murut tribe, who offered a personal welcome to their area. They also had an impressive longhouse, and blow darts to try (unsuccessfully for me).
It was then time for the cultural dance experience, with a few different tribal dances with live music, followed by a surprisingly popular stage invasion of tourists shaking their bits before the buffet…