Day 37 – Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Kota Kinabalu is just a couple hundred miles from Brunei by sea, but is culturally a world away. While Muslims make up a majority of the population, there are also many Christians, Buddhists, and others in this capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah (formerly North Borneo). The people are Malay, Chinese, Philippine, and many others. There is great cultural diversity, with little friction between different factions. Kota Kinabalu is a modern city which, as the state capital, houses many government agencies – 55% of the people here are employed by the government.
Having visited previously, Sally & I decided to just catch the shuttle bus into town and look around. We visited two shopping malls – both multi-storied, one catering to locals and one catering to tourists. We visited the “local” one first and it proved to be the most interesting. It always fascinating to shop where the locals shop. The tourist mall was much nicer, a lot cooler (good A/C) and it had free wi-fi, but it just isn’t as much fun to stroll around the Gucci and Coach as it is to spend time in the local markets.
Here is the tourist mall, decorated for Chinese New Year, which is going on now.
This is the first time I have seen graffiti “Pillars” – Interesting.
After spending some time at both malls and strolling around town, we decided to catch the shuttle back to the ship and spend the day relaxing on the ship.
When we got back on board I was talking with one of our tablemates (a term that must be unique to cruises) who was headed out on a tour that included a museum so I decided to see if they had any space on the tour. On the way to the tour desk, I ran into a lady with two tickets for the tour she was trying to turn in. I offered to buy them, but she refused to take anything for them. What luck. I gave one of the tickets to my tablemate’s wife and the three of us joined the tour.
The first stop on the tour was the Sabah Museum and Heritage Village. The Heritage Village had several examples of dwellings used by the various tribes in this part of Borneo – all made of bamboo with thatched palm leaf roofs. The Village also had demonstrations of native musical instruments and crafts.
Playing a primitive pipe made from a gourd and bamboo tubes.
This fellow, a typical Malay tribesman, put on a very impressive demonstration of the blowpipe, which was the principal weapon used by these tribes, for both hunting of animals and for hunting of heads. Yes, headhunting was prevalent in Borneo (not to be confused with cannibalism, which was not practiced in Borneo) and actually was not completely eliminated until 1963!
Headhunting was a rite of passage for young tribesmen, whereby a young man took his blow pipe and killed a warrior (not under 18 nor over 60) from a rival tribe. These tribes had long-standing feuds that would make the Hatfields and McCoys look like amateurs. After slaying his enemy, the young man severed his head with a long curved sword and brought it back as a trophy. After some ceremony, the head was hung in a place of honor in the long house.
These are actual human skulls from this area of Borneo.
We went to the actual museum, which was an excellent collection of information on the history and culture of Borneo, including much information on headhunting – including swords, skulls, poisons, and blowpipes, including some photos, since the practice wasn’t eliminated until 1963. During WWII, the tribesmen, who were not happy with the occupation by the Japanese formed resistance units – putting poison on the tips of their darts. They took the bet as to how many steps a Japanese soldier would walk after being struck by a dart. It seems the record was 3 steps. Pretty potent stuff. Unfortunately, there were no cameras allowed in the museum.
Here is a casual photo outside the museum with me and the Governor and Mrs. Governor. That is Mt. Kinabalu in the background, about 30 miles from here – elevation over 13,000 feet.
Strangely enough, these old cars were on display outside the museum – not restored, just on display, I guess from the British era. They are, right to left, a Vauxhall, an Audi, and a 1959 Woolsely.
Our next stop was at one of the floating villages – which are actually houses on stilts in the shallow water. These villages were originally created by Philippine illegal immigrants who built floating homes which were not technically on the shore, and therefore could not be removed. At one time there were thousands of these homes, and over time the government has moved the residents into “apartments” and filled in the sites to increase available land. Some of these homes are seventy or eighty years old. They are referred to as “gypsies” by the local people.
We were allowed to visit one of the homes – note the Mosque in the background.
Note the satellite dish!
As we headed back to the ship, we stopped for pictures at this building which has a very unusual construction. The building is suspended from the single pedestal in the center. It houses government workers.
We also passed this Mosque – known as the floating Mosque, which holds 12,000 people for services.
Back to the ship and off to Hong Kong.