This will be the last post on my recent trip to Sabah on the island of Borneo. For me personally, the highlight of my trip was the visit that the conference delegates paid to a remote interior village located within the Crocker Range Park.
It was the village of Ulu Senagang Keningau. The name approximately means the settlement in the upper reaches of the river named after the odd shaped rock which is inhabited by the Keningau clan of the Murut tribe. This village is about 4 hours from the city of Kota Kinabalu by car and maybe an hour from the nearest neighbouring settlement. It is not the most remote village by far as some villages require a few days walking to get to. The village though is however located within a community use zone of Crocker Range Park.
The Park was formed to protect a very important watershed area. However, the villagers were already there before the formation of the park and part of their farms and fruit orchards now lie within the Park boundary. Rather than forcing them to abandon their homes, the Park authorities are trying to develop a community management of the affected area that allows certain activities to continue as long as the Park’s objectives of conservation are not compromised.
The villagers were told that a bunch of visitors from all over ASEAN were going to visit and they went out of their way to prepare for the visit. When we arrived, we could see a long line of villagers, from the old to the young, patiently waiting to greet us and shake our hands. It took quite a while for the 40 odd visitors to shake the over 100 waiting hands. This hand-shaking ceremony was delayed also because for many of the 40 visitors, arrival at the village meant the first chance of a toilet break in 3 hours.
Milling around outside the toilets (LGS)
Wewere then ushered into their school building and regaled with speeches and a dance. After that we were treated to tea and coffee and a selection of staples such as tapioca, sweet potato and sago that had been steamed in banana leaves. Very nice though starchy in consistancy. Later, we had an opportunity to look at and purchase some of their traditional handicrafts.
The people were wonderfully warm. They were not shy or self-conscious which is the experience I have had with the First Peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. Instead, they were very self assured and openly friendly. We had a good time interacting with the young to the old. The children were very happy to see themselves on the playback screen of digital cameras.
I had one very interesting experience. At the entrance to the village was an old hand pump. It was part of a Canadian-University of Malaya project to install and test handpumps which could be easily repaired by local villagers. This project took place in the 1980’s and was in fact part of my very first job. I never came to Sabah to install any handpump but this was clearly part of the same project. The handpump has now been motorised but clearly the well shaft was still in use. It was interesting to see something from the start of my working career.