Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Back To Borneo 2006

This blogger holidayed in Borneo (East Malaysia) from December 11 to 23, 2006.

He spent 2 days in Sarawak's second (until 2000 it was third) largest city Miri, taking an Air Asia flight.

Then, he took another Air Asia flight (using Air Asia's subsidiary FAX) to the Federal Territory of Labuan and spent a night there.

From Labuan, he took a motorboat to Sabah and spent a good 11 days there.

He returned to Kuala Lumpur on December 23, via an Air Asia flight from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital.

This blogger nicknames Sabah the Sugar Bun Rabbit's warren.

Why Sugar Bun Rabbit? That's the nickname of Adam (Mohamad Aizam) Mat Saman, Sabah's best selling new male artiste and graduate of pop reality show Akademi Fantasia Season 2 (AF2).

Akademi Fantasia (now in its sixth season or year) is the best-selling product of Malaysia's satellite TV station Astro TV.

Sugar Bun is the leading fast food chain in Sabah, and Adam loves to hang out in the trendy Sugar Bun restaurant in his hometown Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital.

He is a mix of three indigenous tribes of Sabah namely the Dusun (or Kadazan), Bajau and Bruneian. Plus some Chinese (Hakka Chinese, like my mum's family).

Why rabbit? Sugar Bun's mascot is a rabbit, a blue one. Adam loves carrot juice and loves to say "Wassup?" just like Bugs Bunny.

Back to the trip.

On December 11, I landed via Air Asia (Malaysia's most bankable airline which proudly says, "Now Everybody Can Fly") in Miri, Sarawak's second largest town.

The flight from the Air Asia terminal of Sepang International Airport near Kuala Lumpur was delayed for four hours.

Air Asia may be more efficient than Malaysia Airlines (MAS) but its flights to Sarawak and Labuan often suffer delays.

Miri is a neat and tidy town and the centre of the country's oil industry.

The oldest oil well in Malaysia is found at the Miri Oil Museum atop Canada Hill, overlooking the town centre.

Miri's population is mostly Chinese (Hokkien and Hakka). The Sarawak natives such as the Ibans, Bruneians (Kedayans), Melanaus, Bidayuhs, Kenyahs and Kelabits form the rest.

It has many, beautifully landscaped gardens.

On December 13, I landed in Labuan, the little island to Sabah's south west which became a Malaysian Federal Territory on February 1, 1984.

Labuan used to be part of Brunei and the ancient sultans of Brunei (Adam's ancestors) used to live on the island whenever they wanted a holiday from their daily duties of looking after their vast empire.

Yes, Brunei's empire covered the whole of Borneo, and that means Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei proper and Banjarmasin (also called Kalimantan and divided into four provinces) which is today part of Indonesia.

Banjarmasin, ruled by a son of the early Brunei sultan, was taken by the Dutch in 1824 and ended up in Indonesia as a result.

Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah were taken by the British in the same period and the larger two states ended up in Malaysia as a result.

Brunei chose to delay its independence via Malaysia, and on January 1, 1984, became independent without joining Malaysia.

The British transferred Labuan from Brunei to Sabah in 1890, and Sabah made Labuan a Federal Territory in 1984.

That means, Labuan is, together with Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya (Malaysia's capital and deputy capital, respectively) a stateless town controlled directly by the Prime Minister's government via the Federal Territories Ministry.

Labuan is today a thriving international offshore financial centre.

It is a very well-maintained island town, and I hope it stays that way.

It is also the hometown of Datuk Seri Harris Salleh, Sabah's Indian-Bruneian fifth chief minister who served from 1976 to 1985.

Labuan is also the home of sweet singer and actress Norashikin (Ekin) Abdul Rahman of Astro's Akademi Fantasia Season 3 (AF3) who happens to be a dear friend of Adam the Sugar Bun Rabbit.

I nickname Ekin the Bruneian Water Mouse, as mice and rabbits are close pals.

On December 14, I took a speed boat from Labuan to Menumbok, a little village in the district of Kuala Penyu, facing Labuan, in south west Sabah.

There I caught up with the family of Malaysia's up-and-coming fencer Laura Simon.

The Simons, who are Dusun-Chinese (Dusuns are also called Kadazans), own a cafe named Muhibbah (National Unity) in the village.

From Menumbok, I took a mini bus to Beaufort, and a taxi to Sipitang, Sabah's south westernmost town which borders Sarawak's north easternmost town, Lawas.

Sipitang is the hometown of Sabah's second governor, a Bruneian prince named Tun Pengiran Ahmad Raffae Pengiran Othman.

The late Pengiran Ahmad served as governor from 1965 to 1973.

Beaufort is the hometown of Sabah's current chief minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, a protege of Harris Salleh. Musa is of Indian-Dusun ancestry.

Musa is also the nephew of Sabah's former Dusun cabinet minister Datuk Gunsanad Samson Sundang (or Datuk G S Sundang in short), of Keningau, in the interior of Beaufort.

Labuan, Beaufort, Kuala Penyu, Sipitang and Lawas are very Bruneian districts. That means, most of their indigenous peoples are Bruneians.

The Bruneians are also known as the Kedayans. They comprise 10 per cent of Sabah's population, 11 per cent of Sarawak's population, and the bulk of Brunei's, Labuan's and Indonesian Borneo's (Banjarmasin's) populations.

The Kelabits, also known as Lunbawangs or Lundayehs, are also found in the interior of Sipitang and Lawas.

The Kelabits are related to Sabah's four other indigenous tribes, the Dusuns, Bruneians, Bajaus and Muruts, as well as to the Melanaus of Sarawak.

Many famous Malaysian singers and actors are Bruneians (Kedayans).

They include the late Saloma (Salmah Ismail), the late Siput Sarawak, Anita Sarawak (Siput is her mum), Jamal Abdillah, M Daud Kilau, Dayang Nor Camelia Abang Khalid, Dayang Sofea Awang Ramli, Dayang Nurfaizah Awang Dowty and Dayangku Intan.

The most famous Kelabit on Malaysian TV is Hannah Tan, a popular TV3 host.

From Sipitang, I took a taxi to Kota Kinabalu, and from Sabah's capital, I proceeded to Sandakan on a night bus.

Oh, yes. Sabah was never governed by sons of the Brunei sultans, but by the sultan of Sulu.

The Sulus are an offshoot of the Bajaus, and they left Sabah to live in the Sulu Islands, now part of the Philippines.

The Sulu sultan ruled the whole of Sabah and the Sulu Islands, as well as Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon in the Philippines.

He also controlled Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands in southern Japan, before they were taken over by China and Japan, respectively.

The people of the Philippines, Muslim or Christian, and the natives of Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands, are all from the Sulus (Bajaus).

(This may offend them, but the Japanese and Koreans are of Sulu (Bajau), Chinese and Iranian roots)

Sabah became independent from Britain as a result of the tireless efforts of one Sulu royal, Tun Datu Mustapha Datu Harun.

He became Sabah's first governor, third chief minister and even served as a federal cabinet minister thrice.

Mustapha, who died in 1995, founded Sabah's chapter of the United Malay National Organisation or Umno in 1990.

This is the strongest party in Malaysia's conservative National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition of ruling parties, which has governed us since independence.

Umno Sabah is a merger of Mustapha's United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) and the Sabah United People's Party (Berjaya) led by his one-time protege, Harris Salleh.

Sandakan was with Kota Kinabalu (originally called Api-Api, the City of Mangroves) the Sulu sultan's capital in Sabah.

Both towns shared this honour with Jolo, the main capital of the Sulu empire which is in the Sulu Islands.

Samsol Laburan, a hard-working Bajau cabbie, took me around the town, Sabah's second biggest after Kota Kinabalu.

Among the places we visited were the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.

We also visited the Agnes Keith Museum, the former home of the famed American author who was the wife of Harry Keith, Sabah's colonial-era forestry department boss in the 1930s.

Agnes' famous books include "Land Below The Wind" and "Three Came Home".

The first is about her life in Sabah, while the second is about the internment of Harry, Agnes and their son, George, by the Japanese colonial army during the Second World War.

While Sabah's name means "Land Below The Wind" in Arabic, Agnes' book above made the English translation of the state's name popular.

It was the Brunei sultans who gave Sabah its name.

The Keiths eventually migrated to Canada. Harry and Agnes died in 1982.

Agnes' maiden name is Newton and her father was the founder of the Del Monte Company in the United States.

There is a nice English restaurant next to the Agnes Keith Museum. It is The English Tea House.

It is, perhaps, my favourite restaurant in Sandakan. Another is Ocean King Seafood Restaurant in Leila Road.

There is a peace park in Sibuga, Sandakan, dedicated to the Australian and British soldiers who were marched to their deaths some 3,000 km from Sandakan to Ranau, near the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, during the Japanese colonial era.

The peace park is the site of the former prisoners of war camp where the Australians and British were caged.

Of the 3,000 soldiers, only six survived.

There is a Japanese graveyard in Sandakan, which contains about 15 graves.

The most prominent of them is that of the graveyard's founder, Ino Okuni, a dedicated businesswoman and community leader of the Japanese during the British era.

After three days in Sandakan, I took a bus to Lahad Datu, and another to Tawau.

Lahad Datu is not a very interesting place but there is a little cafe called King Kong Cafe owned by the Leong family, a Cantonese Chinese family native to the town.

Most Lahad Datu residents are Bajaus, Dusuns of the Orang Sungai tribe, and Chinese.

Lahad Datu literally means the graveyard of the Sulu sultans. Sulu sultans were buried there, but their graveyard has never been found.

One of the most famous Bajaus from Lahad Datu is talented young actress Balkish Khan, a dear friend of Adam Mat Saman, who acted with him and Malaysia's Queen of Soul Ning Baizura of my hometown, Ipoh, in the 2007 film Diva.

The Orang Sungai Dusuns are coastal dwellers and excellent seafarers not unlike the Bajaus.

There are two groups of Orang Sungai namely the Paitan and Idahan. The Idahan are experts in harvesting swift nests which they pluck from the Gomantong Caves in Kinabatangan, near Sandakan.

One of the most famous Orang Sungais in Malaysia is Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin, the Member of Parliament for Kinabatangan.

Another is I Harthono, who recently carved a replica of the Malaysian Flag, Jalur Gemilang (Stripes of Glory) on a cliff overlooking the Bajau water village of Buli Sim Sim in Sandakan town.

One-time model and actress Wilma Mohamad, who acted with popular singer and Malaysian Marvin Gaye Jamal Abdillah in the film "Ghazal Untuk Rabiah" is also an Orang Sungai.

Adam's dear friends, hip-hopper Sabhi Saddi (Adam's bandmate), TV3 reality talent show Mentor's second season winner and rocker Fiq Halim and his singer-and-actress cousin Nora Daud of Akademi Fantasia Season 4 (whom I think has great screen chemistry with Adam and can be his screen girlfriend any day!) are also Orang Sungai.

Fiq and Nora are close relatives of the members of Sabah's veteran club band Atomic Power. Nora was even a member of the band for a short while.

Tawau, Sabah's third largest town, is not that interesting either. I dined at the satay (Malaysian barbecue) cafe of Ghani Gibbie and his wife Ayuma Watson.

Ghani and Ayuma are Cocos Islanders. They are an interesting group of people.

The Cocos Islanders are descendants of Dusuns, Bajaus, Muruts and Bruneians who were sent to the Cocos and Christmas Islands in northern Australia during the British colonial era.

The islands were the property of British Australian businessman John Clunies Ross, who is distantly related to handsome British American actor George Clooney of "Ocean's 11" fame.

Ross roped in Sabahans to work as coconut plantation labourers.

The Ross family sold the islands to the Australian government after the Second World War.

The Sabahans who settled in the islands are all related because they were a small and closely knit community which did not seek wives from outside the islands.

They have a unique culture which is a blend of Dusun, Bajau, Murut, Bruneian and British (particularly Scottish).

They also have their own dialect of Bahasa Malaysia which sounds like the dialect of Indonesia's capital Jakarta.

Not surprising, because Jakarta is very near to the Cocos and Christmas Islands.

The country's most famous Cocos Islanders are Datuk Railey Jeffrey, the former Deputy Information Minister, and his niece, Mas Ghani, a finalist of Akademi Fantasia Season 2.

Oh, yes. Mas is the youngest of Ghani's and Ayuma's six kids.

Many of Tawau's natives are Tidong Muruts.

The Tidongs are coastal Muruts who live in Tawau and its neighbouring districts Kunak and Semporna.

Unlike the Muruts proper who live in the south western interior districts of Pensiangan, Keningau and Tenom, the Tidongs are seafarers.

They are very close to the Bajaus and Orang Sungai Dusuns.

Famous Tidongs include former Sabah chief minister and governor Tun Sakaran Dandai, federal cabinet minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (Sakaran's nephew), former Sabah state assembly speaker Tan Sri Sunoh Marso, and attorney general Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.

Mas' school chum and fellow Akademi Fantasia luminary Yazer Yusof who is known as the Sabahan Bo Bice has Tidong maternal ancestry. However, his paternal ancestry is Bruneian from Labuan and he counts as his distant cousin Ekin Rahman.

The Tidongs used to have their own kingdom, Bulungan, which is today part of East Kalimantan, Banjarmasin in Indonesian Borneo.

Bulungan roughly covers the district of Tanjungselor in East Kalimantan province of Banjarmasin today.

After two days in Tawau, it was back to Kota Kinabalu for me.

On December 19, I made a day trip to Kudat, Sabah's northernmost town and the birthplace of Datu Mustapha.

There, I visited Simpang Tanjung Mengayau, the northernmost point of Malaysia. The sea at this cape is very rough. However, the water is clear and blue.

I also visited the Rungus village of Bavanggazo. The Rungus are a friendly tribe of Dusuns.

Their womenfolk famously wear several golden leg bracelets at a time.

The Rungus family I visited is that of Maranjak Malarag. Maranjak operates a homestay for visitors to Kudat.

At the cape, I met James Kadai, a notable Rungus community leader. He owns the Simpang Tanjung Mengayau Cafe.

I was free and easy in Kota Kinabalu from December 20 to 23.

On December 21, I visited the Monsopiad Cultural Village, a Dusun museum, in Penampang, the next town south of Kota Kinabalu.

The village is owned by the Bajerai family, descendants of Monsopiad, the great Dusun chief who united the Dusuns of Sabah.

The Bajerais are related to Datuk Peter Mojuntin, a member of Sabah's first state government. Mojuntin died in an air crash in Kota Kinabalu in 1976.

Also killed on the same flight was Sabah's first chief minister and third governor Tun Muhammad Fuad (Donald) Stephens, who was a modern-day Monsopiad. Stephens, Mustapha's close friend, shares his title of "Sabah's Father Of Independence".

Stephens is the mentor of Sabah's sixth chief minister and present deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan.

Both Stephens and Kitingan hold the life-long title of Hoguan Siou or headman of the Dusun tribe.

Stephens was the first Hoguan Siou while Kitingan succeeded him.

Stephens is buried in the Sabah state mosque in Kota Kinabalu. Mustapha is buried on a hill close to the cultural village.

Mustapha chose to be buried on the hill because it was a historical site.

His great grand uncle, the Sulu sultan's representative in Sabah, Datu Mat Salleh, established a fort on the hill, to fight the British colonial army.

Mat Salleh spent five years from 1895 to 1900 fighting colonial rule. He was killed by one of his treacherous followers.

Mustapha is the grand uncle of sisters Pija and Naufara Yasin, two of Sabah's most popular young female singers.

Pija was the champion of the first season of TV3 reality talent show Mentor. She is distantly related to Adam the Sugar Bun Rabbit.

The cultural village's owners, the Bajerais, are cousins of pop queen and Malaysian Idol judge Fauziah Latiff, the Paula Abdul of Malaysia.

Fauziah's father's brother married a descendant of Monsopiad. As a result, she has Dusun cousins in Penampang, Sabah.

Oh, yes. Adam the Sugar Bun Rabbit has his Dusun ancestors from Penampang.

They are distant kin of Monsopiad.

Sabah's population of about a million comprises 45 per cent Dusuns, 18 per cent Bajaus, 7 per cent Muruts, 10 per cent Bruneians and 20 per cent Chinese.

Of the Dusuns, 11 per cent are Muslims while the rest are Christians. The Bajaus and Bruneians are 100 per cent Muslim while of the Muruts, 2 per cent are Muslims while the rest are Christians.

Kota Kinabalu is a well-planned city by the South China Sea. It does not have many high-rise buildings, and it is easy to walk around the city centre.

Its economy is Chinese (especially Hakka) dominated. The natives are mostly Bajaus, Bruneians and Dusuns.

Kota Kinabalu has only one shopping centre of Kuala Lumpur standards, Centre Point, which is located close to the Promenade Hotel where I stayed.