IN THE day of one-stop shopping centres and hypermarkets, the weekly tamu or traditional farmers’ market of Sabah still holds strong.
The tamu is held in most major towns along the state’s west coast including Donggongon in Penampang near the state capital, Sipitang, Tambunan, Tamparuli, Tuaran, and the most notable in Kota Belud district.
Located about an hour’s drive north of Kota Kinabalu, Kota Belud is easily associated with the traditional market as the town hosts the annual tamu besar or grand tamu.
This year’s event was launched by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Yahya Hussin at a colourful ceremony in the Kota Belud town field last week.
Yahya said the grand tamu in Kota Belud was extra special, given the district’s rich cultural heritage, notably the culture of the Bajaus who were good in handicraft.
Among the events held at the launch was a parade of 100 Bajau horsemen, better known as Cowboys of the East, resplendent in their colourful attire, including the dastar headgear, and riding their ponies to the applause of hundreds of onlookers including dozens of tourists.
In addition, there were cultural performances by the various communities living around Kota Belud, such as the Kadazandusuns, Iranuns, Ubians and Bajaus.
The event was far different from the original tamu that served as a meeting point for Sabah’s indigenous communities for hundreds of years.
While communities such as the Bajaus and Iranuns lived in coastal areas and earned a living as fishermen and making salt from the sea, the Kadazandusuns lived in inland areas where they cultivated rice, vegetables, cassava and other crops.
In those days, at a pre-determined day and place (usually in the cool shade of a rainforest tree), the communities would meet to barter goods and the event became known as the tamu.
Tamu is the colloquial term for the Malay word temu which means “meet”, and in this context, tamu means meeting point to buy and sell goods.
It is also to the tamu that farmers take buffaloes for sale.
The trading of buffaloes continues today at the Kota Belud tamu. A host of other goods are available ranging from vegetables and traditional handicraft to colourful tudung luang (food covers made of pandanus leaves) to parang and machetes of the Bajaus.
Other interesting items on display were traditional gongs and hats made of tree bark.
Visitors can also find traditional Bajau pancakes or kuih pajeram that are delicious when hot off the small woks they are fried in.
Another treat for tamu goers is the oversized tapioca or cassava crackers.