Quaint little ghost town


  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 08 Jan 2020

Microcosm: The old town of Membakut and its railway station boasts a modest population of 20,000. — ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE/The Star

BEAUFORT: Three small towns with pre-colonial buildings in the Kimanis parliamentary constituency sit along the busy Kota Kinabalu-Beaufort road.

For those plying the road which connects the state capital to Sabah’s southwestern Beaufort and Sipitang that borders Sarawak’s northern town of Lawas, the quaint towns of Kimanis, Bongawan and Membakut could be a stopover for a cup of coffee.

A single-row of wooden double-storey shophouses that was known as Kimanis town is now a ghost town with development expanding to a more modern Kimanis centre known as Kimanis Centro that sits next to the Sabah Oil and Gas Terminal.

Bongawan town is bigger than Kimanis town. It has concrete shophouses that dominate the five pre-colonial wooden shophouses.

The three towns make up the Kimanis constituency, which has over 130 villages spreading from the eastern foothills of the mountainous Crocker Range to the South China Sea.

There are 29,664 voters in the constituency where some 20,000 are Muslim bumiputra who are mostly Malay Brunei, and some 8,000

ethnic Kadazandusun with fewer than 1,000 Chinese and others.If you want to be in a place where there are more shops and houses than humans, Membakut town is the place to be.

There are rows of shops, cars parked in designated lots and people selling and trading, but there are hardly any customers and people walking around.

This small sleepy town is home to fewer than 20,000 people comprising fishermen, rubber tappers, estate workers, small-time businessmen and civil servants.

Coffee shop operator Irene Paul, 51, said when she was younger, Membakut was a bustling town.

She recalled the days when rubber and palm oil prices were higher, which also contributed to local folk wanting to stay in the area.

“However, as the years go by, more of the younger people leave for the city, leaving only us older folk, farmers, fishermen and civil servants posted from elsewhere, ” she said.

Irene’s family has been running their coffeeshop for almost 30 years.

With such slow business now, she wonders whether her son or grandchildren would take over the business when the time comes.

Her son, Albon Chua Bon, 29, who works as a landscaping supervisor in Kota Kinabalu about 80km away, was back home for a short break.

He hopes there will be more development in Membakut.

“To lure the people back, there must be better facilities and job opportunities, but this will not happen if there is no investment or development here, ” he said.

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