KOTA KINABALU: No doubt, many travellers at the airport here and in Miri did a double take at the sight of a group of tattooed warriors striding barefoot through the terminals on Saturday (April 30).
The group of Orang Asal (indigenous people) from Sarawak, led by activist Peter John Jaban, comprised 72 people, 60 of them clad in traditional Iban “sirat” clothing.
They boarded an AirAsia flight from Miri bound for Sabah’s capital as a cultural excursion to the Land Below the Wind.
“We wanted to create history because no group in such numbers has ever boarded a plane only in sirat clothing,” Peter told The Star on Monday (May 2).
“However, that’s not the important part. The ultimate reason why we have come to Sabah is to show the people here our culture, to promote Sarawak to Sabah and to the world in general.”
A video of the group boarding the flight went viral on social media, with many users commending them for their courage.
Despite the short 50-minute flight, anyone flying shirtless would most likely feel the cold but Peter said his travelling companions did not mind at all.
“Of course it was cold but we didn't care about that. All we were thinking about was this cultural exchange with Sabah,” he said, adding that the warm hospitality of the cabin crew also helped.
On reaching Kota Kinabalu at 7.20pm, the group was welcomed by a Sabahan delegation before making their way to the Waterfront in the city’s downtown area.
They took part in a flash mob accompanied by traditional musicians from Sarawak.
Peter noted that the visitors also hoped to learn a lot about the Sabahan culture and way of life on their trip, and also visit important historical sites.
“We went to the Batu Sumpah today and learned what it was all about,” he said, referring to an oath stone erected in the interior Keningau district, commemorating the country’s formation in 1963.
They were also warmly received by the Murut ethnic community, which shares many similarities with the Iban, during their visit to Tenom district, he added.
The group is currently at the Monurali Garden Resort in Penampang near here where they will spend the next two days holding cultural performances and tattooing demonstrations before returning to Miri on Wednesday (May 4).
Peter said he is already planning to return with a bigger group.
“We will feature other ethnic groups from Sarawak next and we will try going for a Guinness World Record of filling the plane with 170 indigenous Sarawakians in traditional costumes then,” he said.
He also thanked the Sarawak Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Ministry for its support of the group's visit to Sabah.