Tamu grounds were located in convenient, shady areas, usually on flat ground close to both the hills and the sea and with easy accesses to the various tribes and traders. Headhunting and slavery was rife if the old days, so travelling to the tamu and meeting with your enemies were not very conducive to trading. To overcome this, oath stones were erected in the middle of the Tamu ground and the various tribes swore to honour the truce of market day. Today these oath stones can still be found at some of the older tamu grounds and in keeping with tradition they are also erected when the government opens a new tamu ground. In the old days, weapons were surrendered at the entrance to the tamu before you could enter the grounds and an important aspect to keep the peace as many of the traders and shoppers were very fond of imbibing on the various local brews.
Today the tamu has not changed very much at all and there is a tamu held almost everyday of the week in Sabah. One often hears about the Sunday Tamu at Kota Belud and also the Gaya street market, while these are very interesting in their own way, I have always had a fondness for the Penampang Tamu. This is held at the tamu grounds in Donggongon, which is the main town of Penampang, and it’s only a 20-minute drive away from the City. The tamu here is held for 2 consecutive days every Thursday and Friday. By Wednesday
|The betel ladies.|
There are also temperate vegetables from the highlands together with lowland greens, jungle ferns and local vegetables from the swamps. Jars of pickled wild mango (Bambangan) and jungle gingers (Tuhau) sit side by side with “Takob akob”a dried sour fruit and packets of Sago starch. Also, tropical fruit seedlings with houseplants and orchids and in another section, while a few Chinese traders sell farming implements, hardware and fertilisers. Local Dusun ladies sell various grades of locally grown tobacco together with dried palm leaves to use as cigarette papers and they also carry all the requisites for making a beetle quid. A habit that is slowly but surely dying a natural death as nobody considers the habit of chewing betel nut, beetle leaves, baked seashell powder and other items as very appetising anymore.
Another part of the tamu, houses the colourful local cake section where many traditional delicacies are cooked on the spot. Other stalls sell various kinds of rice, free range chickens, live freshwater eels and fish while the Obian and Bajau folks from the nearby islands sell various types of fresh cockles, giant clam meat, and seaweed amidst heaps of dried fish, whitebait and dried shrimps.
Its best to visit the tamu on Thursday mornings as it is at its most vibrant and is a great opportunity to catch a glimpse into a very culturally important aspect of the local people of Sabah.
Text and photos by DAVID DE LA HARPE