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How the Bajau came to live in Tempasuk, otherwise known as Kota Belud today

Before it was named Kota Belud, this district was widely known as Tempasuk.

It is located at the midpoint of the highway connecting Sabah’s state capital Kota Kinabalu with Kudat town near the northern tip of Sabah.

Many regard the town of Kota Belud as the unofficial capital and gateway to the heartland of the West Coast Bajau people.

Besides the West Coast Bajau, the town is also home to the Dusun, Illanun and Chinese peoples.

The West Coast Bajau are often referred to as Bajau-Sama, Sama Kota Belud or sometimes Bajau Kota Belud.

This is to distinguish them from the East Coast Bajau or Sama Dilaut or Sama Laut who settled in the eastern coast of Sabah.

How did the Bajau-Sama people first come to Tempasuk in the olden days?

British anthropologist Ivor H.N. Evans in his book Among Primitive peoples in Borneo might have the answer where he collected a range of local stories told in the oral tradition.

West Coast Bajau horsemen in their hometown of Kota Belud, with Mount Kinabalu behind them. Credits: Creative Commons
Tempasuk and the kendilong tree

There is a tree which the locals call kendilong. Although it had sap that was clear as water, it was also very irritating to the skin. The tree also proved to be a great home for bees.

A long time ago, there was a poor Dusun man who dreamed that if he could find a kendilong tree he would become rich.

So the man set out to look for one. He discovered one just as night was about to fall. Since it was late, he decided to spend the night.

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The next morning, the man left and later returned with two companions.

After collecting the sap, the man noticed there was a bee’s nest on top of the tree. They collected the nest, although they did not know what to do with it.

On their way back, they came across a Bajau man who had come up the river in a boat.

At the time, Bajaus did not live in Tempasuk yet. The Bajau man offered to help the Dusun man sell his bee’s nest, and share the profit between them.

Being practical, he also asked the Dusun man to collect more nests, in case they really were profitable.

So the two men swore an oath of brotherhood, sacrificing a hen to mark the occasion.

While the Bajau sailed away, the Dusun man searched hard for bee’s nests.

Three months later, the Bajau man returned to Tempasuk, his tongkang filled with goods from the sale of the bees nest to share with him just as he promised.

Imagine how happy he was to see that the Dusun man’s house was full of bee’s nests.

Seeing the start of a mutually beneficial friendship, that was how the alliance formed between the Dusun and the Bajau. Eventually, the Bajau resettled in Tempasuk while the Dusun learned the use of beeswax.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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