Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mantanani Island - Getting to know the community

One of the houses of Bajau Ubian of Mantanani Island

3rd-6th Sept'2015: Kuala Lumpur-Kota Kinabalu-Kota Belud-Mantanani Island

Mantanani Island is located off the North-West coast of Sabah, Malaysia. It is a cluster of three islands, i.e. Mantanani Besar, Mantanani Kecil and Lunggisan. However, only Mantanani Besar has habitants, a population around 2000. People there are called Bajau Ubian. They speak their own language which is totally different from Bahasa Malaysia. Best communication is via Bahasa Malaysia, however with the boost of tourism industry and the presence of many NGOs at the islands, most Mantananians can speak and understand basic English. 

The main source of income is all related to the sea as most are fishermen. Other occupations are small enterprises owner such as the groceries and eateries. There are also some that work at the resorts as a guide, cook, housekeeping staff, general worker and diver. Based on our random survey, average income per household is around RM500/month.

Meeting up with the community and authorities for our programmes
There were six of us travelling from KLIA2 to Kota Kinabalu at the earliest hour. The flight to Kota Kinabalu took about two and a half hours. We reached the airport around 11.00am after a slight delay by Air Asia of course. From the airport, we took a private vehicle to Kota Belud, about an hour journey to our next destination, i.e. the jetty. We took a boat provided by our homestay operator at Jeti Kg.Rampayan Laut, Kota Belud. It took us only 45 minutes to reach Mantanani Besar Island. It was a beautiful journey, enjoyable boat ride of the South China Sea and it was a scene to behold. I kind of mesmerised by it. The boat has no roof so we were exposed by the scorchingly hot UV rays. However, once the boat started to move, the wind made it more bearable and you hardly feel the heat. This was when my SPF 130 sunblock served its purpose. 

The day we arrived

As we were reaching the shallow water of the island, the water started to change to light blue, almost green sometimes and emerald green. It was crystal clear, I held my breath full of excitement. Such beautiful water and high visibility. I can see the seabed. 

Beautiful coconut trees and white sandy beaches can be seen from afar. It was not even near landing. And as when the boat approaches the beach (yes we anchored all the way to the beach instead of a jetty because it was nearest point to our homestays), we were greeted by the village children and the people of Mantanani observing us with curiously but not without a smile. 

The things that facinate me on first day of arrival.

A lot of caws and ducks along the stretch of the beach we landed. The caws like to eat just about anything it can find and it roam the entire island. The village is called Kampung Padang. There are only two villages in the island, i.e. Kg. Padang and Kg. Siring Bukit. The most populated is Kg. Padang where the homestays are. Houses were built a mere 5 meters apart from each other. There were no motor vehicles on the island except for bicycles. No road and no engine noises except for the sound of generators and boat engines. That's it. A very basic simple lifestyle. 

The hospitality we received from the homestays was beyond our expectations. We had our welcoming drink provided by one of the homestay owner, i.e. Tuan Haji Boy (homestay that I stayed with my friend Awang). We were separated in three different homestays, two pax for each homestay. The community were courteous, very friendly and they smiled all the time.  We felt at home in their homes.

Homestay rate was RM100/pax per night inclusive of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks in between as well as supper). Bajau Ubian are great at cooking. We ate like a p**. Sorry but truly. I gained a bit when I was there. Thanks to the fresh seafood and the good cook. 

Lobsters, Garoupa, Red Sea Bream (Ikan Kakap Merah), abalones, parrot fish, sea snails and what not. We ate all these during the 4Day 4Night stay at the homestay

Humidity is extremely high in Mantanani as I mentioned earlier. It is advisable to only wear thin fabrics, not to forget shades and lots of sunblock (only if you are not planing to swim or go into diving because sunscreen lotion can kill the corals). I used SPF130 sunblock and never parted from my hand-fan. Electricity at the island is generated from one big generator, therefore it was rationed for only 12 hours a day, i.e. from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. the next day. However, during our stay, the generator broke down and it was humid like h**. Sorry again. I sweated like nobody business, I ran out of shirt and panties. I had to open all windows and sometimes slept outside on the balcony. Torchlight or headlamp is a must as there are no street lights. Blackouts happen pretty often and you might want to take a night walk.  

Owh, another important thing is that, they use an underground water from individual water source that they dig deep in the ground. It was amazing how they all could dig out water this way. The taste is not salty but thick with minerals. Taking shower with this water sting the eyes at first but you get used to it afterwards. 

Our first agenda was to get to know the community, putting up posters and meeting up the community leaders. It was a taxing task for us on our first day of acclimatisation but we managed. 

My next posting will show the community programme that we had with school. We taught the children of Mantanani about Basic Photography, Basic English Communication and Basic Journalism. Think it was too hard for them? Nope. they coped very well and shined with million colours. 

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