Journey to the Longhouses of Kudat

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Before we welcome you to the bountiful land called the land of the last longhouses in Sabah, there are some interesting facts to ponder to make our journey a memorable one. No doubt, the longhouses here are not as iconic or authentic as those in neighboring state of Sarawak but the need to protect this shriveling cultural heritage is a significant effort that we, travelers can help.
Today, the longhouses in Kudat, north of Sabah do not dominate the landscapes, as most of the Rungus community has shunned the longhouse lifestyle – moving on with the passage of time. One such remaining residence with active population is the Mompilis Longhouse, while several efforts to promote longhouses as tourist attraction are in steady progress.
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Souvenir shop at Bavanggazo Longhouse
The Chinese have an old saying, “Just as the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world, it turned into a butterfly.”  This aptly describes one of the most prominent and interesting cultural houses at Matunggong District of Kudat, “Bavanggazo Longhouse”. Located at Kampung Tinangol, this longhouse perched on a little hill 40km to the South of Kudat town and about 98 kilometers from Kota Kinabalu.
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Bedroom with mosquito net

Back in 1995, just when Angkung, the head of Bavanggazo almost give up in expanding his family house into a commercial accommodation, Angkung was showered with blessings through financial assistance from Sabah Tourism Board as well as advice and technical assistance from Borneo Eco Tours for as long as 2 years. This industry support enabled the longhouse to increase visitor numbers and
income for the Rungus community.

The formation of Bavanggazo Longhouse has recaptured the fading identity of the indigenous Rungus, a sub group of Kadazan Dusun people who mainly stay in Kudat. With a distinctive language, dress, architecture, customs and literature, in the past, each family owned a separate quarters off the main hall. At the edge of this hall a raised split bamboo platform, backed by an outward sloping wall of widely spaced poles, provide a well ventilated and comfortable area for relaxation and socializing.
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Mingling with Rungus dancers
Visitors have the preference to stay overnight or just opt for a short day visit while chilling in the well- ventilated elevated platform of split bamboo flooring. We find that the architecture of the longhouse is quite spectacular, with towering poles rise some feet above the sloped ground surface, while the interior fittings are exquisitely furnished with finely weaved dried nipah palm, partitioned with dried tree skin, and the solid long house foundation and structure are made of quality timber –“Belian”. Although this wooden longhouse specifically built for tourism, there is nothing commercial or artificial about the village, and the locals retain their authentic charm and hospitality as they go about their normal livelihood.
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Weaving
Civil travelers who are fond of the new era of “community-based tourism” will find Bavanggazo Longhouse an ideal destination. This is because such programme engages existing environment ranging from accommodation to the longhouse lifestyle. Here visitors can still enjoy privacy and comforts with amenities such as mattress, mosquito net, common bathrooms and clean water supply. The longhouse visit packages offered by tour operators usually include a list of homestay activities to the likes of rubber tapping, cultural dance, sampling traditional food and cycling. Responsible travelers can also make the effort to contribute in-kind by teaching basic English, or even fundamental of hygienic lifestyle to the local community.
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Rubber tapping
Angkung, the “unsung hero” of Bavanggazo has never been as expressive during our interview. He thanked the steering committee for Sabah Homestay programme comprising members from the Sabah and Malaysia Ministry of Tourism, Tourism Boards and Tourist Associations, 3 members from WWF (MESCOT, Partners of Wetland, Community Program), the Sabah Ministry of Rural Development and Albert Teo, founder of Borneo Eco Tours for his guidance to making Bavanggazo Longhouse a sustainable one.
How to Get There 
To get to Kudat, you can either rent a car, self drive up North or book through a tour operator in Kota Kinabalu. For much cheaper option, you can even take a bus from Padang Merdeka just opposite of the library. Inform the driver about your destination and they will get you there without additional cost. From the long house you can also walk back to the main road to get public transportation back to Kota Kinabalu town.
The entrance fee to Bavanggazo long house is RM5 for non Malaysian and RM3 for Malaysian. As for the homestay package, the charges per night for Non Malaysian are RM75 and for Malaysian is RM55.http://www.borneoecotours.com/tours_view.php?id=11

By Melissa Lim

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