The predominant culture of Sabah consists in a motley of cultures, each of which has been brought in by the different groups of immigrants apart from its indigenous culture. The total population of Sabah consists of more than thirty different ethnicities and races and the number of languages and dialects goes over eighty. The most noteworthy thing is that all these groups live together and form a homogenous community, with each retains its own culture, custom, tradition, art, and festivals. The indigenous group of Sabah include Murut, Bajau, Kadazan Dusun, Bisaya, Kadayan, Orang Sungei, Brunei, Rungu, and other different sub groups.
Originally almost the complete population of Sabah lived in the coastal areas in the rivers and lagoons. They kept themselves protected from the sea and depended on it largely. As visitors came in through the sea, most of the indigenous people shifted inland. The groups that arrived from the neighbouring countries include groups like Obian, Suluk, Irranun, and Bajau. These groups settled and formed fishing communities at the coastal region. Until today, the people here retain their ancient cultural heritage that they are proud of. The place remains a large tourist attractor till now in offering a fascinating multicultural experience.
The early history of Sabah together with the origin of the indigenous people, their customs and languages are still shrouded in mystery. The earliest of evidences of the men’s footprints in Sabah that comes from the archaeological excavations suggest that humans existed as back as twenty thousand years ago which would take one to be in the Ice Age. The indigenous inhabitants of the present day Sabah can be said to have emerged from the Austronesians from Taiwan.
By the 10th century AD, the traders from China began voyaging to Borneo to exchange the ceramic storage jars along with other objects of everyday use such as birds’ nests, medicines etc.
When Sabah gained independence, it has faced quite a significant change in the religious composition. Though the state is constituted largely by Muslim and Christian communities, there are other religions as well that include Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Sabah Constitution was amended in 1973 by USNO to make Islam the religion of the state. The conversion of Sabahan natives to Islam are promoted vigorously by USIA by means of offering office positions and rewards and by bringing in Muslim immigrants from Indonesia and Philippines. The Christian missionaries were expelled from Sabah aiming at reducing the Christian population.
Muslims now constitute more than 65% of local population and the inhabitants of the state have diverse ethnicity, including Koreans, Japanese, Eurasians, Arabs, Southeast Asians and Filipino.
The tourist activities in Sabah are focussed primarily on eco tourism and tourism is one of the major contributors to Sabah’s economy. There are a total of six national parks that Sabah has presently. The Kinabalu National Park had been designated as a World Heritage site.
Sabah is famous all over the world for its rich cultural heritage and the festivals in the state constitute a significant part. Pesta Kaamatan is the most popular festival of Sabah. It is the harvest festival of Dusuns and Kadazans held in May. The festival features traditional dances. One of the most prominent dances that are featured includes one of the high priestesses bobohizan. The dance showcases the search for rice spirits in trance. The celebration is a rather ritualistic one that greets the harvesting of rice.
The state also celebrates other festivals. One among them is the celebration of Chinese New Year by the Chinese. Another notable festival celebrated by the Muslims of Sabah is that of Hari Raya.
A number of local trade fairs are arranged periodically in the small towns of Sabah. The fairs are held in open air and are called Tamus. The trade fairs play an important commercial role as they are a strategy of marketing various products. The fairs are a somewhat spontaneous hustle of buying and selling various articles and products.
The natives also visit the fair for a possible barter of goods that include the types of farm produce, traditional wares, handicrafts, food items, and other materials and objects. Despite the commercial side of these local trade fairs, they can also be deemed as social and cultural events. Tamus showcase a truly rural yet an ethnic and colourful bazaar.