Monsopiad Cultural Village is a wonderful place to learn more about the intriguing lives of the notorious head-hunting traditions from the island of Borneo. Although the practice of chopping one’s enemies’ heads off is no longer practised, it’s fascinating to think that this was the norm in the not-so-distant past.
Located in the Malaysian state of Sabah, close to the state capital of Kota Kinabalu, you can also take a closer look into the culture and traditions from yesteryear, and pay your respects to a once fearsome warrior and the unfortunate souls who were relieved of their heads!
Uncover the legend of Monsopiad …
Local legends tell the story of a man and a woman who were expecting a baby. A sacred bird lived on top of their house, its eggs hatching at the same time as the lady gave birth to her son, Monsopiad. The baby and the hatchlings were taken care of together by Monsopiad’s father, who believed that his son was destined for great things.
Monsopiad’s grandfather was the head of the village of Kuai, but, unfortunately, the village had few warriors and so came under attack often. When Monsopiad became older, he grew into a mighty warrior. He promised to avenge the villagers for the dastardly deeds they had suffered in the past, saying that he would bring back the heads of those who had done wrong to the village and keep them as trophies! Monsopiad was a hero!
Having rid the village of its enemies, his thirst for blood and battle grew. Indeed, it grew so much that the villagers, now afraid of him, plotted to kill him. After his murder, the villagers, still thankful for all that Monsopiad had done for their village in spite of their fear, renamed the village in his honour and installed a monument to celebrate his achievements.
… And see the gruesome skulls that he collected!
During his powerful years as a fearless fighter, Monsopiad collected a total of 42 skulls. These skulls still hang from the rafters in one of the village’s buildings, the House of Skulls. Straw has been placed between the craniums, presumably to prevent them from smashing against each other and breaking, but you can wander below the hanging human heads and clearly make out the hollow eye sockets, the vacant nasal cavities, and the gaping mouths. The grisly and lifeless heads are a powerful reminder of traditions from times gone by.
You can also see the monument erected in Monsopiad’s honour.
See how traditional rice wine is made
The Monsopiad Cultural Village is operated by descendants of Monsopiad, members of the Kadazandusun ethnic group. The village seeks to preserve tribal culture, and teach visitors about their ways of life from the past and the present.
One way in which the villagers showcase their culture is by providing demonstrations as to how they make rice wine, with traditional methods that have changed little over many hundreds of years. Taking you step-by-step through the process, you will have the opportunity to taste the finished product – it’s rather potent!
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Take part in traditional activities and games
Have you ever wanted to have a go at firing a dart from a blow pipe? Pick up the long pipe, hold it in your outstretched arms, try and keep it level, and blow hard! There are targets for you to practice your aim.
Would you be able to use a slingshot (a hand-held catapult) to fight off your enemies and hunt for your dinner? Whilst you won’t be taking aim at any living creatures, you can test your prowess with the crude weapon.
Have a giggle as you try and balance on stilts, traditionally used to cross water, have fun playing games that have been enjoyed by the local villagers for many years, try and create melodic sounds with the diverse musical instruments, and learn more about leisure and life in the village.
Watch a captivating cultural performance
Locals from Monsopiad Cultural Village work hard to preserve their traditions of old. Part of their preservation efforts includes showing visitors their customary dress, dances, and warrior activities.
Unlike many other cultural centres, the performance area at Monsopiad Cultural Village is really small, with seating for about just 30 people. This offers a more intimate and inclusive experience.
A small group of men and women don their traditional clothing, whilst others play music on traditional instruments. They take to the stage to show ritualistic dances, inviting members of the audience to join in with some of the easier moves. One dance involves jumping over long poles of bamboo that are clacked together and banged on the floor. Have a go if you get the chance – it’s lots of fun!
You can also watch as a man in tribal warrior costume fires darts from a blowpipe with impressive precision, and demonstrates the chilling war cry.
Other activities and attractions at the Monsopiad Cultural Village
A living village, you can see the homes where villagers have lived for many generations. There are some pleasant walks, including across a long suspension bridge that is surrounded by nature. See how locals store rice to ensure that they have enough food for throughout the year, and be taken back to the times of animism, spirit-worship, and when the high priestess was held in great esteem.
There is an onsite gift shop, where you can buy hand-made crafts and local souvenirs.
Admission to Monsopiad Cultural Village costs 75 MYR (approximately 19.50 USD), including a tour of the village, activities, and a cultural show. Various other packages are available too, including lunch or dinner plus the cultural show (details are available on the website).
A great way to understand more about the tribal culture that prevailed on Borneo for so long, and heaps of fun as well, book your trip to Monsopiad Cultural Village in Sabah for a fantastic day out.
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