Spotlight look: Sabah Museum, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (Borneo)

Sabah Museum is located near downtown Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah State in Malaysia. The museum focuses on the history and prehistory of Sabah state (in North Borneo) and showcases the present and recent culture and animal life. There is a lovely outdoor heritage village and a locomotive museum, plus the Science and Technology Centre, Islamic Civilization Museum, and gardens.

Unfortunately I did not visit the Science Centre, Islamic Museum, or the gardens, because a lizard pooped in my hair in the heritage village! Sort of cut my visit short! Still, it was worth it.


First thing's first: as of November 2017 the museum is free for some, 2myr for Malaysians, and 15myr for non-Malaysians (about $3.60 US at the time of writing). For this cost, the museum is absolutely worth your time, and is family friendly!


Wonky map of the campus
 
Upon entering the main building, you are greeted by Malaysia's largest Bryde's whale skeleton. Impressive! I wish there were more animal bones; my dusty archaeology degree begs me to find some dead things.
 
Found on Gaya island, 2007


The building itself is designed after a traditional Sabahan longhouse. Pretty cool actually:

 The entry hall
 
To your left is the textile and cultural anthropology area, which wraps around behind the skeleton to the right where you will find archaeology, history, and the stuffed animals :)

There were multiple sections that were being renovated, but here are my highlights of what was open:

In textiles, I loved seeing bark clothing and the elaborate woven, embroidered, and generally bedazzled clothes:

Yes, those are bark shorts!

Beautiful embroidery on a Rungus sigal (folded into headwear)

The sigal can be folded in different ways. This one "symbolizes the youthful desire for something unique". I feel you, Rungus boy.
 
I think these are my favorite bedazzled wedding clothes, the Dusun tribal wedding outfits.

I would legit wear this embroidered Gobukon shirt all the time

Imagine the noise of the tribesmen riding in on their horses with those gigantic bells on them. I thought cats could be annoying...!

Instruments came later -- you could even play some! I skipped the nose flute but rocked out on the regular flute and local xylophone.

Mad respect to this nose flutist.
 
I always enjoy the brutal stuff at museums, like these blow darts below. Unfortunately my pictures of the swords used to behead people... well, they're literally and figuratively too dark.
 
Blow darts
 
Did you know that headhunting was rarely a hobby, and was generally the result of a blood feud? Someone from one village is killed, then it's an eye-for-an-eye (head for a head?) situation to settle the score. Other times, young men would go get a head to prove they're worthy of marriage to a fellow villager. Pretty much the opposite of today.
 
SKULLS
 
MOAR SKULLS
 

Next is the archaeology gallery, which is exceptionally cool because people have been in Sabah for a LONG time (and also I studied archaeology so I'm very biased). Artifacts don't photograph well, so here's a timeline and useful map, in case you want to visit some sites:
 
235,000 years old!!

Take your pick of archaeological sites around Sabah
 
There are also wonderful sites in the rest of Borneo, but being the Sabah Museum, they didn't have archaeological sites for southern Borneo listed!
 
Cute animals also don't photograph well, especially when they've been stuffed! I really enjoyed learning about the unique wildlife of Sabah. They also have fish and insect displays, plus an audio track of birdsong in the background. I do wish that they told you which bird made which sounds, because there is some weird alien sounding jungle bird that we have heard, and I'm really curious about what it is.
 
Various jungle animals like the barking deer and mouse deer (so small!)

 Sun bear - we hope to see a live one at a sanctuary in a couple of weeks
 
 CUTE Bay owl
 
I then went to the regular history part of the museum, which was well presented but I wasn't as interested in.
 
The outdoor heritage village was cool. If you want to skip the visit to more expensive cultural villages like Mari-Mari, then just head to the museum. You won't see performances, but you can get a good feel for the way people lived (and some continue to live) in rural Sabah.
 
Traditional buildings

Lovely bridge that was temporarily closed -- kind of nice actually, there weren't any people on it to ruin the picture!

Lush jungle around the cultural village. Pretty impressive, considering this is in the middle of the city.

Awesome carved wooden boat and houses
 
At this point, I was ready to explore the rest of the museum grounds, but a lizard pooped on me so I left. This probably won't happen to you so you can continue enjoying the museum offerings!
 
Check out our reviews of the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre and the Kinabatangan River near Sandakan!
 

Overall, I was pleased with the Sabah Museum. It had well-presented displays of history, pre-history, culture, and wildlife information. Unfortunately it is under renovation, so I was unable to view some areas like the ceramics section (always a favorite). The heritage museum was lovely because it was outside, making it a nice change of pace from walking around the main building. I wish I had also visited the Science Centre and Islamic Civilization museum, as well as the gardens, but I'll save those for next time (when there isn't any lizard poop in my hair).

 

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