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Donggongon Tamu: Where You Get Your Local Dose of Culture

Donggongon Tamu, a place full of culture

If you ever find yourself in the multi-cultural city of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, you must check out a local tamu. A tamu, which means “meeting” in the local tribe Kadazan language, is a traditional market that occurs on a regular basis, some on different days of the week and sometimes even annually. Originally, a tamu was where local villagers would gather and barter their goods. Today, it has become much like a market where the buyers and sellers use money as the currency. However, a tamu remains true to its roots as most of the sellers are not businessmen but farmers and fishermen themselves. You will discover many traditional goods and ingredients that you will not find in supermarkets.

The biggest tamu in Kota Kinabalu is the Donggongon Tamu, situated right in the heart of the district of Penampang, where the majority of its inhabitants are the Kadazandusun people. Therefore, many of the products sold here reflect the Kadazandusun culture. If you are lucky, you might get to witness performances like the playing of gongs and the Sumazau. A gong is a musical instrument where you hit a thick metal disc with a mallet to produce bell-like sounds while the Sumazau is a folk dance of the Kadazandusun people that they usually perform during harvest festivals. However, there are no set times for these performances as they are done by local volunteers, making it that much more sincere and real.

Sale at Donggongon Tamu

Even if you miss the shows, it will still be worth your while to pay a visit to the Donggongon Tamu. This place is where you can immerse yourself perusing through the myriad of things for sale. From fresh fruits to dried goods, colourful handicrafts to plain grains, you will be spoilt for choice here. If you find yourself a bit peckish, just head over to one of the many stalls selling mouthwatering food that you can immediately sample. Try the large variety of local fruits and fried sweets that are cooked right on the spot and taste the many unique Kadazandusun dishes that you cannot find outside of Sabah. Once you have had your stomach satisfied, wash it all down with lihing or tapai, a liquor made from fermented rice. Just be careful, this sweet alcohol can be deceptively strong!

If food is not something of interest to you, then just take in the vibrant sounds and ambiance of the tamu. The people here are extremely friendly and do not mind people taking pictures even if you do not purchase anything. It is here that you can observe the old way of life of the Kadazandusun people and appreciate their culture.


The Donggongon tamu opens every Thursdays and Fridays from around 6 am to 2 pm. It is about 13 km from Kota Kinabalu city centre and the best way to get there is by Uber or GRAB. Depending on traffic, it can take 20 to 40 minutes to get there and should cost about $3 to $5 one way.

/// Written by Seen Yee Chew, Malaysia