Words by Dr Tan Meng Yoe
Photos by Hamza Delbar, Yeo Li-Sha and Tan Meng Yoe
Sabah is many things to those who are not from Sabah, including West Malaysians. Among other things, it is often romanticised as a mysterious and exotic place of mountains and beaches, or in more recent times, reviled on social media by some for its supposed political naivety for keeping the ruling coalition in government. These views are grossly simplistic, and will remain so, unless time is taken to experience the land and its people.
The study trips organised by the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS) at Monash University Malaysia is designed to do just that. Since 2004, the ‘In Search Of’ travel series has provided students with the opportunity to immerse themselves, even for a short time, in the everyday lives of local communities. These interactions, often far away from tourist routes, provide a fresh perspective into the lived realities of the people who inhabit any particular place.
It was no different in our visit to Sabah. The student travellers, through the formal sessions and informal exploration of the Western region of the state, were exposed to issues of land rights, undocumented immigration, river management systems, the role of native courts, corporatisation of agriculture, environmental concerns, impact of tourism, inter-religious and inter-ethnic harmony, revitalisation of indigenous tradition, and more. They experienced a different Malaysia.