Tenom by Herman (2006)

Short: Tenom is a small town in the Interior District of Sabah and it is also the centre of the Murut; its population is around 37960 (year 1991 census), comprising mainly of Murut, Chinese, Dusun and Indonesians, and Malays and a small number of Bajau and Kadazan; it is famous for Sabah's Agricultural Park Taman Pertanian in Lagud Sebrang.



Tenom's history goes most probably back a long time and we must presume that even during prehistoric times modern man roamed through those sheltered, jungle covered but fertile valleys. But even though man might have lived in the area we have no definitive archeological proof as per now, except for Sabah's only rock carving at Tomani, some 30 miles to the south of Tenom. A huge boulder the size of a house has been carved with intricate, distorted figures and faces, and some smaller rocks in the surrounding area have also been adorned with carvings. However, it is unclear who made those carvings, why and when. Only local legends and oral history surrounds the mystical carvings.

Tenom received more attention under the British Chartered North Borneo Company (BCNBC), when coffee and other plantations were established there. A railway line from Melalap - a still existing estate - linked Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) already in the late 1890. The construction of the railway line, which began with the appointment of William Clark Cowie as the Managing Director of the BCNBC in 1894, was one of the most challenging tasks the company undertook: Cowie appointed an English Civil Engineer, Arthur J. West, to build the railway line from Bukau north to Beaufort and south to Weston. This town was named after Mr. West, and there was supposed to be a new port of the BCNBC at Brunei Bay. However, upon completion of the railway in 1890, Weston was discovered to be too shallow for a deep-sea wharf. Instead, Arthur J. West extended a 64 km line from Beaufort to Tenom and to Melalap. For the most difficult stretch, though the Padas Gorges, labourers from China were employed, mainly Hakka and Cantonese.

In 1915 Ontoros Antanom, a Murut warrior, lead Pensiangan and Rundum Murut against the English. It came to a bloody battle at Rundum where Ontoros and his men were utterly defeated, having no chance to stand up against the modern fire arms of their perceived enemies. Ontoros remains a local hero. According to the locals he was born in 1885 and possessed exceptional leadership qualities which enabled him at the age of 30 to lead the ill fated Rundum revolt. A memorial to Ontoros Antanom stands in the heart of Tenom, and the remains of his fort at Rundum, now overgrown by secondary rainforest, are still clearly visible.

To-day Tenom is a quiet rural town. The mainly Murut population lives in small villages and a few longhouses scattered throughout the fertile valley where they engage in cash crop schemes such as coffee and rubber, and nowadays also palm oil. The Murut cultivate also rice, but mainly for their own consumption.

Places of Interest in Tenom

At first glance there seems nothing of interest in an around Tenom, but the sleepy aspect of this town is deceiving: not far from Tenom is the world renown Sabah Agricultural Park (Taman Pertanian Sabah), which has developed into a well conceived tourism destination facilitating the study - leisurely or more seriously - of a huge variety of tropical plants. Ever wanted to know where cloves come from, or what really sisal is? See ginger, okra, pepper and a myriad of other spices and vegetables how they are grown? At the Agricultural Centre you will find them all plus a couple of surprises. Then there are the famous orchid gardens where over 1000 species of indigenous Borneo orchids are grown, and a wide variety of hybrid orchids. There is accommodation in the park for those more interested in discovering more. Then there is the Murut Cultural Centre, some 10km out of town on the way to Keningau. The Murut, belonging to the Paitanic Group are the third biggest ethnic entity in Sabah and divided in some 18 sub-groups. In Tenom you find mostly Timugon Murut, famous for their long lasting and exuberant weddings where tapai, rice wine in jars, flows rather liberally. Some of the village community halls (balai raya) sport a lansaran, a type of a trampoline that was once a feature in each longhouse and just one aspect of the intriguing Murut culture in Sabah.

The Sabah Railway has a terminal in Tenom, but formerly the railway extended to Melalap. The journey through the Padas Gorges is still an awesome adventure where at times the jungle closes over the antiquated wagons, and at times you look straight down into the churning waters of the Padas River which cuts through the Crocker Range. White water rafting is organised between Kg Pangi and Kg Rayoh.

How to Get to Tenom & Accommodation

By car, van, bus or taxi from Kota Kinabalu over Tambunan and Keningau. Ca 180 km / 2 hours; by train from KK over Beaufort to Tenom, ca 120 km / 5 hours (we recommend to take a bus or taxi from KK to Beaufort; the really interesting stretch of this railway is in-between Beaufort and Tenom); there are a few small but new and clean hotels in Tenom Town, and the Perkasa Hotel Tenom.


Antanom Memorial in Tenom

The newly renovated train station

A Murut playing gongs during a wedding

Tapai drinking from heirloom jars during a wedding in Tenom

Note: while every care has been taken in compiling the above information the Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, its authors and associates cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracy, omission or alteration that may occur. Please contact us or the respective authors for further details and confirmation of facts and figures. The Flying Dusun Sdn Bhd, 2005-2006; all rights reserved; reproduction in whole or in part without written permission strictly prohibited. 


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