Membakut history and popular Tamu
Published on: Sunday, September 08, 2019
By: Lorena Binisol
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‘Membakut cafe’ restaurant is proud to be part of the rustic look of Membakut old town. (Inset) A map of Membakut
MEMBAKUT can be reached from Donggongon in about one and a half hours journey via road. 

Unlike other districts, Membakut holds Tamu (flea market) twice a week in two different locations – at the old township every Wednesday and new township on Sundays.

There are three remaining original wooden buildings after one block was destroyed by fire some 30 years ago, said Carmelita Santos Chua, a resident there.

Some of the wooden houses belonging to the locals in the nearby town area can still be seen. Behind each unique house hold a significant story.

“Part of the old township was caught on fire more than 30 years ago and what you see now is what remains of it,” said Carmelita, who lives in Kg Limpayau.

Her mother, Rupinah Mikil, from Kg Tahak, said she was originally from the East Coast but followed her husband to settle in Membakut.

She said there are a few versions of how the name “Membakut” came about. Early settlers referred the place as “Buah Bakut”.

“Apart from the Chinese, there were also people from Brunei who came to settle here. That is why many of our way of life in terms of food had some influences from the Bruneians.

“When Bruneians referred to the place, they said, ‘we want to go to Buah Bakut’,” said Carmelita.


Old town Membakut is lively during Tamu on Wednesdays.

Another version of the story is the word “Mamadakut”, derived from the Kadazan word meaning, “a process to gather Sago from its trunk”.

Membakut used to be filled with Sago plants in abundance.

Rimo Pirin, a Kg Dungau resident, said Sago plants were everywhere and in abundance.  

So, obviously, “Mamadakut” was the main activity then.

“Mamadakut is an act of collecting Sago from the trunk. This word was probably the reason for the name ‘Membakut’ because the sound is almost close,” said Rimo.

“However, the third version is the most interesting one,” said Rimo.

During the war, there was a British soldier who fell in love with a local girl but he never had the chance to get to know her better as he did not stay long in one place.

After the war, he returned to Borneo and attempted to search for the girl and asked the villagers to help him locate her.

“The British soldier came back to Sabah (then Borneo), after the war and wanted to reconnect with the girl who he was in love with. So he came to the place where he first found her.


Akong (seated) with his friends during a coffee session.

But when the villagers asked for her name, he could only tell them, ‘She is very cute. A member cute’,” the soldier said repeatedly.

“This prompted the villagers to find her whereabouts using the name, ‘member cute’,” Rimo related.

“As for me, this is a tale of the past… hearsay… and today, we talk about it just for the fun of it,” said Rimo, who is also a singer.

Datuk Teo Ching Ping, or popularly known by locals as “Datuk Akong”, said he is the fifth generation to live in Sabah. He had witnessed brutal killing during the Japanese occupation.

Akong, who is also a businessman, lives with his family near the town area. His ancestors were originally from Kuala Penyu and a Kadazan Tatana descendant.

He enjoys having his coffee with his friends like Rimo Pirin, Paul William and Barry Biun after they visit the Tamu.

According to Rimo, Akong is a warm person who always helps the locals in need.

“Datuk Akong is a true philanthropist. He helps anyone who approaches him for assistance. He is one of the most generous people in Membakut.  

“He even helped a primary school here with big sum of donation for the wellbeing of its students. 

“During the big flood in the past year, he ensured aid went to all the affected villagers,” Rimo said, in full praise of his friend.

Membakut is a quiet town when there is no merry-making or Tamu going on.  However, its people are creative in their own way.


Earlyn enjoying her crab dish after a round of tamu visit.

Carmelita said the residents know how to make Kelupis, a type of sweet delicacy made from gluttonous rice wrapped in wild leaves.

“This Kelupis was originally started by the Bruneians who had longed settled here. Today, most of us know how to make it. We serve it during special occasions like weddings, birthdays, thanksgiving or festivities,” she said.

Apart from making sweet delicacies, she is also good with handicrafts. Due to her talent and creativity, she was appointed by the local authorities to teach villagers to weave baskets every Saturday.

Married to Chua Fu Seng, a Hokkien, Carmelita said Membakut received many settlers from mainland China, including her husband’s family.

During fruiting season, the Tamu is flooded with all kinds of fruits from Durian, Rambutan, Bambangan, Tarap to jackfruits.

Surprisingly, the price of durians and other local fruits are a lot cheaper than in other places, said Earlyn Lee, a visitor.

One seller sold her Bambangan fruit for only RM5 for three big pieces.  Another one sold her sweet Rambutan at only RM5 for two big packets!

The visitors from Kota Kinabalu were impressed with the cheap price and bought many to take home. 

They enjoyed going around the Tamu which closes at noon.

Apart from the seasonal fruits and vegetables, Membakut is also known for its seafood, like crabs, shells, fish and a few others.

“We are blessed indeed as this place is just by the seaside. We have a very popular beach here called Pimping beach.  

“It is about 10 minutes away from town. We always go there to find shells and other marine life,” said Carmelita.


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