The many colours of Malaysia

SEPTEMBER 22 ― One tip for anyone intending to make the trip to the Sabah interior: have a bottle of minyak cap kapak handy!

Last week, I visited a few kampungs in Tenom and Keningau, two towns in the interior of Sabah about two hours' drive from Kota Kinabalu. The journey required traversing the Crocker Range via the notorious Kimanis-Keningau highway.

This highway is reputed to be the steepest and most dangerous in Malaysia, with a gradient ranging from 10 to 25 degrees. And as if that isn’t challenging enough, add low visibility from severe fog conditions.

Hence, you can see why minyak angin became a necessity!

We were there to meet villagers, talk to them and share our ideals of the future. However, it was clear that ideals alone would not improve their living conditions.

To begin with, road conditions were horrible and impossible without all-terrain 4WDs. Broken bridges made connectivity an issue, street lights were almost non-existent, and proper water supply remains a literal pipe dream.

One village we came across relied on a nearby irrigation canal as their water source for washing and cleaning. Following the canal upstream, we discovered that the villagers had been bathing and cleaning themselves with water polluted by industrial effluent.

Villagers at two of the kampungs complained to us that the price of rubber has dropped significantly. Today, they get less than RM2 for a kilogramme of dried rubber.

As it takes five trees to produce a kilogramme, they need to tap about 50 trees just to make RM20, excluding costs involved in transporting the dried rubber to the collection centre. Life was certainly not easy for them.

The colourful participants of the Impian Malaysia Colour Run. ― Picture by Dyana Sofya
The colourful participants of the Impian Malaysia Colour Run. ― Picture by Dyana Sofya

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To supplement their husbands’ dwindling income, female villagers would harvest fruits like rambutans from the jungle to sell by the main roads. I have to say, the big juicy rambutans were delicious, and three times cheaper than what we pay in KL.

Our main purpose in visiting these villagers was to further the cause of the Impian Sabah initiative. After discussing what interventionary measures could be done to help ease their burden, we concluded that we would invest in a low-level river crossing that would allow vehicles access into the kampungs.

Without the resources of the federal government, the Impian Sabah and Sarawak programme relies solely on volunteers and donations from all over Malaysia.

Although we can only afford to do one small project at a time, we believe that whatever little change for the better that we bring to our brothers and sisters in East Malaysia would go a long way in the cultivation of stronger ties and deeper relationships across the South-China Sea.

After a few days in Sabah, I returned to Teluk Intan for the Impian Malaysia Colour Run, held in conjunction with Malaysia Day. The long trip from Sabah to Teluk Intan gave me chance to ponder upon my experience in the Land Below The Wind.

I could not help but feel angry and despondent that even though it has been 51 years since the formation of the Malaysian Federation, tens of thousands of our fellow Malaysians still live without basic necessities in the richest states in terms of natural resources.

Fifty-one years and so many communities in Sabah and Sarawak still do not get to simply turn a tap or flip a switch in order to get clean water and electricity. It was something I could not come to terms with.

Malaysians are told that much has been given to us. However, we should also be reminded that much has also been stolen from us. Immense wealth generated by hardworking Malaysians, as well as our vast natural resources, have been looted to benefit a select few.

In many villages in Sabah, they have to resort to using water from irrigation canals. ― Picture by Dyana Sofya
In many villages in Sabah, they have to resort to using water from irrigation canals. ― Picture by Dyana Sofya

As a result, the rich have become super rich, while the poor continue to make no headway. Quantitatively, this is reflected in the fact that Malaysia has the highest Gini Coefficient in South-east Asia, a measure of our income inequality.

Back to the Impian Malaysia Colour Run. The response was overwhelming, as none of us expected 700 people to register for a run in Teluk Intan. We were even more encouraged to see that the participants were from all sorts of backgrounds, age groups and skin colours.

We began the event by singing our beloved national anthem, Negaraku, before magic powder was ceremoniously scattered all over the participants. The powder was white, but would change colour randomly upon contact with moisture.

At the finishing line, it was certainly a sight to behold. Seven hundred walking canvases in smudges of yellow, blue, green and red, all exhausted after running five kilometres but all gleeful after a colourful experience.

It may have been a small event, but it proved that Malaysians could come together in celebration of our diversity of colours. And what better way to commemorate the union of Malaya with Sabah and Sarawak?

I hope it is not too late to wish you Selamat Hari Malaysia!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist. 

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