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What is Tapai? This well known-indigenous fermented beverage called Tapai is often the source of many interesting stories.

It’s colourless, almost transparent really. Its fragrant smell hits you the moment you free the lid off, the often used Tiger bottles that holds, the much talked about Tapai.

Experiencing the local rice wine

You sit anxiously waiting with your group of friends for your order to arrive. Staying in one of the B & B in Sabah, you almost expect nothing but the most authentic version of the Tapai.

The owner walks in with 2 bottles of Tapai for your group which amounts to at least 10 people.

You attempt to purchase more, but the guy shrugs off your demands muttering away on how lethal the drink will be, assuring you that you have more than enough.

Oh, it’s delicious!

Staring at the pathetic number of bottles you purchased, you sip the sweetness of the Tapai. You scoff at the exaggeration that Sabahans often equate to drinking their famous alcoholic drink. With no sense of modesty, you greedily drink up the Tapai.

What’s the big deal you think, it is nothing like the Western hard liquor you often consume?

You wonder how something as light as Tapai, can cause intoxication? As it smoothly hits your throat, without so much of an effect, you wonder what all the hype about Tapai was. Lure? You laugh your head off.

As quickly as you conjured all this thoughts in your mind, the Tapai slowly hits you, knocking you senseless-leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy.

It’s absolutely a train wreck, it’s too late-you’ve been lured in by the gentle, smooth, colourless liquid, the Sabahan’s amazing rice wine.

The story behind tapai

So is Tapai just another form of alcohol, greedily consumed by the likes of us to leave us warm and fuzzy? What’s the story behind Tapai? Let’s explore some cultural knick knacks on Tapai.

During the process of making tapai, no fighting or swearing is allowed.

Li-Hing, hiing, kinomol, segantang, kinarung, kinopi, linahas are different cultural terms denoting fermented rice beverages.

Unused (best clothes) are used to drape the low walls

Low walls were erected; jars called tompok and bagaton and the jars are put within the walls.

A bobolian (shaman) starts Mongibai ritual by singing a chant called tibai.

It is considered rude to turn down an offer to drink Tapai, instead take a sip. They call it “tep-pun-nan”, or “tep-pun” for short.

Mongibai ritual [cleansing ritual] was performed to ensure spirits did not play havoc with the rice-wine causing it to become sour.

Kadazan-Penampang Culture

Insufficient amount of Tapai can cause them to be mocked by their neighbours.

Interested to have a go at one of the most interesting colourless liquids in Sabah, you can head down to one of the many cultural villages such as the Monspiad Cultural Village where you will be offered Tapai open entering the traditional houses or take home a bottle by purchasing from the many boutique hotels that serve similar versions of Tapai with varying degrees of sweetness depending on the production of the Tapai itself, such as Headhunters’ Li Hing.

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Perfomances at Mari Mari Cultural Village

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