GREAT POTENTIAL: Fascinated by the origin of Kampung Tanduo which was founded by a religious man named Abdillah Yusop and named after a tree known as 'tandu', Roy Goh talks to its occupants and discovers that the traditional coastal village has much to offer
KAMPUNG Tanduo, not many people would have heard of the village until five weeks ago when armed terrorists from southern Philippines landed there and threatened Malaysian sovereignty.
There has also been little information of what the coastal village, with about 50 houses, looks like. It has been declared off limits since the arrival of the terrorists on Feb 12. But from bits and pieces of information gathered from some of its residents who are now taking shelter at three evacuation centres set up following the incursion, the village seemed to be a place with great potential and much to offer.
Photographs distributed by the Malaysian security forces of its personnel patrolling the area gave an idea of what the place looked like before the incursion that led to a major strike by our security forces under Ops Daulat from March 5.
Kampung Tanduo, pronounced tandu-wau by majority of its Bajau occupants, is surrounded by oil palm plantations, some owned by smallholders or as part of the Felda scheme in its vicinity.
Resident Ben Hamid said the village was first settled by a religious man named Abdillah Yusop who died in the 1970s. Others believed people began settling in the area after World War 2.
"There was once a type of tree known as tandu and it has a shape that looked like the Arabic character wau (Jawi). This was how the village got its name according to our elders," he said.
The tree no longer exists. The people living there earned their living as fishermen, growing subsistence crops before eventually venturing into the oil palm industry with the arrival of Felda in the mid 1980s.
Tanduo is also part of a 10-village zone called Gugusan Labian, headed by community leader Assaffal Alian.
"It's a typical traditional coastal village," said Assaffal, who like Ben, was taking shelter at the Embara Budi Relief Centre which has been their temporary home for nearly two weeks now.
A chartered accountant by profession, Assaffal left his practice six years ago and returned to his roots at Kampung Tanjung Labian, one of the 10 villages in the zone, to venture into the agricultural industry.
But that was not his only plan.
"I have a dream of turning the stretch of coastal villages here into a tourist attraction with its traditional and natural charms.
"Like homestays, we can play host to guests who would like to sample our way of life at the plantation, catching fish, eating our food and much more," he said.
But there was a problem.
Assaffal said Lahad Datu had long been associated with mundu, or pirates, terrorising the coastal communities, even from the time of his ancestors.
"But now there are those who come here to earn an honest living, too.
"We need to regulate the movement of immigrants and our locals who have relatives there by having a proper CIQ (Customs, Immigration, Quarantine) here at the nose of Sabah," he said referring to the eastern tip of the state.
Assaffal reasoned that Bongao, in Tawi-Tawi, was barely 45 minutes to an hour away by boat and lights from its main town can be seen at night from where he lives.
"Right now their only choice is to go to Lahad Datu or Sandakan for a legal entry and that takes a long time. Otherwise they would have to find their way to Zamboanga, fly to Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and then to Lahad Datu," he said in jest.
"If the governments, both ours and the Philippines, could open up an easier access or some form of mechanism for the people here and across the border, I am sure this problem could be addressed."
Assaffal said there were many discreet locations along the coast which were known to be hotspots for illegal landings, just as what the terrorists did last month.
"If the government was to develop the coastal stretch, a road for instance, I am sure people will think twice about landing in plain sight. We also need long-term development plans and not just security outposts.
"By having a good strong economy, even people from across the border could share the benefits.
"I am one who believes in the 'prosper thy neighbour' concept because its for a greater good."
As a young boy, Assaffal recalled how he and his family members would use sail boats to catch fish, hauling in all types of fish and diving for lobsters.
He also has vivid memories of dolphins in the area.
"Those were hard times but we have improved ourselves over the years with proper education and determination.
"This threat by the terrorists has caused much problems for us but we will stand our ground and rebuild ourselves. That's a promise."