She opened a food outlet called Hinompuka in 1997 at Buhavan Square in Donggongon where she served a variety of traditional Kadazandusun food.
Hinompuka is a delicious-gooey Kadazandusun cake made of glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaf.
“What motivated me to start the business was to promote our people’s traditional food and where the food originally comes. As you know, most of the traditional food comes from the farms, forests, rivers and so on which indigenous communities are highly dependent on for their livelihood,” she said.
She sourced her raw supplies from the “tamu” bazaar and, occasionally, from the communities and her own backyard.
Maria’s other siblings are strong advocates of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and have been working very closely with hundreds of native communities in Sabah including other stakeholders on many issues for over 20 years now.
One of their key advocacy works is to promote natural resource management as part of the broader sustainable development philosophy.
Food and source of livelihoods of communities fall under this bracket which Maria is championing through Hinompuka.
Whenever she had the chance to mingle with her customers, Maria would always share with them where and how the food served in her shop was grown or gathered. And she would then tell them why the natural environment must be protected and preserved.
Born and bred in a village and whose family has always kept many of their traditional Kadazandusun ways always live, Maria understands the indigenous cosmology in which food is a blessing of Mother Earth.
Hinompuka was in business for 12 years before moving on to Taman Flash Gordon in Kg Kivatu along Jalan Penampang-Tambunan. The business relocated because the organisation started by her siblings, Pacos Trust, had its own office building.
She still attracts her regular customers who appreciates the concept behind her food business which also serves as an income generator for Pacos Trust in support of its work.
At Hinompuka’s present location, Maria is blessed with bigger backyard where she now plants vegetables organically. What started some years ago has grown to what is now known as Kivatu Nature Farm where other than vegetable planting, she also has started a small-scale bee and fish farming. Again, profit-making is secondary.
“The whole idea behind the farm is to promote to young people especially from the communities the concept of farming that is truly traditional,” she explained.
No fertilisers and insecticides are used in the farm which brings the youths back to how their older generation and ancestors farmed in the past.
Maria has also been working with a university in studying the added value of certain kinds of vegetables and fruits that are commonly planted by indigenous communities.
She hopes the effort would put a higher value to all traditional indigenous foods and at the same time make the whole concept of food sustainability better understood and appreciated by the society.