27 December 2009

The Dusuns' one hour :-)

My paternal aunt and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary yesterday. It was such a beautiful celebration, what with her children (I think there must be about a dozen of them), who are all grown up, and her grandchildren/great grandchildren were all gathered up. And the place, Bundu Tuhan, is such a bonus. Fresh air, nice temperature, just like spring in Perth, it made for a beautiful party setting.

My kids were reintroduced to another aspect of Dusun culture, the Dusuns' sense of time. Very true to what my friends always say: "where there are two or three Dusuns gathered together, they can sit and talk for hours on end". The lunch reception started at 1pm. The kids asked me how long were we going to be there, to which I answered, "an hour". We arrived at about 1.30pm, when the party was just starting. As usual there were so much party food, catered to feed the whole village population and some.

Meeting long lost cousins was definitely exciting. After food, the merry making begun. (Since the Dusuns are well known for their hedonism, it would never do not to have some music in a party; at least a karaoke set). Yours truly got carried away too, that she agreed to sing two songs (duet with a sister-in-law of course because yours truly isn't a professional singer!) and danced a few dances. The best part of course was having the first dance with the uncle who's the 'groom'. He is well-known to be a serious person, but surprisingly agreed to have that dance! What a wonderful feeling :-)

Anyway, the kids were watching the clock all the time, waiting for that 'one hour' to come. (Thankfully they got to know some cousins who were too fascinating not to pay attention to in the end). Needless to say, the one hour dragged on that we only managed to get away from the party at about 5.30pm. (Well I wouldn't have minded staying till the end if it wasn't raining and the road condition was a bit better though). My eldest came to this conclusion- "if mom says "an hour" to attend a Dusun party, it would probably mean 3 or 4 hours". Well done, daughter. You have been successfully reintroduced into the culture :-)

12 December 2009


It's strange how a simple conversation can trigger a thought. Last night, as I was enjoying BBQ with my dear friends for the last time before my family moves back to KK tomorrow (and breaking the rule of no heavy food for dinner *sigh*), the topic of family gathering came up. One of the friends is going home for the christmas holiday and is looking forward to her family reunion. As she describes the activities of their family reunion which have started this month, I was impressed to know that her extended family can actually form teams for sport matches etc. I said to her that in the olden day, her family would have formed a Dusun clan which was entitled to have a 'village'. Awesome.

In the olden days, clans are formed most of all from family members. They would have lived in some sort of long house that continued to grow longer as more members of the family got married. One immediate family occupied one hall of the house, with its own kitchen. During a ritual which always involved eating though, the family that conducted the ritual was obliged to cook for the whole long house members. If they had any members who lived in another longhouse because of a marriage, these people must also be sent some of the food. I'd imagined that it must really have been time-consuming to count all the family members within a walking distance (even if that would mean a half hour walk or so) to be sent food to.

Each clan normally identified themselves by naming the place their house is located in. And those places would be named based on the geographical features, direction or based on a natural landmark like a river, a tree etc. For example, a place located uphill of the village would be called 'sokid' (upper part), and a place on the foot of a hill would be 'siba'.

And so my friend's family would have been one of these clans in the olden days.

06 December 2009

Turadan-a traditional medicine for stomache upset

It started with the family's week-long holiday in Melbourne last week. It was something I've been looking forward to for a long time and have set to enjoy come what may. Day 1 through to 4, it was indeed great great and great.

But alas, second half of day 5 started to go not so good when the little one started complaining of stomache-ache, and started vomitting uncontrolably. Needless to say, day 5's sightseeing was cut short to allow little one to have his rest. I thought the worst was over on Day 6, but it was not to be. Thinking that it was a normal traveller's virus, I simply headed to a pharmacy and bought some familiar medicine and decided to forgo taking him to the doctor. Day 6 turned out to be 'rest day' for 'the mom' and the kids while 'the dad' attended his conference. He seemed better on Day 7 that I decided to take the kids to the museum while waiting for 'the dad' to finish his conference. But how wrong was I. He started vomitting again after morning tea, so bad that 'the dad' had to take him home by taxi soon after his conference. Determined to enjoy that last day, 'the mom' and the girls roamed the city for hours till late.

Little one didn't get better. I realized the graveness of the situation when he could only be comforted by a long rub on his stomache. By the next day when we were at the airport leaving for perth, it was too late to take him to the doctor. Plus, the airport clinic was closed as it was a saturday. Little one was so dehydrated and lost so much weight and energy he had to be pushed on a wheelchair.

Home finally at about 5.30pm yesterday. 'The dad' suddenly remembered that his mom gave us some seeds called 'turadan' that has been tried and tested by Dusuns of many generations to cure stomache upset.

I don't know how the fruit actually looks like because my mom-in-law always gave us the core of the seed that looks like some kind of peanut. The dad sliced it thinly as per mom-in-law's instruction, put in a glass and poured some boiling water over it. When the water cooled, we gave some to the little one to drink.

This morning, as predicted, he woke up feeling good. No more pain and no more vomitting. Now still trying to be somewhat skeptical, 'the dad' said 'maybe it's just a coincidence'. Coincidence? I don't think so. I've witnessed the effect of 'turadan' several times, even experienced it myself. I prefer to believe that this little, unattractive-looking seed does have medicinal values. Unstudied, perhaps, but medicinal values pretty much the same...

24 November 2009


While I've never been a good drinker, nor I will ever be one, I have an appreciation for all things traditional. Lihing is one of them. Although I don't drink lihing as a beverage, I do love its flavor in chicken soup. To the Dusuns, lihing is an essential confinement food. (In fact my mom-in-law and my mom conspired to make me have lihing soup with 'kampung chicken' (uncaged chicken) every day for two weeks on my confinements, even though they know I am not a 'kampung chicken' eater! )

Anyway, back to lihing. This particular one in the picture above is my family's small business venture (again described in the other pic). My mom is the producer, of course. From making the sasad (yeast), to cooking the pulut (glutinous rice), to bottling the wine, she does everything the traditional way. (My aunts lend a hand too of course- I've never seen such united female siblings as my mom and her sisters :-)).

I'd have preferred the lihing to be bottled in glass bottles instead of the plastic bottles that they use. It's not good for the environment. But I guess it is easier and cheaper for my mom to get plastic bottles supply.

My mom's lihing has a special bittersweet flavour. We use vinometer to test the alcohol content, and it is approximately 23%. (that's my tentative finding, which will be tested further the first chance I have next). Basically lihing is produced this way: cook some glutinous rice, scoop it out and spread to cool on a clean plastic cover on top of a clean table, pound some yeast, and when the rice is cooled off, spread the yeast all over it. Store in jars or big buckets with tight lids. Leave to ferment for at least a week, but of course the longer you leave it, the better. My mom's rule of thumb is a month. After a month, tip out the wine into a water container, and transfer to bottles, ready for consumption.

I grew up seeing the process that I think I can actually do it blindfolded. It was a mixed feeling when I was growing up. At one point I felt like my mom's business is offensive, since ...come on, this is Malaysia, people shouldn't consume alcohol. Then I realized that just because some people can't consume, it doesn't mean that it is wrong to have this business. After all, Dusuns still need lihing at least for confinement. And we keep it within the consumer circle anyway. Now I am at peace with lihing and fully intend to pass on the lihing making knowledge to the future generation. Teach them culture and teach them the sense of responsibility, and our world will continue to be a happy little place.

08 November 2009

Bunsuton: a Dusun myth

Last night I went to see the Joseph Ashton's family circus with the family. Since it was my first time seeing a real circus performing, I was in awe of the many acts they performed, esp the acrobatic feats.The 7th generation of Ashtons lives up to their reputation. I am indeed impressed.

Anyway, having been brought up with the Dusun tale 'bunsuton', I cringed a bit to watch the cute dogs performing. One of them, obviously a girl wore a cute pink mini-skirt, and they all did amazing tricks.

Back to bunsuton- in the Dusun folklore, there is this story about a community who made a dog and a cat dance together. While the two poor creatures were dancing, the members of the community supposedly laughed their hearts out at that. A young bride from the community who was fetching water met a creature with horns as sharp as axe, who asked her to ask the people to stop their silly entertainment, or else the creature would cause them harms. The bride did as she was asked but no one listened to her. The creature then ordered her to run away from the place with her husband, and using its sharp horns, caused some kind of landslide and flood, and killed all the people who made fun of the animals.

Of course this is merely a myth, but it is so ingrained in me that I had to hold myself from laughing out loud to see the cute tricks of the dogs :-)

I guess what this really tells is that we have to respect animals. I can appreciate the moral of the story though I think the punishment that the people received was a bit too harsh :-)

31 October 2009

Mangasok (Hill rice planting)

Chatting with a recently met fellow chatter at sabahan Flash Chat last night (thanks BD, this is for you :-)), the word 'mangasok' was mentioned. It has been so long since I took part in one. Mangasok is actually an event when a cleared plot of land is planted with rice seeds. It used (and looks like still is in some parts) to be done 'mogitatabang' (working-together) style.

A 'mangasok' is normally begun with some kind of ritual from the host. In my place it is called 'poirikau' (to cause something to sit). In this case that 'something' is a wakid or a basung (large baskets that people carry on their backs that are normally used to carry heavy stuffs). It is symbolic- hoping that the next harvest would be bountiful. A prayer or a chant would be said and the event can then be started.

Two groups are formed. The first group, normally consisting of men or those with a high energy level would punch holes on the ground using sharpened sticks. This is not as easy as it sounds. The sticks are quite long and heavy, usually from freshly cut small trees. The second group, which mostly consists of women will fill the holes with rice seeds. This is called monumpos. Sometimes the 'monunumpos' (people putting the rice seeds in the holes) will make a competition, of who can fill holes the neatest, i.e without spilling the seeds outside of the holes. And it is done standing up, about 3 feet or least from the holes. Not an easy task I'd say.

The mangasok athmosphere is what I miss the most-people bantering, joking, even singing. And when the whole plot (which could be from 1-3 acres) is 'naasakan' (been done with), the group would normally proceed to the host's house or sulap (hut) for a meal. It used to be the host that provided special meals for the people who helped. The last time I participated though, people have started doing it pot-luck style. In my place, it continued on till night- people will have a socializing session, mostly involving one or two drinks. Now, I never did enjoy that part, because intoxicated people scare me (always, there would be one who had a bit too much to drink). But I guess now that I'm older, I am not so scared anymore :-)

Still, the word 'mangasok' brings back nostalgic memories. Thanks BD for telling you were going mangasok today...'mummy' loves that so much!

28 October 2009

Getting to know Bongkoron :-)

In Dusun folklore, there is one character that is always portrayed as the 'baddy'- Bongkoron. He is the exact opposite of Anak-anak, the hero who is always hardworking, obedient, honest, focussed, successful, and the list of positive qualities goes on. Bongkoron, on the other hand, is the lazy one, the one who lies to his parents and friends, and opts for the easy way out, because he is too lazy to do tasks given to him, the one who's always unsuccessful...and needless to say, the one who is rejected in the community.

A friend in FB once wrote on their status, something to this effect= "poor Bongkoron had attention deficit disorder (ADD)". That got me thinking. Maybe that is actually true. ADD, the modern day term for distracted persons, seems to be applicable to Bongkoron. Because he was so distracted, he didn't get to fulfill his potentials in his life. It is just unfortunate that poor Bongkoron lived in a time (hypothetically) when differences in personality and learning styles were not known yet. Or Bongkoron could have been that way because of lack of discipline and will, who knows. Poor, misunderstood Bongkoron...

Come to think of it, many of us are actually Bongkorons in one way or the other. For one thing, too much entertainment can make us Bongkoron. I know for sure that addiction to the internet is one of the factors contributing to 'Bongkoronness'. But having said this, maybe Bongkoron could have changed if only somebody told him to use his time well, to set a particular time to do his chores, to choose a place where he could have avoided distractions in order to achieve a goal, while at the same time satisfy his need for entertainment and relaxation after doing everything he needs to do for his living...(Maybe by empathizing with Bongkoron I am actually trying to defend my own addiction to the internet?).

19 October 2009

The sound of home

I've only recently discovered Sabah's very own latest online radio station here:


and the community that keeps it alive here:


A few days of listening to the DJs' entertaining chats and music had me arrived to this conclusion: that Sabahan.FM is truly home. It reflects the community that I know and grew up in. One that celebrates unity in diversity in the real sense of the words. In the past few days, I've probably listened to more songs in English, Malay, Hindi, Kadazan, Dusun, Chinese, Bajau, Murut, Filipino and almost every other minority ethnic group in Sabah than I ever had before. Amazing!

Home might be merely a small corner in Malaysia, but the internet has made it possible for the sound of home to reach far-flung places, places where Sabahans away from home might feel extremely homesick.

Anyway, one of the songs I have listened to over and over again is called 'sayang itu masa' (the time is wasted). Here goes some of the lyrics:

"sayang itu masa
kalau ditinggal-tinggal
...sudah nokopitunang
bagus makan belanja"

(the time is wasted
if it is left (not used)
...already engaged
why not have the wedding reception"

or something like that.

It is so 'Sabah', and yet one gets the feeling that one is listening to a Dusun song. Well maybe it's the injection of Dusun words like 'nokopitunang'. Or could it be the use of Dusun style expressions in Malay? Words like 'ditinggal-tinggal', or 'makan belanja' that are typical of Dusun expressions? Or could it be the music that is typical sumazau beat? I supposed it a combination of all those.

Speaking of which, is becoming more and more of a trend in the Dusun music industry. Songs like 'Tinggi tinggi Gunung Kinabalu' (As high as the Kinabalu Mountain), 'Nasihat buaya pencen' (advice of a retired 'crocodile') and the like are some examples. (I remember that this started some time in the early 90s, a phenomenon that was interesting enough to have caused me to do a mini research for one of my Malay Letters undergraduate courses then.)

Now I understand that this too is a reflection of the language change that is gradually taking place in Dusun. I won't be surprised if in the future a Dusun song will mean a song with full Sabah Malay lyrics, albeit with Dusun cultural music. In fact the days for that seem to be fast approaching.

09 October 2009

on the Dusun -um- (pengimbuhan)

I came across this blog today- http://www.uskal.net/2009/01/mari-belajar-bahasa-dusun.html#comments. (Forgive me for having not known before). I must say I am so pleased to see that people are actually discussing the language :-). I share the wish of many, that one day there will be a simplified grammar of Dusun for people to refer to.

Anyway, somebody asked what is the difference between 'luyud' (flood) and 'lumuyud' (flood). There is no simple way of answering this, except that to say 'luyud' is the root word (kata akar) and 'lumuyud' is the affixed word (kata imbuhan). For speakers of Malay, we can almost say that:

luyud = banjir
lumuyud = kejadian banjir (membanjir , although membanjir sounds a bit weird).

Most of the time, 'lumuyud' is used to refer to the action as in:

(1) Lumuyud i bawang do Liwogu (The Liwogu river is flooding)

but it can also be used to refer to the river that is flooding as in:

(2) i lumuyud (the one that is flooding = the river that is flooding)

How, then, can we tell the difference of uses?

When a word that has -um- in it is used to refer to the action, it is normally used in the beginning of a sentence like (1) When it is used to refer to an non-action, it is always preceded by 'i' or 'o' that function somewhat like the English article 'the', like in (2). Of course it can also be preceded by words like 'iti' (this), and 'ino' (that), which basically tells that it is functioning like a noun (kata nama).

There you go...I was in my language-teacher mood, hence, this topic :-)

05 October 2009

The cultural centrality of 'ginao/ginawo'

Literally translates "liver", 'ginao (ginawo)' in Dusun has a cultural centrality in the linguistic expressions of the Dusun people. This is hardly surprising, as across the societies in Southeast Asia (as Robert Blust writes in his book "The Austronesian languages"), 'liver words' are really significant. As regards the 'liver words' in Dusun and Malay (in which is 'hati'), some meanings are quite synonymous, but others are simply opposites that even a bilingual speaker can easily get confused. In a way, liver is synonym to 'heart', the locus of emotions. Here are some expressions that I can think of:

1. Agayo (o) ginao ('o' is often dropped in rapid speech) "big liver" = happy, open to a suggestion, an idea etc.
2. Okoto (o) ginao "small liver" = angry, irritated
3. Araat (o) ginao "bad liver" = hurt, offended, angry, worried
4. Osusa (o) ginao "difficult liver" = sad
5. Oruol (o) ginao "sick liver" = 1)angry, annoyed 2)pity (thanks to Kombura for pointing this out)
6. Osoriba (o) ginao "low liver" = humble
7. Mongongoi (do) ginao "fetching the liver" = to win someone's affection

Some of these expressions coincide with the Malay ones, given as follows:
1. Besar hati "big liver" = 1) happy, 2) presumptuous
2. Kecil hati "small liver" = bear a grudge
3. Busuk hati "rotten liver" = ill-nature, malice, 'dirty-feeling'
4. Bakar hati "burn liver" = angry emotion
5. Sakit hati "sick heart" = resentment, annoyance, anger, ill-will
6. Putih hati "white liver" = sincere, pure-hearted
7. Ambil hati "fetch the liver" = 1) win someone's affection, 2)feel insulted/sulky
(It looks like Malay has a way of using the same expression for two contrasting meanings like in 1. and 7. How interesting!)

Now I am wondering whether there is the expression 'rendah hati' = "low liver" in Malay that means "humble", just as the Dusun one. Hmm...talk about being confused.

By the way, there is one 'heart word' (of course heart is related to liver :-)) that Malay has that Dusun doesn't have- 'jantung pisang', meaning "the heart of banana" i.e this one here:

30 September 2009

on 'tapun'

Ask any Dusun, and they'd know what 'tapun' is. It's not so easy to define the word, though. In fact, I think there is no apt definition in English. It's a word we say to avoid 'opuhunan', i.e harms as a result of not eating the food we thought of eating.

So 'tapun' is really a food word. Food, to the Dusuns is almost sacred. You cannot say you want to eat something and not eat it before leaving the house or the place where you thought of eating that something. The least you could do is say 'tapun', and that will do the job of preventing you from being exposed to harms, mostly in the form of bodily injuries. Some say it is especially important that one eats a little when one feels like eating egg or meat. Those two are considered to result in most harmful effects if not eaten. Of course, my personal belief is if you just say 'tapun' a few times (with emphasis on the word), you'll be out of harm's way!

There are many variants of 'tapun'. I've heard of 'tudu bangat lapas puhun' (which is something like 'touch one's fill (food) and out of harm's way'), 'tudu bangat' (touch the food that fills), and 'tapun', the most commonly used.

In the Dusun household, children acquire the word unconsciously if they live in an area that is predominantly Dusuns. A culture acquired that way is hard to get rid of (not that I want to). Just the other day I caught myself and a group of friends (who have lived out of Malaysia for years), saying the word a few times when discussing Hari Raya foods that our family and friends must had been having right then back home. Hmm...Hari Raya season away from home sure makes one say 'tapun' over and over again.

22 September 2009

The next life-the Dusuns' traditional belief

It is expected that in the era of major world religions, this is not a belief that most Dusuns will readily accept. Nonetheless, it is something that is worth knowing, if only for the sake of getting to know one's heritage.

The Dusuns believed (note the use of past tense- to emphasize that it is almost impossible to find a believer nowadays) that the rusod 'soul' of the departed first went to Pongoluhan, a place high up above that most thought must be on top of the Mount Kinabalu. Then they moved on to the next life, wherever that was. It was supposed to be closer to the world of the livings than the livings realized, for the departed could see the livings. They could even be called up from their world if such needs arose, but this could only be done by the bobolians 'shaman' though.

In the next life it was believed that everything was in the opposite direction from the world of the livings. But way of life was supposed to be the same. There, the departed would reunite with family members who died before them. The departed was also supposed to take with them their possessions on earth. That's why during the funeral, they would need a proper sendoff in the forms of material things. The most common ones being rice, canned foods, clothes, and some of their favourite items while living. In small quantity, that is. Either the Dusuns practiced the concept of symbolism, or...they were too thrifty that they couldn't let themselves waste material things for the sake of the deceased. I'm not sure whether money was ever one of the sendoff items though- I've never seen that on any graveyards before. Perhaps money was too precious to waste? Or money wasn't relevant in the past?

It was perceived that the more items the departed was given as a sendoff, the easier his next life journey would be.

In my parents' village, I know of a person who still believes in this practice. Her reason? Because her husband was buried years ago with the same practice. She refuses to embrace any religion for fear that she might not see the love of her life ever again in the afterlife if she does so. Now that is a truly remarkable lady...

16 September 2009

Happy Malaysia Day

Come to think of it, the Dusuns (and Sabahans/Sarawakians) have only been Malaysians for 46 years today. In 1963 the federation of Malaysia was formed, consisting Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. I can then say that my parents generation "converted" to Malaysia (and they have done an excellent job of embracing their nationality- proud of you my folks).

The sad thing about this fact is that not many people realize the importance of September 16th. I suppose we give too much emphasis on 31st August 1957, the day Malaya gained its independence from British. When we learned history in school (and I used to be quite good at it, although in the process of aging I've lost the penchant for memorizing dates except for people's birthdays), no history textbooks have ever given emphasis on the importance of 16th Sept 1963. It is not even a public holiday in other states in Malaysia except for Sabah.

Now this is an error that needs to be corrected. I believe giving a proper acknowledgement to 16th Sept will benefit all Malaysians- at the very least, it will appease many Sabahans and Sarawakians who feel mistreated, among others, because of the non-acknowledgement of the date.

Well some people might demand that 16th September be made the national day instead of 31st August. But the leaders do not have to comply to that. I remember watching on TV sometime last year here in Aus, a certain event when the aboriginal people demanded that Australia Day date be changed to another day because they feel that the present date actually symbolizes 'invasion'. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd firmly but politely said 'no'. Malaysian leaders can do the same- refuse to change the indipendence day date firmly but politely if ever any Malaysians asked for such thing. I am very sure, being the peaceful people that we are, no one will actually take it to bloodshed level. What I have learnt from the leaders of countries like Australia is that there are good ways to deal with demands and dissatisfaction of the people. Our leaders have yet to learn those ways, I guess. But like many, I do hope 16th Sept will be given the acknowledgement it deserves.

Happy Malaysia Day my fellow Malaysians. Dusuns, if you haven't already known (because the textbooks might have not taught you well), or if you have forgotten, this is the day we became Malaysians 46 years ago :-) May God (whoever or whatever God is according to your understanding) continue to bless us with peace and harmony.

14 September 2009

The Mythical Tree

I wonder if any Dusuns still try to relate the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 to the mythical Dusun tree. The myth has it that there exists a tree that is very much a normal tree (location unknown, perhaps there is one in every Dusun locality), that serves a very special purpose to the Dusun people. It is said that prior to an epidemic, the tree would bear various fruits known to the Dusuns. I can easily picture a tree bearing rambutans, jackfuits, durians, lansats, cucumbers, gourds, taraps etc, which must look awesome.

Only the meaning is not at all awesome. It is a warning that the worst is lurking around the corner, and that everyone should be vigilant, failing which, might cost their lives.

I admire the steadfastness of the belief of the person who related the story to me. She was one true believer. Although she has never witnessed it herself, she kept stressing 'haro moti kaka kopio' (hearsay, there is indeed). It is a hearsay, the word 'kaka' alone evidences this (kaka= hearsay), but I suppose faith is in the heart of the believer.

And I'm still wondering how did the concept of fruits come to be linked to epidemics? Could it be because during every fruit season there will be a flu outbreak among the Dusuns? Coincidence, or is there a scientific explanation to this, I wonder?

09 September 2009

Pioitan- (friendly name to call each other)

I've always been amused by this very thing. Dusuns, especially my parents' generation (and the generations before) have this practice of having a special name they use between either two friends or a group of friends. The names are normally hilarious in nature, having been born under hilarious situations. Or it could be one that reminds people of an exceptional event they decide to commit to their memories forever. For example, my Dad and one of his friends call each other 'katangki' (root=tangki 'water tank') due to whatever funny situation that took place when they were dealing with some water tanks.

My late grandmother and one of her neighbours called each other 'ganakau' (root=takau 'thief'). I suspect the nickname must have started when they were discussing someone who stole something. It must have been either very funny or very annoying that they decided to remind themselves of the event forever by choosing it to be their nickname. The funniest thing about that was it became a family nickname. All my grandmothers' daughters and granddaughters including yours truly followed suit in calling the neighbour 'ganakau'. Even now that my grandmother is gone, we still call 'ganakau' that. And 'ganakau's' daughters/granddaughters still refer to my late grandmother as 'ganakau' too.

This practice, I think, owes its existence to the Dusuns' reluctance to address people by their real names. Somehow it is considered impolite to call a person directly by their name, especially when the person is older than oneself.(I remember when I was young it was almost a crime to say my grandparents' names out loud. My grandfather used to threaten us the grandchildren that our knees were going to turn yellow if we ever said his name at all!)
Hence, we often hear 'i kuo' (=so and so) as a term of reference, rather than the real name of a person.

I'd have thought that this 'pioitan' practice is outdated, but surprise, surprise, I just discovered that one of my younger brothers who is in his 30s and his best friend (also a cousin of mine) actually call each other 'kalado' (root=chili). Hmm...the culture is very much alive it seems.

03 September 2009

The Dusuns in the 1900s

"The Dusuns in character are quiet and orderly and not particularly brave,
but no doubt would be industrious if occasion arose; a very
good rural population, with somewhat yokelish notions. Any
slight bloodthirsty tendencies that circulmstances and the want
of proper restraint have driven them to, are gladly abandoned
wherever our influence has spread. They show every symptom
of thriving and increasing, under a proper firm government, and
there is no fear of their melting away and disappearing, like so
many races have done, when brought into contact with the white
man. Much the same thing may be said of the sea coast races,
who also possess many good work-a-day knockabout qualities,
but not to the same extent as the Dusuns."
(W.B Pryer, 1887: 236- The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 16
(1887), pp. 229-236)

Wow! So they have discovered us or rather our ancestors in the late 1800s. The Dusuns were still headhunters then but I gather from this writing that they weren't very happy with the custom too. Headhunting must have been a tradition they held on to simply because it was tradition, not because they were bloodthirsty. (Am I relieved to read that- that means I have the blood of peaceful ancestors, who somewhat braved their existence because that was all they knew then.

And it seems that the hardworking traits have had always been there. You know the work-till-you-drop-dead thing. I'll stop complaining about that then.

02 September 2009

Dusun tatoos?

I believe no one would ever associate tatoos with Dusuns nowadays. I, for one, has never seen any Dusun with a Dusun made tatoo since my late paternal grandfather who tattoed his name on his arm. (He died at 102 in 1993). I never thought much of his tatoo then because unlike our Iban neighbours in Sarawak, his looked too simple. Just a spelling of his name, no patterns whatsoever.

It came as a surprise when somebody emailed me this picture:

Apparently in the 1900s, tatooing was quite a common practice among the Dusuns. And this particular one is of a man in Kundasang/Bundu Tuhan area, my hometown. How exciting!

01 September 2009

The rice people

They say the Eskimos have over 20 words for snow. Well the Dusuns don't have any, not surprisingly, them being land people. But the Dusuns have various words to refer to rice. It shows how important rice is to them huh? Here are some of the rice referents:

1. takano 'cooked rice'
2. wagas 'uncooked, husked rice'
3. parai 'unhusked rice or riceplant'
4. bukid 'hill rice'
5. tadong 'black/purple rice'
6. tompurion 'unripe rice grains'
7. rinolok 'rice seedlings'
8. tomot 'the rice that have been harvested'
9. tomoton 'the rice being harvested'
10. parai wagu 'fresh rice grains, normally have just been harvested in the last month or so'
11.pulut 'sticky rice' (though I'm not sure whether this one is borrowed from Malay)
12. kuruluh 'dried rice stalks'

and I believe the long list goes on. It is very true indeed that language mirrors the community.

30 August 2009

Downplaying emotion/events

The Dusuns are really good at downplaying emotions/events. It is not considered good to say something as it really is. It's even worst if someone makes a mountain out of a molehill. There is a word, 'ronob' that means exaggerate, that connotes something negative in the society. A person who is 'koronob' or 'momuronob' (exaggerating) is scowled upon by the people.

I didn't really appreciate the value of downplaying emotions until the day my grandfather died. Being far away, my family members had to break the news over the phone. They did it as emotionless as they could using the standard idiom to explain death: "aa no nakatahan do toruol dau" (he couldn't bear his pain any longer), (except that my dad said it in Malay, the language we use to communicate to each other).

Giving the news in such a way, I realized later, is very considerate. The person hearing it has the time to slowly digest the information, before the big boulder that is grief hits. At least one is given the time to delay one's reaction. I didn't get into shock (perhaps partly because I knew he had been really ill for a few months), and at least I managed to get myself to a private place before the waves of emotions crushed me.

And so I really do appreciate their knack of downplaying emotions. It does make me wonder though, whether something is worst than it is made to sound each time I hear the news that a family member or a person I know is not well...

27 August 2009

Happy Ramadan- a Dusun's (that's me) fond memory

This morning my daughter excitedly told me that two people in her class are fasting because it is Ramadhan. "And at the end of the fasting month, one of them is going to receive $500 from their parents!" Her excited remarks brought me smile and fond Ramadhan memories. My daughter doesn't understand yet the concept of fasting, but I'm so glad to know that all her teachers are concerned enough to educate themselves and their students about it. I tried to explain that Ramadhan is somewhat like our Lent, the month that Christians have to fast. Accusingly she said to me "but you never made us fast!". Oops, caught me there...anyway, I told her that come next Lent, I'll make her fast. (Now I have to remember that).

Anyway, being Dusun, one of the most enriching experiences is to have family members of various religions. One gets to understand about each other's religions and to be tolerant. I have to say that Dusun muslims have a very high level of tolerance (this is again, a generalization, but I believe it is true). Even though they can't consume alcohol, for example, they don't mind other people consuming it in front of them. That is just one of the long list of examples I can think of...

I'm glad to say that because of this background, I can happily admit having a very high level of religious tolerance too. When I was in the boarding school, I used to fast with my Muslim friends (even though being the lazy person that I am, I have never been able to wake up at dawn to have the morning meal!). It was really one of the best moments of my life. And being away from home now, guess what I miss most of all at the end of Ramadhan? Yup, the 'solat takbir', the melodious prayer they recite on the early morning of Raya (Eid-al-mubarak). This is me, a Dusun girl of rich heritage and tradition and proud to be so. I hope I will be able to raise my children to appreciate the same thing...

26 August 2009

Egalitarian Society?

Seems like it. (Except for certain areas of life like marriage. Women don't go pursue men. Although I see nothing wrong with that actually!)

Men and women cultivate their farms side by side. That's the most telling sign of Dusun being an egalitarian society, I supposed. This entails doing the same amount of work, carrying the same kind of burden- for instance if a man carries a 50kg sack of rice on his back, the woman does the same too. (They really do have a strong back!- not me though. In the olden days I would have been considered one of the weakest ones, for I could never ever carry a 50kg sack of rice on my back.)

But men are left to do 'heavy' stuffs like build a house, while most often women are the ones doing the houseworks and looking after the kids. Cooking might be a shared task but cleaning up and laundry are normally left to the women. Some men like my father are really good with children and they don't mind the task of looking after their kids. Though I know of some who would never touch their babies because of this preconceived ideas that little ones are the women's domain. And waking up at night to feed and change the babies is again considered as the woman's domain. (Come to think of it, this really should change in this modern time, especially when the woman is also working. It seems unfair to let only the mother endure the hardship day and night! After all both parents are the breadwinners eh?)

So what's my point again? Oh, Dusun seems to be an egalitarian society. But in reality the women do so much more than the men. I wonder if this would be changing soon...

23 August 2009

Referring to one by one's ethnic group

It is commonplace among the Dusun to refer to a person based on the person's ethnic group. Referring to one as 'i Dusun' (the Dusun one) is akin to referring to them by physical characteristic such as 'i tagahui' (the thin one) and so on.

No, it's not supposed to be rude. But I do think that somebody from an ethnic group that has a different system of identifying a person might feel quite insulted by this. Myself a Dusun, it still took me a long time to finally made sense of this. In school you are thought to be 'polite', and one of the politeness aspect you learn is never to refer to a person by their physical characteristics or ethnic groups. Even now, whenever I mingle and listen to my fellow Dusuns refer to others as 'i Sina' (the Chinese) or 'i Bajau' (the Bajau), I wince a little, especially when people of different ethnic groups are present.

Perhaps in Sabah, most ethnic groups have the same reference system. I've heard a Chinese person do the same. I assumed he was not being rude but simply doing what he was used to doing, just like a Dusun.

Innocent though it is, this kind of reference system is potentially harmful, at least to intercultural relation. But the Dusuns do that and it would be wrong to impose my personal belief that such thing is rude by trying to change them...

18 August 2009

The 'panau' (wedding) ceremony-my aunt's recollection

My aunt was 13 when she had her real 'being drunk' experience :-) and it was during a 'panau' ceremony. (Before, I blog about panau being part 1 of the Dusun wedding ceremonies ) It must have been some time in the 70s because aunt M was born in 1963.

Anyway, the panau ceremony is the first part of the Dusun traditional wedding. On the night that the two families had agreed upon, a group representing the groom would go to the bride's house (the 'mooi panau' group), bearing the bridal dowry, that was a type of gong called 'sanang'. The groom himself was not allowed to come along. Upon their arrival, the bride's family would close all doors and windows, and while they were doing that, the 'mooi panau' group leader must try to get the 'tutuntung' (i.e the thing used for beating the 'sanang') inside the house. Their succeed to get the 'tutuntung inside' would ensure that they could come in and claim the bride. Otherwise, they would have to use their wits- find a hole or anything that would get the 'tutuntung' through. (My imagination sketches another scenario- they would have to beg, sing or something like that till they were let in:-))

That was the first test. The second test awaited inside the house:

"They will be served with all sorts of delicacies. It might be a whole chicken, a leg of pork or the whole ribs but without any knife to cut it with. The group must not succumb. The leader will have to use his bare hands or teeth to cut it into pieces to distribute among his group members. There might be a lot of 'tapai' (rice-wine) too and if the bride's representative said that all that must be finished before they are allowed to take the bride, then finish it they will. That's why in those days the 'mooi panau' (groom's group) representatives must consist of those who can hold their alcohol and quite daring too. 'Mooi panau' is not for the tender hearted or shy person." (quoting aunty M here)

All the 'mooi panau' people MUST go back to their place in the same night no matter how drunk they became. It was the duty of the group members to ensure that they all returned in one piece, and those who were too drunk to walk would be carried by the others :-). (Cars were not used then I supposed, even if in the 70s there would have been one or two families who owned cars).

That was part one really. Next, the bride would be taken to the groom's place- 'the atod (sending over)ceremony'.

Talking about world view- Men are 'dynamic', women are 'non-dynamic'?

At least that's how it is based on marriage language. In Bundu Dusun there are two prefixes (among others) that indicate ability/accidental action:

1. ko - that refers to the ability/accidental action of the person DOING the action
2. o- that refers to the ability/accidental action of a person to whom the action is BEING DONE

When you refer to the action in the past tense they are:
1. noko- 2. no-

(depending on the words, can realize as ka-, a-, naka-, na-)

Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a language lesson but a thought of something I encountered while listening to my recorded conversation with an elderly lady. She kept refering to the women she talked about as 'nasao' (no + sao) = having been weded by...', and the men as 'nakasao' (noko + sao) , "having had married ...".

It shows that men who do the marrying are 'dynamic', while women who are being married off to are 'non-dynamic' :-) It is interesting how the language really reflects the culture.

15 August 2009

Traditional Dusun Wedding (part 1)

I notice lately that in my hometown, traditional wedding ceremony is making a comeback. It is something I silently applaud. For years, the Dusuns were so engrossed in embracing modernisation that most aspects of the culture were let slip away slowly.

Anyway, I really enjoyed looking at my cousin's traditional wedding pictures. Of whether it was 'traditional' in every sense of the word, it doesn't matter. At least there were the food: linopot (wrapped rice), sup polod (soup made of some kind of root plant), tuhau (pickled 'tuhau' plant with chillies) and sup nangko (young jackfruit soup) served in coconut shells:

and there was the 'panau' ceremony even though it was done in broad daylight.

In my grandmother's time, there were no such things as fancy engagement ceremonies. The bride wouldn't even be told that she was getting married, for every marriage was arranged by their parents/elder relatives. By the time a girl turned about 9 or 10 years of age, somebody's parents would secretly 'book' her to be their future daughter in-law. Wedding date would be agreed upon between the parents, and preparation would soon be underway without any of the non-married members of the family knowing. They would definitely suspect that one of them was going to be married off, but no one would ever tell them till the day of the wedding.

On the big day, the girl would be woken up in the middle of the night, and taken to the bridegroom's place. (known as panau = journey) It was then that she would be told that she was being married off! And grandmother told me "Of course there would be tears! Who in their right mind would want to be married to a stranger!" But no one escaped anyway.

They would then be married off. The people would come help them celebrate in the morning with all the merry makings, eating and drinking. But that was only part one...the bride wouldn't be united with the bridegroom yet, until part two was done...

(Above: my cousin's 'panau' picture. I wish I was there to witness this beautiful tradition)

13 August 2009

Once upon a time- Mogitatabang

I miss the good old days when 'mogitatabang' was still a strong tradition among the people. 'Mogitatabang' derives from the word 'tabang' that means 'to help one another'. It works this way- let's say next week I'm building a shack. I'll send words to my neighbours and they will come to help me on that day. Them helping me out will count as a 'debt' that I'll have to repay in the future.

The best thing about it is that whoever is available will come out to help. It is not so much because of the expectation of being helped in return, but more because of the understanding that 'my neighbour is in need of help, therefore it is my duty to help them'.

I supposed it worked all the time before because the people were all farmers. There was no such thing as clash of duty. As means of living become more varied, mogitatabang begins to lose its significance. New needs arise and various ways are created to cater to those needs.

But, oh, those beautiful days of mogitatabang. Any job, big or small was done together. I remember one of the best time was 'mangasok' (hill-rice sowing) during school holidays. If I wasn't one of those assigned the task of cooking for the workers, I got to participate in the 'mogitatabang' sometimes. Being among those cheerful people who sang, joked and laughed all through the task was something I have never forgotten. Not to mention all the eating and drinking after. It was a party. Now it is but a sweet memory...

12 August 2009

Taboo words

There must be several Dusun taboo words that I don't know of. But at least I know two of them. One is crocodile- for the Dusuns who live by the river, saying the real word for it is a 'no, no'. I used to be fascinated when my river friends told me they call 'it' anything but 'buayo' (=crocodile). The reason behind that- it is believed that something threatening shouldn't be mentioned at all or else it becomes more powerful. Hmm...reminds me of 'you-know-who' in Harry Potter!

The other group of taboo words that I know of is in-law related. Yes, a Dusun should never ever say his/her parents-in-law/uncles-in-law/aunts-in-law names. In some villages, saying your in-laws' names is considered very disrespectful. I've been told that if you say your in law's name out loud, the in-law will go blind! There must be an underlying assumption that a Dusun really cares for other people that the thought of causing harm to others is intolerable. Of course no one really believes the reasoning but everyone respects the tabooing rule anyway. I, for one, will never address my mother-in-law with her name...that is just unthinkable. But if someone asks me her name, I'll say it, not SPELL it like some people I know who are super duper loyal to the tradition!

I wonder what other taboo words are there...

10 August 2009

of thank you and gratitude

A very good friend of mine, an Iban from a neighbouring state once mentioned to me that her people don't say thank you. They just don't have the word for it. Instead, they express gratitude in multiple ways like gifting the ones to whom they are thankful. I thought they were very different from us Dusuns because of course we have 'pounsikou' or 'kotoluadan'/('kotohuadan' in some Kadazandusun dialects), meaning 'thank you'.

But I think I might have been wrong! Maybe the Dusuns learnt their 'thank yous' from other cultures. Maybe like the Ibans, we prefer to show gratitude in other ways rather than through words. For one thing, 'thank you' wasn't something said naturally at home among older family members when I was growing up. We children were asked to say thank you, especially to people who were non-family. But come to think of it, there was no hard and fast rule that you should say 'thank you' at home...

However expressions of gratitude are natural. If your neighbour gives you a basket of fruits, you give them something else in return the next day, or a few days later. If somebody helps fix your plumbing system, you invite them for lunch or dinner. The least you could do is invite the person you are thankful to for a drink. Of course you don't say 'let me invite you for a drink because I'm thankful to you...'. You don't have to. The person is expected to understand, because they will do the same thing in your shoes.

It doesn't matter how you express it, gratitude is a must. Corrupt modern day people like me simply say thank you because that's the easiest way to show one's gratitude...

05 August 2009

Parenting style

Now that I myself am a parent, evaluation on my parents and their "cohorts' "parenting style is inevitable. Sitting with some friends who come from the same cultural background who are parents themselves the other day, we started comparing notes and had a good laugh about the way we were 'parented'.

It seems that the popular style of our parents' generation is 'yell and threat'. We coined a hybrid English-Malay phrase for it- "Parenting Teriak-teriak" (Yelling style parenting).

In the Dusun society a child is expected to respect their elders (I guess it goes the same in any traditional society). This entails obeying every order given to you, no question asked. A stubborn child risks getting yelled at. If the yelling doesn't work, they resort to threat. I remember hearing "the police will come and get you" all the time from parents who got really frustrated with their children.

One of the favourite pasttimes of children in the villages was roaming about searching for rubber seed or something like that for games. As a child, I remember having so much fun outside that we tended not to notice the time, forgot all about going home before it got dark. Something that annoyed the parents so much because they have this thing about darkness-it is believed that spirits appear when it gets dark and may cause harm to people. Many such occasions triggered yellings from the parents. Oh such a cacophony! And the famous "ghosts will come get you" threat never failed to be used! How far they worked, I have no idea. But I was definitely scared when I was a little child.

Canings naturally followed yellings. The very last resort. If the yellings and verbal threats didn't work, one of the parents would produce the most dreaded one-meter long cane. That, I'd say, worked all the time. No child wanted to go through the pain of being caned, not to mention the humiliation. Failing the cane threat, a real caning session would be conducted. It didn't matter that all your siblings or whoever was in the house watched, you get caned when the parents deemed it necessary. Thank god in my household it wasn't often. (one such occasion was when one of my siblings played truant- now that is a serious crime in my household).

With the changing time, parenting style changes. At times I am tempted to keep a one-meter long cane in the house and use it to threat my kids when they try to kill each other. But I doubt that will ever work. I might even get reported for child abuse...One thing was passed on to me unconsciously though. I yell when the kids are being difficult. I hate to admit that but I do yell. Worse, it comes naturally. Changing this reluctantly-inherited-parenting-style is a hard work. I'm still trying.

03 August 2009

Mourning ritual

The last traditional Dusun funeral I went to was in the 80s. It was my granduncle's, a person who had never converted to any religion to the day he died. I was quite young then, and only went because of grandmother's command. Nothing much registered in my mind about the atmosphere. But I really was upset with the mourning ritual.

Well, it was supposed to be a sad occasion, I thought. The coffin was put in the middle of the living room for people to see, and those who wanted to pay their last respect could do so in turn. It was jealously guarded. Animals, especially cats were not allowed near it at all. I am not sure how far true this is but a friend of mine told me later that it was believed that if a cat jumped over a coffin, the corpse would become a bad spirit. Hmm...everyone that I asked about it later dismissed the question to be irrelevant. After all, everybody has a religion now, they are not supposed to believe in such nonsense, do they?

Anyway, a group of elderly mourners took turn to weep aloud near the coffin. While other family members genuinely cried (from sadness), I seriously doubt that the mourners did. I paid close attention to grandmother, being one of the mourners. It was the first time I saw her 'cry'. (I remember feeling really 'weird' about it. Grandmother didn't cry...the only emotion she had was anger!) One moment she would weep bitterly near the coffin, wailing out loud of the unfairness of it all. That he, her younger brother had to die earlier when she should have...why? why? etc. The next moment, she was out with the other mourners outside, drinking rice-wine over a fire (no doubt to warm up because it was quite cold in that place). And worst, they were all laughing and joking! I was really upset then, feeling that the whole mourning thing was just a facade.

I carried it with me for a long time, until I finally grew up and understood a little bit about societies, and finally realized that it was actually not an act, but a real cultural practice. That was how it was supposed to be. That was what they were taught, and practiced.

My grandmother's generation is almost all gone now. There won't be any irritating mourning rituals left in the near future. The younger generations prefer religion- based funerals or rather are taught to conduct funerals according to their religions. Some aspects of the traditional funerals continue on though. People mourn for 7 days, during which they are not allowed to have any music. In some villages, they don't even eat green vegies because green signifies life and the living. Throughout the 7-day period, it is preferable that a few people keep vigil the whole night long. The 7th day is the conclusion. A prayer is conducted and lights will be put out (called 'momisok' = "putting out lights"). If the religion of the deceased and his family allows for inculturation, the spirit of the deceased is called up to give some kind of signs that he/she is well on the other side. The sign is normally in the form of some scratches on a plate of ash prepared for that purpose. Or it could simply be a 'presence', felt by some 'sensitive' (in clairvoyant sense) members of the community.

After that, having received their proper farewell, the deceased is well on their way, in their journey to the next life...

02 August 2009

of courage

I've always wondered why it is considered such a horrible thing for a Dusun to do something halfway. If you start a job, you are expected to achieve a certain level (of security or status) before calling it quit. If you quit before that expectation has materialized, you can be certain that you have raised ruckus within the community. You have now earned the reputation of a being coward, one that brings shame to yourself and the family.

Now that, according to another Dusun commandment, is not being courageous. It is very very bad. A Dusun must have courage as big as the Kinabalu mountain. You have to live up to the expectation, no less.

This is not easy to do. Me for example- many a time I feel like quitting whatever I am doing because of all kinds of pressure. But I suppose I am still very much a Dusun as I haven't yet had the courage to ever quit anything halfway. I have to keep reminding myself that my grandparents, the closest examples to me, to their last breaths, had lived very courageously.

My grandfather, especially, is my main role-model. When he was bed-ridden, I had the chance to be by his side on and off for two weeks (three days after I left he passed away). He was in so much pain from a colon tumor but he fought bravely till the very end. He continued to enjoy life, asking for his favourite foods (in small amount) when he felt like it, tapping his feet to the sound of music even though he was completely bed-ridden by then.

I remember the last day I visited him, I cried because somehow I knew that was the last for us. He grabbed my fingers and told me someone in a long robe with a book came before to give him a blessing and that everyone of us would be blessed and he would be made whole again. Looking back, it was obvious that he was ending his journey because of the many 'people in robes' he saw visiting him. Even then he continued to be positive, to feel that he would be freed from all his pain and be made whole again. (I believe he is, rest in peace 'ama').

Everytime I think of quitting, I focus on him and how brave he was. That keeps me going. Got to keep this Dusun courage going.

01 August 2009

This is 'laziness'

Years and years ago (gosh, could it really be like 20-30 years back?) whenever we spent time at Grandmother's (rest in peace, 'ina'), we could expect to be asked to bed latest by 9pm and be woken up before sun-up. No one in the household was spared. As soon as the rooster crowed it was time to get up and do the house-chores, depending on your age. Those between 6-9 years old could expect to wash the dishes after breakfast in the creek near grandmother's house because there's no tap water then. Those above 9 years were considered old enough to do more complicated chores like cooking for the whole extended family and babysitting the younger ones (siblings, cousins, whoever in the house), and washing clothes in the creek, while the adult family members go farming.

It was very cold in the morning then but that was no excuse not to get up. Grandmother wouldn't tolerate 'laziness'- the 'lazy' ones would face rude awakening. Grandmother was known to strip blankets of sleeping grandchildren if they were too difficult to be asked to wake up...Those were the days. No, grandmother wasn't a bad person. She just ruled the family the way she knew- discipline, discipline, discipline.

No one does that anymore nowadays. I'm sure many Dusuns still wake up very early but members of my family pretty much can sleep and wake up any time they want. (Of course, the younger members of the family love doing this especially on weekends and during the holidays- computer games/work the whole night long, then up only at noon the next day). I mean who wouldn't, given the chance huh? Grandmother would have called that 'laziness'.

31 July 2009

on adaptability

Yes, we are an adaptable lot. We response to changes quite openly. We accept religions well, depending of whichever religion comes to the society first, or whichever religion suits our needs better. Most of us, even after having converted to our new religion (or having been raised in the new faith and not the traditional beliefs) still keep some traces of traditional beliefs at home.

We say 'tudu bangat' or 'tapun' when we think of food and have no immediate access to the food in order to avoid bad luck/accident. We even say that when we have to go out of the house before eating the food we are supposed to eat.

We say 'koburol' when we compliment little babies, because our elders taught us that saying the word will keep the bad spirit from harming the babies. (Hmm...magic word? :-)). We say 'sori palis' to avoid bad luck, which more or less functions the same as the English 'touch wood'.

Those are at least the obvious cultural heritage we keep. And I like practising it because it makes me feel very Dusun. (Trying to get my children to do the same, though with the kind of environment they live in, it's a bit of a challenge).

Anyway, adaptability can be a threat. When one adapts too much of outside practises that clash with the traditional culture, a conflict might arise, affecting the individual if not the society. For instance, sex before marriage is not something that's endorsed by the Dusun society. But in the modern world, because of their adaptibility, many people do not have anything against this anymore. (I could be wrong- this could be a generalization based on a few seen cases though.) The sad thing is when a child is born out of the wedlock, and the father refuses to marry the mother, the mother will be branded (negatively) for life or at least for a few years. Offering support openly to the mother, unfortunately, is not a common practice. Why, in the olden days an unwed mother would be left to give birth by herself in the jungle. If she survived, she could go back to the society, offer a 'sogit' and slowly be accepted again. Fortunately, because of the adaptable nature of the society (again), the mother's 'sin' would be forgiven in the long run...

30 July 2009


The Dusuns of the olden days were generally not discriminating when it comes to food. They ate anything- and this is not an exaggeration. My late grandfather used to smoke squirells and some kind of farm rats and told us they were delicacies :-) Most Dusuns nowadays are not as adventurous, but basically most of them don't mind eating meats, seafood and vegetables with rice. Well that depends on one's homeplace too. The land Dusuns are more likely to have vegetables and meats than seafood in their daily diets.

Being a simple society, the main cooking methods are boiling, steaming, smoking and grilling over open fire. Of course, having come into contact with other cultures, frying has also become very much part of the Dusun cooking. Oh, and in addition to those methods, the Dusuns are very good in fermenting and preserving. There's this one dish called 'bosou'/'karaatan' (literally "thing disliked"), which is preserved fish or meat (usually pork) with cooked rice. Those are the main ingredients. The side ingredients are ginger, chillies, salt and a type of fruit called 'pangi', that perhaps plays the main role in ensuring that the bosou is well preserved.
I've decided not to learn to make the dish because it doesn't appeal much to me. For one thing, the smell is 'too special' that one can smell it from kilometers away. I can't begin to describe the smell- perhaps something like the smell of an old sock? Only stronger. (and no insult intended to my fellow Dusuns who are fond of the dish!)

That aside, there are a lot of Dusun foods that remain my fav to this day. I like 'linopot'/'binulugu' that is balls of rice wrapped in special leaves. Sometimes the rice is cooked in chicken stock, which makes it yummier. Lihing chicken soup is also one of my all time fav. It's chicken soup cooked with the Dusun rice-wine (lihing), with lots of ginger, garlic and shallot. And for variation, pieces of wintermelons (gorouk) can also be added in the soup. Confinement food, mostly, but there's no reason why it can't be eaten outside of confinement.

Then there's the mix vegies that consist of white (pale yellow) chillies, spring onions, snake beans, baby eggplants, 'tuhau' (local vegie too) and anchovies or salted fish. It's a stir-fried dish that smells and tastes heavenly. To be taken with steamed rice of course...makes me hungry I have to stop writing.

29 July 2009

Extreme hedonism?

The opposite of the 'work till you drop dead' camp is the 'hedonist' camp. It's amazing that in every Dusun village, there is always one or two people who belong to this camp. I mean Dusuns are naturally hedonists (I wonder if someone is going to kill me for saying this)- we love singing, dancing and merry-making. But my use of 'hedonist' camp here refers to the extremists. They spend their days drinking, getting intoxicated more likely, and doing activities related to drinking like singing and fooling around.

I'm not saying that they are bad people. Generally they have quite a good control of their behaviours- they won't commit vices such as rape or murder, because the community is governed by their own native rules. Such extreme vices would lead to serious 'sogit', i.e a kind of punishment in the form of offerings, usually animals to be slaughtered to appease the spirits, or the community, as it is understood nowadays. But sadly, these people often become irresponsible. They tend to ignore their family, not caring whether or not there are food on the table, and some might have no qualms of abusing their children physically in moments of serious intoxication.

Most of these people are men, and thankfully their wives are mostly strong enough to single-handedly play the role of the family's bread-winner and carer of the children.

When I think of this, I'd rather all Dusuns be extreme workers actually. It is sad to see neglected children wandering about the village like lost animals.

28 July 2009

The Dusuns' attitude towards work

"Respect thy work"? Maybe this is not quite right to summarize the Dusuns' mentality towards work. It's more like "work till you drop dead". At least that is the camp that I encounter often, including most of my family members. Making a living of traditional agriculture mainly cultivating rice, the Dusuns take pride in the size and quality of their farms. I often hear the phrase 'mokimamaha' which is really hard to translate into other languages but basically means 'one must have the desire to do better all the time', which is derived from the concept 'gayo maha' (big desire to do better?), suppossedly positive.

To some extent, I do appreciate the attitude. The Dusuns are one of the traditional societies in the world, living a simple life which in the modern world equals poverty. Some of them manage to change their lives through education and incorporation into the mainstream society. But most, till present, can still be considered poor. (I don't have statistics to back this up, but if you travel to the Dusun villages in Sabah, you'd know what I mean). Because of hardships, the people emphasize the importance of working hard otherwise 'amu kaakan' (you would starve).

But lately I'm beginning to think that somewhat, the concept 'gayo maha' is becoming a bit negative. I see elderly people (pensioners) who laboured endlessly in their farms, using traditional methods, to the extent of costing their healths. These parents are not necessarily poor, most have working children who could support them, some are even receiving decent monthly pensions from their previous employers. It is just that the concept 'work till you drop dead' is so ingrained in them that they couldn't imagine living differently. I know of some parents who cultivate 4 farms at the same time, each of them measuring to about 2-3 acres a plot. During the cultivating season which is about 8 months of a year, they would work the farms in turn, very devotedly I must say. And endure ill-health because it 'is embarrasing not to work while one is still healthy'.

From my perspective, it's killing oneself slowly. It's not living life to the fullest. It's not healthy. But then again, that is me. For all I know, that is the way they enjoy life :-) And to give credit to these people, at least they showered love to mother earth. They have lands, and they do what is right to the lands. Maybe I'm the one being negative here.

27 July 2009

Dusun Names

(The dog in the picture would most often be called 'Gitom' (Black) in Dusun :-))
The Dusuns name their children based on physical characteristics or habits. Once upon a time, babies used to be named based upon their perceived physical characteristics when they were born. (Some of the names are unisex). For example, a small baby would be named 'Koro' or 'Kodo' (small)(which is unisex), thus my late grandmother's name. My late grandfather was named 'Kurupong', meaning 'folded earlobes' or something like that. A chubby baby girl would be named 'Kumbo' (chubby). A colic baby (who keeps crying) would get the name 'Logihad' (always crying). A person with a squint was often called 'sandud' (lazy-eyed). A fat baby would be 'mombon', 'gombon' and the likes, meaning'fat' (and these are unisex names too). That was the naming tradition in the olden days.

It was also common practice to change a person's name at any stage of their life because of sickness, tragedy or even bad dreams. Of course in order to do this, the family of the person whose name was to be changed would have to consult a bobolian (shamman) or a wise elder. Thus, it was common to hear a person whose name(s) used to be so and so before.

With modernization, came changes that also affected the naming tradition. Thus, English and Arabic names are adopted, depending on the religion on the people. Often, the Dusuns still maintain Dusun nicknames for their family though. This is normally done by Dusunizing the sounds of the real names, for examle a Mary would be called 'Moiri', and a 'Hafiz' becomes 'Hapis' :-) That again, depends on how able the family members are in pronouncing foreign sounds. Chances are, the grandparents won't be able to and they are the ones who normally start the nicknaming. It must also be mentioned that nicknames based on physical characteristics are still maintained these days, at least within the household of the family members!

Currently, though, there seems to be a trend to go back to tradition. The younger parents often add Dusun names in their children's birth certificates, along with the modern names. (Hmm...why didn't I think of that when naming my kids?) I wonder if this is the result of being deprived of traditions, or simply a commendable going-back-to-the-root practice?

24 July 2009

of Dusun humility

A mother went to town with her adolesent girl. They bumped into the mother's long-time-no-see friend. The friend exclaimed "my, she's such a big girl now!". The mother nonchalantly said, "yes, she might be big but she HAS NO KNOWLEDGE WHATSOEVER".

Typical scenario- a Dusun parent is supposed to be modest and humble, even to the extent of belittling and stripping their children of self-esteem. Come to think of it, self-esteem has no value within the Dusun community. A priced virtue is humility- reads "it doesn't matter that your words hurt your family members as long as you don't say good words about them in their presence". Strange? Definitely. I have yet to come to terms with this concept. Conversely, one should shower praises on others- the non-family. Make them feel good, even if they don't quite deserve it...

So, what would have happened to the girl in the scenario? If she had existed in the time of monosociety, she might have had just accepted everything as normal, brushed aside any negative effects and went on to become a mother who hanged on to the same concept herself. She would have been a keeper of tradition, who passed on the same virtue to her children and grandchildren. The same girl in a plural society, who might have been dominated by the mainstream way of thinking, might have ended up scarred. It could be a girl who lost her self- esteem because she would have kept hearing versions of such dissentions as "she doesn't know anything", "she is ugly", "she is fat", "she is not clever" etc.

Whatever it is, I hope such dissentings are not practised as much as when I was growing up anymore.

23 July 2009

What makes a Dusun?

Been pondering on this for quite sometime now. How is a Dusun defined? One who speaks the language, practice the culture, or biologically of the ethnic group, any one or a combination of those? That would put many Dusuns in an awkward position, I reckon. For one thing, many of the younger generations (post 70s?) don't speak the language anymore. Should I put, deprived of the language because of reasons such as political and social? Because the parents went to school and decided that the mother tongue was not good enough for their children, as it won't open doors to knowledge, or it was not prestigious enough?

Interestingly, many of the non-speakers manage to preserve some aspects of the culture like drinking the traditional rice wine, and being able to sing Dusun songs well. Since it's not their fault that they don't speak the language, I do admire these people. (albeit limitedly- it would be hard to admire a person who is too intoxicated in their quest of 'preserving' the culture, huh?) So, I guess these culture-practising, non-speakers deserve to be Dusuns.

And what about biological make-up? Perhaps that is the most handy Dusun identification. Since in the place where the Dusun people are, ethnic group is a compulsory identification, one's birth cert is sure to have this little tag. But does that make a Dusun? Maybe...