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...