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...