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.