28 December 2010

and this isTuaran

Finally I managed to force myself to go to the Land Department in Tuaran to get my land title. Yay! Land title. It has such a beautiful ring to it. A piece of land by the sea near Rasa Ria Resort that hubby and I bought with the money we toiled and sweated with. And it's MINE (Ha ha, people will think I'm crazy for being so excited about this. But there is a difference between earning a land title and inheriting one from one's family).

Anyway, I parked outside the building and confidently strode into the building, hesitating only briefly before entering a corridor that led to the land office, at least to my recollection of the place 10 months before. Only that it wasn't an office at all but a conference room, full of jolly elderly people. All eyes were on me and I knew I had to say something. "Sini pejabat tanah ka?" (Is this the land office?), I addressed the question to no one in partidular. Everybody answered me at the same time that I couln't really get what they were saying. Then a young man said "Bukan. Pejabat tanah sana di sebelah. Bangunan Urusetia" (No, the land office is at the other side. Urusetia Building). "Mo ambil geran tanah ka?" (Are you getting your land title?), came a question from an elderly lady. Gosh, it must have been written so clearly on my face. When I admitted it, somebody responded, "Oh, sini bukan tempat ambil geran. Sini tempat kasi tinggal harta" (Oh, this is not the place to get land titles. Here is the place that you leave (arrange to leave) your properties). They all laughed merrily again, looking at me, clearly expecting me to laugh with them. The hilariousnes of the situation struck me. There I was trying to get my land title at a place where people leave their properties, and I so laughed with them. Everyone tried to give me the direction to the land office, and I stood listening, not knowing who to listen to. Finally the young man took charge and showed me the way to the right office, all along jokingly asking me whether the land was big and whether I'd care to share it with them. In response, I jokingly told him that it was only a little piece of paper that I couldn't possibly share it with so many people.

In the land office I was asked to produce the slip they gave me when I applied for the title. I have totally forgotten about that. I thought I'd have to go back home and search for that slip, but instead the lady at the counter asked me to give her my identification card so she could try searching for it. Her reaction surprised me a bit because in many offices in KK I had experienced less friendly treatments for forgetting important documents. She went through her files patiently and 5 minutes later found my land title. I thanked her, wished her happy holidays and dashed out of the office. Outside at the parking lot, I bumped into the group of jolly elderlies again. A closer look at them made me realize that they were made up of various races- Chinese, Dusun, Bajau and perhaps more, but they looked so comfortable with each other. I told myself this is after all Tuaran. One of the melting pots of races in Sabah, where most people live in harmony and speak at least three languages.

They saw me, and waved as if I was an old friend. Somebody shouted to ask whether I had gotten my land title and when I shouted back "yes", they cheered like a group of schoolkids. I smiled happily, knowing one day I'd build my home in Tuaran, and wishing that all my neighbours would be good-natured and jolly people like this lot.

20 December 2010

Kinorotuan vs Kinaratuan- why oh why

Each time I go back to my home sweet hometown, I can't help but feel irritated to see the misspelling of my kampung's name on the big signboard at the junction (Ranau-Sandakan Road). There, very glaringly un-dusun is the word KINARATUAN where it should be KINOROTUAN. As far as I am concerned, no one has ever referred to the village as Kinaratuan. The base word is of course ratu that could refer to either the fruit 'wild durian' or the action 'fall' (jatuh). No one knows which although if you spend enough time talking with the entertaining elderly folks they will give you their versions of the stories on how Kinorotuan came to be. The most popular ones I've heard are 1) the place used to be inhabited by ratu(s) and 2) somebody fell from a tree that his falling resulted in the name Kinorotuan. Dissected into its individual unit, the word would be:

ratu (wild durian or fall) - base word
ko---an - the circumfix that indicates a lot of things. When added to a 'noun-like word' it means location.
-in- - the infix that indicates past time reference

When ko---an is added to a base word that has the sound 'a' in the first syllable such as ratu (mind you, only with noun-like base words), the 'a' in that syllable changes to 'o'. Hence, the word kinorotuan.

By logic, version 1) is more believable because it conforms to the morphological system of Dusun as described above. Version 2) is not very convincing, as the only way to make a location out of a verb-like base word is by adding ko---on to it. Thus "a place where somebody has fallen" should have been kinorotuon. (If indeed the story of a fallen somebody had resulted in the name of a kampung, that somebody must have been an esteemed person or an entertaining idiot).

But apparently the people who endorsed the signboard didn't know this. And so the name of my village is still KINARATUAN. I bet I'll forever be irritated by this.

06 December 2010

The guardians of the sacred mountain

Recently an event called Kinabalu Biodiversity Expo was held in my hometown. This expo was indeed significant, as it publicly acknowledged the Dusuns' reverence of the Kinabalu mountain, one they had once believed to have been the residence of the souls of their departed loved ones. (Even now, some might still believe this to be true even though I suspect it is only a small portion of the community). Most Dusuns now still appreciate the symbolism of the mountain; it is still very much revered. The expression "since time immemorial" is an apt one to describe the people's tradition of revering the mountain. And it is not hard to understand why. The beauty of the mountain is breathtaking. From the top, which is quite a struggle to reach, one is presented with a scenic view of the surrounding valleys that the hours of painful climb can easily be forgotten.

My people, the people of Bundu Tuhan, together with the people of Kiau paid homage to the sacred mountain on the day of the expo. 97 of the villagers climbed up the mountain in what people term as "the pilgrimage". A ceremony called Monolob in which a Bobolian (shaman) chanted and slaughtered 7 chickens to appease the spirits of the mountain preceded the climb. And on they climbed, up then down again in the spirit of tradition.

It dawned on me that many descendants of the Dusuns from Kiau and Bundu Tuhan might have taken their role as the guardians of the sacred mountain for granted. They see the mountain, admire it, accept the traditional myths on it, and yet are not aware that they are its guardians. The expo has been good to remind them of this. It's their birthright, being the guardians of the sacred mountain. It is up to them to preserve its beauty, as well as the tradition associated with it.

21 November 2010

Salt and 'I'm sorry'

The Dusuns do not generally say 'I'm sorry' for their wrongdoings especially among family members. There is the word siou (that means 'sorry') but it is mostly used for politeness purpose. One uses it in such a situation as when one accidentally bumps into a person, for instance- sort of like 'excuse me'. But when the wrong deed is graver, i.e involving deep emotion, one just shows that he is sorry by actions.

Offering a pinch of salt and some rice grains to the person that one has offended is one of the ways of doing it. It is not practiced in all communities anymore, but it is still done nevertheless. My good friend's community still does it. She was giving an example of how the other day she offered her mom a pinch of salt for having lost her temper and hurt the mom's feeling. It's like saying "I'm sorry, I have hurt you". The gesture was well received, and the awkward situation they had was resolved.

Now I don't remember if any of my family members ever did practice this. But it is very practical, I think, especially that the Dusun people are not very good at communicating the soft side of their emotions. Would be good if I could get started with this tradition within my own family...

02 November 2010

One of the many taboos

When I was young, one of my mom's 'no no phrase' at home is pataion ku iya "I (will) kill you". According to her, it is especially a taboo to say that when one is holding a knife or any sharp object, because the bad spirits will make the words come true. My mom always tells this story to reinforce her taboo:

"Once there were two people who were mad with each other. One of them who was holding a paka (a kind of grass) leaf said pataion ku iya "I'll kill you" to the other, and threw the leaf at him. The leaf hit him right at his heart like a tandus "spear", and he died on the spot".

That is how dangerous the phrase is according to my mom. Of course, it is still one of her taboo phrases even now that I am much older. In fact all her grandchildren, who now speak different languages are also prohibited to say anything to that effect.

Although when I'm really angry I can have a slip of tongue and say the phrase without thinking (well, only when I am REALLY angry), I can see her point. My present interpretation of it is that whatever you say becomes either bad or good energy. Say something bad and the consequence will be bad, and vice versa. And so, I decided that it is a good taboo after all.

23 October 2010

Mitoruh- peace making

At my age I should have heard about this long time ago...but because of ignorance, mostly, I've only got to know this recently. Thankfully, a colleague who's also a neighbour at the office is investigating a lot of things with regard to the Dusun communities, and so I learn a lot from him.

Mitoruh- is a ceremony to indicate peace-making between two parties. Most people think that it only involves two warring parties during the head hunting time, about 100 years ago. In which case, two parties who had had enough of being enemies would call a truce. They would swear over some kind of animal or human sacrifice that they would no longer be enemies. Some people insist that the sacrifice must be a buffalo, and that later the buffalo meat have to be eaten, although my friend has evidence that there were cases where the sacrifice was human, obviously cannot be eaten after.

The most interesting story of mitoruh I heard was between human and rogon "jinn". A (another) friend told me that when she was 12, her Chinese grandmother bought a plot of land with the intention of farming. For some reason, nothing seemed to grow on the land. Later, the friend's Dusun grandmother saw that the reason for that was because the rogon refused to 'let go'. The only way to make the rogon relent was to have a mitoruh ceremony. They had the ceremony on that plot of land, attended by my friend's family members of all Chinese, Dusun and Bajau sides. A buffalo was slaughtered, the blood sprinkled all over the land...and then it was left on the land. Apparently, a buffalo offered to a non-human party can't be eaten for it would be 'tasteless'.

So that is mitoruh to the Dusun people...

12 October 2010

The heritage language learning session...

It hadn't been easy to find the time to teach the kids their heritage language. But my eldest, after finishing her national year 6 exam, UPSR, insisted that I really should make time on the weekend. Encouraged by her determination to be able to speak Dusun again (once when she was a little girl, she used to speak Dusun with her Dusun nanny), I struggled to find the time. The sessions turned out to be good...when only the daughters participated.

Last week, the 6 going 7 year old son decided to join in. All because among the three of them he was the one who could memorize all the colour terms (and he thought he was the greatest of them all!). So we started our session with a revision on the past lessons. Then the daughters requested to learn more words. Eldest daughter had her own ideas of how a language should be learned. "Do it in topics, mom", she kept insisting. Second daughter was contented to listen and repeat. But the boy was another story. "Mom, what's "bum" in Dusun?", was his first question. Thinking that if I ignore him he would come up with more such questions, I gave him the answer. To my horror, he went on and on asking, "what's nose-hair,...what's ear-hair..., what's armpit hair...what's poop...what's urine...?" And the girls had had enough that they sent him out of the "classroom". Being the cheeky boy that he is, he said "but I know how to say "private" in Dusun...it's "tontolou" (man's private part), resulting in the girls shrieking disgustedly at him.

Oh my! I have no idea whether his interest in those things is due to him being a 6 year old boy or simply due to him being a male. But undeniably my "classroom" progressed better without the boy.

04 October 2010

The last of the bobolians-tingolig (village protection)

I wouldn't have met her if it wasn't for my colleague who needed somebody to translate for him. He's researching something on the Dusun communities and has been dying to ask further questions on some hypotheses he's been playing with. So I went with him to meet this ancient lady of wisdom and I'm glad I did.

She is 97 years old and bedridden. And yet her memory is still as sharp as I imagine it must have been when she was a practising bobolian (healer, protecter, spiritual messenger, for lost of exact translation). My friend wanted to know about tingolig (protection of the village and of the household) so he asked me to ask her who she invoked when she was performing the ritual...and what she asked for.

So she told me all about tingolig and more...She said she would invoke Kinorohingan (the Creator), to ask him to give some 'power' to the stick, stone and water that she brought, so that they would serve as the protection for the village. I asked her "where is Kinorohingan?", to which she answered, high above. To go there, she said, she had to follow a kondiu (an eagle). She stressed that she wouldn't physically transcend, but rather her words would until she reached him. She would then asked him to empower the stick, the stone and the water, and went back to the earth. She would then bury those three items at the edge of the village, slaughtered 7 chickens as a symbol of gratefulness. Three years later, a goat will be slaughtered at the same spot to renew the protection, and a year after, the same ritual would be repeated. This year she said, she didn't have the physical strength to perform the ritualfor her village, so she requested her komburongoh (the thing in the pic), a sacred object that every bobolian has to have to do the job, sent the komburongoh through somebody to complete the ritual.

She lamented about the forgotten tradition, about the days when the ways of the bobolians were still practised. She had tears in her eyes when she reminisced about the good old days...and I felt a great guilt for reasons I couldn't understand...maybe for being a pseudo-dusun when it comes to traditional beliefs.

15 September 2010

Selamat Hari Raya- unity in diversity

After many years of not being able to celebrate Hari Raya (eid-ul-fitr) with my Muslim side of the family, I finally got the chance this year. My mom's cousins, the uncle and aunties, have aged well and they could hardly recognize me. Well, the last time I saw all of them was when I was about 10 yrs old. Living away from home somehow has distanced me from them.

It was a pleasure to be with them once again. Indeed, blood is thicker than water. One of the aunts asked me whether my brother the priest has safely come home. She said when she saw the wars at other countries on tv she kept thinking and worrying of relatives who were far away. And her face lighted up when I told her that my brother is safe and sound, serving at one of the churches in KK. The conversation might seem weird to people who are of not a diverse-belief background, but to us it is natural. My muslim aunt is proud to have a nephew who is a priest because she's hoping for him to do good to humanity.

The uncle emphasized on the importance of being tolerant and be united for the sake of our safety in this country. These simple folks might never have been away from their homeland, but they've seen enough war reports in the media to appreciate their peaceful home. Uncle said, "when you pray, pray for the safety of our country. May we always live in peace". And then he went on to say, " it is my ritual to advise the young people of my staff members to pray, always for safety, if you are a muslim, pray the muslim way, if you are a christian, pray the christian way, and if you are a traditional dusun, when you momurinait (praying), make sure you ask the Minamangun (Creator) to keep our land safe".

I'm glad I have managed to get to know the extended family once more. I remember before Hari Raya, my late grandmother came to me in a dream and told me to find the Muslim side of the family. I realize that on my grandmother's side, the dominant religion embraced by the family members is Islam. It looks like I have a bit of a research to do, and a lot of unknown family members to find...

12 September 2010

Kitimbok Tinggur Bulawan

Hubby accidently came across this song in youtube today. As I have listened to it a few times on air, I asked him to look for the lyric and the singer for me. The lyric, to someone who had had the chance of knowing a very Dusun grandmother and her cohort, is very beautiful. It revolves around the Dusun's olden day rice-planting culture- about a man who stands on a log, and from a distance sees his sweetheart standing out from the crowd because of the timbok tinggur bulawan (Malay- Cucuk Sanggul "traditional hairpin") that she wears. I guess in the olden days that's how they identified 'the one'. Now I've never actually known what 'tinggur bulawan' means, except that it means a special type of hairpin that once upon a time was precious to a Dusun woman.

When I listened to the song further, I found that not only the lyric praises the beauty of a woman, but it also relates how the sunlight helps the rice to grow well, and the singer's plea for the rice to produce a bounty harvest because rice is his (the people's) source of strength. My grandmother and her friends used to say riddles and traditional poems using the same kind of wordings whenever they were having a mitatabang (helping each other in the farm) session.

Originally I thought the beautiful voice belonged to a lady, but actually it belonged to a boy. As hubby and I read the comments left by viewers of the song, we realized that the singer lost his life to thalassemia last year. May his soul rest in peace. He might no longer be here in this world, but he left a beautiful legacy to the Dusuns. Sakril Sidik, rest in peace.

29 August 2010

Plans are not to be discussed

When I was in primary school, I'd follow my youngest aunt who was only 5 years older than me to attend Sunday school sometimes. It must have been during the school holidays because I was at grandmother's home. The aunt and I would always discuss excitedly the things we would do after the Sunday school, or what to spend our meagre Sunday allowance on.

Grandmother did not speak Malay but she gradually understood a few words after having listened to us a long time. I realized she has understood it when one Saturday (must have been a Saturday because we were talking about Sunday School), she suddenly bellowed to us to stop discussing our 'plans'. My aunty quickly said kadti kosoguluono'd koduo-duo! (may the soul doesn't precede me) which softened her anger.

Confused, I asked my aunt why she was so angry. It was then that I got the explaination that we are never to talk about something we think of doing for fear that the bad spirits would lead our souls to do it before our physical bodies actually manage to do it. That would mean HARM in various forms such as illness. Of course I didn't understand the explanation until years later. But I've acquired the expression kadti kosoguluono'd koduo-duo, and practised it as if I meant it.

If grandmother were to be in the present workforce, she would have had resented it very much- the neverending plans A, B, C etc wouldn't have gone well with her belief...

19 August 2010

sogit- it's actually forgiveness

Baby dumping cases in Malaysia are on the rise again...my friend just commented that the society contributes to the problem- for being judgemental. She has a point. Instead of helping the young, lost and scared mothers, the society at large scorns, chastises and labels them 'sinful'.

Anyway, the friend said, among the indigenous society in Sabah, for example Dusun, you hardly ever hear of this phenomenon. An animated discussion of this leads us to the conclusion that sogit must be playing a role in preventing baby dumpings.

In the Dusun society, having babies out of wedlocks is wrong, and in the olden days could get a severe punishment of the mother being sent to the jungle to give birth alone. But if the mother returned to the village safely, she would only be asked to pay a sogit (normally in the form of an animal to be slaughtered, cooked and eaten by the villagers) to the villagers to appease the spirits, and to 'cool' the surrounding, and she would be accepted as one of them again.

The sogit practice continues on even now. The mothers are not severely punished anymore though. The mother is the guilty party until the sogit has been paid. While she is 'guilty', the villagers won't have any qualms of gossiping about her bad conducts. Once she has paid the sogit, the talks would gradually subside. There seems to be an unspoken consensus among the villagers to 'forgive and forget' the past 'sin'. (And that could be because most people believe that if you talk about something that has been settled, the 'heat' will go to you and you'll be the one getting the bad consequences.) But whatever the real reason is, sogit works to prevent further crime like baby dumping to be committed. In a way, it is forgiveness...

14 August 2010

creating a sense of identity through family heritage

Once upon time during the headhunting time, there was a warrior in Kg. Toboh, Ranau who defeated many enemies. Back then, it was very important for a man to have headhunting skills, for enemies were all around, waiting to kill for food and things, in the name of survival. It was said that this headhunter was very strong and agile he could jump over a river (which must have been about 5m in width) when no one else could. He would go to great lengths to protect his family and friends, and he was much revered by those who have known him.

Well, that wasn't so long ago, for many elderly people who are still around today have had the chance to know him. Maybe he wasn't the once agile warrior anymore when they did see him, but his laurels remained. Even till now. His great grandchildren still talk about him with great respect, and they kept a sole picture of him somewhere in their family house in Kg.Toboh, which to date I haven't had the chance to see.

I happen to be married to one of his descendents, and am fortunate enough to pass on this tale to my son. It works well to help him identify with his root, his ethnic identity. The night we told him the story, he was so excited he tried to jump from his bed in his sleep. For days afterwards, he kept asking about his great grandparent- the food he ate, the clothes he wore, the name he had. And decided that he would like a Dusun name; a warrior's name to show that he is also as strong and brave as his ancestor. So I called him 'Anakanak' (of course that is my endearment to him, meaning 'little son', which coincidently is also a popular hero name in Dusun folktales). And I'm happy that he is happy to be himself, a Dusun, a minority ethnic in this big big world. It is indeed handy to have some kind of family heritage to help create a sense of identity among the young generation...

04 August 2010

The kind-hearted sellers

If you go to any tamu (open market), you'd see all kind of sellers selling their products, ranging from fresh produce like vegies and fruits, to clothes and plasticwares. In Sabah, the vendors at most tamus are generally the same ones. The just move around from town to town according to the days that the town has set for its tamu. In Telipok, for instance, the tamu is on Thursday. In Ranau, it is on the 1st of every month. If one is a regular tamu-goer, chances are, one will get to know the vendors well. I know my mom used to be one of those people.

You could bargain in tamu. It's almost like a game, bargaining the price of a product with the seller. Well I know my mom and her younger sister, my youngest aunt, love to do that, to the extent of making me feel uncomfortable when I'm with them!

Anyway, there are a group of sellers in tamus that to me, are overly kind-hearted. Since I grow up going to a tamu with many Dusun sellers, my experience is mostly with the Dusun kind-hearted sellers. These are normally the aki (grandfather) and odu (grandmother) from kampungs who come all the way to the tamu to sell their farm produce. They'd sell you their things at very low prices, often adding a few more extras on your buys. And they would look at you apologisingly when they say the price, as if they are causing you a lot of trouble by naming such price.

I make it a point to try to discourage them from reducing their prices when I'm buying from them. I know it might be fun to bargain, but these elderly folks are often those in need of money. But because they are too 'nice' to others, they would never try to take advantage by setting a high price on their products. Somehow, I have a soft spot for elderly sellers...

26 July 2010

Local Wisdom- how could I not believe this?

I'm still obsessed about the Dusuns' death rituals. One of my personal favourite is the rite of potongkiad "separation". The old folks say that the dead must be properly separated from their living relatives, or else someone will get sick, for the livings and the deads cannot mix. Or, if no one got sick, the dead won't feel that they have died and will continue to linger on. Will they?

Well this is another local wisdom that has been practised from generation to generation. To let go of yours when it is time to let go. The modern Dusuns sometimes forget to do this rite (and it is as simple as saying a few parting words), thinking that religion will take care of everything.

A few days ago my parents tried to dismantle my late grandfather's old hut. It was behind his usual place when he was alive. The hut was indeed special- he used it to store his favourite stuffs (mostly junks :-)) like the tools he used to momogorib "getting coconut sap" for bahar "a special drink that is believed to be medicinal, although often alcoholic". My dad used a chainsaw to cut off the four poles of the hut. He thought the hut would crumble and collapse after that but it didn't happen. They shook the hut hard, and still nothing happened. Finally an elderly neighbour came and begged my late grandfather to let go of it. Inspired by that, my mom too asked him to stop holding the hut. Guess what? Moments after that, the hut dismantled easily.

Now what would one call this? Coincidence? Not me. I'd call that the work of local wisdom. For all I know, because my family members do not practice much of the old traditions anymore, the soul of my late grandfather might still be lingering around. Maybe waiting for proper parting words from everyone...or because he just likes doing that. Remembering that he used to be a person that is most cheerful and humorous when he was alive, I'd say his soul must have chosen to linger around :-). He sure enjoys it.

18 July 2010

at the crossroad

I am fully aware that it is impossible for my children to acquire Dusun naturally because of the following reasons:
1. we live in a housing area in which the people are multiracial and multilingual
2. my husband and I do not speak Dusun to each other, mostly because when I first met him I haven't completed my Dusun language acquisition process yet :-)
3. the few years we spent outside of the country made the struggle more difficult because we were detached from most things Dusun, and the children have managed to fully acquire the dominant language.

Thus, I tried for a while to create a Heritage Language lesson for my children at home. I created teaching materials with a lot of clipart objects and aided with the best intention, started teaching them the body parts, greetings, question words etc in Dusun. That was a few years ago when my eldest was in year 2 and the second was in kindergarten. Well, the lessons lasted a few weekends, until I let busyness took over and forgot to find the time to create more lessons.

I've almost forgotten all about them, until my eldest suddenly said to me that she actually missed all my lessons because they were so fun. I was amazed that she even think they were fun at all, as I remember feeling frustrated because they couldn't get the concept (blame it on me being too used to teaching older students). And she said, "and mom, since we are Dusuns, why don't you start teaching us again? It's kind of weird saying that I am a Dusun when I can't even speak".

Her remarks made me feel guilty. And yes, I understand her feelings perfectly. At her age, I started to wonder why my parents spoke to my siblings and I in Malay instead of Dusun. And ended up being resentful about it for a while. Who wouldn't when everywhere you go you got chastised for speaking 'bad Dusun'? They didn't realize what they did to us the children then. Whereas me, I am fully aware of what is happening to the children's language acquisition and all. I guess I should be thankful that my daughter gave me the wake up call. Yes, I'm going to resume the lesson sessions.

The Dusuns are at a crossroad. To be in the mainstream or to hold on to tradition? It takes a lot of efforts to try to find a balance between the two. Because no one can stop a language from changing, the Dusun I teach my children will be one that is already 'diluted', and may even be considered non-standard by those who have the advantage of acquiring the language in a natural environment. But at least I try my best...and help Dusun to survive.

14 July 2010

The herb guy

Meet the herb guy, Mr Midjin Gayak (that's Midjin and yours truly in the pic :-)) from Kg.Kinapulidan, about 4km from Ranau town. He is 71 although he doesn't look a day over 50. I am very privileged to have met him a few weeks ago, and most privileged to have been given some education on the Dusun herbs and their medicinal values.

I am still trying very hard to commit the names of these herbs to my memory. What I found amazing is that things we have around us, that most of us take for granted for being useless weeds can actually be used to cure a lot of ailments. Take for example the
paka or lalang in Malay. The root can be used to cure chicken pox. The general rule of thumb for preparing medicine from herbs is to clean and wash the root (or stem, or leaves or whichever parts of the herb you are using), and boil it for a few minutes. Let cool and drink. In the case of paka, it helps to force the poxes out on the skin surface, and makes one heal faster.

Midjin and his wife Rosmiah have a herb farm of about 2 acres, with about 400 type of herbs growing on the land. Some are native to the place, some they had had to hunt from the jungle and cultivate. They started the farm 13 years ago after Rosmiah was healed from breast cancer. In his worries, Midjin actually dreamed of the herb that healed her cancer. He had never seen the herb before, but following his intuition, went into the jungle and found the plant he dreamed about. Since then the couple have helped a lot of people with various health problems, ranging from simple ones like gastric and fever, to cancer. I have a great respect for what they are doing- and I can feel that they are very sincere in their mission to help others. Blessed be my herbalist friends.

07 July 2010

Local wisdom that has gone wrong

Been always wondering why the local communities in Sabah never could keep their areas clean from rubbish. Not only the Dusuns but also other indigenous communities.

Lately I begin to see that it's because of their misplaced local wisdom. I'm talking about the natural composting knowledge they have always had. Before the era of plastic bags, everything was from nature, and the only way they disposed of rubbish was by throwing them on the ground to decompose.

When modernisation in terms of plastic materials came, naturally they couldn't handle it well. What do I expect anyway: the great grandparents, grandparents and even some parents (I'm talking about my generation) didn't have the chance to go to school and be educated about all these modern stuffs. And so the local wisdom went wrong, and up till now, it is not easy to correct...

22 June 2010

...and another dispute judgement: mongoi tolop

If you thought mitugi is horrifying, there's another one that could force a guilty party to admit that they are guilty even before the judgement is begun. This one is called mongoi tolop literally "go dunk (in the river)". (oh well, actually it's hard to tell which one is more scary- dipping your hands in boiling water, or being under the water for a long time!)

The disputing parties are taken to a river- nowadays there are hardly any rivers that are deep enough for this purpose, at least in Bundu Tuhan area, I think, but before, there were. As in mitugi the momolian started the rite with a long, thorough chant, asking mother nature to reveal the truth. Then the two disputing parties were asked to dunk; head under water naturally. It won't be made easy for them; all the villagers would be by the river bank, eagerly waiting to see who's the guilty party (Naturally that would give them something juicy to talk about till another exciting event happened). The dunk was not timed but an elderly aunt said it was quite long. The guilty party would be opusakan "suffocated" even to the extent of almost drowning. But the innocent party would come out of the water like a hero- no shortness of breath at all.

The funniest thing ever when an elderly person recount this kind of story to you is that they mention names, the person who once went through it, suffered the embarrasment of being opusakan, and, ..err..., even their descendents, excitedly at that. I said to myself; "thank god i don't know these people". Would have been awkward if I did because I'd be so tempted to go and ask them the details of the event...

13 June 2010

Mitugi: a traditional judgement

Traditionally, no Dusun ever needed a judge to fight for their case. The truth was revealed in a ceremony called mitugi. The two parties in need of judgement will be judged using a pot of boiling water in front of the villagers.

A momolian "shaman" would start the ritual by boiling a pot of water. Then she (a shaman was normally a she) would chant over the water to reveal the truth. When the water boiled, the two disputing parties would be called over to dip their hands in the water.

Those who have once witnessed the ceremony testify that one of the parties would end up with a scald, apparently the guilty party. The other one would come out unscathed.

I wonder how did that happen...An elderly aunt said it's because everybody believed in that kind of judgement. And because the momolian had done a thorough chant asking the nature to cooperate, to reveal the truth to save the innocent party. The energy was purified, sort of. Thus, the truth was revealed that way.

If a mitugi were to be conducted nowadays, I wonder if anyone would ever survive it at all :-)

04 June 2010

Separation Ritual (Death Ritual)

Once upon a time, the Dusuns conducted a separation ritual for a widow. I sat with an elderly aunt-in-law and listened to her fascinating recount of the ritual. This is her point of view:

"Now you would think that it is because of sadness that a widow turns mentally unstable. But we used to think that it was because the separation ritual wasn't conducted properly, thus the spirit of the spouse kept coming back to her. To us, the living and the dead cannot mix. That would bring harms- in the form of illnesses. That is why it is very important to have this ritual conducted immediately after the burial."

The dead was buried as soon as all the family members were gathered. If it was inevitable that the family had to wait for any family members who came from a distance, a wake would be held. Somebody had to stay awake near the coffin the whole night long. They took turn to sleep. No music was allowed. The only sound allowed was an incessant gong beat for a few minutes, immediately after the person died, to announce the death to all the villagers.

The family of the dead had to provide meals for the visitors. If the family was well-off, they would slaughter a buffalo. Otherwise, they would just slaughter chickens. The meal provision lasted till after the burial.

When the dead had been buried, the separation ritual for the widow would be done. A momolian (bobolian, bobohizan) "wise woman"/"shaman" would perform the ritual. (Unfortunately, the aunt had so much to tell me we didn't have the time to go through the step-by-step of the ritual). She would command the spirit of the spouse to stay in his new world, and not come home to their spouse anymore, for death separated them, and the bond they once had was severed. After the ritual, the spouse was expected to go on living a normal life.

The mourning period was three days. For three days, none of the family members was allowed to work or leave the house. They were expected to cry and got over it within that period so they can move on after.

Tough. The Dusuns do not like wallowing in sadness, much less self-pity. They are supposed to do a one off expression of sadness session and move on. This leads me to one question: with regards to sadness, how Dusun am I?

29 May 2010

Mission Almost Impossible: in search of pomiwalaian "place to build house on"

Lands, as any Dusun can tell, are valuable commodities. Our foreparents riches were measured by how many acres of lands they had, apart from how many buffaloes they owned. Lands and buffaloes continue to be valuable nowadays but people seem to be making do without buffaloes. Lands, however, are a different case. They are still very much sought after, no matter how ridiculous the price might seem to be.

Yesterday we went on mission almost impossible; to find plots of land at the suburb of KK. It started with a friend, who heard on grapevine that someone was selling their land. I thought at 50k/acre, the price was a bit steep, but tagged along with hubby anyway. It was somewhat hilarious, a bunch of fortysomething Dusuns in search of land, reunited after over 20 years (they are all my hubby's batch and juniors at the uni).

From the friend's house, we drove up the scenic hills. The view was indeed breathtaking, KK on the right hand side, the Kinabalu Mountain on the left. I made up my mind to want the land but our spirit was crushed upon stopping at a shop by the roadside. We were told that the owner of the land had sold his 15 acre land, for 80k per acre. I almost drooped to hear the news. 80k per acre? Wow, people can really make money from land. Anyway, in seconds, our dream to build a little kampung on top of the hill, facing the two most beautiful views in KK; the mount Kinabalu and the city, crushed, or so I thought.

It is however not the end of the mission. Hubby's friends are still determined to find a nice place for their retirement. And the more I think of it, the more interesting the idea seem to be. It would be wonderful to have a place on top of the hill, with a lazy creek flowing nearby, with nature sounds all around you, and wonderful people as your neighbours. What bliss...

(After that, we visited my cousin's plot of land in the area, on which he is building his house. To reach there we had to trot a newly build road, all muddy and steep. It was a wonderful exercise although we really had to strain our underused muscles. We learned a little lesson about pioneering- that it took a lot of effort and endurance to own your own land :-))

24 May 2010

Read your character from chillies

Yes, I'm serious. If the Chinese people read one's character from body parts, the Dusuns use chillies. My brother told me this last night. Using our late grandmother as an example, he seemed to be making sense. Our grandmother had always grown very hot chillies; ones that were sought after by everyone, and she was quite a character! Although broadly categorized as 'good' (osonong) and 'bad' (araat), characters can still be in the middle of the two. I'd view it as a continuum of araat (bad), araa-raat (quite bad), osonong-sonong (quite good) and osonong (good). Of course 'good' and 'bad' do not really equate good and bad in the English sense. Good can be soft-hearted, soft-spoken etc, while bad can be fierce, brave in an unnatural way etc. If you want to know how you rate, try growing chillies. According to the Dusuns' belief, if you are a good person your chillies would be mild, maybe even tasteless. (oh yes, I've tasted tasteless chillies!) If you are bad , your chillies would be perfect. So if you are in between, you might get slightly hot ones. I'd really like to know how I rate but unfortunately I am a disappointment to the Dusuns. I can't grow anything. Too bad for me!


I finally figured out that popitolib-tolibon is the Dusuns' effective way of dealing with stress. It basically means "let go and let go". I hear family members saying it all the time, and doing it I supposed. It's like when you are upset by someone's action or remark, you have to act like it has never happened. It might seem to be a form of denial, but the person who has that attitude is normally stress-free.

I decided to try adopting that attitude one morning when stress was mounting. As usual the kids were bickering before leaving for school, the road was all muddy because of the rainy season, and the second daughter, being ever so ladylike, took so long to jump over the little puddle just a step away from where I parked. A neighbour, annoyed that I had to park on the road and blocked his way honked furiously at me. It was only a little incident, and I reasoned that he had the right to be furious because I must have blocked his way for a minute or so when he was rushing out to work, but it still bothered me a little. So popitolib-tolibon came to mind and I focused on forgetting the moments of angry honking and guilty feeling. It worked, didn't it? Well, have to say that actually it is all psychological. Maybe I have to now redefine it as "the power of positive thinking".

17 May 2010

'Djin' on my father's orchard

One of the best things about going back to kampung is hearing stories from the folks. These stories vary in nature-sad, happy, humourous depending on the storyteller's mood. The story of this week is about how my father's orchard has got a djin residing on it. Of course no one in my family knew about it until a fruit buyer came all the way from Semporna to Ranau (about 5 hours drive away) to buy langsats from my father last fruit season.

The person said that something followed him back to his place. Upon consulting a knowledgeable man, he was told that it was a djin from the orchard. A good one. The djin supposedly stays on the land and looks after the land. His dwelling place? The bamboo plants that are abundant there.

Now that is something interesting to know. Most especially when the land was recently trespassed on (rather, somebody decided to reroute the river from being on the land's boundary to exactly in the middle of the land) and when my father brought the case to the court, he won the case before the trial. My folks, being the believers that they are, naturally credited the victory to God with...maybe...some help from the djin, as in Dusun, we have supernatural creatures of equal nature, the rogons. Rogons could be bad or good, depending on how you deal with them. Respect them, and they will do you favours. Offend them and they'll cause you harm. In this era of modern religions, some people reject them totally, while some accomodate them and accept their role as 'the helper', maybe just like angels or slightly of lower level.

No matter what, the story is indeed enlightening. I'm impressed to know that my father's land has a wonderful resident of different makeup then us :-)

13 May 2010

of katama, kouyu and kabaya: the changing Dusun language

When one doesn't have the right language input, one uses words in "colourful" ways. Well sometimes to the annoyance of the language prescriptivists. There are three Dusun words that I notice my brother keeps using in different ways than I think they should. These words are:

katama (dare in the sense of "scared")

kouyu (dare in the sense of "shy")

kabaya (has the time to do something)

In Dusun one of the purposes ko- is added to a word is to show ability.

My brother, being a member of the 90s Dusun generation who speaks very "limited" Dusun at home (sorry 90s generation), would say things like:

1. amu oku ka kouyu (I do not dare)

when what he really means is

2. amu oku kabaya ( I do not have the time (to do something))

(I can't really blame him, as his generation is really the changed generation; the generation whose parents or elder siblings are of the transition generation (from traditional to modern) and speak more Malay/English at home.)

I wonder what will happen after all Dusun speakers of my parents' or my generation have died :-) Either Dusun won't be spoken anymore, which I think won't be the case since most Dusuns are quite patriotic about their heritage, or Dusun would be spoken as a different language. Most likely...

03 May 2010

Labour Day Tribute to my mom-in-law- songulun i tokodou o ginawo (a "strong hearted" person)

My hubby's side of the family had a gathering on 1.o5.10, to remember their late brother's passing 10 years ago, and also just to find the time to be together. My mom-in-law is at the center of it all. Having been a single parent for 28 years, she is both father and mother to all her children. There used to be 9 surviving children, now there are only eight.
I respect my mom-in-law greatly. When her husband died, she was pregnant with the last child, my youngest brother-in-law who is now 28. She was then in her 40s, unemployed, since she didn't have the luxury of getting an education in the post-war era, and with 8 other mouths to feed. Her resilience was and is still great. She tapped rubber and grew rice to ensure that all her children didn't go hungry, and could get a good education. Even though she herself had never been to school, she was very strict to her children about their schooling. Playing truant meant getting punishment in the form of caning.
At first glance she appears very fierce. Well she has to or else her children wouldn't be where they are at present. They all hold good jobs- at least no one has to tap rubber for a living anymore.
Two years ago, mom-in-law was recognized as one of the successful mothers in KK. Her story was written in this special book called "Journeys of the heart: the Malaysian Families". I am glad that her hardwork and sacrifices in raising up her children are acknowledged. I'd attribute her strength, partly in being a Dusun, since okodou o ginawo "strong heartedness" is a virtue very much appreciated by the Dusuns. I mean it doesn't apply to everyone, but people like mom-in-law are definitely strong :-)

26 April 2010

rice-wine making revisited

There's so much rice at home now that I feel guilty about it. Mom keeps sending us more. Not knowing what to do about it, I finally forced myself to give rice-wine making a go again. I cajoled two of my brothers to join in my 'project' and to my delight, they agreed without much convincing.

To start off, I had to call my mom for advice on the dos and donts. It has been years since my last go on it and I didn't want to go wrong. Mom said I have to try making just a few cups first to see if my sasadan "rice sprinkled with yeast" still makes good rice wine. I have to cook some rice, pound some yeast (home made by mom naturally), let the rice cool, sprinkle yeast on it then put it in an airtight container. To make sure it is really airtight, I should tighten the lid with plastic food wrap.

So I cooked 10 cups of rice to be our trial. Since there are some red rice that my kids do not really favour, I decided to use them for variety. I scrubbed my lazy-susan clean and scooped out the rice to cool. Then I divided it into three portions; the largest one for my youngest brother to sasad "sprinkle with yeast", the medium one for me and the smallest one for my other brother. The reasoning? Well, this youngest brother of mine often produces tasty rice wine. Mine is towards bitter tasting but always with a lot of wine, and the other brother hardly ever made any. We are not allowed to do the yeast sprinkling at the same time for fear of spoiling the product. After one portion is done, it had to be put in the container, before continuing with the next portion. According to the Dusun's belief, different palms that touch the yeast produce rice-wine of different tastes.

There, we have done it. Two weeks later we would know the result of our rice-wine making attempt. Hoping that I still have the flair for that!

22 April 2010

parai wagu "new rice"

The Dusuns have all kind of sacred beliefs when it comes to food especially rice. My mom sent us some parai wagu last weekend, having finally had the time to have some husked. She has started harvesting a month ago but as usual never had the time to enjoy her early harvest.
(Parai wagu smells really good and it is even more so for some types of rice. The texture is also different, more glutinous when cooked.)
The thing is, when a Dusun gives you some parai wagu, you are supposed to ask whether the harvest owner has already started cooking from that batch of harvest first. If not, you are supposed to wait until they have, before you can cook the rice yourself. Since I kept forgetting to call my mom to ask whether she has done that, I had to wait a few days before I could finally make sumptous porridge this morning. Normally after two days the harvest owner would have cooked from it. Unlike my mom-in-law who, everytime when giving us parai wagu, always tells us when can we start cooking the rice, my mom normally just assumes that we know when...
Failure to observe the belief will bring harms to the harvest owner. No one I know has ever experienced it, but supposedly it will cause significant reduction on the next cycle of harvest :-)

13 April 2010

the colour white

Looking at Maia the car this morning, I decided that her wash is well overdue. Well she's white and the muddy road condition since the past few days of rain had ensured that she looked messy. So I took her to the car wash a few blocks away from home. It wasn't opened yet but the lady who sells kuih at a stall nearby told me to just park the car there and give the key to the man wearing a white shirt sitting under the tree.

So off I went in search of a man in white under the tree. There were two men, one wearing a blue shirt, and the other, pale grey. I looked at them and it occured to me that probably the lady means grey when she said white. After all she is obviously a Dusun, judging from her accent when she speaks Malay. I remember that my late grandmother would call any pale colour 'white'. And there's even a type of chilli that to me is pale-yellow, that the Dusuns call lado do topurak "white chilli". I asked them if any of them happens to be the owner of the car wash, and true enough, the man in grey is!
(my lado'd topurak, after two weeks in the fridge!)

09 April 2010

Guntalou- neighbour oh neighbour

The word guntalou keeps haunting me since yesterday. It means "coward" or to a lesser extent, "not very brave" in Dusun. Well, not referring to myself. It's kind of funny in an annoying way actually. A neighbour, apparently unhappy with my son and nephews left an "angry note" in my mailbox yesterday. The note says that my son had been tormenting her daughter's kitten on the road the other day when I wasn't at home, and that she (or he?) was looking out from the window, and that if that happens again, s/he will take action and that KAMU AKAN TAHU "you will know".

There was no name or address written on the note. Understandably, the neighbour was angry. So I interrogated my son and nephews. They admitted to being naughty i.e to let the puppy of my nephews chase after the kitten. Sternly I gave them a lecture on animal cruelty and ordered them to apologise to the little girl soon. Kids being kids, they didn't even know 'which little girl'. My cousin, the nephew's Dad took his eldest son (that's my nephew who's sort of the ring leader of the boys) knocking on people's doors to find out who the angry neighbour was and to apologise last night.

Well, I know the boys are wrong, and I do feel that they really should apologise and learn not to be too playful to the extent of tormenting animals. And of course I'm going to make sure that I remind them of this every now and then. But dear neighbour, I wish s/he talked to me in a more direct manner. At least give me a name and an address so I can do the right thing. Instead, here I am left with the thought that somebody is being so guntalou...

30 March 2010

Harvest Season

At my area in Ranau, the Dusuns are now busy harvesting their crops. The season started some time at the end of February and will come to its end by May. Among the various Dusun localities in Sabah, there are various harvesting times. My area is one of those that ends the harvest time just in time to celebrate the kaamatan, the celebration of harvest; the thanksgiving to the rice spirit, Bambarayon.

My parents still observe the harvest ritual, sumalud, albeit a modern version of it. In the olden days the crop owner(s) would have brought a chicken to the rice-field, chanted some thanksgiving and asking for a bounty harvest words, then took the chicken home, slaughtered it and feasted on it. Nowadays, they simply go to the rice-field, pray that the harvest season will be smooth and the crops bountiful, and have some kind of special dinner with family members at home.

At times I long to go to the rice-field, wearing a wide-brim hat (used to be the traditional sirung "cone-shape big hat"), long-sleeve shirt and boots for protection, and using langgaman "a special hand knife to harvest the rice stalk", cutting the rice stalks to fill my wakid "large basket". Maybe it's time that I go back and do that.

22 March 2010

No "no"?

That's the Dusun society in general. You are discouraged to say "no". Maybe because the community is very close-knit. Saying no equates to refusing to lend a hand. Which is against the 'mogitatabang' (helping each other) spirit. Well at least that's how it was in the olden days. Or maybe because you are considered hurting other's feelings if you say no. The Dusuns do not like that...

Anyway, the new era demands you to be more assertive. And that includes being able to say "no". That is one of the hardest thing to learn. Somebody mentioned his struggle with learning to say 'no' the other day. He said it took him years to do that. But thankfully after he did it once, it got easier.

Hmm, same here actually. But for me that was 14 years ago, thankfully. And I didn't even realise that that is a Dusun trait, a remnant from the olden society. My supervisor said she had a problem with my work performance i.e I wasn't assertive. She asked me to work on that because the way she saw it, people were taking advantage of me. My, that was a shock to me. Didn't realise that non-assertiveness is a problem at the workplace. So I learnt, and changed, and said 'no', firstly with this most uncomfortable feeling like you are comitting a crime. I'm glad those were the days. Nowadays I can say 'no' when I have to. At least saying it has now become a choice, not something I have to do to please others.

The conversation on this topic makes me think that the Dusun people at large are still uncomfortable saying 'no'. I wonder if that would change soon or remain so for a long time yet...

18 March 2010


In Dusun, there are a few levels of politeness. If you are younger, you are definitely expected to be polite to anyone older than you (as of many Asian societies). You are also expected to be polite to outsiders, and people you seldom meet. And of course, you are also expected to be polite to strangers, unless if the stranger is rude to you. Parents are not expected to be polite to their children. This aspect sometimes causes confusion to little kids. They'd start asking "why am I expected to say 'please' and 'thank you' when my parents don't do that?" So modern parents normally put aside this aspect of culture and teach their children by example...

Politeness is mostly expressed in speech, like command or request. There are a few words that you can use to indicate politeness such as 'po', 'gia/gima', 'da', and 'ka'. For example:


1. Ongoi po akan aki

go polite eat grandfather

Please go eat, grandfather.

Gia/gima (used in different dialects)

2. Onuo gia doho lo/onuo gima dogo lo

get polite I that

Please get that for me


3. Kada da kotiil

don't polite be.naughty

Please don't be naughty


4. Hiti ko po ka

here you polite

Stay here first, ok?

It takes some time to master this aspect of the Dusun language. But with practice, it is ok :)

16 March 2010

No open dispute

In the Dusun society, open dispute is discouraged. People are supposed to be 'all smiles and no sour faces', something really hard to practice in this era. I, for example, have had to breach the Dusun's code of politeness when I had to write about my bitter experience dealing with a shipping company (in my other blog 'Blogging Life'). From a mere expression of dissapointment, it became a an open dispute when, instead of admitting their faults, the shipping company rep accused my husband of spreading lies and slandering them in the comment section of my blog. Worse, they sent an email to the Malaysian yahoo group, (to whom, earlier my husband shared our bitter experience with in an email, cc-ed to the company of course), deleting my husband from the mailing list but forgetting to delete me, telling everyone that what my husband said were all lies, and slander. That, of course led to an open dispute that this Dusun lady couldn't avoid. (if you are interested to know the story, do read my entry 'the shipment story' in Blogging Life).

Dispute is not good. Being Dusun, I naturally do not feel good about having to be in one. But life demands that we fight for justice. And I feel that that is what I'm doing.

In the Dusun society, I think the way we handle dispute is not very good. We talk about the people that we are having problems with to others, but in front of them, we are expected to put on a smiley face. From another perspective, that is considered 'badmouthing others'. Although considering the Dusun culture, I can't really blame the society for keeping on with the tradition. I remember once someone I know had to face an opponent over a major land dispute in a government office. The person could still shake hand with the opponent and said "hiti ko pama iya ddi" ("you are also here"), a polite greeting in Dusun :-). But most Dusuns are learning to cope with dispute more professionally now, myself included. It is better to bring an issue out in the open and find a settlement that satisfies oneself, rather than keeping it behind and talk bad about it to others.

It's hard on this Dusun lady here, but coping :)

08 March 2010

The Changing Society: farewell to a grandaunt

A grandaunt passed away last Sunday. I have only met her once in the 1980s in a very peculiar situation. It was during the funeral of her eldest son, and this particular grandaunt and my late grandmother were "conducting" the mourning ritual. The son died a Dusun with Dusun traditional beliefs. He was buried one.

I can't say it was a fond memory, because the mourning ritual shocked and scared the teenage me witless. All the whining and crying periods which were intermittent with jokes and drinking really confused me then. Now of course I understand that that was how it was supposed to be. That the mourners (often older people) have to say things like "oh why did you have to die before me? You have so much to live for, I should have died first", sob loudly, then take breaks to drink rice-wine and as they were drinking, they'd joke with others to lighten the sadness. (I know it is hard for most people to understand that).

When my father called to let me know the news, I heard in the background the Islamic rites for the dead being conducted. I asked him whether the grandaunt finally decided to have a religion, and Dad told me, yes, she converted to Islam last year or so. While I am happy for her to have found the true faith for her heart, I do find it interesting that she once conducted the mourning ritual for her son the traditional way, and now being farewelled in a different way. But all in all, I think she found her peace in Islam. May her soul rest in peace.

06 March 2010

on 'unsikou' (grateful)

My little brother (well, he is 19 :)) suddenly realized this morning that the Dusun's 'pounsikou' (used to mean 'thank you') actually has the root 'unsikou' which more or less refers to 'grateful feeling'. Excitedly he told me that in some of the Dusun dialects he knows, people use 'kounsikou' to say 'thank you'. And that people say 'nounsikou' when somebody made them grateful. Well done, brother...you are finally having a Dusun language awareness. It is indeed interesting that just from one root word a lot of meanings can be expressed:

1. munsikou (being grateful)
2. minunsikou (was grateful)
3. ounsikou (is happy, grateful, thankful)
4. nounsikou (is made happy, grateful, thankful- often unexpectedly)
5. pounsikou/kounsikou (thank you)
6. unsikoho (be thankful- normally used in command)
7. mongunsikou (thanking someone)
8. mingunsikou (thanking someone over and over again)

...and so on and so forth.

Dusun is a rich language I have to say...

22 February 2010

Down memory lane- 'mimbatu'

'Mimbatu' as the name suggests has something to do with stones (watu=stones), or more likely pebbles. It is a game played by every Dusun girl when I was growing up. (I don't quite remember whether boys played it too but I have a feeling that they thought the game too 'girlish' that it would actually tarnish their macho outlook should they play it...)

Last CNY holidays hubby and I decided to take the kids to Kg.Luanti, Ranau, a place famous for its fish. They are no ordinary fish, they do you a service of removing cuticles and 'sucking body wind' (supposedly) off your feet. All you have to do is dip your feet in the river and they'll happily bit on them. Of course you have to pay RM5 (or RM15 for non-Malaysians) but that'd get you a 15-min feet-dip in the river. But this is a digression...the main entry is about mimbatu...

On another section of the river, one can dip oneself for as long as one wishes to for free. That's where we went to after the fish-biting session. And that's where I saw the pebbles that are just perfect for 'mimbatu'. They are about the size of small marbles, quite smooth but not very round. I collected seven, the number required in the game and decided to show the kiddies what fun was like when I was growing up, long before the internet era :-)

This is how the game is played(At least 2 players play the game, siting face to face on the floor. They choose which one has the first go):

1. First you hold all seven rocks on your palm and gently throw them on the ground.
2. Pick a stone, throw it up the air, quickly pick one of the remaining stones on the floor and catch the thrown stone.
3. Repeat the process untill all six stones are collected.
4. If you managed to successfully pick all six stones without dropping any, then you go on to the next level.
5. The next level is to gently put the 7 stones on the ground, pick one to be the throwing stone but instead of picking one off the ground, this time you pick two.
6. Having done this successfully, you go on to the next level which is to pick 3 stones, then 4 + 2, 5 + 1, and finally all 6 off the ground at one go.
7. If at any level of the game you dropped a stone, your turn is over and you have to hand over the stones to your opponent.
8. The one who gets to the 6-at-one-go level is declared the winner.

Of course, the game sounds so simple but actually it is not. It takes a good motor skill and coordination, plus one can show off by throwing the stone as high as one can up on the air and catching it with style. And as I expected, none of my kids can do it. What a sad thing. Maybe if it is made into a virtual game they would find it much more appealing...

10 February 2010


Somebody mentioned a very interesting piece of information about the Dusun's 'goroi'(large jar) today. She said that in one of the Dusun villages she visited, very old gorois are used as rice-wine containers, when once upon a time they were used for burial purposes. (Goroi, by the way is just one of the many types of jar that the Dusun people kept. I don't really know how many types are there, but the common ones are called the 'kakanan' (tajau in Malay). These are used for keeping rice wine).

Goroi, on the other hand, refers to the large type. Very large indeed that an adult body can be fitted in one(sitting down, naturally). Instead of coffins, gorois were what used to keep the deads then. They would be buried somewhere near the house of the family, as there were no burial plots back then.

This is where my knowledge of this stop. I wonder what would happen to the buried gorois. Perhaps they would remain buried until somebody from the next generations stumbled upon them and decided to keep them again (??).

Anyhow, the thought that somebody is keeping rice-wine in burial gorois (no matter that it was done long time ago), is a bit distasteful. I just hope it's not one of my foreparents that were kept in whatever gorois they now use for rice-wine making...

29 January 2010

When one chokes on something...the Dusun traditional remedy

Mom finally taught me this little chant. (Mom is well-known among the family members and some neighbours to be the person to see when they choke on stuffs like fish-bones)It is supposed to be used to remove the thing that one chokes on. And being me, I definitely treasure this:

Pongidu do lugon (To remove a 'choke')
(repeat 7 times)

adik adik ka di lintang
adik di tandarakai
tandarakai di lugu
lugu di tondolugon
ka dit tumbuk lugon
idu tonggoi.

This little chant remains untranslatable. Yours truly hasn't mastered the language to do that yet. But with faith, it works.

(I think it works because when one is chanting something repeatedly, one gets into a very focussed mode and one's energy will work as intended. Just like a prayer)

11 January 2010

The last ritual- 'tohun'

After a few days of cleaning up and de-junking, I came across an old plastic bag that contained something that looked like charcoals on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet. I looked at the 'things' for a long time, asked hubby if he knew what they were, and he said they looked like charcoals, affirming what I thought. He said charcoals can get rid of bad smells so I decided to put the bag in the cabinet underneath the sink, where I keep my kitchen bins.

I've forgotten all about it when hubby suddenly asked if it was possible that those 'things' were 'tohun' and I jumped off my chair because I suddenly remembered! Yes, they are 'tohun', which are pieces of burnt firewoods that have been sort of 'chanted on' and have special purposes. And these particular ones are the last 'tohun' my late grandmother ritualized in 2006 before she passed away a year later. The first thing that came to mind was, 'tohun' can't be stepped over. Thankful that I haven't broken that rule, I quickly recovered the bag and put the 'tohun' in this jar:

I sat for a while and reminisced. And decided to write all my late grandmother's instructions on the jar to be a lasting memory. Grandmother's words came back loud and clear:

1. Tohuns are to be used to get rid of bad energy from a young child's body, the one that makes a child sick or cranky.
2. Use it before leaving the house for a journey, or even at home when necessary.
3. Take a piece of it, move it around the child's body starting from the navel and stopping at the navel too and throw away the used one on the ground where the energy would dissolved.
4. DO NOT ever step over unused tohuns!

Guiltily, I tried to remember if I ever did use it as she instructed. I might have, once before I left for Perth again after my fieldwork. I wish I could use it again but now that the children are all big, I don't think I should. Plus I have forgotten exactly how to do it and when in doubt, one shouldn't act, I think.

Anyhow, in memory of grandmother, I am preserving them for the future generations. Once, this was our practice. It is still our culture albeit a disappearing one. It will always hold a special place in my heart.