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...