27 September 2011

An ER story from a Dusun village

I was reminded of this story as I prepared my Kadazandusun teaching materials last night. This semester I have the opportunity to handle a KD class for a group of medical students who are of non-KD ethnic groups, and naturally I need to relate the lessons to some elements of medic, much that I don't have much knowledge on the field. As I like to have games as part of my classroom activities, I decided to create something called THE BEST GUESS. In this game, the students are divided into groups and each group is asked to guess the meaning of a text, supposedly a medical complaint of a patient. The group that provides the best guess gets a reward, of course.

One of the complaints was derived from a real-life story that my youngest brother witnessed last year. He accompanied my father to the Emergency Room in Ranau Hospital one evening when my father suddenly got stung by an unknown insect. As my brother waited in the waiting area while my father was being examined by the doctor, an elderly lady was wheeled in by her grandson. For some reason the lady's demeanor reminded my brother of our late grandmother, so he unashamedly eavesdropped on the lady's conversation with her grandson.

The lady looked around, decided that it was safe for her to speak in Dusun without anyone understanding her (my brother has Chinese features and he is always mistaken for one), and started telling her grandson this: "Don't you ever tell the doctor the truth about why I am not able to walk. Just tell him I fell over. Never mention at all that I got run over by a buffalo because it is so embarrassing!"

My brother found it so funny he had to go out to prevent himself from laughing out loud. It was not because of the fact that the little old lady was run over by a buffalo, but because she was so embarrassed by the fact that it happened to her, and tried so hard to cover it up.

It made for a nice guessing game...my students could never imagine that a buffalo can actually run over a person that they translate the text as : "I can't walk and I rode a buffalo...:)"

18 September 2011

The funeral of a lady who taught me about the Dusun's death ritual


Rest in peace ginan Lucy Lotimboi. I attended her funeral yesterday. For the first time ever, I attended a Dusun funeral that was most peaceful. There was no mogihad (weeping ritual for the deceased) although it was obvious that her loved ones were crying quietly. I shed some tears myself. It's quite strange because I hadn't really known the lady for so long, but it must have been because I was remembering her kindness. She was my husband's aunt by marriage and I've been marriedto him for 15 years but I didn't get the chance to see that side of the family that often. But she had carved herself a place in my heart, mainly because of her kindness. Whenever we visited, she would make me feel at home. And a few months ago, she had been very kind to be willing to share with me her knowledge about some Dusun rituals- especially on death custom.

I looked at her peaceful face as I paid my last respect. Silently I thank her for everything and bade her good bye. For a few seconds, I got the sensation that she was smiling with joy as she said good bye to everyone. At the mass, the priest comforted her family members by saying that although it is inevitable that death brings grief, it should be looked at as a new life, almost a celebration that the deceased is now in heaven with her loved ones. He said that the deceased's last request to her family members, "don't cry for me" was indeed very wise. Send her off with 'joy' because she wouldn't want anyone she left behind to be sad.

Her funeral was so different from the Dusun funerals she described to me (and I've attended some like those she described too). Of course some traditions to do with death were still observed like 'not allowed to take green vegetables' because green signifies life, or that before the body was buried somebody has to keep vigil all the time, so people still play cards and drink the whole night long the night before. But there was no lingering feeling of doom like what I've experienced in some funerals before.

In the next few days till the seventh day, her family members would still observe certain traditions: no music, mongotomou (hanging green leaves outside of the house to ward off bad spirits), and on the seventh day there would be the popotongkiad (farewelling) ritual that would involve magauh (putting ash on a little plate so that when her soul is called to come over and take all her belongings, she could leave a little mark that means "I have come" on the plate of ash), and momisok (turning off light- that's when her sould would be called to come over). All these would be incorporated in the Catholic rites that she had embraced along with her family members.

Rest in peace ginan Lucy Lotimboi. You will be missed.
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09 September 2011

The insect that can tell the weather

Of course it sounds ridiculous, but indigenous people have many nature-based ways of forecasting the weather- plants, insects etc. Last Hari Raya holiday, while visiting neighbours one morning, I saw an insect that looks like this outside somebody's door:

"Kotondu moti kaka ti do rumasam ko amu" (This insect can tell whether or not it will rain), my mom said to me. "Really?" I asked with great amusement. "Yes, ask it whether it would shine this afternoon. If it will, the insect will nod", my mom encouraged me confidently. Oh well. No harm in pleasing my mom. So I asked the bug this question aloud: "inda, magadau do baino?" (well, is it going to shine today?)

I waited for it to nod. Nothing happened. I asked louder. Still nothing happened. The bug kept still with its long feelers outstretched. I decided to ask one last time, just to please my mom who was looking expectantly. Making sure my pitch was twice as higher than before, I asked really loud "inda, magadau do baino!!!!?". Mom must have been shocked because she decided to come closer to have a look at the bug.

"Oh, actually I got the wrong insect. This is not Paku Ngadau (the supposedly clever bug name)", Mom declared as soon as she had had a better look at it! Ha ha...I'd been asking it a question for nothing. Luckily no one was around to witness the silly encounter :) But it was quite disappointing that I didn't get to test whether this particular indigenous belief was believable after all.

02 September 2011

On Dusun Wedding-again

(pic courtesy of my cousin on his reception day in 2009)

This Raya season, I managed to kill two birds with one stone. I visited an aunty who has only been a convert for about 10 years. I've always found her intriguing, as before her conversion she used to be a healer, even almost a bobolian 'traditional healer'. (She told me she never did reach the bobolian stage, as apparently there's a lot of chants to be memorized and she couldn't do that. Come to think of it, Bobolians must be people who, in modern understanding, have linguistic intelligence among other things). For someone who's not a full bobolian, Aunty R knows a lot of rituals.

Anyway, this time around, I asked her about her wedding day, as part of my project of looking at the changes in the Dusun wedding customs practised in Ranau since the 1950s. It's a bonus that her wedding took place in 1960- just what I'd been looking for to complete my current data of 1950s and 1970s.

By the time she got married, the earlier practice of conducting wedding rituals at night was done away with. In the 1950s, marriages were still pretty much arranged, without the consent of any of the wedded parties. Parents cleverly arranged for their children to be married (and kept it a secret), and on the day of the wedding the ritual would be conducted either against protest from the children, or with their total submission. More often than not, the marriage ended in divorce.

Aunty R agreed to her marriage, being fully aware of what was taking place. When the momuhaboi (asking for her hand in marriage) ceremony was conducted, she was allowed to listen to the discussion and state her 'terms and conditions', something that was unheard of in those years. Her wedding day took place at 5pm, instead of at night, as it was normally done. The two things that didn't change, by her own account, was the tapai (rice-wine) drinking session (they still made a lot of tapai to feast on), and the tondiadi (exchanges of wedding poetic forms).

Indeed, the tondiadi was the signature of Dusun weddings then, but by the time my parents got married in the 1970s, it was all gone.