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The Origin Of Kadazan Dusun

It is a sad reality that the true account of our Kadazan/Dusuns' origin and historical background has been buried lost in the unwritten past. Today all that remain are social scientists' theories and legendary tales which are yet to be married to produce focal points of dependable commonalties. The purpose of representing the legendary tales regarding Kadazan/Dusuns' origin is for us to have at least a basis to re-visit our past possibilities wherein perhaps some scientists will burst into the unknown to clarify our origin-identity crisis.

The Legend of NUNUK RAGANG

This is the place once stood a giant Nunuk Ragang, now replaced with a faux giant concrete tree for remembrance

Locally, the unwritten history of the Kadazan/Dusuns has been orally transmitted from generation to generation in legendary tales. A lucky catch of this generation is the legend that the Kadazan/Dusuns originated from "Nunuk Ragang" which can roughly be located to-day at Tampias, where two rivers (Liwagu and Gelibang) meet to the East of Ranau and Tambunan. "Nunuk" is a Kadazan/Dusun word for a Banyan Tree. "Ragang" comes from the Kadazan/Dusun word "Aragang or Aagang" which means red. Nunuk look like giant mangroves with highly developed buttress stems with deep indentions that provide good natural shelters. The Nunuk Ragang or Red Banyan tree as told by the old folks, Widu Tambunan measured six out-stretched arms in circumference. Its canopy top was estimated to be able to shelter under its seven joined Kadazan/Dusuns' huts. ( A hut measures 12 by 20 feet).

Its numerous branches and giant thick foliage provided for ideal shelter and play-grounds of wild life, birds, insects and even spirits according to local beliefs. When the morning sun rose, the Nunuk Ragang settlers would climb to the branches of the Nunuk tree to bask in the sun and then enjoy plunging into the great cool river pool below. It was believed that the roots of the Nunuk tree produced red latex that gave the pool not only the reddish coloration but also its medicinal value. Thus the name Nunuk Ragang. In fact the Nunuk's latex is still used to treat rashes and other minor skin diseases.

The early Kadazan/Dusuns' community at Nunuk Ragang lived a carefree life, enjoying the abundant supply of food and other basic necessities from the richness of nature that surrounded them. The legend relates that the Chinese adventurers from Kinabatangan and Labuk areas had their first encounter with the Kadazan/Dusuns. This was followed up by the marriage of the daughter of the Kadazan/Dusun chief to one of the Chinese heroes, who were rich enough to afford the dowry of 7 huge jars plus copper and silver wares.

The population increased by leaps and bound. It became more difficult to get food from nearby. The river had considerably eroded its banks and the Nunuk Ragang began to bend lower and lower into the river pool. The Chief then instructed his men into expeditions to look for new suitable settlements. The Kadazan/Dusun migration movement thus began towards the west to Tambunan, Ranau, Penampang and towards the east to Labuk and beyond to where the Kadazan/Dusuns are found at present. River tributaries became the principal guides to the direction of travelling. The expeditions occurred in groups and therefore had multi-destinations. Each group formed their own long house for unity and strength against wild beasts and intrusions by other communal groupings. As they spread west wards the Kadazan/Dusuns met the Bruneis and other settlers of the West Coast. Barter trade occurred from which the Kadazan/Dusuns got their gongs, copper and silver girdles, necklaces and bangles from the Bruneis. Where the dispute over territorial matters occurred it often ended into inter-communal warfare with the use of "Gayangs" (long-head-hunting knives) and blowpipes with poisoned darts. Head-hunting worsened when groups join together to form larger group to attack another. The advent of the Bajaus referred to by the old folks as "Sama" under the famous Colonial Rebel, Mat Salleh further fanned, inter-communal head-hunting activities for Mat Salleh's men sided with some communal groups while plundering others. It was only during the advent of the British that head-hunting died down due to better peace and order condition. And according to old folk’s story, British had taken Ibans warriors to Sabah to fight for Mat Salleh. After the Mat Salleh epoch, some of the ibans work for Timber Company here and married with locals and most of their descendant can be trace down somewhere in Labuk and Beluran.

The word "DUSUN" is a Brunei-Malay word for a mixed form usually identified with Dusun People - "Farmer". Later, the British adopted the word "DUSUN" to describe the people. Bruneian called the local tribe people as Dusun because most of them are farmers.

Some says that the word Kadazan was a late conception by the educated locals to liberate themselves from the word "Dusun" which was regarded as low class and primitive people, the late Tun Fuad Stephens coined the word to uplift the image of the locals in 1963. Especially because Penampang was one of the nearest Tamu Centre - "Open Market", besides being close to Towns (kakadazan). The first Tamu centre was situated in Inobong Penampang. The Bobolian or Bobohizan (priestesses) say that the meaning of ‘Kadazan’ is Tuhun - in english 'the people'.. But according to the Kadazan folks in Penampang, they claimed that "Kadazan" exists even before their great-grand-mother was born. I also found a "Kadazan Dictionary and Grammar" book, which dated in 1958. The book has been compiled and printed in Australia and the first page i saw a picture of Kangaroo with a words of "A Gift From The Australian People Under The Colombo Plan". When i lifted to page 9, i saw this interesting statement by the writer as quoting:- " When i came to North Borneo in 1932 and was detailed to work amongst the Kadazan in Penampang and surrounding village", meaning to say, the Kadazan name does exist even before 1963 ( as claimed by some). Kadazan was the name of the local community in Penampang.Same goes with the Dusuns in Tambunan, Ranau,Telupid, Beluran, Tuaran, Papar etc. They have been called Dusun all the while, but nobody knows that actually, they have their own Identity name.

The Kadazan-Dusun Concept Of Creation;

It is said that in the beginning, "Kinorohingan" the God of the Kadazan-Dusuns and his wife Suminudu had an only daughter known as "Huminodu". Kinorohingan in his preparation for his creation of the Kadazan-Dusuns sacrificed his only daughter, Huminodun and planted, as if they were seeds, the various parts of her body. Rice then as staple food of not only the Kadazan-Dusun but also most Asians grew out of Huminodun's flesh. Other parts of her body became other varieties of foods for the people. Padi, because it is part of Huminodun, embodies a sacred spirit namely "Bambaazon" or in some dialects "Bambarayon" and so yearly during Harvest festival or "Kaamatan", the Kadazan-Dusuns regard it befitting to hold a feasting celebration to honour Bambaazon. In turn the Bambaazon is believed to better the people's harvests year after year.

Mount Kinabalu (Akin Nabalu - "The Ancestor's Mountain") - Sacred Mountain for the Kadazan/ Dusun.

Kadazan /Dusun believed that when they died, their spirit will be resting at Mount Kinabalu "Aki Nabalu", a place that konorohingan/God has given them to rest in peace. Locals believe that Ritual Ceremony or "sogit" should be practise every year to pray and or to naturalised the guiding spirit, but nowadays it was not practiced by the younger generation. Is it because of the existence of religion or disbelieved of the old adats??. It is sad that the younger generation always made a wrong perceptions about the old adats. It is not superstitious or wrong to believe that when you climb the mountain, you should not make a lot of noise, or chasing at an odd thing like animals and wandering around alone or taking stones or plants from the mountain, otherwise bad things may happen. It is said that the mountain is the home of the spirits and the spirits wants human to behave like how you want you guest behave when they visit your home. It is advisible but not a must, before you climb Mount Kinabalu, you ask for permission to the Aki spirit - the ancestor's spirit , that you're going to visit their place and ask for a safe journey.

Kafir (paganism) - The Kadazan/Dusuns' Religion: (Before Christianity & Islamic religion came)

The Kadazan individual family or community as a ritual isolate is in constant interaction with the spirit world. This involves a number of sacrificial ceremonies to create a balanced ritual state between the kadazan/Dusuns and those numbers of the spirit world. The Kadazan/Dusuns believe in four principal spirits: i) "Minamanngun / Kinorohingan or Kinoingan" - the Almighty creatorii) "Koduduwo/ Koduduvo"- a living person's spiritiii) "Tombiruoh/Tombivo" - the ghostly spirit of the deadiv) "Rogon"- the evil spirits

The "Minamangun" is the overall creator and giver of all the forms of life and good materials. However the "Rogon" or the devils make use of God's creations inhabits them and make them Objects and tools for evil doings.The Rogon's major occupation is to get served and pleased. They find pleasure in disturbing man's well being and his immediate possessions and source of livelihood and to make peace with them becomes a pre-dominant ritual practice of the priests and much lesser to thank Minamangun.

So like the Roman Catholic priests to represent Christ being his disciple, making use of the prayers to internalise his grace and worthiness, the priest or "bobolian/ Bobohizan" invoke the good spirit through her long beckoning prayers with the "rogon" member responsible for the mischievous acts.

The "Komburongoh" is a collection of metal pieces, tiny brass bells, a bead of uniformly cut stem of the swamp grass locally called "Komburongoh" itself , canine teeth of wild boars or bear, ring like stones and roots of some local trees. It is often referred to as " Sukuon" or consultants for thorough the "Komburongoh " and "Gonding" (only the metallic part of whole collection), the Minamangun may give explanation for the sickness or makes it possible for the devil to explain itself in a dialogue form.

Bobohizans intervention process and performance in relation to the sick

a) Calling a bobolian/Bobohizan or priestess:When someone's illness is prolonged and severe in the home , a bobohizan or priestess is usually called upon. The bobohizan is fed with the latest information will give the bobohizan a good background in locating to the source of sickness.

b) Preliminary consultation with the "Susukuon" or the good spirit consultants.Before the bobohizan goes to the next house of the sick person the next day, she has first got to consult her "Susukuon" the night before as to how best and with what offerings shall she approach the healing ceremony. She will then know ahead of time whether a chicken, a pig or even a buffalo is needed as a sacrifice. At some time, it may take only a simple "rinait" or prayer to attend to the sick.

C) Rinaits/PrayersThere are number of "Rinaits" or prayers that a bobohizan has to choose depending upon the cause of the sickness.The basic is of course the "Popo'ontong" or "Sumuku" to get in touch with the good spirit consultants for further guidance of the "Susukuon", the bobohizan may proceed to any of the following or other form of prayers:

i) Modsoluhut do Sunduan-- Searching for a strayed "Kunduduwo" or spirit of the sick person and preparing for its home coming.

ii) Modsurung- Appeasing the evil spirits that cause person's sickness with the offerings.

iii) "Magambawon"- to reach the stage of "Rundukun" or being in a trance of possible dialogue.with the evil sprit and the priestess who becomes an oracle for the people who ask questions about evil spirit's intentions. This is the longest performance of the priestess. It lasts for almost 24 hours.

iv) Mogidu do Timporon or Monkigit-cleaning the body from debris that has been induced into the body by evil spirits.

v) Mongkidu do Tumpadan - Curing a person from the effects of black magicians.

vi) Momupu do Namatai- To celebrate the sick person from the grip or disturbance of the dead.


a) Moginakan/Great Feast:This great feast was once a yearly affair for all the numbers of the Kadazan/Dusuns' extended family system. For this feast , only relatives are welcomed and therefore was a great chance for all those who are related to each other to get to know each other and later visit each other. Usually the extended family groups will support each other in times of difficulties. This feast May last for at least 5 days and 5 nights involving a number of buffaloes slaughtered and a Considerable amount of tapai.

b) Celebrations related to rice-cultivation:

i) Kapampanan do Mangasok This is the closing ceremony of the village padi-nursery making.

ii) Madsalud - Blessing of the newly transplanted rice harvesting.

iii) Posoitan do Bambaraion/Bambaazon - Harvest Festivals to give thanks to the rice spirits -"Bambaraion" and to invite them to feast together. The Bobolian leads the procession then to the padi store house and leave seven bamboo cups of first class tapai, seven boiled eggs, some chicken meat and rice on top of the barn of padi. The procession the proceeds back, to the main house to feast. Modern harvest festival now included buffalo race, beauty contest, arm wrestling and tapai drinking competitions as highlights.

In Tambunan, the harvest festival is partially a home-coming for the "bambaraion" of the family to the padi-store house where it will rest until the next rice-planting seasons comes.
Some days of observancea) Full Moonb) Death day till burialc) Making the grave hutd) On the day of preparing Tapai.e) On ominous days:- A millipede passes across the footpath- When your feet got caught or hit stone on your way to wherever- When you have a bad and heavy dream- When you dream that you tooth got broken and you cry out loud - "Betoken somebody you know will die"- When the blackbirds cry out as you enter the jungles - "Badluck is on the way"
After being treated by priestess for a day sometimes for three days one is not allowed to go out from the house.
"THE ORIGIN OF MAGAVAU" "Magavau" varies in accordance with the different dialects and districts in the State. The belief however is the same. The Kadazans believe that in the beginning, the God of the Kadazan people called "KINOINGAN" and his wife "SUMINUNDU" had a daughter known as "HUMINODUN". Kinoingan in his preparation for his creation of the Kadazan people, sacrificed His only daughter, huminodun and planted, as if they were seeds, the various parts of the body so that food may grow out of the soil where it was planted, and that His people will not go hungry. Rice, then as the staple food of the Kadazans, as all Malaysians and most Asians, grew out of Hominodun/s flesh. The other parts of her body became other varieties of food for the Kadazans. Padi, because it is part of Huminodun embodies a spirit, known as "BAMBAZON" and from time to time the Kadazans have found it benefiting that this spirit should be honoured so that bigger and better harvest would be reaped every harvest season.The thinking behind this is not hard to grasp. The importance of rice is self-evident, but underlying is the everlasting is the everlasting gratitude of the Kadazans to their Creator who sacrificed His only daughter in order to provide food for His people.
THE HONOURING OF BAMBAAZON In preparation for the ceremony, the village priestess carefully select stalks of padi and ties them together just before the harvesting period. These padi stalks are left in the field and not to be cut or tampered with until after the harvesting is completed. The selected stalks of padi symbolise the Spirit of Padi, that is Bambaazon. As soon as the harvest is over these stalks are cut by the priestess and taken into the house of the owner of the field. The spirit is now in the house. Magavau will then take place when the padi is winnowed and stored away into the barns.
THE CEREMONY OF MAGAVAUThe ceremony of Magavau begins just after sunset. The Priestess and her attendants sit on the floor in the living room and start chanting ancient prayers to Bambaazon. This goes on far into the night thereafter the priestess and attendants stand up and circle slowly around the living room, still chanting. After a while they start to sing Songs of praise to Bambaazon. At this stage the men join in the circle singing together with the priestess and attendants. As they sing the stamp their feet on the floor in rhythmic timing and at regular intervals uttering the awe-in-sparing "Pangkis" which is the triumphant cry of the Kadazans. This ceremony will go on until break of dawn when preparations are made to feed Bambaazonn with the "habot" (fermented rice, with ingredients similar to tapai, prepared especially for the Bambaazon the previous evening) and tapai. The ceremony ends with merry making as a mark of thanksgiving. Bambaazon stays in the house, guarding the padi in the barn, until the next planting season when another ceremony known as "MONOGIT" is performed to take her to the padi fields.
THE HERITAGE OF GONGSThe late Chief Priestess bobohizan, Bianti Moujing of Kampung Kandazon and the High Priestess bobohizan, Binjulin Sigayun of Kampung Hungab were consulted during their heydays on the evolution of gongs and the beats rhythm. recently, OKK Datuk Jintol Mogunting, the former District Native Chief of Penampang, who is an authority on the traditional culture and customs was also consulted and he gave similar narration of the legend that was used for centuries of generations. It was said that after the resurrection of Huminodun from the original Bambaazon, the lifestyle of the Nunukragang people as they were then known, began to improve as there was abundant supply of rice. The legend goes on to narrate that Huminodun produced the bobohizan and taught them the art of rites, ritual practices and ceremonies, taboos, traditional cultures including the art of gong beating and the sumazau dance. It was also said that during the period of Nunukragang the bobohizan taught the people to fashion bamboo's into various lengths shapes and sizes and arranged them into an ensemble of seven musical instruments, the seventh item being the drum or gandang, which we know today as tongkungon, tongunggu and tongunggak. The bobohizan then taught the people the gong beat rhythm, known today as magagung, botibas and dunsai. Another musical instrument, the kulintangan; akin to the xylophone, would be played as an accompaniment to the magagung.In the late 18th century, the Brunei traders introduced brass gong badils (canons) and brasswares in North Borneo (Sabah). The Kadazandusun were fascinated with these new brass items for they perceived the brasswares elegant and gong sound melodious. They then began to acquire collections of these brass times as family heirlooms and the gongs were arranged into the typical ensemble of seven instruments, to replace the bamboo gongs. Since then the gong beats and rhythm were improved for a variety usage.The gong beats to accompany any ritual ceremonies are usually monotonous. As for weddings, festive occasions and welcoming receptions for dignitaries, the rhythm of the gong beat is exhilarating, melodious, lively and smooth. Sometimes the botibas gong beat is performed as variation. During funerals, the dunsai gong beat is very solemn and fearsome as mark of respect for the dead. The single beat of a solitary gong at short intervals is a signal for emergencies such as house on fire and missing persons lost in the jungle or drowning.However, it is not surprising that not all the Kadazandusun people are skilful in gong beating. It would require one long practice to gain experience. It is even more disheartening to note that not many Kadazandusun youths today are inclined to pursue knowledge in these two cultural issues.Thus magagung competitions and sumazau competitions are organised at the village level not only to mark the Kaamatan celebrations but more so to preserve and to promote the culture of Kadazandusun music and dance. Eventually, the competitions are held at district level where the Sumazau competitions were judged according to its choreography and the magagung according to the gong beats, rhythm and tempo.In the early 1900, these brass items were valuable properties and became a symbol of family wealth. Once, they were highly in demand as dowries for marriage. Therefore, the families who were lacking these properties would face difficulty in complying with the requirements for dowry. They would be compelled to search for these items elsewhere before the wedding. This custom still prevails in certain districts. However, many districts have most of the dowry converted into cash.As for the badil, brassware and especially the gongs, they have become priceless and rare commodities mainly because they are very close to extinction as they are no longer available elsewhere. An ordinary set of gongs would cost about RM10,000 whereas the best set with high quality sound would cost around RM15,000.Actually, the original brass gongs as they are popularly known, are not thoroughly made of brass. These gongs actually comprise of composites of iron, brass and copper thus a smooth, reverberating and xylophonic tone is produced. Gongs made entirely of brass are not popular because the sound produced is flatsonic resonance and therefore not preferred by many.Kulintangan or miniature gongs consist of nine ensemble and according to preference, may be performed simultaneously with the gong to enhance the gong music.The latest type of gongs are made entirely of flat iron sheets, produced in Kudat. These are usually available at the weekend market or Tamu in Donggongon, Penampang. Each set would cost between RM700 to RM1500. The sound quality of these gongs are more like cymbals clashing and shrills.Those who are interested to know the best quality melody gongs, you may drop by to any magagung and sumazau competitions during Harvest Festival/Kaamatan on 30th to 31st May every year at Kadazan Dusun Central Association (KDCA) in Penampang.


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