“Try to experience the culture, instead of listening from the other's mouth." - Elin
It is our pleasure to have Elin, a proud native of Sabah. She is a Bugis-Toraja, whose father hails from the Bugis Bone tribe from Sulawesi, Indonesia, and mother is a Toraja, also from Sulawesi. While they speak a similar dialect - Bahasa Bugis (a Toraja can understand a Bugis), some of the words are quite different from one another. Elin is a Muslim.
Prior to the meeting, we were pretty nervous as it was our first time talking to someone who has a rich cultural heritage. Ellin gladly shared her cultures, customs, and rituals practiced by her respective communities - we really felt like we were there with her when she explained it to us!
She shared the challenges faced by the Toraja community and her hopes for them, Sabah, and Malaysia. We sympathise with their plight and fully support her wish to get her community the proper recognition they deserve. Like Ellin said, the best way to reduce barriers between people is to put them in our shoes and feel what it’s like on their side of the world.
What are the traditional foods for your community?
For Bugis, we have Burasa, Sanggar Pappek, Kapurung while for the Toraja, we have Kapurung (same as Bugis), Pantolo Lendong, Pantollo pamarrasan & pa'piong.
What traditional craft is your community most known for?
For the Toraja community, they are very popular with the carvings. During the old days, they had this house, just like the Minangkabau and the house was full of carvings. They carve on the wood then they paint with black or sometimes they even put the horn of the buffalo. They do have famous or traditional carvings in the house, as popular as the Sarawakians design.
For the traditional carvings, normally they also do carvings for the tomb or the place where they put the rice. For the tomb, they normally create a tomb with the carvings and also a symbol to describe the class of the dead person. For example, if the dead person came from the upper class, then the tomb will be decorated or carved with the symbol like a horse or the buffalo. These animals are very familiar or close to those tribes and it symbolizes their beliefs; they will use these symbols to put in their tomb or in their house.
What is your traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?
For the traditional costume, Toraja is very popular with the woven materials. The Baju Pokko is the Toraja's traditional costume, or we call it Baju Adat. For male, it’s called Baju Seppa Tallung. The male accessories are like the Kandaure, Umpak, or Gayang (similar to the Tengkolok (traditional headwear)). For the women, it's almost the same as Sarawak - the one with the beads.
Baju Adat is worn by the women during festivals, the aluk todolo & ma'nene ceremony, wedding ceremonies, when someone's giving birth or when accepting guests from far. This happens during the burial ceremony because for Toraja, the burial ceremony takes around 1 week or 1 week plus for them to help the ceremony.
What are some of the festivals celebrated in your comunity?
In Sabah, normally the festivals that we celebrate are just Hari Raya (Eid), Maulidur Rasul (the Birth of the Prophet), and Awal Muharam (the Islamic New Year). Normally they will do the Islamic ritual where they carry out prayers. It's just a simple ritual where they just come for the ceremony, and then they just be there & give support to the family. I think it’s not very interesting because it's just a simple ceremony.
Also, when someone is about to give birth. They will hold a special ceremony for those who are in their 6th or 7th month of their pregnancy; we call it berlenggang. It's actually just a massage for the baby.
For the Bugis community, they love to do the kenduri (feast). Even if they just bought a new car or new house, you must do a kenduri for that. It's like giving blessings - like you ask for a blessing because you own a new thing like a new car or a new house for example. They love to celebrate because they love being together with their relatives.
Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?
For the traditional songs, I think they call it Kulintang. They will use an instrument similar to a gong called Patsulin (if I’m not mistaken). Normally, they will play this song during the burial ritual and walk around a doll that is hanged in the middle of the bamboo. They will just circle around the doll because the doll symbolizes the dead. They make the doll themselves. I think it's more like they are trying to perform a dance or something to the doll that resembles death.
Are there any traditional games you played when you were young?
For the traditional games of the Toraja, it's just the simple traditional games like the Meriam Bambu (bamboo cannon), which the kids from the village like to play. In Malay, I don't know about Semenanjung, but in Sabah, we call it Ladum. You put the kerosene inside the big bamboo and then you put sumbu (fire starter) and then you burn the sumbu until it produces a bit of sound.
How are weddings organised in your community?
For Bugis, it is quite expensive as it can cost more than RM50,000 for the dowry. It is a special part for Bugis. The guest will come over 2 days before the ceremony and have some clean up activities. Then, they will play games on the day itself.
Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?
The special ceremony for a newborn baby is gunting rambut (cutting hair). It’s common for Muslims.
When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?
For Toraja, it is like they will never expect the deceased to be dead, instead they treat the deceased like a person who is still alive. I once saw that they were making jokes with the coffin, the dead body fell out and I was shouting, but the Toraja thought that it was fine.
Who usually leads the rituals and ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?
It could be both. But usually women will help in preparation of traditional cuisine while the man will be the leader.
Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?
One of the pantang-larang I recalled is that you have to shower if you just get back from the funeral. Another one is that we are not allowed to cut our nails at night.
These beliefs are shared by more traditional families, like my friend’s. However, for the younger generation, it is no longer shared through.
Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?
The well-known folklore in my community is the black magic of the exchange of money. Basically how it works is that you will be rich but in return, you will be turned into an animal in a night.
What are the common stereotype(s) about your community?
The common stereotype about my community is that people often mixed up the ethnic groups of Toraja and Taqtur, and thought that Toraja eats dogs just as Taqtur. It is not accurate because Muslim Toraja doesnt eat dogs.
How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?
I don't really feel it as Bugis is recognised as a community and I am not technically classified as lain-lain. Although the form used in Semenanjung and Borneo is different, I am not bothered by it as I identify myself as a bumiputera (native) of Sabah.
What are the current challenges faced by your community?
While the Toraja community is fine with quite a number of things like education and access to utilities, I think there is a huge challenge of being recognised officially. Also, I hope that people will be able to identify the difference between Toraja and Taqtur as both are unique and special, and be accepted by all.
What is your vision for Sabah?
My vision and wish for Sabah is to stop racism and we should respect each other's differences.
How can Malaysians get to know each other better?
I think it is by joining volunteering activities, because volunteering activities will provide you an opportunity to really experience our culture, instead of hearing from the others.
How would you want us to remember you or your community?
For Bugis, I believe that it will be the wedding ceremony while for Toraja, it will be the funeral ceremony. Both ceremonies are unique and special in nature.
We enjoyed talking to Elin about her experiences in the Toraja and Bugis communities, and reflected on our own experiences dealing with misunderstandings. Although Malaysia is a diverse country, we fail to learn about each other’s culture and appreciate our differences. Until a day where we accept each other’s uniqueness, we should do our best to get involved and “walk in their shoes”.
___ Interviewer: Elin Binti Abdul Rahim Written by: Chong Yuet Yin (Evelyn) & Law Jing Yu, facilitated by Faye Lim Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza