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Culture (Dusun Liwan): Sinoretha Sining

“As we know Malaysia is known as a famous multiracial country. I hope we can maintain this good relationship in this diverse community that we have right now." - Sinoretha

Meet Sinoretha Sining, a young and bold Dusun Liwan girl from Ranau, Sabah. This time, we had a great opportunity to interview and mingle with her. She is a Christian who consumes Bosou-sada or specifically fermented fish in salt. One of her favourite foods is also Linopot, a type of rice wrapped in leaf namely Daun Tarap or Doringin. She also loves Sada Pinarasakan or commonly known as fermented fish stew.

In fact, there’s only one dialect in her ethnicity which is Dusun Liwan, and she can converse it perfectly as she was raised in Ranau, Sabah. Let’s spend some time learning more about Sinoretha!

Tainis Indong is a 'Sirung' maker who makes it at her home in Kampung Muruk, Ranau in Sabah. She makes Sirung for fun, using bamboo and a few more tools at her home.

What traditional craft is your community most known for?

One of our famous crafts in Ranau is called Sirung (conical hat). People will wear this cone shaped hat to their kebun (garden) and mainly during Pesta Menuai. The second would be a ‘Barait’ which is like a traditional type of backpack where my community uses it daily to put their stuff, like even their handphone, books,etc. They can go to the town using a ‘Barait’, and the third one would be ‘Wakid’ which is also very famous. It’s used to carry paddy and fruits or vegetables.

What is your traditional attire like?

The traditional costume for Dusun Liwan in Ranau was recently discovered from an archive. So it’s called Abaya which looks like a kebaya and it’s black in colour. We wear this traditional attire during weddings, parties or the harvest festival. You can wear it anywhere you want.

Sinoretha and her grandfather picking up fresh Tuhau from the soil in Ranau.

What are some of the traditional games you played when you were young?

It’s just like playing marbles - but instead we use rubber bands, the ones that we got for free from the market. So each player (kids mainly), they will take 5 rubber bands that will be scattered on the floor, and each player will try to throw their rubber bands on the rubber bands on the floor. So if their rubber bands landed on top of the one on the floor, they can own the rubberband. The one who gets the most rubber bands will be the winner. I had a chance to also ask my grandfather, “What games did you play during your childhood?”. And he said, “Oh we played this game called, ‘Tapuk Kayu’. ‘Tapuk’ means hide. So one player will swim in the river, and then they will take one stick and they will hide the stick underneath some rocks or stones. So the rest of the kids will go swim inside the river and try to find the stick. The game will go round and round and round.

What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?

These picture was taken in Sunduan do Nunuk Ragang 2013. In Ranau, small administrative districts (mukim) will take part in the event and do a short presentation to represent their group of ethnicities. Groups of communities from Dusun Liwan, Dusun Kimaragang, Dusun Tindal and many more will represent themselves through dancing sketch, folklore dance and so much more.

In Ranau, we celebrate the Sunduan Nunuk Ragang, there’s no fixed date for this but we usually do this at the end of October or November. Nunuk Ragang means big red tree. It was believed to be the origin of Dusun people. For the myth, there was a big chicken that dug into the soil, under the tree. A group of humans were discovered under the land or under the soil. So the belief was the origin of Dusun people. So every year Bobolian or Bobohizan will perform rituals in that area.

During that day, Bobolian or Bobohizan, the leader for these rituals will do some rituals to pay respect. And a lot of fun activities like singing, dancing, cooking competitions, and also orchestra competition, using traditional instruments by the community around Nunuk Ragang.

Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments or dance that is practiced in your community?

We have traditional music called, ‘Tagung Ranau’ which is directly translated as ‘Gong Ranau’. Gong is the instrument, and Ranau is our place. Because every district has different types of music. So we call ours Gong Ranau, and the dance we dance is Sumirid.

In Ranau, we have one unique instrument called Bungkau. The Bungkau size is just like a pen. The way you play the instrument is like you play it using your finger but you hold it using your mouth. Sumirid is the dance along with the gong. Bungkau and also Kulintangan are small gongs, like the gamelan here but the songs are different from the gamelan.

How are weddings organised in your community?

The groom's family will go to the bride’s house, so wedding ceremonies will mainly be at the bride’s house. For the wedding, the groom and his family must answer a few questions from the bride’s family. So the bride’s family can ask whatever questions they want to the groom and the groom has to answer everything, and if the bride’s family requests for ‘pantun’ (poetry), the groom has to fulfil the request. And also the bride’s family gives some ‘teka-teki’ (riddle), the groom’s family has to answer the riddles. And before entering the house, they have to drink some type of alcohol called ‘tapai’.

Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?

In Dusun Liwan, there are no special ceremonies for babies.

When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?

Back then, the Bobolian will do rituals and all that. It will be done for 7 days. So 7 whole days they’ll be having the rituals at home. They believe that on the 7th day, the dead will come again to take anything that he left for the past 6 days.

Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?

Lots! One of them is about babies. Parents cannot bring their babies outside of their house before 7 days after the baby is born because a long time ago, people gave birth at homes and not the hospital. It was believed that they cannot bring their baby outside of the house the first 7 days because if they did, the evil spirit called, ‘Rogon Gayo’ would snatch and take the baby away. And another is that they have to name the baby as soon as possible. It doesn’t have to be the real name. So just put any short names for the baby before any evil spirit puts a name on the baby. Back then, this was practised in my community but not anymore.

In my community, Bobolian or the leaders of the rituals are women. So the one who leads all the rituals and ceremonies are women. And because women are believed to be the mediator of human beings and the Kinorohingan (god).

Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?

An act of ritual by Bobolian which are mostly women.

The most famous one in my community is about Bambarayon. Bambarayon is the spirit of paddy or plants.

The story was about the three men and how the three of them planted paddy on the hill. Suddenly an old ‘nenek’ (elderly grandmother) comes up to ask for some paddy from them.

The first guy was mad and said, “Oh, I woke up so early in the morning to take care of my paddy. You suddenly came asking for my paddy and I don’t want to give you my paddy.” The elderly grandmother then leaves and meets the second guy.

The second guy said, “Oh, I checked my paddy, I made sure my paddy has no birds disturbing my plants and all my paddy. It is tiring and you should go plant paddy yourself. You should not be asking others for paddy”.

The third guy however was very pitiful because his paddy was not that much and same goes for his fruits due to non-fertile land. So the quality of the fruits and the paddy were very low compared to the first two guys. Nevertheless, the elderly grandmother still came to him ans asked for his paddy, fruits and vegetables.

The third guy said, “Oh, I would like to give you some but please go around and check which plant do you want to take because there’s not much and it’s not as fresh”. And then the elderly lady goes around the paddy and she said, “Oh, can I get some of your sugarcane? I want to replace my cane. I will put it here and I will take your sugarcane to go for a walk.”

And then the third guy said, “Oh yea, yea. I’ll get the sugarcane for you”. Then he takes the sugarcane, and gets the elderly grandmother the sugarcane, and then she said, “Oh I will leave my cane here, but don’t throw it away because I might still need it and go back here to take it soon”. Then he replied, “Okay. I’ll put it here.”

After the following night, he dreamt of the elderly grandmother who said to him, “Tomorrow morning, go to your field, take my cane and around your field with that cane and you shall see what I have prepared for you. I am actually ‘Bambarayon’, the spirit of paddy, and I give to those who give me”. And then the next morning, this guy went to the field and did what was ordered to him.

To his surprise, all the paddy which has fruits and vegetables became very fertile. Then the first two men came to this field and said, “Oh, how did you do that? Can we borrow the cane? We also want to try that too”.

So he gave them the cane, and after these two guys went back to their fields and did the same thing as the third guy did, suddenly all their paddy withered.

So in Sabah, this is what we call it as “tamaha” or tamak which means greedy. The fact that they did not share what they have whether or not they knew the elderly grandmother was the ‘Bambarayon’, which is the spirit of paddy who gave them what they deserved.

So, that’s one of the most famous myths or folklore in my community.

Community of Dusun Liwan with their Sarung (called as Tapi'), Sirung and their Wakid, all these things are used during harvesting paddy.

What are the current stereotype(s) said about your community?

Commonly in the old people community, the stereotype is if you go abroad to study, you’ll forget about your culture. So basically if people who go outside of Malaysia or outside of Sabah, or even outside of Ranau itself; they’ll be like, “Oh, no need to go out to study abroad, later you will forget about this culture. Later you don’t know how to speak Dusun and all.”

It’s sad to see youngsters that go outside and they forget about this culture, because this group is a very, very minority even in Sabah.

What are the current challenges faced by your community? What are your hopes for them?

My community, mainly the young people, don't like to learn about their own heritage or culture. So, the biggest challenge is about getting the good approach for them to join. I aspire to see more like my community, Sabahan– to go out and learn outside and yet still maintain our cultural practices wherever we are. And also, to go back to Sabah and serve the community.

What is your vision and wish for Sabah and Malaysia?

I wish to see more Sabahans shine wherever they are, whether they’re in Malaysia, or outside of Malaysia, wherever, and bring the good name of Sabah. As we know Malaysia is known as a famous multiracial country. So, I hope we can maintain this good relationship in this diverse community that we have. My hope for Malaysia is that everyone is united regardless of their race, religion, or beliefs.

How can general Malaysians get to know each other better?

In my opinion, the school system that we have right now – SK, SMK, where we accept all cultures. At SJKC & SJKT, we learn Chinese & Tamil, which is also a good incentive to do more diverse and multicultural activities. Malay students can go there, Indians can also go there. So, it’s a good incentive from the government.

How would you want me to remember you or your community?

Nunuk Ragang (the red fig tree).


Culture is indeed the characteristic of individuals defined by everything – festivals, foods, dialects etc. We learned that it is vital for people, especially the youngsters to learn about their own culture. Everyone has their own sketch of life and it is best if everyone could learn and interact with each other, indulging in the world of enculturation. From the time we spent with her, Sinoretha taught us the willingness to try on new things despite being at such a young age. Not only that, she allocated her time getting in touch with her sweet grandfather to get more information on their culture. From the conversation they had, Sinoretha described how lucky she was, to be able to hear such fascinating stories from elderlies. Thus, she chose to share the story with the rest of us as a token of gratitude towards her ethnic group.

This is what bridging the gap looks like. In this picture we have Amalin Norman and Violacea Low who interviewed in Sinoretha Sining, facilitated by Faye Lim. Truly Malaysian and proud.

___ Interviewed by: Violacea Low Yin Hui & Amalin binti Norman, facilitated by Faye Lim Written by: Violacea Low Yin Hui & Amalin binti Norman


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