Culture (Dusun Tatana): Kendrick Ng Tiong Heng
“When you start respecting each other, you will start to understand how the other person feels." - Kendrick Ng
We had the opportunity to speak to Kendrick Ng Tiong Heng as he shares his wonderful culture, religion and beliefs. Kendrick actually comes from an ethnic group called Dusun Tatana, which is a sub-ethnic group of Dusun. It is also the only type of ethnic group that blends with Chinese traditions. Fun fact - other than Kudat (in North Sabah), Kuala Penyu is the closest port which is connected to China. Hence, when the Chinese landed at Kuala Penyu, the mix of cultures and traditions began, and that is how the Dusun Tatana ethnic group came about.
He shared with us a few of their traditional cuisines which are Timmbu dumplings, Hinava and Bosou. He also speaks the Dusun Tatana dialect, which is a mix of various languages, where most words are borrowed from Chinese. He also mentioned that you might hear traces of Bruneian Malay when they speak.
We learned a lot about his cultural background. As we listened to his worries for his community, we echoed his beliefs of mutual respect as the underlying foundation of understanding and connecting with one other. Like Kendrick said, race, religion, and language should not be a barrier - it’s something we should be celebrating about! Read his story below.
Can you tell us any famous traditional crafts done by your community?
Yes, we do have tribal carving, wood and bamboo carving with corak (design). I am actually inspired by these carvings and use it in my doodles. I'm a comic artist. Although my doodles mix the elements of chibi, the background of my comics are filled with these corak. So, those patterns you see are actually based on my tribal carvings.
You can easily find these (corak) in Kuala Penyu (Sabah). Kuala Penyu is the best place where you can find all those traditional clothings, wood carvings, etc. If you were to visit Sabah in the future and visit different locations to buy wood carvings, you will notice that different wood carvings have different meanings. They come from different tribes and from there, you will know that this belongs to Dusun Tatana and so on. This is how unique it is.
Also, in Kuala Penyu, there is a traditional fishing method where they craft something out using bamboo to catch and trap the fishes
What is your traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?
Our traditional costumes are similar to the Kadazan but there is a difference between them - ours is much simpler. They are called Gaung and Souva. Usually, for women, they have a bigger corak on them and they are called Sinuangga and Tapi. However, for men, we only have 2 lines of gold on our traditional costume and it’s black in colour. As for the accessories, we wear the Kadazan Dusun songkok (headwear), which is called Siga.
I wear my traditional attire for 3 occasions - Chinese New Year, Harvest Festival, and Coming of Age. For the Coming of Age, I will need to wear it once I reach the age of 15, which signifies adulthood.
Can you tell us the festivals celebrated in your community and what are some of the activities/traditions of this festival?
The main one would definitely be Chinese New Year. We also celebrate the Harvest Festival and Hari Raya (Eid), depending on one’s religion.
We drink rice wine and eat roasted wild boar, or Sinalau Bakas. This is very famous in Sabah. So, during these festivals, you can see a lot of people barbecuing.
Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?
The only song I remember is the lullaby my mother sang to me when I was young. It’s called Jambatan Tamparuli (Tamparuli Bridge).
The name of the traditional dance is Sumazau, which is one of the traditional dances where the male and female can dance together.
We do have a traditional instrument that is a smaller version of Sape’, which is the Sompoton (a type of wind instrument).
Are there any traditional games you played when you were young?
We play guli (marbles - although it is not very traditional). There are also a lot of other traditional games that have been handed down from Chinese culture.
There is also one game which is Binsulong. Binsulong is a traditional game of the Kadazan Dusun people. There is a string “trapped” inside the double-loop rattan spiral and you need to pull it out without cutting the string.
How are weddings organised in your community?
Nowadays, weddings are organised based on religion, but mostly follow Chinese culture. Since most of my family members are Christians, during the day, we follow the Christian ritual, where we go to the church. Then, at night, they will have the traditional dance and celebration. The difference between modern time and olden time is that they are dancing in the hall, but not outside.
Instead of horn, they use Gong or Kulintangan. So when they hear the Gong, they know that someone is getting married. Plus, regardless of which religion it is, there will always be karaoke.
Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?
Not really and this really depends on religion. For Christians, they have their own ceremony for newborn babies. The actual tradition for the Dusun Tatana community is hard to find now, but we do have the Chinese ritual which is done when the newborn babies reach one month old. The only difference is instead of giving Red Eggs, we give Ang Pao (red packet).
When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?
This also depends on religion. Nowadays, we have Buddhist and Christian rituals, but if you are talking about Dusun Tatana ritual then we usually follow the Chinese tradition. We will call a monk to come and prepare for the funeral, and we also pray for a few days.
Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?
One of them is that we cannot wear white when we are in our ancestors’ hall. This is usually shared through word of mouth when it is passed down from one generation to the other.
Who usually leads the rituals and ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?
For us, women are the ones who play a vital role and lead the rituals and ceremonies. We refer to them as Bundu Liwan (high priestess).
Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?
We call it the Monsopiad. It is a story about a famous headhunter. It is actually told to the Kadazan and Dusun as well. This is a legend. Many centuries ago, a lady named Kizabon stayed with her husband, named Dunggou, if I am not wrong. On the roof of the house, there is a sacred Bugang bird. The man stayed there throughout his wife’s pregnancy. When the child was about to be born, the Bugang birds hatched as well. The father of the child took the sign as a good omen and that this was a sign that his newborn son would have special powers and hence named his son, Monsopiad.
The young boy grew up in the village Kuai, where his maternal grandfather was the headman. The village was often plundered and attacked by robbers. Due to the lack of warriors in the village, the villagers had to retreat and hide while the robbers ransacked their homes. Monsopiad was given special training and was an excellent fighter. He grew up to become a warrior and fight off the warriors that had terrorised his village. He will bring back their heads as trophies and hang them from the roof of his house.
His journey to rid his village of the robbers was successful and upon coming home, he was given a hero's welcome. However, he became very proud of himself. His attitude changed and the village was afraid of him. Left with no choice, the village got a group of brave warriors together and they planned to eliminate Monsopiad. As much as they respected Monsopiad for his heroic deeds, yet they had no choice because he had slowly turned into a threat.
They planned to attack him at night. He fought back fiercely but realised that he had lost his special powers that were bestowed upon him by the Bugang bird. He was killed afterwards.
Despite his downfall, the villagers still loved Monsopiad for all that he had done for them. He managed to collect 42 heads. In his memory, a monument was erected and the village was renamed after him. If you visit the Monsopiad Cultural Village, the skulls displayed there are all real. This story reminds people that whatever that is given to you, don't be greedy. Be humble. If you have a special power, just be humble. And give back to the community.
How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?
This is only something I felt when I came to KL. Back in Sabah, although there is “lain-lain”, they will say “write your ethnic group”. I felt so angry when I came here because they just asked me to only fill in as “lain-lain”. Sometimes, the “lain-lain” option is not even there. So, I walk over to the counter to ask and they say “you look like a Chinese, so just tick Chinese”. I was forced to choose Chinese as my race/ ethnicity since there were no other options. If there are, I would tick “lain-lain” and write down “Dusun Tatana”.
To me, I feel sad. When I was young, I saw this and I always asked myself “I thought we are Malaysians, why don’t we just call ourselves Malaysian?”. We don’t need to care which ethnic group we are from. If I am considered “Lain-Lain”, am I not human? Am I an alien?” I used to ask myself last time, but now - as long as I can fight and tell myself that I am a proud Dusun Tatana, I feel good.
What are the current challenges faced by your community? What are your hopes for your community?
I would say losing our own tradition as generations pass. During modern times, you can see some cultural practices mixing together as well. For me, other than doing cartoons, sometimes I write stories and publish children’s books that tell them the importance of retaining our culture and religion.
How can general Malaysians get to know each other better?
If we don’t respect each other, we won’t spend time understanding each other. For me, when I was young, I tried to find a reason why I was labelled as a “Lain-Lain”. I went to a Masjid and also stayed near one when I was growing up. I always remember waktu Solat (prayer times). In Sabah, due to our mixture of race and ethnicity, we respect each other. Let’s say when it is waktu Solat, we will just bring down the volume, as a sign of respect. When you start respecting each other, you will start to understand how the other person feels. This is how we start to understand one another.
How would you want us to remember you or your community?
Through the arts of Dusun Tatana. Although we are considered as one of the mixed sub-ethnic groups, we usually show ourselves through talents. We do have a few talents, like DJ. We try to promote this so that you can remember us through our music and our arts and remember it as a powerful thing. I do not need to force you to remember me. I’ll show you my art and it will be engraved in your mind.
We enjoyed talking to Kendrick who was kind enough to share the culture and traditions of the Dusun Tatana community. It’s very interesting how he incorporates elements of his culture in his doodles and uses his talent in the arts to preserve his heritage. The “lain-lain” community should not be alienated in today’s day and age, and we should do more to get to know them and respect our differences.
___ Interviewer: Chong Yuet Yin (Evelyn) & Law Jing Yu, facilitated by Faye Lim & Kenneth Phua Written by: Chong Yuet Yin (Evelyn) Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza