Updated: Oct 13, 2021
“I think the main question is why are we a mystery, but why aren't the others a mystery?" - Dylan Dumpangol
Meet Dylan Dumpangol, a Kadazan who is partly Chinese from Sabah who is a practicing Christian. Dylan speaks the dialect of Kadazan Dusun Tanah Penampang. The traditional food of the Kadazan community includes Hinava (a minced fish cooked with lime), Tuhau (pickled wild ginger) and Bambangan (seasonal mango fruit pickle).
When Dylan joined the interview, he wore an interesting traditional attire known as a Gaung, which he described to us as a long sleeve shirt with gold trimmings, sometimes in red, depending on the district they are from. Dylan shared a number of customs and traditions practiced in his community today and in the past, and it truly is a wonderful and eye-opening interview. We hope it is as insightful for others too!
What traditional craft is your community most known for?
We have arts and crafts like basketry. We make baskets which were commonly used to carry food such as Barai, Basung, and Baging.
What is your traditional attire like? When do you usually wear them?
I am wearing a Gaung. It’s a long sleeve shirt with gold trimmings, sometimes in red, depending on the district you are from. It usually has gold buttons, and is made out of silk or velvet. It is paired with long sleeve pants with the same gold trimmings, called Souva. For women, they have a lot of accessories on them, so I think one of the accessories is called Hamai, it’s like a sash made out of gold coins called Himpogot. The top hat that we commonly wear is called a Siga.
Mainly we wear the traditional outfits during Kaamatan festival, that’s the 31st of May, but we also wear them during weddings, and maybe big family gatherings when they call for it.
What are some of the traditional games that you played when you were young?
During the harvest festival, we would go to this cultural centre called KDCA (Kadazandusun Cultural Association Sabah). We will play games that are not from the Kadazan community, for example we have a Murut game called Lamsaran, where you go into a bamboo house, like a house on stilts. There will be some kind of trampoline made from bamboo, so everyone jumps, and then we give points or some rewards at the top of the room. So the person who can reach the highest gets that reward.
We also have a lot of community games like tug of war, Rampanau, it's like racing on bamboo stilts. We also have games that test your physicality, like Mipolos, it’s an arm wrestling game, and other slingshot games where you aim and hit the target with this thing called Momolistic.
What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?
The main one, I think probably the main and only one that we really celebrate is the Kaamatan festival that is on the 31st of May.
You might have heard of this - it’s called Unduk Ngadau, or a beauty pageant. Every district in Sabah has different outfits, like mine has red gold, some have sleeves and no sleeves. The women of every district would come and compete with each other, and the district that wins gets that title.
Another thing is we have a paramount leader called the Huguan Siou. So he represents all the Kadazan Dusun people, the community. He usually officiates the ceremony by ringing a big gong. Besides that, people would gather, drink a lot and also buy a lot of food. There's a food market around, so it’s just like a community day.
Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments, or dance that is practiced in your community?
I don’t know if you consider these as traditional songs, but the ones that we kind of sing and listen to in the modern times - songs like Original Sabahan, Tinggi Tinggi Gunung Kinabalu. The latter song is actually a love song, a metaphor of saying my love is higher than Mount Kinabalu (“tinggi tinggi Gunung Kinabalu, tinggi lagi sayang sama kamu”).
The main traditional dance is called the Sumazau. Basically, the dance mimics a bird, where we combine footwork with some movements of raising our arms like birds.
We have an instrument called the Sompoton. It’s a gourd with a few bamboo sticks on it, similar to a flute. We also have the gong, like the one that I mentioned before, like it’s a big gong that you ring to officiate the harvest festival. We have the Kulintangan. It’s like the gong as well, but it has 8 to 9 mini gongs that is similar to a xylophone. We also have another flute called the Bungkau and Togunggak.
How are weddings organised in your community?
Weddings would be organised by the family and also the ketua kampung who is the village chief. The male would usually have to pay a dowry in relation to how many tiang (pillars) the person has in her house. In the modern day, we are talking about the foundations of a house. If a person is more privileged or wealthier, then the male has to come up with more money to pay for the dowry.
Today, we celebrate weddings in a Christian manner. We would have a church wedding and later go to a community hall to celebrate it in a way the Kaamatan festival is celebrated. People would wear traditional outfits, there would be a small gong playing while people entered the hall and we would shake everyone’s hand. The family would be split into the bride and groom’s family. So they would sit on separate sides. When traditional dances are on, they would come together and dance the sumazau.
I do know that there is this game that is sometimes played during weddings, but this is very traditional. People would wrap their fingers around each other and twist it and see who is stronger in that respect, kind of like a thumb or finger wrestling game.
Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?
Yes. Based on what my grandmother told me, when a baby is born, the eldest child in the house will go out to get a type of grass called a Komburango. This is followed by the baby naming ceremony. A group of elders in the kampung (village) would take the child to walk around the neighbourhood. The first house to invite the elders and the child would give the child a gift. For example, if they give powder, the child would potentially be named after that article like ‘Powda’.
When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?
Today, we do the customary Christian one. The pagan practice for Kadazan Dusun community when a person passes away is that they would usually bring the body back to the house and place the body in the middle of the house, wrapped in a clean cloth. Then, privileged families who have the ‘gong’ instrument, would hit the ‘gong’ countless times to kind of tell everyone in that community, the neighbours, the families, that there has been a death in the household. This sound is called ‘tontog’. This sound alerts the neighbours and relatives, and news would spread like wildfire in the community. People would come over to pay respects, so they would bring a tapai, a jar of rice wine, or they would bring ingredients to the house so that all the women (from the community) would usually cook, because people would come in and out of the house for quite awhile.
Since the wife would be mourning next to the body, it’s considered taboo if she goes to anyone’s house. After the body is buried, there is a ceremony where the high priestess or like the elder of the community would take the widower to a river. She would be asked to sit on a big stone and the priestess would chant a ritual to kind of ask the spirit to strengthen her with the power to live without her partner anymore.
Who usually leads the rituals and ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?
The Kaamatan festival and the ‘Huguan Siou’ are mainly led by men. However, we do have a high priestess or a ritual specialist called a ‘Bobohizan’. During the Kaamatan festival, she would appease the rice gods through magic and witchcraft in their own way.
Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?
If somebody becomes a widow or widower because of the death of their partner, that person cannot have fun for a month. Ideally, they would have to stay home and grieve and if they don’t do that, they get a ‘sogit’ which is like a fine.
Today, these pantang-larang are shared through the community from our grandparents, or mohoing. They would also share it kinda customarily like in the cultural centre KDCA. Truth be told, the practice of sharing this information is slowly dying. You will only know it through your nenek (grandmother) or the generations before you.
Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?
The most well known one is called the ‘Huminodun’. ‘Huminodun’ is a person, ‘unodun’ is a princess. God in Kadazan-Dusun is called ‘Kinoingan’ and his wife is called ‘Suminundu’. They both have a daughter called ‘Huminodun’. She is a princess who is known to be beautiful. One day there was a famine in the village, so the harvest wasn’t possible and everyone was starving. So, ‘Kinoingan’, the God, would have to sacrifice ‘Huminodun’, his only daughter, to appease the Gods. ‘Huminodun’ offered herself because she was very altruistic and her body transformed into rice in the paddy field. So this came to pass that ‘Huminodun’ sacrificed herself, her body, her beauty to feed the people.
Another famous one is about Mount Kinabalu, the mountain. So it is a romantic story where a Chinese prince came to Mount Kinabalu to look for a pearl. The legend says that there’s a dragon sitting in the heart of Mount Kinabalu by this really dark green lake. So, it’s very dark. One day, the Chinese prince stole the pearl which angered the dragon. Later, that prince married a local Kadazan woman, but he abandoned her and went to China. In grief, she wandered back to the mountain to mourn her loss and she became a stone on Mount Kinabalu and became a spirit of the mountain.
What are the common stereotype(s) about your community?
We do have a lot of stereotypes but I think this also relates to Sabahans. People still think we are stuck doing traditional practices - like we still live on trees, or traditional houses.
How does it make you feel to be classified as a 'lain-lain'?
Definitely it’s not something to be taken lightly. People are sensitive, angry, and sad. Especially thinking you know, we came into the country thinking that we would be treated as equal partners or having equal rights and yet, we are much of a mystery compared to a lot of other people. I think the main question is why are we a mystery, but why aren’t the others a mystery. Why do we not get the recognition in the calendars as other people might have. It is definitely a feeling of inequality. I think because of that, a lot of people are passionate to fight for Sabah sometimes, politically and culturally.
What are the current challenges faced by your community?
One of the challenges is definitely the recognition. For example, a lot of students come to KL or come to West Malaysia, but there’s still a lot of people who don’t know about them because of that there are stigmas attached to them such as, you know like, ‘oh how did you get here? Did you use a boat? Do you live on trees?’ While there is that stigma, that’s still very much true in a lot of the rural areas to some extent. Not in the cities.
I think one of the other challenges would also be this identity, not an identity crisis, but the modern age slowly losing their culture. So for example, an urbanised Kadazan-Dusun like myself and my parents are not able to speak Kadazan very well. It’s a dying language and they don’t teach this language in school except for some special schools. As you can see there are other languages that are taught like Chinese, Tamil. It’s difficult not having the right to be able to have that language be taught as easily as other languages as well.
Some of the people I know become very ashamed to be a Kadazan. They shouldn’t feel that way, but it’s because people would stigmatise them, people would kinda ask them ‘hey do you know how to speak this language’ but as an urbanised person, we don’t anymore. People are starting to lose that culture.
What are your hopes for your community?
Definitely to rise above this challenge. To still be able to maintain our identity but at the same time, revamp it and make it easily practiced by the modern generation now. Also to be more vocal, I think a lot of people here are known to be very friendly, but that comes at a cost. You know, they would not fight for certain rights, for example, that they should. So, definitely they should speak up more, I think, the ways they should combat that challenge.
What is your wish for Sabah?
Ideally, it would be for Sabahans to be treated equally. I think it doesn’t just come with culture, but with resources, with opportunity, and everything and recognition definitely to have equality of treatment there.
Another vision would be to be able to modernise ourselves but at the same time not be stuck with old practices. I know that there’s a modern community in Sabah that wants to change without the culture that they had, and there’s the old community who would always usually criticise the younger generation, like their inability to speak Kadazan, for example. I hope that these two generations will be able to bridge the gap harmoniously so that they won’t have an issue and we can find ways to practice our cultures and norms in a modern way.
What are your vision and hopes for Malaysia? How can Malaysians get to know each other better?
Firstly, to kind of eradicate ‘dan lain-lain’. As with Rojak Projek, I think that is one of the big steps towards creating a more harmonious community that is not categorised so that people don’t have to choose and pick and things like that. Another hope for Malaysia would be political stability, recognition of Sabah’s rights, recognition of every State’s rights and allocation of resources that are made in an equal way.
We need to learn how to make the first move, to step outside our comfort zone, to be able to ask questions like sensitive questions or questions that need to be asked. I think another way would also be Journalism. Malaysians can get to know each other through stories, through articles, through telling stories of people that we don't understand as much. I think the government also plays a big part in promoting cultural festivals to people even though we are on different sides of Malaysia. We can still celebrate each other’s cultures and share the same holidays and promote it in the media.
How would you want me to remember you or your community?
Definitely by remembering what exactly we do, what exactly we celebrate. There are things to be taken from an old community such as the morals of living together harmoniously, living in a community, living as a family, not being so isolated with yourself. These are still things that we need to learn nowadays especially because people are starting to move out, get a job and they forget their roots, they forget their family, they forget their hometown. So definitely to remember my community as a symbol to look back at your past, your family, your roots and where you come from.
I hope you remember me as the person who told you, ‘Hey look at us, we’re Kadazans and we are proud’. You should be proud of your own culture too and we should share that one day and celebrate that together.
It is disheartening to know that the Kadazan culture is less practiced today. Although the KDCA does its best to protect and preserve the history and traditions of its people, the customs are not necessarily carried out by younger generations today.
We as Malaysians, should appreciate our multiracial society by embracing not just our heritage, but each other’s culture as well. As mentioned by Dylan, we should always be courageous to step out of our own comfort zone to overcome the cultural barrier. By knowing each other’s culture, we could get closer to each other as Malaysians.
___ Interviewer: Liew Kang Xuen & Lim Yuan Theng, supported by Kenneth Phua, Faye Lim, Arthur Chong and Samuel Lim Written by: Liew Kang Xuen & Lim Yuan Theng Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza