Updated: Mar 11, 2022
“My hope for Malaysia is that everyone is united regardless of their race, religion, or beliefs.” - Joshua
We had the opportunity to interview Joshua Macdonald who is a Kadazan from Sabah, Malaysia. He speaks the Kadazan Tangaa dialect and enjoys Kadazan traditional food such as Tuhau, Bambangan and Hinava.
He shared about his cultural background and we learned about interesting taboos, customs, and beliefs which have been passed down from his community. It’s heartwarming that these traditions are still practiced today and as Joshua said, it’s our responsibility as the younger generation to learn about them and keep them alive.
What traditional craft is your community most known for?
Our community is known for making baskets to collect paddy, because a long time ago, a lot of people back in Penampang were farmers, so they have huge bags to put the paddy in once they harvested it. The famous traditional crafts are using rattan to make big bags, furniture, and baskets.
What is your traditional attire like?
For the female upper top, it is called Sinuangga. It’s a blouse adorned with gold buttons and the shoulders are sewn with gold lining cloth. They also wear belts called Tangkong and Himpogot, which are normally worn together with the traditional attire. The skirt is just a normal skirt that is made from the same material. For the male attire, I’m not too sure because a lot of people don’t really have a specific name for the shirt, but it is almost the same as the female’s, it’s just a normal size shirt with long sleeve or short sleeve. The normal cloth is made of velvet material which can get warm and uncomfortable especially on a very hot day. So, some people pay extra at the tailor shop when making the traditional attire, to have a lighter and cooler material so it will not be hot when we are wearing it. Other than that, the headgear is called Sigah like the big hat we can see at the Sigah roundabout in Penampang, Sabah. We only wear traditional attire when we are attending official events like weddings, graduation ceremonies and during Kaamatan Festival but the main reason for wearing the attire is actually to represent our community and identity.
What are some of the traditional games you played when you were young?
Normally when we have a family gathering, we will play tug of war. Another game we had last time was we tie a piece of string around our waist, then we attach another long line, all the way from the waist to the bottom, and attach a small crumpled ball of newspaper at the end to knock down drinking cans to collect points. We also have bowling, where we just use coconut as a bowling ball to knock down tin cans. We also played slingshots, where we also called it Momolisitik.
What are some of the festivals celebrated in your community?
Nowadays, the main festival celebrated in my community is the Harvest Festival or also known as Kaamatan and usually celebrated statewide. It is celebrated throughout the month of May. In the olden days, where most of the community were still practising animism, there used to be a lot of rituals such as Momohizan and Magavau. Nowadays it is done as a symbolic to pay respect to the spirit of the rice and praying that they will have another bountiful harvest for the next season. The culmination of the Kaamatan celebration which is held at the end of May and held at the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) Hongkod Koisaan, Penampang. There will be singing competition in the Kadazan Dusun language and beauty pageant among others. For the Beauty Pageant, every district will have 1 representative to compete for the Unduk Ngadau title, to be considered as the most beautiful lady in the community. Normally when it comes to celebrating Kaamatan from a family perspective, it’s actually about bringing people together regardless of race, religion, and beliefs.
Normally we will invite the Huguan Siou, who is the paramount leader of the Kadazan Dusun and Murut community, to officiate the ceremony.
Speaking of festivals, is there any traditional song, instruments or dance that is practiced in your community?
For traditional instruments, we have Tagung, and the term we use when we are playing it is Magagung. It’s a huge bronze gong with different tunes of music, but the type of songs varies by size. There’s another type of drum in which the top part of the drum is actually made from goatskin, it is very rare to get it, and maybe some people even stop producing it. Another one is Tegunggak which is made from bamboo, it varies with the size too, there’s a specific way to hit the bamboo to produce a certain type of sound.
Our traditional dance is Sumazau which varies with different districts.
How are weddings organised in your community?
For us, we have two options when it comes to weddings, the traditional style and western style. For the traditional side, there is a process, which we call Monohuku, which is to inquire and its compulsory. The male must send a representative to meet the girl’s parents to determine the girl’s status and the girl will also have to send a representative to know about his status too. They did it to avoid marriage with distant relatives. After that we have another process, we call Momuaboi, which is the engagement ceremony, normally held at the female’s house witnessed by the male, female and the village head. During the engagement, they have to discuss the date and venue for the weddings. After that, it’s just a typical marriage but on the day of the marriage itself they have this tradition, we called it Miohon Pinisi, where they would exchange foods and drinks to signify that the household will be in harmony. Then, the bride and the groom would come together in front of the house, and before they enter, they will step on a huge rock to signify that the marriage will be as strong as the rock. Then, the village elder or someone with a ritual experience will actually pray for the traditions carried out.
Activity-wise, there is not so much. But I know that the ‘adat’ is that the bride and the groom cannot meet a day before their wedding.
Is there a special ceremony for a newborn baby?
For us, birth is nothing special. It’s the typical western style, where you have the full moon those kind of things but I read a book about the community’s tradition, they have the hair cutting tradition, we call it momuga, which is to actually formally announce the arrival of the new member of the family but basically I don’t think it’s practiced as much.
When there is a death in your community, how are the funeral arrangements like?
For death, I put it as a 7-day mourning process. The first two days are the grieving period, the body will be normally kept at the house or the funeral parlour to allow for the relatives or friends to visit the body. Family members must take care of the body for two days straight, be awake at night. We practice this tradition because it was passed down to us and we believe the body must be protected from people and also from the supernatural. The burial is usually on the third day. On the six day, just after sunset as it begins to get dark, all the lights are switched off (for a few minutes only) and someone would read a prayer and then they would invite the spirit of the dead to enter the house and take his/her belongings because we believe this is the beginning of their journey to the after world. We have this term called Momisok, which means an invitation to eat. On the seventh day, we have a tradition called Mogukas to celebrate the deceased so that he or she is in a better place. On that day, the gong will be played twice and a few other rituals done including the burning of the deceased belonging. Then after that, we have forty days of mourning, we are not allowed to attend any party or happy occasion and have rosary prayer among the family members. Another one is Momohontong, which is the calling of the deceased by the Bobohizan but it is not practised anymore.
Who usually leads the rituals and ceremonies in your community, is it the men or women?
For rituals, it could be an elderly person, who has experience in rituals and we also have the bomoh, or we call it Bobohizan, and the third person is the ketua kampung. So, there are actually three people, but in terms of Bobohizan and the elderly person are normally women. If it is something more formal such as marriage or trying to sort out any dispute among the orang kampung, it will be the ketua kampung. Yes, but I think I would say it’s the female.
Is there any "pantang-larang" that is still observed in your community? How are they being shared or passed down?
I think the most common one is that you cannot change seats when you are eating and you cannot point at the graveyards. Another thing we have is called Sogit, which is a fine. Let’s say for example, someone from a different kampung committed adultery, so, the Sogit is the fine equivalent to the Sogit given during their marriage. Another example is when you marry your relatives, your third cousin, which is considered as a distant relative and it’s acceptable among the community to marry your distant relative. The Sogit will be like they will take a pig to a stream of a river or the upper side of a river stream that flows to the village and they will slaughter the pig. A Bobohizan or someone who has knowledge of the old tradition will be invited. He or she will make some chant then slaughter the pig then let the blood flow in the river. So, it will pass through the village and they believe that it can purify the guilt of the offense of marrying a relative. The bride and the groom will also be bathed in the blood. One more thing for us is, we cannot visit any funerals if our house is under renovation or construction.
Some people still believe in this kind of pantang-larang or taboos and some do not practice it anymore. Otherwise, it’s more likely going to be western style, where they just do whatever they want as long as it does not go against their own religion.
Could you share with us a well-known folklore in your community?
The most common one would be there used to be a dragon guarding some jewel in Mount Kinabalu. The one that I still remember it’s called “The Ikan Sebelah” (flounder). One day, a fisherman was fishing and suddenly he felt a tug on his fish basket. When he looked around, it was a ghost. The ghost would always bother the fisherman for fish every time when he was fishing. Then, the fisherman would just give the fish to the ghost. As days went by, the fisherman got irritated then made a bet with the ghost. He told the ghost that if you could find this fish, which was the flounder, I will give you fish every time I am fishing. So, he just threw the fish back into the water and the ghost went on to look for the fish. Some people believe that the ghost is still looking for the flounder until this day.
What are the current stereotype(s) said about your community?
I think the common one was wearing traditional clothes every day. For me personally and my family, we only wear traditional clothes when it’s a special occasion such as weddings. Another one is the language barrier. Some people say they cannot tell where I am from, and some say it’s really hard to be friends with someone.
What are the current challenges faced by your community? What are your hopes for them?
I think the major ones would be language. I don’t think the younger generation would actually know how to converse in my mother tongue. When I was still young, my mum would actually send me to my grandma’s house to be taken care of and in the evening they would pick me up and go back home. From there, I will just talk to my grandparents in my mother tongue (Kadazan) and for some words that I don’t really know in Kadazan will get substituted with Bahasa Malaysia or English. I am still quite grateful that I know how to speak Kadazan because my grandpa was an English teacher last time and he can help me translate some Kadazan terms or words from English. So, I think the most common one is the language.
I hope that they will be able to move on or they will be more knowledgeable and be more mature in making any decisions.
What is your vision and wish for Sabah and Malaysia?
I think for Sabah, I hope there will be more development in terms of education and also the infrastructure for the whole state because there are some people in the interior having difficulty in commuting to other places. Their road is so muddy that sometimes the motor or even car that tries to pass through will always get stuck in the mud. Even if they get stuck, there will be mud from the waist all the way to the shirt. I also heard some people actually took advantage of the situation by offering overpriced bus fare to the city. So, those are the things that I hope that can be addressed in the future.
My hope for Malaysia is that everyone is united regardless of their race, religion, or beliefs.
How would you want me to remember you or your community?
I think it’s good enough to know myself and my community itself. It doesn't really have to be a thing or an object to remember a community but it’s the people itself.
After listening to Joshua, we learned that we are very fortunate to have well-maintained roads and should be always thankful instead of taking them for granted. It is because not all Malaysians have access to these well-developed roads and other infrastructures. We are also impressed by Joshua’s passion about his cultural traditions and mother tongue. It is a shame that most of the younger generation do not know how to converse in their mother tongue or dialects, and it is a thing that we should reflect upon.
We couldn’t agree more about his vision - Malaysia cannot be truly united if its nation, which is made up of many different races, cultures, religions and so on cannot be united in the first place. We are really grateful that Joshua was willing to share his stories with us.
___ Interviewers: Rica Hiew Sheng Mei & Ivy Ng Shie Yin, facilitated by Evelyn Chen Written by: Rica Hiew Sheng Mei & Ivy Ng Shie Yin Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza