Sabah folklore, legends and superstition have been mainly handed down generations by way of Oral Tradition. Version of each folklore, legends and superstition could vary from generation to generation or from place to place.
Sabah itself is endowed with a rich Oral Tradition in folklore, legends and superstition as we have so many ethnic groups, more than 50 enthonlinguistic groups. The largest being the Kadazandusun, Bajau, and Murut. Each of them have their own folktales, legends and superstitions.
In recent years efforts have been made to record these oral tradition into books so we could share them with our younger generation. In the olden days of course, we were fortunate to have our grandparents, who would sit and tell us stories.
As a tourist guide, you would be ask legends of places of interest and the superstition of the native of Sabah. Therefore, it is important that you have some knowledge of folk tales, legends and superstition at your fingertips to tell to the tourist to make their stay more Interesting.
Some of the famous place tourist can visit is of course Mount Kinabalu, the Hot Spring, Tambunan, Batu Punggol and so on.
Knowing the people in Sabah would be an added advantage when visiting many places especially in the interior or perhaps even near the cities and town where some of the natives live. For the purpose of some minor introduction of Sabah, hereunder are some selected subject that might be of interest.
Origin of the Kadazan/Dusun
The Kadazan/Dusun have a legend of their origin. As my own father told me, the origin of his forefathers were from a place called Nunuk Ragang. This legend was handed down orally by his forefathers down to his children till today.
It was said that the Kadazan/Dusun people originated from a place called ‘Nunuk Ragang’ which is roughly located at Tampias, where two rivers, Liwagu and Gelibang meet to the east of Ranau and Tambunan.
Nunuk is a Dusun word for ‘Bayan Tree’, Ragang comes from the word ‘Aragang’ which means red. Nunuk look like giant that provide good natural shelters. It’s tree top was estimated to be able to shelter under seven Kadazan/Dusun huts (a hut measure 12 by 20 feet).
It’s numerous branches and giant thick foliage provide for ideal shelter and playground of wild life; bird, insect and even spirit according to local belief. When the sun rose the Nunuk Ragang settlers would climb to the branches of the Nunuk tree to bask in the sun and then enjoy plunging into the great cool river pool below. It was believed that the roots of the Nunuk tree produce red latex that gave the pool not only reddish coloration but also its medicinal value. Thus the name Nunuk Ragang. Nunuk latex is still used to treat rashes andother minor skin diseases.
These early inhabitant at Nunuk Ragang lived a care free life enjoying the abundant richness of nature that surrounded them.
It was also related in the lagend that the Chinese adventures from Kinabatangan and Labuk areas had their first encounter the Kadazan/Dusun.
A marriage between one of the Chinese heroes and the daughter of the Kadazan/Dusun cheif soon followed. The dowry were said to be of 7 huge jars plus copper and silver wares.
As time went on, the population increased, making food hard to get nearby. The Nunuk Ragang began to bend lower and lower into the river. The chief then instructed his men to look for new settlement. Thus river tributaries became the principle guide to the direction of travelling. Each group followed different tributaries of the river, thus it is found today that Kadazan/Dusun are found mainly along rivers and hills.
Each group formed their own long-house for unity and strength against wild beast and intrusion by other communal groups. As they spread westward that Kadazan/Dusun met the brunei and other settlers of West. The advent of the Bajau referred to by the old flok as ‘Sama’.
The early Kadazan/Dusun never actually had name for themselves as a tribal people. Wherever they settles, they were named according to the natural significant of a place, be it trees, rivers, landscape or even peculiar or significant occurrence.
The word ‘Dusun’ is a Brunei Malay word for an orchard or those who plant crop in the inland. Later then the British adopted the word ‘Dusun’ to describe the native people.
The people however were related that their early predesseor from China namely ‘Lo Sun’ and company, the chinese immgrant adopted the ‘Dusun’ name for the tribal people.
However, the word Kadazan was adopted in the early 60’s by the educated Kadazan to liberate themselves from the word Dusun. But however, some people still prefer to call themselves Dusun and therefore the KDCA has made a resolution to use both names Kadazan/Dusun.
The Legend of Mount Kinabalu
The Mount Kinabalu being a significant feature in the life of the early Kadazan/Dusun, also has a variety of legend and superstitions attached to it.
One of popular legends of Mount Kinabalu is about the dragon who lived at the top of Mount Kinabalu, who was said to have a ‘Butiza’, a lunimous jewel a bezoar stone, which he used as his lamp and plaything.
On moonlight night the people of Ranau and Tamparuli places would look up at Kinabalu and they saw the bright gem being tossed up and caught again and again on the dragon’s forked tongue.
The story about this dragon luminous jewel, spred beyond the seas, even as far as China. The Emperor who heard about it was determined to get possessions of the jewel. He send away of his best warriors to get it but all in vain. Till, he finally decided tosend his two sons, Wong Wang Kong, the elders, and Wong Song Ping, the younger brother. The brothers sent in their own junk equipped with men.
When they finally reached Borneo and came to Kinabalu Mountain, they found out that it was such a difficult task. The elder brother was disappointed with their futile attempt but the younger brother was working on his strategy to take the jewel.
He first made a colourful Chinese lantern and lighting a candle inside. It glowed like a fabulous gem. He then made a giant kite with light string but the strongest cords. Then he waited for a soft breeze. But as he waited we watched and learned from far below the habit of the dragon. He learned that at a certain hour, the dragon would leave his jewel unguarded to look for food. Then the right moment came for him when the wind was right and the dragon went to look for food.
He mounted on the kite himself with his lantern and ask his men to hold the ropes and ordered the kite to be launched. The kite rose up till it reached the mouth of the dragon cave and quickly he grabbed the gem and substitute it with his gleaming lantern. As a signal, the kite was hauled back and Wong Song Ping was back into his ship. When the dragon returns, he soon found out that he has been tricked. Quickly he swam toward the junks at unbelievable speed. The men thought they were about to perish when Wong Song Ping had another bright idea. He ordered his men to heat up canon balls until it red hot. When the dragon drew near, it opened his terrible mouth to seize his victims, the men flung towards him the glowing balls. Surprised and absessed by his longing for his gleaming plaything, the dragon thrust out his tongue, caught and swallowed one of the glowing balls. Lashing the water to a white froth with his frenzied tail, his stomach seared by the heat and heavy with the iron within him, the dragon dropped behind until exhaused gave up his pursuit and sank below the waters.
When everything was calmed and the two junks sailed happily on towards China. Just as they are about the reach China, the eldest brother who was consumed with jealousy for not being the one to capture the ‘bezoar stone’, told his brother that being eldest he should be the one to have and present it to their father. Without much hesitation, he seized the jewel from his younger brother. But the younger brother being an unselfish man let him have his way.
When they reached China and went up to their father, it Wong Wang Kong who told of their successful mission, their hardship and danger and nothing about Wong Song Ping cleverness in taking the stone and saving their lives. However, the emperor was wise man and know his sons well when he saw the change in the younger son’s face. He guessed much of what had happened and was sorry for it.
Secretly, he ordered his first jeweller to make a replica of the gem and gave it to his younger son. However, his son knew that this was not his bezoar. He therefore decide to leave China in order to avoid a fight against his brother.
That night he reloaded his junk with his men and set sailed. He did not care where he went, he just let the monsoon take him where it blew. He finally at a river mouth on the coast of Brunei and there they anchored.
When the Sultan of Brunei heard of his arrival he send his brother to receive him. There they exchanged gift and felt between them. Wong Song Ping decided to stay on in Brunei and when his friendship with the Sultan, Halah Batatar, deepen Wong Song Ping asked for the hand of the Sultan beautiful daughter in marriage. The Sultan readily consented to the marriage and great feast and rejoicing were held throughout the land.
Through the years that followed, the Sultan saw all the wise and courageous things that his son-in-law did, his trust and affection for him grow. He therefore decided that be became his successors after his death. So Wong Song Ping, Prince of China, slayer of the dragon of Kinabalu became the second Sultan of Brunei, who ruled wisely and well.
Mount Kinabalu as a Resting Place
The early Kadazan/Dusun also used to believe that when a person dies, the soul will go up to Mount Kinabalu to rest. It is therefore advisable that whenever one wants to climb the mountain, an offering must be made to the ‘pogigion’ or those dwellers around Kinabalu or something bad will befall on you.
When I first climb the mountain in 1976, my mother told me not to say anything about going up there because the sprit would come to know of my intention and something terrible might happen.
“When you are climbing,” she said, “You must walk silently. Do not pluck anything or those dwellers will follow you home and make you sick”.
The Legend of Batu Punggol
Batu Punggol or stone stump is a stone which stands firmly and has the shape of a tree trunk. This stone is situated about 24 miles from the Sapulot airstrip. It is about 400 feet high and has a circumference of about one miles.
If you are bringing tourist to visit this place, here is a legend about this stone.
The Muruts say that once there were six brothers who only one sister.she was most beautiful girl in the village at that time and they loved her very much. During thet time, before Batu Punggol appeared in the world, there was one stone which had a similar shape as Batu Punggol situated out the upper Sapulut river. On top this stone there was an animal called ‘Tudoh’ or Skunk whichproduced sting odour that could that could kill hundreds of people who stayed near the stone. These six brothers and their sister hated this animal so much they planned to kill it.
One morning, without thinking about their plan, they decided to cut the stone, but their attempt failed. During the night their sister dreamed that they could destroy the stone only by using ‘tulang dayong’ or shoulder blade, that was present in ‘Landak Tunggal’ or Porcupine which lived in that area. The next morning she told her dream to her brothers. After they had heard their sister’s story they went straight away to the forest to make a trap for catching the animal. At first they used a big log to trap the animal but again they failed. At last they found a new method o catch the animal by using a banana tree. This time they managed to catch the animal and slaughter it.
They ate the meat and then fixed the bones together and make them into an axe for cutting the stone.
Before they cut down the stone they put their sister on one of the stones which were not far away from them. The stone which the six brother cut down fell into the Sapulot river but the stone on which they had put their sister taller and taller. When they turned back to see their sister they were very surprised to see her on the top of the stone crying for help. With angry blows they cut the stone down. The peak of the stone broke and was believed to have been thrown all the way to Tenom Lama, and it is now called Batu Pinuto. This stone can be found between Tenom and Pangi, and the train passes through a tunnel in the stone.
But the six brothers could not find where their beloved in order to look for the lost sister.
The other version of the stories can be found in the KPD’s brochures.
Every race in the world holds its own superstitions. The natives of Sabah believe in many superstitions which we find hard to believe nowadays. Superstitions mostly concern the bringing about of good or bad luck.
When a man is on his way to the jungle to hunt wild pigs or birds for food, he will be very careful not to meet a snake. If a snake suddenly moves across his path he will turn back home, for he believes that if he goes on he will not catch anything.
When it rains during sunny days, young children, especially when going outdoors, must slip a piece of lalang grass behind their ears. This is because during this time devils are about wandering and playing in the rain, and if one happens to walk about and be seen by them, they will disturb him and make him ill. But if one has a blade of grass behind one’s ears, one will not be harmed, for the devils this piece of grass appears to be like a sharp sword and they will not dare to come near.
When clearing the jungle to build a house, first an offering will be made on he sport, especially when a big tree is nearby. This is like an offer of respect or a sign of asking for permission. The offering usually consists of a pig, a white chicken and rice. The pig and the chicken will first be killed. After the house has been built and occupied, if then a member of the family falls ill, it is believed that the devil is still there. He is given a second offering and if after that the patient does not get better, the people will move to another place.
It is also believed to be bad luck if one stumbles on a stone or a piece of wood on the road; if one continues to walk one will meet danger. To avoid this the person must turn back and walk forward once again. This is called ‘kasadu’ or stumbling; the Malay word is ‘tesandung’.
If a person sneezes it is believed that someone is saying his name. In the case of young people they are teased that their lovers are thinking of them.
Young children are forbidden to point at rainbows; if they do, their fingers will be bent and become stiff. If the rainbow is very low behind the hills, it is believed that a tragic accident will happen.
Young men are not allowed to whistle during the night, because this will invite the devils to come.
If someone is sweeping and accidentally touches someone else’s leg or part of the body, he must spit on the broom in order to be clear of the bad luck from the broom.
Whenever you are picnicking by a river in the jungle, example at Kionsom Waterfalls, be sure to ‘throw’ some food to the guardians of the place before you eat your food, becouse you’ll be ill when you return.
If someone offers you food just before you leaves their house, you must take it. If not you will be ‘kopunan’ or something bad will happen to you on your way.
During pregnancy, a women must care not to ridicule any animals or handicapped person. It is believed that the baby may be born with such traits.
Besides the superstitions of the natives mention above, one of the interesting things that you could relate to tourist is the native’s beliefs in animal charms. For it is amazing to know how they make good use of these animals and the belief that animals have magic powers which could bring them luck.
Take for example, the gecko or house lizard. Usually it has only one tail. But if by chance it is branched, then try to catch it because it is supposed to bring luck if you are a gambler. When you catches it one must try not to break the tail or the charms will be lost.
The charm of a snake is probably the most outstanding of all animal charms. It is said to have the power of making a person invisible. Look for a snake that is just casting off its skin. Take hold of its tail and wait until the snake moves away. Immediately after that, tie the abandoned skin around the waist. It will make the user invisible, whenever he wants to be. A soldier to have this around him make him fight courageously without fear of death.
A gambler may also look for snake who is half swallowing a frog or rat. If he is brave enough he will chop off the snake’s head with its victim and keep it. But the half swallowed creature should never be pulled out, otherwise the value will be lost forever. This charm can also be used when running long distances.
The next charmer is the mousedeer or the ‘Pelanduk’. Normally, a pelanduk has no horns. It therefore sound unusual that a hunter is always on the look-out for a horned mousedeer. If he is lucky indeed and find one, in order to shoot it he has to take off all his clothing quietly. The carcass must then be left rot for a few days before the little horn can be taken. This precious little horn is said serve as a valuable omulet. It will make the user invisible. He will not be harm by any weapon or bullet. However, before using it, it is advisable to try the charm on any living thing. This is a precaution because the charm might not work.
If you want to have the strength or energy for running or for field events, try catching a centipede chasing after a lizard. Immediately catch both and put them into a bamboo container. Let them be there for a day or two to die until only their skeletons are left. After that wrap them in a piece of black cloth. Tie it around the arm or the waist. Anyone who has it is supposed to move like wind.
It is also belief that during childbirth, a certain evil spirit known as ‘belan-belan’ will come to suck the mother’s blood. So to prevent its from smelling the blood of the mother a tail of a shark should be kept in order to protect the newborn baby and the mother. Some branches of the lime tree should also be hang around the house. A large fire lit beside it.
If you have cats, watch out for a kitten with a spotted fur, which is ofter black, white and yellow in colour. Normally, either male or female cats do not have spotted furs. However, if a spotted female kitten if found, the owner certainly has all the luck she can hope for !
Folktales, legend and superstitions formed part of the Oral Tradition of the native people of Sabah. It is therefore of importance to have some knowledge of the above and relate them in your own words to the visitors. These are part of things that will make their stay as well as the places and people they visit more interesting.
SABAH STATE ARCHIVES