KOTA KINABALU: The Dusun community in Bundu Tuhan and Kiau will make a pilgrimage to Mount Kinabalu on Dec 3, a journey that will symbolize a return to their sacred mountain.
After more than forty years since Kinabalu Park was gazetted and more recently, as a World Heritage Site, the indigenous people in the areas feel ‘separated’ from what was once their ancestral domain and the final resting place of the departed souls. The pilgrimage, which is jointly collaborated between the Kinabalu Council of Elders and Sabah Parks, is hoped to launch what would become an annual affair where the community gets one day in a year to return to their sacred mountain they once referred to as ‘Gayo Ngaran’ (the big name).
“We know that this mountain in now a heritage for the world and we’re proud of it. But all we’re asking for is just one day for our community to make our pilgrimage,” said Johnny Ghani, a community activist from Bundu Tuhan.
The community from the two areas has sought for permission to have the park closed for just one day in a year for them to perform the pilgrimage. It is learnt that due to climbing bookings already made by climbers in advanced their request might not be possible this year. But they hope that when the event becomes an annual affair, their request for one-day closure could be allowed. Johnny explained that the pilgrimage is particularly for the benefit of their younger generation.
“Before the area was gazetted as a park, villagers here were free to go to the jungle to find natural resources for their livelihood. They can’t do it now…Although it’s good to see how this area has developed especially in tourism, people probably are not aware that many of our children have never climbed the mountain because they couldn’t afford the fees even at discounted rates,” he said.
He added that it is not only about climbing the mountain but more significantly about a tradition that was once closely connected to the mountain. “Our younger generation has lost that connection,” he lamented.
Negotiations to gazette Kinabalu Park began in 1962 between the British and local officers as well as the community members from Kiau and Bundu Tuhan. After full consent from the communities to ‘give up’ the mountain, the matter became official in 1964. However the community asked to be allowed to have access into the park to harvest rattans, collect forest products and to hunt only to learn later that such activities were strictly prohibited.
In 2000 Kinabalu Park was declared a World Heritage Site after being globally acknowledged as a biodiversity hotspot. It is also a major tourism destination where in 2009 more than 25,000 people visited the park and 47,000 climbed the mountain, the highest peak in South East Asia.
It is said that the number of people who had climbed the mountain that year was more than four times that of the thirty one indigenous communities located along its southeastern foothills.
Some elders in the community claim that many Dusun youths growing up in the shadow of the mountain perceive it as a peak for tourists to climb and park rangers to patrol. Some of these youths have access to the mountain because they work as guides and porters.
On the day of the pilgrimage – called ‘kakakapan id Gayo Ngaran’ – some 125 community members from Bundu Tuhan and Kiau will participate during which several traditional rituals will also be performed to seek permission from the spirits.
For Sabah Parks deputy director, Dr Jamili Nais, the event will be a significant one for the indi-genous people in Kinabalu in line with an ongoing worldwide movement to re-establish connection between indigenous communities and their sacred sites.
“In the old days there was a spiritual element that existed between the mountain and the people. Now their access is limited as the park is owned by the global community,” he told New Sabah Times in a telephone interview Sunday.
Jamili said that Sabah Parks however agreed to the community’s proposal to organise the pilgrimage and will support the initiative in view of its value in preserving a tradition closely connected to the mountain.
Meanwhile, Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) Regional Coordinator for South East Asia, Dr Agnes Agama, described the initiative as a way forward in preserving elements of biodiversity in Sabah which include the cultural tradition of the people that is connected to the land and natural resources.
“I’m glad they brought up the idea. It’s a show of goodwill on the part of Sabah Parks and for the community, a desire to preserve their tradition for the benefit of their future generation,” she said.
(Source: New Sabah Times, 09 Nov 2010)