Monday, November 29, 2010

Returning to the Mountain

Mount Kinabalu is sacred to the Dusun communities. Gayoh Ngaran or Big Name, as the mountain is known to the Dusun, is our final resting place.

In the old days, the Dusun could hunt on the mountain and take rattan and other forest produce from the foothills. Then the white men came. They wanted to protect the mountain they said. Because everybody recognized that the mountain was sacred to the Dusun, the British officers came, along with the local authorities, and talked with the Dusun Elders from the villages on the foothills of the mountain.

The Dusun agreed to ‘give up’ the mountain as part of the park. They wanted very little in return. Only three things: they’d be allowed to continue to collect rattan; to collect forest produce; and to hunt on their ancestral ground. The authorities agreed to the requests. But in 1964 the mountain was gazetted as Kinabalu National Park. A strict ban was imposed and the villagers found that their requests had been ‘withdrawn’. The Dusun people lost their ancestral access to the mountain. There was to be no more collecting of rattan, or jungle produce. No more hunting.

Kinabalu was declared a World Heritage site a decade ago. Lured by its beauty and biodiversity, the number of  visitors has continued to increase. Last year a quarter million people, from all over the world, visited the park and of these 27,000 were willing to part with a hefty sum to experience the climb. The mountain has become a must-visit destination for paying tourists.

To the Dusun villagers it looked as though only their souls would ever reach the peak. The climbing fees are way beyond their means. Only the Dusun guides and porters have the opportunity to go up the mountain for free.

Dusun porters around 1916,  Oscar Cook
Perhaps the Dusun Elders didn’t know what they were giving up when the authorities came to talk? Perhaps nobody told them to read the fine prints? Or maybe the fine prints were added later, much later.

 For the last 50 years the Dusun Elders could only lament about how things used to be. They could only feel regret and sorrow that their own communities have no opportunity to visit the mountain.

So in March 2010, the Dusun Elders from the foothills of this majestic mountain spoke to park authorities about their great sadness and said:

"... we do not want the mountain back. It is a heritage for the world, and for that, we are proud and happy to share this mountain with everyone."

Dusun girls (Google Images)
"There is only one thing that we want."

"We would like to have one day to return to the mountain."

"Every year, each year, we want to have one day just for our communities to make a pilgrimage to the mountain. A day when no one else will be allowed to climb the mountain. A day just for our people."

The Sabah Parks Deputy Director was there and he agreed to their request.

The Return to the Mountain will take place on 3 Dec 2010. On this day, 125 community members from the villages of Kiau and Bundu Tuhan will conduct a pilgrimage to Mount Kinabalu.  The monolob ritual will be performed early in the morning. A traditional priest will slaughter seven white chickens as an offering and to seek permission from the spirits to climb the mountain. Then community members will begin their journey—a return to their mountain.

This day is going to go down in history as ‘the day the Dusun people returned to the mountain’ or Kakakapan id Gayo Ngaran.

Source: Daily Express


  1. Must be very interesting event and it is worth to watch the ritual and like very much to be there to take pictures for records. Too bad I am not that young any more otherwise I would not miss this pilgrimage. Hope there some body amongst them would be taking pictures and of course there is no worry about that.

  2. hrm...will be interesting to watch....

  3. Awesome lah! This kind of stuff should appear on National Geographics.

  4. Hi everyone! Thanks for dropping in. Yes, this is going to be one fantastic get-together for the Dusun communities. I can imagine the rituals, the offering of sacrifice and prayers and the feeling of brotherhood... like lost tribes going home, finally!