Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sabah...

Introduction

People
Sabah's population is heterogeneous and culturally diverse, with more than 30 different ethnic races and over 80 local dialects spoken. Traditions and customs have long been part of our daily lives. Most of it has survived for eons; others have barely endured, touched by other influences that have led others yet to be forgotten altogether.

Food
Malaysia is a land of diverse cultures and interests. You will come across numerous groups of people, tribes and clans settled in different parts of the country. There are a number of states in Malaysia that have their own unique charm, characteristics and food preferences. Malay food is very popular in Sabah especially around breakfast time. The traditional Malay dish of Satay is also popular here. Street food or hawker food is also very popular in Sabah just like any other state in Malaysia. These hawkers serve everything varying from a number of local dishes as well as Italian cuisine. Most hawkers however concentrate on rice and noodle dishes which are enjoyed by one and all. Chinese food is also very popular here because of a large presence of Chinese people in most parts of Sabah. The popular Cantonese dish known as Dim Sum are very popular and also in its varied forms. A variety of Indian dishes are also on offer in Sabah. There are a number of North Indian restaurants which are very popular and offer a complete dining experience. Western food can also be found all over Sabah but it is always a good idea to pick and choose a restaurant serving Western Cuisine. This is because the quality may not be the same that you are looking for.

Festivals
For the most part, festivals and holidays in Sabah are in line with the rest of Malaysia. However, there are a few regional celebrations that you can only find here. Outstanding among these is the Pesta Kaamatan Festival, a traditional production held every May by the Dusun and Kadazan tribes in honour of the harvest—a great time to sample local dishes and take in some traditional dancing.

Sabah... The people

With around 32 indigenous groups in Sabah, one can expect to see tribal dresses of various styles. Most of these have retained much of their original design and color.
Many of these traditional costumes are of black material, and one of the reasons for using such a sombre color is that in the past, the people could rely on a few types of vegetables and plants from which to extract dye to color the cloth. If they needed to add color to the black, beads of red, orange, white and green were sewn on.
Traditional costumes also included antique bead necklaces and belts, antique hand-engraved silver jewellery, and belts of old silver dollar coins. Most of these accessories have been handed down from generation to generation. All are very valuable and priceless.

The Kadazandusun

This Kadazandusun is the largest ethnic in Sabah and is predominantly wet rice and hill rice cultivators. Their language belongs to the Dusunic family and shares a common animistic belief system with various customs and practices. They beliefs on the verity that everything has life - the rocks, trees, and rivers are all living things.
They have souls and spirits that must be appeased from time to time through specific rituals.

Customs & Beliefs
Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival is a unique celebration of Kadazandusun society. It's a celebration to honour the Rice Spirit - Bambaazon or Bambarayon and giving thanks for yet another bountiful year. The festival begins on the first of May at many district levels. The rites and customs of the Pesta Kaamatan is a tribal practice of Kadazandusun and also Murut peoples. The Bobohizan or Bobolian who are the High Priests or Priestesses (depending on the district/area undertaking the preservation) will conduct the ritual. In different districts, the priests or priestesses may be addressed to differently, for instance in Tambunan district they are known as Bobolian, in Tuaran as Tantagas and in Penampang as Bobohizan.
The homecoming of Babaazon is an integral part of the Harvest Festival. Ancient folklore tells of the ultimate deed of Kinoingan or Minamagun - The Almighty God or Creator, who sacrificed his only beloved daughter, Huminodun so that his people would have food. Various parts of her body were planted from which plants grew. During the Magavau ceremony, the Bobohizan will select some stalks of rice that are left undistributed until the harvest is over. The task of Bobohizan is to search and salvage the lost Bambaazon who are hurt or separated from the main mystical body. In the old days, this ceremony was often performed in freshly harvested fields during the first full moon after the harvest to invoke the rice spirit.
The highlight of Pesta Kaamatan is the selection of the pageant queen or "Unduk Ngadau" which can be literally translated as "Zenith of the Sun". It conceptually derives from the sacrifice of Huminodun. The maiden who has the honour of being selected should bear semblance to Huminodun and will represent all that is virtuous in the revered Huminodun.

The Bajau

The Kota Belud Bajau Horseman are the famous Cowboys of the East. During special occasions, the Bajau Horseman wears a black, sometimes white, long-sleeved shirt called badu sampit . Smart, gold buttons betawi run down the front opening and the shirt is also decorated with silver flowers called intiras .
The trousers are more tight-fitting than the bajau bridegroom's seluar sama . The horseman's seluar sampit is balck, and both the shirt and trousers have gold lace trimmings sewn on. He also wears a headpiece podong similar to the Bajau bridegroom's.
The Bajau horseman wears a silver-hilted dagger karis at his side. The sheath is made of wood and silver. He also carries a spear bujak and a shipping crop pasut .
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Bajau horseman is his horse, or rather pony. It has its own costume and is more gaily dressed than the rider. The ourfit kain kuda almost completely covers the pony except for holes for the eyes and nose. This cloth is tied around the pony's legs to keep it in place.
The saddle sila-sila is not like the cowboy saddles of the West but rather a smaller piece of buffalo hide so shaped to fit the pony's back. A thick piece of cloth lapik is placed under the sila-sila .
Antique brass bells seriau , colourful reins tingalu and bridle kakang all make for a very festive pony costume. In all their finery, both ride and pony become quite an attraction.

The Rungus

The Rungus living in the Kudat district are known to have maintained their ancient traditions to this day. Even the traditional ladies costume has not many changes made to it. Some of the women still wear costumes made from cloth processed form hand-grown and hand-spun cotton.
The design of the Rungus costume is simple. A black cloth with little hand-stitched patterns worn from the chest to the waist becomes the blouse ( banat tondu ) and the skirt is a knee-length sarong (tapi rinugading) of the same material. Another length of black cloth, about 28-30 cms. Wide is slipped over the head and it rests on the shoulders draped over the arms like sleeves.
What makes this outfit very interesting is the belts and necklaces that go with it. Little brass rings and antique beads looped through thin strands of stripped bark ( togung ) becomes a wide and colourful hipband called orot. To wear this, the orot is slowly and carefully coiled around the hip. Then a last string of beads ( lobokon ) is hung loosely from the coil. The orot is hand made by the Rungus men as the technique is known only to them.
The Rungus are also well-known for their beadwork and the costume shows off some of their finest. Two shoulders bands ( pinakol ), about 6 to 8 cms wide are aworn diagonally over each shoulder and cross over in front. The bead-work often tell a story and this one in particular tells of a man going spear-hunting for a riverine creature. Usually the pattern must follow ancient designs when worn with this costume.
Long antique bed necklace ( sandang ) are also worn diagonally over the shoulders. These necklaces often include ivory-white discs, obtained from the shell of the kima ( tridachna gigas ) as well as animal bones.
Several necklaces of reddish-brown glass beads and the chocker-like suldau with the white kima as the centre-piece further adorn this costume. The large burambun and the smaller giring are antique brass bells that sound with the slightest movement.
The Rungus lady's hair is combed into a bun and a multi-coloured floral head-piece ( titimbok ) is worn. A thin band of beads strung together ( sisingal ) is tied around the forehead and then pieces of cloth sewn together in rows to form colorful pigtails ( rampai ) are tided at the nape.
This costume, with all the beads and belts, is worn during festivals. Rungus ritual specialist also wear the complete outfit when conducting rituals.

The Murut

Being one of the largest indigenous groups in Sabah, Murut comprise of subgroups such as Baukan, Gana', Kalabakan, Okolod, Paluan, Sulangai, Serudung, Tagal, Timugon and the Beaufort and Keningau Murut. Literally "Murut" means "hill people". They inhibit the interior and southeastern parts of Sabah and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak borders. They are mostly shifting cultivators and hunters with some riverine fishing. Those of Murut origin speak 15 languages and 21 dialects. The language commonly used and understood by the large majority is Tanggal. Their language is also related to the Kadazandusun languages.
Once feared as fearless headhunters and longhouse dwellers, the Murut these days have abandoned much of their age-old traditions especially headhunting. They are also very skilled in hunting with blowpipe.
Customs & Beliefs
In the by-gone era, collecting heads of enemies served a very precise function in Murut society. A man can only get married after he has presented at least one head that he has hunted to the family of the desired girl. Heads also play a very important role in spiritual beliefs.
The essence of Murut tradition of feasts is distinctive. No merrymaking will end at least until sunrise and can last up to seven days later. This is especially the case with weddings or funerals. Through modernization, no more heads must be furnished for weddings but jars along with cloth, beads, gold and ivory bracelets have taken its place. All these dowry items will be proudly displayed at the ceremony. Jars or "sampa" holds a prominent status in their customs. The Murut know the age of sampa and treat them will due respect. Jars are also a place of spirits. Beads play an integral role in Murut life. Wedding beads must be presented in the form of belts, necklaces, headgear and decoration. The wedding ceremony must be held in the bride's longhouse, tapai or rice wine must be served and all the meat has to be pickled.
The Murut keep the bodies of their deceased in a jar and place them in colourful and elaborately decorated grave-huts along with the deceased's belongings. The body will be placed in the foetal position inside the jar and a gong will be placed over the mouth of the jar to close it. However this custom of burial is becoming rare with the availability of wooden coffins.

Sabah... The Festivals

Sabah's indigenous peoples celebrate their colourful past and present in festivals of music, dance and food that are uniquely theirs. All the major religions of the world are practiced here and this blend of religious and cultural celebrations mixes so brilliantly to create an atmosphere of harmony and unity with an unmistakable Sabah flavour and charm.

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