Kadazan Superstition in Sabah and Sabahan Taboo

by | Dec 13, 2017 | 0 comments

The Kadazan superstitions in Sabah, have been handed down through the generations by way of oral tradition.  The moral of many of these superstitions concern bringing good or bad luck. In addition, the superstitions in Sabah Borneo vary widely from from place to place, however, the majority are rooted in similar stories. For travelers who are interested in learning about the culture here in Borneo, this is the article for you!

Almost every culture in the world has their own set of rituals, behaviors or beliefs that were set by their own ancestor and some of it requires the need to follow or act out. In addition, these superstitions sometimes refer to any belief or practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual being, particularly the belief of future events which can be foretold through unrelated events. Some people may think superstitions is kind of irrational with the current modernization, but to some, they still practice it until today.
Here are some of the superstitions that you need to be aware of while traveling to Sabah Borneo.

1) Respecting Mount Kinabalu

Going to climb Mount Kinabalu can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience in one’s life. Apart from that, the locals in Sabah Borneo, especially the Kadazandusun tribe, believe that Mount Kinabalu is sacred to them as it is the “the revered place of the dead”.

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Mount Kinabalu climb

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Mount Kinabalu summit trail

So, if you plan to climb Mount Kinabalu, especially for the first time, these are the things that you should need to know beforehand:

  • One should not shout, curse, or make loud noises while climbing Mount Kinabalu, as to avoid bad spirits from disturbing them or whoever is climbing with them.
  • Do not pluck any plants or pick a stone from the mountain and bring it back home; locals believe (and still do!) that some plants or natural objects have “residents” in them. Taking them with you will only aggravate them and cause them to retaliate
  • Ask for permission before peeing or throwing your empty canisters; you’ll never know if the place you’re throwing has spirits roaming around there or whether it’s their home you’re invading

2) Hunting in Borneo Jungle 

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Wild Boar hunting. Photo by: Kenneth Sorento

In the olden days, it is believed that when a man is going for hunting in Borneo Jungle for food, he will need to be very careful when having spotted a snake. This is because if the man meets a snake along his path, he will need to turn back home. Moreover, meeting a snake is a bad sign, and if the man continues further to hunt, he will not catch anything or worse, get hurt.

3) Sogit 

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Sogit can be in form of livestock, agricultural produce such as tajau or gongs. Photo by: Rabani HM. Ayub

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Kadazandusun ritual by a group ofg Bobohizan or Shaman to appease the mountain spirit. Photo by: Arkitrek.com

Sogit is a Kadazandusun term which means penalty or fine, it is also considered as “peace-offering”. Imposing a Sogit depends on what kind of mistake that particular individual did, such as fighting, indecent acts, and so forth. In addition, Sogit is usually in form of livestock, agricultural produce, or items such as knives, machetes, tajau (crock), or gongs. The Sogit is dependant on how serious the individual’s offense is; the heavier the offence, the heavier or bigger the penalty will be. For example, if a man were to marry a woman who is of far relations to them (3rd cousin from either parent’s side), they will need to cut a whole pig and offer the whole village a portion of the cooked pork as compensation as well as to wash away all the bad luck that might hit them in the future (both future bride and groom cannot eat the pork however).
In 2015, there was an Earthquake in Sabah Borneo, which caused death to 18 innocent people. The locals believed that this event was caused by the indecent behaviors of a group of tourists, which angered the mountain spirits (the tourist undressed and were butt naked on the Summit; indecency overkill). The locals were enraged and believed it was the spirits being angry when the earthquake happened. The tourists were caught and was imposed with Sogit, in which the tourists have to pay 10 heads of Buffalo, in order to appease the mountain spirits for their awful behavior.

4) Funeral 

Kadazandusun tribe believed that when someone died in a certain village, everyone must be informed. Thus, nobody should do any kind of work on the day of the funeral (eg: planting rice). They believed that doing any work during this occasion will bring misfortune and disrespect to the deceased. Apart from that, the body will be placed in the house for 3 days before the burial and the occupants in the house must stay awake to accompany the body because they believed that a devil which disguise in form of a large bird will fly away with the body. Some also believed that the spirit of the dead is still wandering around the house for the last time, so by keeping awake will show some respect to the dead. Thus, whoever fall asleep will be doused with water and they should not be offended by it.

Moreover, no cats are not allowed to be near to the dead body. This is to prevent the cats to jump over the body, which Kadazandusun believed that the dead body will awaken but obviously possessed by an evil spirit.

5) Moths/ Butterfly fly into the house 

Superstitions Sabah Borneo

Huge moth outside the house. Photo by: the longerthebetter

Some locals in Sabah Borneo believed that when a big moth flies into the house in the middle of the night, it is actually a spirit of their recently departed relatives coming for a visit. The old folks will advise not to chase the moth out from the house or kill it, as a way to respect their departed relatives’ spirit.

Apart from that, the locals also believed that when moths/ butterflies came flying into the house during the day, it means the house owner will be expecting guests, either from a long-lost relatives or friends, coming to the house.

6) Tapun  

For Kadazandusun people, the concept Tapun is basically about food and it is still practiced until now. There is no easy word to describe the word Tapun, but it is the locals’ way of saying this word when they could not eat some food that they thought about or when offered by others. By saying the word Tapun, they can avoid any harm when going out from the house.

7) Other Superstitious  

There is also a minor superstitious which some Kadazandusun people still believe until today. Such as, whistling at night is prohibited, because it will invite the devil in a form of a snake to come. Apart from that, children are not allowed to point the rainbows using their fingers, because if they do, their fingers will be bent and become stiff.

Picnic by the river in Borneo Jungle can be so much fun and excitement, however, Kadazandusun people believed that some of the food must be “shared” with the guardians of the place before they eat, in order to avoid getting sick when they return home.

Such superstitions among Kadazandusun tribe in Sabah Borneo is not all that bad, but it is best to have some of the knowledge of the superstitious and do respect it. Moreover, it would make your trip to Sabah Borneo much more interesting after knowing some of the superstitious, and it can be a good story to share with your family and friends back in your hometown! 

Get to know more about Kadazan tribe, one of the major indigenous groups in Sabah.

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