Words by Norman Harsono
Photos by Norman Harsono
Hilda Pius is a woman of Dusun ethnicity, who works at Partners of Community Organisations Trust. It is an indigenous rights advocacy group, members of Kumpulan Wanita – a local women’s organisation, and a native of Kipouvo village.
She is living in Kampung Kipouvo and collecting stories about how the village got its name, a story passed down by word of mouth. The story goes that there once was a drought in the village that left many villagers sick. But then, one day, a woman went down to the river, cut down a wild banana tree and realised that the trunk contained drinkable water. She then instructed the villagers to cut down all the banana trees in the area and use the water, thereby saving the village. In the Kadazan language, ‘Ki’ means ‘there are’ and ‘Pouvo’ is the local name for such a tree. Hence, “kipouvo”, meaning “there are banana trees”, commemorating the trees that saved the villagers.
According to a 2011 census, Kipouvo village has only 702 residents in 82 houses, most of which are built along one hilly road that winds through the mountains. The majority of them are Christians, with the exception of a few Muslims and two families that still practice an indigenous faith. This latter family is legally recognised as ‘pagans’. The village has one homestay, one public primary school, one private Community Learning Centre, one Catholic church, one basketball and football court, and two sundry shops or kedai, that also function as social meeting points for the locals. They will gather together to watch television and chat over some homemade rice wine, whilst dogs will be roaming around them.
“Dogs are very important… for security”, Hilda joked.
Hilda, wearing the grey shirt, mingles with other residents in a kedai over some homemade rice wine
The village imposes a mutually agreed-upon rule that forbids inhabitants from wandering outside of their residences past 10 pm. Hilda explained the first reason is safety as there was a recent case of theft. And, to an extent, it is also a matter of respecting those who are asleep, as she herself, who would feel uneasy if knowing there were teenagers wandering the roads at night.
Walking down Kampung Kipouvo
The second reason is to minimise “socialisation among teenagers”. The village believes that teenagers between 15-25 years of age can be easily influenced by outsiders to engage in undesirable activities, such as bike racing and gambling. She mentioned a case wherein one villager was spotted bringing home a ‘Filipino worker’ who then left the next morning. There is a general concern that if such things were discovered, it would bring shame upon, not only the man, but the entire village. She also mentioned that some ten years ago, the villagers were “heavy drinkers and heavy smokers”, until Mercy Malaysia, a health advocacy NGO, came along and educated the villagers about the health risks. She cited one death allegedly caused by the over-smoking and drinking, after which the youth of the village, would have to stay home when drinking and stay under continuous supervision of their parents.
“Even when going out together, they know their limits”, she remarked.
Rules as these are enforced by the Village Head who also has a right to directly advise the youth on how to avoid undesirable behaviour(s). However, the rules were enforced, but not created by the Head but by the villagers themselves through a consensus. The villagers would gather together, present their suggestions, and vote for or against them. “Out of more than eighty suggestions, only fourteen were agreed to be enforced”, Hilda remembered. To finalise the rules, they will summon the district officer who will then sign a written version of the rules as a witness.
Kipouvo has limited manpower and resources and, at first sight, appears as just another village. However, there is a strong sense of collectivism that has driven the villagers, especially the women, to actively try to improve the welfare of the village and the locals. They’ve successfully worked with NGOs and local government to establish a degree of autonomy, which has allowed them to tackle their own issues and develop their own infrastructure.
Norman once covered a political rally in Jakarta a news reporter. It was uneventful until a frontline protester with a serious face stared him down. After a few minutes, the protester whipped out his mobile phone and asked Norman to take a photo of him with his friends. Human behaviour fascinates Norman.