Tagal: For the Future Generation

Words by Franklin Tan
Photos by Yeong Hui Min

In history classes, those that are of Malaysian descent had always been taught on the many indigenous people that had and continue to live in the country, that could range from the Kadazandusun people to the Penan people. As noble an effort this was, the history classes had merely scratched the surface on just how significant and important the cultures of these people were. Cultures such as the one by the Kadazandusun would stress on a particular culture and tradition that they would like to call tagal.

In the dialect of the Kadazandusun people, the word tagal could be roughly translated to ‘no fishing’ but could also be ‘protection’. The main purpose of tagal is quite simple. It is to preserve the environment as well as the ecosystem as much as they can so as to allow the future generations to enjoy and reap the benefits of this. Tagal commonly revolves around areas surrounding rivers, with the fishes in them under the protection of this culture. Such fishes that benefit from this would be the Ikan Pelian in the Malay language but could also be known as the Malaysian Mahseer. These fishes come from the “Cyprinidae family”. 

Tagal is usually more prevalent in rivers that are close to villages, with each village claiming a certain section of the river for their own, usually a stretch of 1 km. According to the local people, these rivers are divided into three parts, labelled the ‘green’, ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ areas. The ‘green’ area of the river permits people to capture fish as much as they see fit whenever they please. The ‘yellow’ area allows people to catch fish but only for a certain duration of time. The ‘red’ area of the river does not allow any people to capture fish at all. 


Tagal signboardThe rules of tagal

It should be noted that many villages had trained the fishes in the ‘red’ area of the river to perform what is called as a ‘healing massage’ as the fishes would nibble at the feet of those that place their feet in the water, thereby apparently having a curative effect on some.

The local people had mentioned that there were punishments for those individuals that do not comply with these rules. It is the villagers of the nearby village that watch over and protect the river and are the ones that carry out said punishments. Those individuals that have been caught the first time will have to pay a fine of a chicken to the villagers. If these individuals continue to do so and they are caught again, they will be made to pay for a buffalo. The individuals that still fail to comply by the rules set by the villagers will finally be brought to the police for legal action. 

While the rules of tagal is strictly followed by the local people, many others have yet to do so as well, which have upset the villagers. The Moyog River unfortunately had fallen victim to such perpetrators. The locals had sought to register the river as a part of their land but they were rejected, with it later being given to businesses. A duck farm was established near the Moyog River by individuals from West Malaysia and according to the guides of the study trip, they had dumped the carcasses of the ducks into the river. The locals had complained that the water had begun to smell of dead animals. Other careless businesses had nailed the final nail into the coffin and the Moyog River had died, its rivers now gaining a permanent sediment brown colour in its once clear waters. Its fishes had long died.

Even with this indigenous culture for protecting its ecosystem has already failed once, what does it say about the rest of the world, those that do nothing to stop this death march?

While many non-governmental organisations such as PACOS Trust have strived to protect nature’s beauty, the fear is that modernisation will slowly destroy the gifts that were given to us. One of the most significant ways that the environment can be protected is through awareness of what we have done. Governments should begin to realise the significance of protecting our environments before it’s too late.

Imagine this, let’s say the birth of our planet to where we are now would be the length of time we have on a clock which is 24 hours. In that 24 hours, the birth of mankind to where we are now is only a humbling 4 seconds. In that 4 seconds of our existence out of the 24 hours of our planet’s existence, we have successfully destroyed approximately half of the Earth. Half. Let that sink in.


Tagal Kg Kibunut riverSungai Kibunut – What we can achieve, if we try


Would half want to hibernate at home with Netflix and tea but would also half want to travel the world looking for something/someone/somewhere new.


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