Truth Be Told

Words by Yeo Li-Sha
Photos by Yeo Li-Sha

  • The word ‘Tapun’ by the Dusun people (Interviewed Gordon from PACOS)

Tapun’ is a sacred word used by the Dusun people to decline food politely when offered in order to avoid any bodily injuries by the evil spirits. They believe that if you or reject a meal without saying ‘Tapun’ you will face physical harm, such as falling down the road.

So the way of using ‘Tapun’ is that when you are offered food and you are not hungry, kindly decline the offer by gently touching the tip of the food or the tip of the plate and say ‘Tapun’.


  • Blood sucking demons *for women who are menstruating* (Interviewed Janice from St Ireneus)

There have been varying stories regarding women’s menses and how it is spiritually cleansing the body because by discarding ‘dirty blood’ from the body. Or another argument would be women’s menses are ‘dirty’ (spiritually, because of the blood being removed from the body).

The villagers in Ranau believe that when women change their soiled pads, it is essential to wash all the blood off the pad first before discarding it. It is said that if soiled pads are discarded without cleaning it, it will attract a blood sucking evil spirit that feeds on the unwashed blood from soiled pads. Regardless of the results after feeding on your period blood, it is simply unsettling to have spirits lurking around your house let alone drinking your period blood. 


  • The usage of ‘bahasa hutan’ aka forest language (Interviewed Sintiah Samanding from PACOS)

People of many faiths do believe that there are spirits that lurk around in nature especially in forests. There are many different taboos such as calling a person’s name in the forest because it may attract unwanted attention of the evil spirits onto the person being called.  People believe that if one obtains the true name of another person, they have full possession over them. The same applies if evil spirits in the forests obtain a person’s true name, they have possession over him/her.

In Sabah, according to our guide Sintiah, it is necessary to use only forest language throughout the whole journey when one is in the forest, be it hiking or simply passing through. The forest language is used not only for communication among human beings (to allow the spirits to understand the conversation) and to ‘communicate’ with them and not to upset them.

Forest language is a system of communication used particularly to communicate with the forest spirits when one is in the forest.

Two examples of the forest language provided by Sintiah:

  1. Dumuwom – Meaning eat or to eat.
  2. Taram dilat– Meaning salt.

Furthermore, an essential procedure before entering the forest is to inform the ‘forest protector’ of your presence in the forest and to seek protection from them to prevent any unfortunate incidents. The procedure involves a spoken speech in forest language before the journey begin.

There was once a case where an anonymous traveller did not obey the rules and had gotten lost in the forest. Fortunately a village leader sought forgiveness from the spirits on the traveller’s behalf (in forest language), and successfully resulted in the traveller walking out from the forest safely. 


  • Dreaming of a beautiful girl (Interviewed Alexander, Mount Kinabalu guide)

Dreaming of a beautiful girl does not sound scary at all. In fact, it should be romantic because it involves a beautiful girl in your dream.  You thought wrong, because this dream involves a beautiful girl who gives you nightmares every night.

Alexander recalled the story of John (*not his real name), who removed a stone while hiking up Mount Kinabalu and took it home for decorative purposes. Ever since he removed the stone, the same beautiful girl appeared in his dreams every night, but unfortunately it was NEVER a sweet dream. He had nightmares with the same girl in it every night and to make matters worse, he fell sick.  After a month or two of hellish nightmares, he went back to Mount Kinabalu and told the villagers about the incident. Turns out his nightmare episodes were because he removed a stone from Mount Kinabalu. The only way to stop his nightmares was to place the stone back in its original place – which he did – and the torment stopped.  According to the villagers, everything in the forest is sacred and not to be removed or mishandled otherwise there will be punishments.  Remember take only photos, leave only footsteps.   


Whether to believe these stories or, it is up to you to decide.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows, waffles and dance feeds that fiery determination to achieve greatness in Li-Sha. Greatness in puns and pranks that lights up the room.





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