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’.


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Takkan Lari Gunung Dikejar, Hilang Kabut Nampaklah Dia

Words by Chrishandra Sebastiampillai
Photos by Hamza Delbar and Chrishandra Sebastiampillai

*Malay proverb: A mountain that is chased won’t run, when the fog clears it will be seen. Don’t rush to chase a certainty.

It all started in Kampung Kiau in 1851 when two local Kadazan-Dusun men, Gunting Lagadan of Bundu Tuhan and Lemaing of Kg. Kiau, led Sir Hugh Low on a nine-day trek up Gunung Kinabalu. Years later, the summit of the mountain would be named for the colonial administrator and an industry of climbers would follow; providing a livelihood for generations of Kadazan-Dusun men and women, working as mountain guides and porters. The sight of tiny women skipping agilely along the trail, in rain or shine, with gas tanks strapped to their backs and wearing cheap rubber slippers are a common and mind-boggling sight to the struggling climber. As a child, I lived briefly and happily in Sabah for a time while my father was posted to a government department in Kota Kinabalu. And even in the short time I was in Kundasang, I experienced a minor earthquake while staying in Kinabalu Park.

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Dusun Women’s Traditional Costumes: Then And Now

Words by Yeong Hui Min
Photos by Yeong Hui Min

**Please note that terms used are in the Dusun language. Some items are named differently in other native languages.

Girls costumes groupA group of Dusun girls in traditional costumes of different tribes posing in a group photo

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Koonduan Kiau Nuluh Enterprise: Saving Livelihood, One Pineapple Jam Bottle a Time

Words by Hannah Reshma and Nanna Dybdal
Photos by Yeo Li-Sha and Hannah Reshma

When the earthquake struck the village of Kampung Kiau Nuluh in 2015, claiming the lives of 18, the villagers’ livelihood was also significantly impaired. Ms Aireen Gumbih, the head of production at the pineapple jam and chutney processing centre, reveals that the trauma from the quake had disenfranchised women from farming, as they were plagued with the fright that another earthquake might occur. In the aftermath of this tragedy, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other organizational bodies came to the aid of the villagers, attempting to re-establish their livelihood.  As pineapple farming is a large part of the villagers’ livelihood in Kampung Kiau, Good Shepherd Services (GSS) suggested alternative ways of production of pineapple in order to generate high income and revenue for the ladies involved in the production, and thus, the Koonduan Kiau Nuluh Enterprise (KKNE) (Koonduan, when translated from Dusun to English, means women) was formed in order to restore the spirit and passion of the village women, empowering them through entrepreneurship.


Aireen Gumbih, explaining the workings of the jam and chutney processing centre

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Food, Festivities And Warm Hospitality At Kampung Kiau’s Kaamatan

Words by Chrishandra Sebastiampillai
Photos by Hamza Delbar and Tan Meng Yoe

Like some of the best things in life, we ended up at the Kaamatan festival of Kampung Kiau Nuluh earlier today by accident. Our guide Sintiah told us that his village would be holding their celebration of the harvest festival on the 30th of June when he first picked us up at the airport. It was particularly interesting to be able to attend a festival we had read about in our school textbooks for years, and so the entire group was excited to be there. Our first taste of the festival came the night before when we arrived at Kg. Kiau and heard the sounds of the gongs drifting down the hills as the musicians practised for the big day. Revelry for the event was already taking place, with several villagers in high spirits and drinking tapai or lihing, the traditional rice wine.

Kids at playChildren at play during the festival. Some are wearing their costumes for their performance

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Celebrating Thanksgiving Day – The Malaysian Borneo Way

Words by Janice Ng
Photos by Yeong Hui Min and Hamza Delbar

Pesta Keaamatan. A term that perhaps rings a (school) bell to most if not all who had endured attended the Malaysian education system, having emblazoned on several school textbooks. This festivity is generally told and portrayed as an annual celebration among the Kadazandusuns in the state of Sabah that lasts for the entire month of May, culminating with a state public holiday on the 30th and 31st May. But what then makes this fascinating observance truly one of its kind beyond a few extra days off the calendar? With that the ISO Sabah team, unexpectedly along with much excitement, set forth to one such Keaamatan festival held in Kampung Kiau Nuluh (the celebration was held later than the conventional date as the organiser of this festival, the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) Gompito, decided on the date as then) in search of discovering its underlying significance while experiencing its unique entirety first-hand. Continue reading “Celebrating Thanksgiving Day – The Malaysian Borneo Way”

Kiau: Chilly and Hilly

Words by Mohd Fadzrin
Photos by Yeong Hui Min, Yeo Li-Sha & Hamza Delbar

Sabah contains many different cities, towns, and villages; each of them with their own unique history and culture. Today, we had a small tour around the village of Kiau, located near Mount Kinabalu. One of our tour guides for today have made time for us to see for ourselves the realities of this small community, in the cold weather of Sabah’s highlands.

Kiau village is located 1,600 feet above sea level, with a population of about 800 people. Majority of them are Christians, with a small number of animists. These people live in 90 houses scattered across the area. A majority of them are Dusun. Most of them are farmers, though there are those who work in private and governmental sectors. In 2015, the village was hit with an earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Malaysia, that had damaged the area and taken 18 lives in total.

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The Untold Stories of Mount Kinabalu Guides

Words by Yeong Hui Min
Photos by Yeo Li-Sha

Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest mountain, is attracting many enthusiastic mountain climbers around the world. With many local and foreign tourists coming into Sabah to climb up to the peak of Mount Kinabalu, mountain guides play a crucial role in making sure the climbers complete the trek safely. There are more than 200 guides, with only five female guides.

Being a mountain guide is not a job that everyone can take up. A mountain guide requires good stamina and great strength. Guides must also be at the age of 18 and above, undergo medical check-ups and pass their interviews to be qualified for the job. The seven guides that we met with today in Kampung Kiau do not just fulfil these requirements but also have learnt hiking skills from their fathers. Continue reading “The Untold Stories of Mount Kinabalu Guides”

Daily Diary: Day Four

Words by Hamza Delbar
Photos by Hamza Delbar

7.30 am: We started the day with our usual group breakfast

Today, in true Malaysian fashion, fried rice and egg was on the menu. Breakfast also spared us some time to set our schedule for the day.

8.30 am: Session with Mount Kinabalu guides

Seven guides came to the church we were staying for a session. They told us about the life and experiences of working as a guide at Mount Kinabalu. The guides described about how to handle climbers and making sure they are constantly safe. They also shared about how the lives through the earthquakes of 2015 where 18 people lost their lives on Mount Kinabalu were later on affected. The session ended in cheers and clapping by members of the ISO Sabah team to congratulate the mountain guides on the fantastic job that they do while not earning a lot.

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