July 2, 2012: THE statewide Kaamatan Festival in Penampang may have come and gone on May 31 but for Terian, in Ulu Papar, it had just ended.
We spent some time with a family in Terian to experience their preparations for Kaamatan last Saturday and what it means to them.
Terian is about two hours’ drive by 4WD or a four-hour hike from Donggongon. But in bad weather, a 4WD drive may take a lot longer.
“The last time, it took us seven hours by four wheel drive,” said Teoh Shu Woan as we watched CTing Sipail, who drove us to Terian with his family members, revved the engine to drive out of mud at 10 in the night.
“This is why I prefer hiking,” Shu Woan said.
Shu Woan is doing her masters in marine conservation at University Malaysia Sabah. Her research focuses mainly on Irrawady dolphins.
Originally from Puchong, Selangor, she celebrated Kaamatan and New Year’s Eve in Terian two years running since her first visit there with a Mercy mission in 2010.
“She’s part of our family now,” CTing said.
Trees and starry nights
The road we took was partially built by loggers and the government. It is mostly red soil and there are several rivers to pass as well.
At one point of the journey, the Kota Kinabalu city scape could be seen but most of the time, the view is limited to trees and, if you travel at night, stars will fill the skies. A rare sight if you’ve lived in the city your whole life. If you were lucky, you could catch a falling star!
When the road got too difficult, CTing’s cousin Roy would jump out of the 4WD cargo with a shovel to clear mud for CTing to drive over.
This happened a few times on our way up to Terian but it is not something new to them. Roy and CTing know exactly where the most difficult parts of the road are and what needs to be done.
When we arrived at Terian, the only source of light we had, aside from our flashlights, were from the starry heavens. I caught sight of two shooting stars when we got to Terian and even the milky way could be seen. We carried our bags and walked up to the Sipail residence.
The Sipail family consist of 13 siblings and their oldest brother, Blasius Sipail, is the Village Development and Security Committee (JKKK).
Seven of the Sipails were there to celebrate Kaamatan, including their mother who lives in Terian.
According to Diana Sipail, the rest of the siblings were with their husbands and one was in labour.
The family have been living in Terian for generations.
“My mother was born in 1935, and she’s been living here ever since. The family lived through the Japanese occupation and British colonisation,” she added.
Kaamatan is not your typical harvest festival. It is celebrated on different dates in different villages and each village has its own unique tradition.
Terian’s Kaamatan is a three-day event with sports events for the children, football competition for both girls and boys apart from Best Dish, Best Tapai and a lucky draw.
As simple as they may seem, these events involved everyone from the community and I had this feeling everyone in the Terian community was part of one big family.
Even by just living in their house, they treated me like family. They were not trying to hide anything and were completely comfortable with the presence of a stranger.
They offered me more than I could ever ask for and treated me as one of them. The sense of belonging is the most wonderful gift anyone could give a stranger.
Terian has micro-hydro power, provided by an NGO, Solar Panels, to light up the schools, and gravity pipes from the Terian river as a watersupply source. The power supplied to Terian is enough to provide lighting but it is not stable.
When too many appliances are switched on, a surge in power would trip the micro-hydro dam, and one would have to travel to the river in the dead of night to flip the switch back on.
Obedient and mature
Terian also provides living space for children from neighbouringvillages who go to school there. The children would return home during holidays but on other days, they live with the families in Terian. The closest village with a school aside from Terian is Buayan, about four hours trekking from Terian.
On the day before the festival, Shu Woan, Diana and the children went to nearby streams to hunt ingredients for Diana’s Best Dish bid.
One of the girls, just 12 years old, would use a machete to clear a path for us and the kids would step on the edges of the stream, hoping to lure out prawns, frogs or anything useful for Diana’s best dish.
“The kids here are amazing. They’re not like their city cousins at all. They’re obedient, very mature for their age and do not mind a little hardship,” said Shu Woan as we looked at the children hunting.
We followed the stream up until we reached the Terian river where we took a short cooling bath while Diana and the girls dove in with goggles and a spear to hunt for fish. After that, we joined a crowd for a football match.
Even though it was a competition, teammates for both the girls and boys sides were selected randomly. It was more of an activity than a competition. People were cheering and everyone seemed to be having fun.
At night, Shu Woan and I joined CTing and the rest of the men from the family — Jolumin and Johan — their cousin Roy and several others for a little night fishing.
However, we did not follow them into the river. Instead, they made a fire for us and asked one of the eight-year-old boys to babysit us. Our lack of jungle skills might slow them down.
We sat by the fire and chatted away the evening.
By the time, the rest of them returned, it started drizzling and we rushed back to our homes.
That night, a feast was had with the bounties from the night’s catch — fried fish, hinava and fish intestines were served with drinks to keep us warm. The atmosphere was rowdy and fun and everyone had something to say about something.
Up with the sun
The day after was Terian’s Kaamatan. By 6am, the Sipails were already up and running around to prepare for a celebration at the St Bernard Church.
“Usually, we’d celebrate Kaamatan at the town hall but it has been torn down after we got allocation from the government for a new one,” Evelyn Sipail said.
The celebration started off with story telling and poetry recitations in Dusun native language from the girls while the boys flexed their muscles and tapped their thighs in the muscleman (or rather, boys) competition.
This was followed by a carom competition, tastings for the best dish and best tapai competitions and a few short speeches by the Village Head Kologou Mositau, JKKK Basilus Sipail and a representative by the Penampang District Office, Henry Idol.
“This celebration is not only to show our gratitude for our harvested crops but also an opportunity for the people of Terian to get together and strengthen relationships,” said Henry Idol, reading a speech on behalf of Datuk Donald Peter Mojuntin who could not make it to officiate the ceremony because he was in Keningau for a Kaamatan festival with the Prime Minister.
In the speech, Henry announced several projects such as the Town Hall upgrade, building of a road from Terian to Buayan, electricity wiring for the new St Bernard Church and a new bridge in Pongobonon, Terian.
When the speech was over and prizes given away, the crowd erupted into a dance as villagers took turns to sing karaoke.
Terian’s Kaamatan also saw visitors from neighbouring Kampung Tunoh who camped out by the river overnight just to celebrate in Terian. Gabe and Nate Wynn and Adan Rodriguez from American NGO Green Empowerment who stopped by Terian for two nights before heading off for a project in Buayan, also joined in the celebration.
The celebration continued well into the night in the Sipail house and when the micro-hydro could not carry the karaoke system, we lit a make-shift candle fashioned out of a Molotov Cocktail and sing songs while CTing played the keyboard and his cousin Tony strummed the guitar.
I learned that like any other festivities, Kaamatan is about family. None of the activities felt forced or contrived. They were natural progressions from day to day to strengthen family bond. There was no fighting or envy.
The Sipails spoke mostly about their worry over the Kaiduan Dam and how it would affect them or things needed to be done to prepare for Kaamatan.
They were united and the love they had for each other and their community showed in everything they did. They spoke their mind and accepted each other without any false pretenses.
That’s what having a family is about — bonding and accepting for good or bad. They welcome strangers into their homes and other family members. Their doors are always open and they share everythingwith each other.
They drink from the same cup, share food in the same bowl and never feel that one person deserves better than the other. This is a culture that seems a little lost in our, or at least, my life.
Sunday was a little slower than the celebration. While the men were out cleaning up the church and doing a little work here and there, the rest of us, Shu Woan, and the volunteers from Green Empowerment stayed over at the Sipails and exchanged conversations.
Before leaving Terian, we had a little something to eat and drinks were passed around. We drove to Donggongon as the sun set and the skies glowed with stars again.
by Khabil Kiram
Here is a little something that most Sabahans probably do not know.
We have heard of Mat Salleh, Pak Musah, Si Gunting etc but have you heard of Gayatas? Gayatas was a woman warrior who lived in Ulu Papar of old. Most likely pre World War II and longer than that. Apparently, people would do anything to be accepted as her follower. Gayatas led a band of women warrior! Fancy that! Our own Amazonian warriors. One day, Gayatas made a pronouncement on a river bank. She said whoever could jump across the river to the other side of the bank would be accepted as her follower but those who failed, would have their heads cut off by Gayatas. Apparently, even with this condition set did not deter women from trying. Each time Gayatas took a head, she would make a mark on the stone. Raymond and his team counted 78 marks on the stone (picture above). That many women had ‘applied’ for the position and lost their heads trying.