By Edwin Bosi
On 1st May this year the Tamanza clan celebrated the “refurbishment” of our forefather’s shelter at the Tuavon Katagazan cemetery. Years ago their graveyards were dug their bones brushed clean and relocated to Katagazan with full traditional rituals. There was no official or designated graveyard then so the dead were buried in the private plot of land. My grandfather Kandavu Tamanza was laid to rest in a 5-acre land in Kg Kibabaig Penampang. My grandmother Lokuja Buko was buried in another piece of land nearby while our great grandfather Tamanza was buried in Kosigui. The relocation involved all three graves. For the Kadazan, relocation of remains involves the high priestesses or Bobohizans and is steep with ancient rituals.
I remember the high priestess and her assistant going though the process of opening a communicating channel between the living and the death. A white cockerel was sacrificed. It was here that I saw the arts of negotiation been applied to the utmost. It appeared that the “bobohizans” were in a trance as they “talked” with the spirits of those who had long departed. My late dad vouched that the voices of his father were actually recognisable through and from the “murmurs” of the main Bobohizan. The deal was sealed fairly quickly with one condition for a sacrificial pig and no substitute. The priestess conceded that our grandfather and his mother were very understanding unlike some of the cases she had dealt with before.
I recalled seeing a big brown jar about three feet tall with a small hole on its bottom. My granddad was buried in this jar. My dad said he recalled how his dad suddenly popped out of the jar during the mourning period taking everyone by surprised. He was quickly “pressed” back into the jar and the lid secured more properly. My dad said that the elders “talked” to him while tucking him back into the jar. Somehow the talking made him relax and he was back “safely” inside the jar. His bones were still intact inside the jar when it was unearth although there was some browning. My brother took the jar home only to be reprimanded by mom. Always a good son he quickly returned the jar to the grave site. I remember watching my late uncle Bangit brushing off the dirt and talking to the skeletal remains, wrapping them in a piece of white cloth before keeping them in a smaller pots at Katagazan.
Grandmother Lokuja was buried in a wooden coffin. I was amazed by the accuracy of my dad in pointing out the spot where she was laid to rest after all those years. There was no more noticeable sign left as it was covered with thick vegetation. It must have been the “tomindaton” trees that gave him the clue. I was present during the digging and indeed, after about five feet they hit the coffin lid dead on the spot. We were asked not to look down as the lid was opened. They were afraid that the air from the coffin maybe hazardous. The sides of the coffin were still intact but the bottom had been “eaten” away by roots. The fine roots did not disturb the skeletal remains in fact they kept the bones in its proper “layout”. I noticed she was wearing the “tangkong” or a belt lined with metal rings commonly used by a Kadazan woman during special occasions. Something else attracted my attention on that particular day. I notice the bones were submerged in about six inches of clear water which quickly sipped in and disappeared into the ground when the coffin was exposed. We never had the opportunity to see our grandparents from our father’s side.
As a child I remember sitting down with my siblings and cousins listening to our grandma stories. My mom’s mother Martha Ligama was a fantastic story teller with lots of sense of humour. Looking back I realised that all the stories have an implications to our lifestyle. The rabbit and tortoise story was my favourite. We would plead with grandma to tell us more stories while we took turns to “crash” or “pound” her betel nuts. If only I had a video. That was to me the starting of our informal education, our grandma as the main teacher. On the other hand living with our parents then was full of discipline. The body language and in particular the eyes of our parents said it all. You usually speak only when you are spoken to although there was more flexibility with mom.
My dad loved telling story about his dad travelling around the villages on horseback or rather on a pony. My granddad was a well-to-do man. He had so many properties and upon his death many were “lost” or sold off to support my dad’s education and to upkeep the young family of two boys and two girls. My mom also came from an equally well-to-do family. If they had sold off all their inherited properties my parents were multi-millionaires in their own rights. But they had chosen to live a simple life. My parents never knew or keen about investment then.
My dad had a short formal education at St Mary’s Sandakan. My mom a 100% housewife and never attended school. From a teacher during the Japanese occupation, a general worker and later retiring as Senior Assistant District Surveyor was a fantastic achievement for my father. To him, the colonial bosses are fair and your promotion depends entirely on your attitude towards the job. Despite her lack of education, my mom was instrumental, supportive and insisted that her three daughters must have good education. There are seven of us in the family, three girls and four boys. All of us are University graduates except my eldest brother who opted to stay on his job and retiring as an Accountant.
Scholarships were easy to obtain then. Out of the seven, only one of us worked in the private sector. Only two are still with the civil service while four are enjoying our pension. We have built nice concrete homes, have cars and have seen the world. Like our parents we are particular about education for our children. Scholarships are now so difficult to secure but not to some. My children went to local universities under the government student loans. They are paying back on instalment and I insist that they do so. I can see that our children will have to struggle hard and face a very challenging, tough and unstable future for them and their children. Sabah is now overwhelmed with legalised foreigners. For the Kadazans, getting good education is the key to their future. They may have to look for greener pastures elsewhere. I strongly recommend Kadazan parents to let their children go pursue excellence wherever and whatever it takes. To me the future of our children in Sabah has been hijacked.
Politics in Malaysia is all about race and religion. The existence of race-based political parties contributed to the poor racial harmony in the country. It gets worse when racial and religious extremists try to exert their superiority. We blamed the Colonial master for using “divide and rule” tactic but UMNO perfected it and used this strategy to the optimum. As a non-Muslim Native I see a slow and gradual marginalisation by the BN government. The downfall of PBS in 1994 and the entry of UMNO into Sabah had the greatest impact on the life of all non-Muslim Natives. Today in the civil service the non-Muslim Natives have lost its position and advantages. Instead of rising above they are now keeping the jobs at the bottom – receptionists and janitors. The good and qualified are not even considered for higher office such as Ambassador or High Commissioners or even as Directors in the Government-Linked Companies upon retirement. Article 153 of the nation’s Constitution is our safeguard but sadly the non-Muslim Natives are deliberately ignored and sidelined.
As Tan Sri Simon Sipaun said, the good old days are over for genuine Sabahans. He reminded us of the crime-free country we were in. He talked about fairness and merits as criteria for promotions. Tan Sri made me giggle when he talked about body snatchings while making me depress when he touched on the problem of illegal immigrants. The non-Muslim Native political leaders did not play their part effectively in standing and fighting for the rights of the community they belong to. In short they were either gutless or contented with the benefits and perks. But there are always two sides of a coin. The people on one hand continued to vote in the very leaders that fail to deliver. I must borrow Tun Mahathir’s word, “you deserve the government you voted in”. As I reflected the past I see the passive side of the non-Muslim Native and I think the merry-making and easy-going nature have gotten the better of them. This layback attitude must change if the non-Muslim Native community wants to make a comeback.
Our parents who have inherited down their properties (lands) did not look further than having food on the table and to raise a decent family. I have only a few piece of land from my parents that I hope I can hold on to them before handing them down to my children. During my working life I did not try to amass more property (land) although I tried to apply but they did not come through. I did not have the money to procure any lands either. I took a loan on my house and hopefully it is cleared as I reached the magic 55. We just did not have the extra money to acquire more property. As government servants it is a no-no to be in business otherwise you will be taken in by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA). But many government staffs nowadays have opulent houses and expensive cars. Maybe the administrative system has changed?
But try I must as meeting ends meet is itself so challenging now. The price of commodity and essential goods are running wild and there is nothing to laugh and be merry nowadays. Wages and salaries remain stagnant. Life is going to be sombre and blue. It does not make sense why prices are going higher and higher, subsidies been withdrawn when we are an oil and gas producing country. It does not make sense why we ran out of cooking oil when Sabah has the largest oil palm plantation. In a nutshell it is all about managing the country and managing it well. Unless there is a political change and change of management soon this present direction we are been led to will continue to be pitched dark with no sign of even a glimmering ray of light at the end of the tunnel.
[Published in Borneo Post Sunday 14th August 2011]