Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mount Kinabalu - myth, legend or Folk Tales?

At one point, I have noticed that I was dreaming about the Mount Kinabalu mountain climb. However, I could even make it until today.

Attractive as it is, without a myth, legend and Folk Tales, the name of Mt Kinabalu can’t be spread by leap and bound. A myth gives a religious explanation for something: how the world or a particular custom began. There is usually no attempt to fix the myth into a coherent chronology related to the present day, though myths or a cycle of myths may have their own internal chronology. The story is timeless in that the events are symbolic rather than just the way it happened.

A legend, on the other hand, is a story which is told as if it were a historical event, rather than as an explanation for something or a symbolic narrative. The legend may or may not be an elaborated version of a historical event.

Folk tales tend to be transmitted orally, although they are transmitted from generation to generation and their origin or author is unknown, they are more definitely felt to be stories or fiction. 

Undoubtedly, there is little consensus on the most dramatic natural feature of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah. It is the tallest mountain in South-East Asia which is located in Kundasang. Mount Kinabalu is 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) above sea level and about 96 km east of Kota Kinabalu which became UNESCO World Heritage in 2000. 

Although Kinabalu's name is still a mystery, but interestingly, there are many folklores and fables that tell stories of how Kinabalu obtained its name. The local Kadazan-Dusun people believe that the word is derived from “Aki Nabalu”, which means “The revered place of the dead”. 

The mysterious Kadazan-Dusun tribe believes that spirits dwell on the mountain top. Among the bare rocks of the summit grows a moss which early Kadazan-Dusun guides said provided food for the spirits of their ancestor. Many of the mountain's early explorers reported that their Kadazan-Dusun guides performed religious ceremonies upon reaching the summit. 

Sir Hugh Low wrote in his guide carried an assortment of charms, pieces of wood, human teeth, and other paraphernalia weighing three kilograms up to the summit and the slaughter of one white chicken.

These ceremonies were performed to appease the spirit of the mountain as well as the ancestral spirits who lived there. Nowadays, a ceremony is conducted annually by the Kinabalu Park's guides. Seven chicken and eggs, as well as cigars, betel nuts, sirih leaves, lime and rice are sacrificed, and later enjoyed by the guides.

On the other hand, often than not, ancient mythology lies at the heart of Kadazan-Dusun culture. A Kadazan-Dusun creation myth tells how the supreme deities “Kinohiringan” and his wife “Umunsumundu” made the earth while “Kinohiringan” created the sky and the clouds. But the clouds were smaller than the earth and Kinohiringan was ashamed. 

To save his pride, Umunsumundu reshaped the earth, making it smaller, and thus created Mount Kinabalu, the mountain that we know today.

A Kadazan-Dusun story tells of a giant king named Gayo Nakan - big eater who lived at the base of the mountain. His people tired of his enormous appetite and were had pressed to feed him. Hearing their complaints, the king told them to bury him alive at the top of the mountain. 

Bringing all their tools they labored in vain, until the king uttered magic words and sank into the rock up to his shoulders. He then told his people that, due to their lack of patience, drought and famine would afflict them - but promised to help them in times of war. Fearful and penitent, the people made their first sacrificial offerings at the wishing pool below the summit and that was Gayo Nakan's grave.

In another popular folklore, the name Kinabalu actually means “Cina Balu”, which is “Chinese Widow”. 

Legend tells the story of a Chinese prince who ascends from the mountain in search of a huge pearl guarded by a ferocious dragon. He married a Kadazan woman upon his successful conquest, which he soon abandoned for return to China. His heart broken wife wandered into the mountains to mourn whereby eventually she turned into stone.

However, according to another version of the legend, a Chinese prince was cast away to Borneo when his ship sank in the middle of the South China Sea. He was subsequently rescued by the natives from a nearby village. As he recovered, he was slowly accepted as one of the people of the village. 

Eventually, he fell in love and married with a local. As the years went by, he started to feel homesick and asked permission from his newly-founded family go back to China to visit his Emperor and Empress of China parents. He promised to his wife that he would come back soonest to take her and children to China. He was given a grand welcome by the Emperor of China; however, the Emperor disagreed with him about taking his Bornean wife back to China.

Unexpectedly, he was informed he was already betrothed to a princess of a neighboring kingdom.  He had no choice but to obey. His wife grew more and more anxious. Eventually, she decided to wait for her husband's ship but couldn’t make it daily as the village was situated far away. Instead, she climbed to the top of the highest mountain near her village every morning in the hope that her husband would someday return, she was back only at night to attend the children.

Years went days pass and at last taken their toll on her health. Finally, she passed away at the top of the cold mountain while waiting for her husband. The spirit of the Mount Kinabalu was extremely touched by a wife’s unfailing love for her husband and out of admiration; it turned her into a stone. Her face was made to face the South China Sea, for her to wait forever for her husband's return.

The people in her hometown who heard this incident were gravely touched too. Thus, they named the mountain "Kinabalu" in remembrance of her. 

To them, the mountain is a symbol of the everlasting love and loyalty that should be taken as a good example by women.

Local legend among the people of Ranau, a district in Sabah, has it that St. John’s Peak was the stone which her body turned to.

        Mt. Kinabalu

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