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Pogunon – Ancient Dusun Graveyard

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Sunday, November 12, 2017 | 19:08

The museum with the grave markers.
About approximately 11km from Kota Kinabalu and about 10-minute drive from the town of Donggongon, lies the little village of Pogunon. Pogunon was once a well-known place in the past due to its position, as it is located on the flat plains just before the Crocker range.

Thus it was the gateway to the interior villages of Tambunan and Keningau. The Tamu or local market, was held here every 10 days and it was one of the earliest known tamus in existence (there is mention of it in the British North Borneo Herald: 1st July 1884). Apparently, it also had a number of early male Chinese immigrants who married the native Dusun.

The various tribes from the mountains and interior would trek down to the village of Pogunon to trade.

Due to this, the village of Pogunon had many wealthy inhabitants and it also boasted of many fierce headhunters. The village was a stronghold of the old religion before the arrival of European Catholic priest, who were able to convert many of the locals to the Christian faith.

Almost in the centre of the village is an area which is a relic of the villages past history, as it was used as a traditional burial site.

Here a number of headhunters and others were buried in ancient ceramic or stoneware jars as coffins. The
The other 2 burial jars.
bodies of the deceased, used to be placed in large jars that were part of the trade goods from China.

These jars were usually at least a meter in height with wide mouths. After placing the deceased body inside it in the fetal position, the mouth of the jar was usually sealed with a ceramic plate or bowl with the aid of resins from the forest.

Together with the deceased would be placed funerary goods, such as their personnel adornments like silver coin belts, favourite ceramic bowls and other items.

The jar would then be buried in the ground and often a large rock from the nearby river would be used as a marker on the grave.

According to local folklore, rounder or smother stones were used for females while sharper sided stones were used as markers for male graves. Many of the stone markers for the graves of the warriors would have notches carved into the sides of the stone indicating the number of heads taken during his lifetime during headhunting raids.

Some of the 19th century Chinese blue and white ceramics.
Every now and then, especially during modern day development, one accidently comes across these burial sites. This is exactly what happened in the year 2000 during the construction of the Pogunon Village Kindergarten building. Three whole jars, pieces of four jars; blue and white plates, and bowls were unearthed during the construction.

Human bones were also found in the three jars. The ceramics found at the site, originated from China, and were made between the 16th to 19th centuries. A further thirteen ancient burial jars were unearthed from an old graveyard in front of the St Joseph Chapel in the same village.

From one of the broken jars, human bones and various artifacts were found such as coins dating back to 1885, a bangle and belt (himpogot) made from ancient silver coins were also found in the jar which , sadly was broken when hit by an excavator levelling the ground.

Today, this area with its hill of stone markers (megaliths) is the Site of Pogunon Community Museum.

Text and photos by David De La Harpe

Trekking the islands

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Monday, October 16, 2017 | 18:48

The 5 islands that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park are just a stone’s throw away from the City of Kota Kinabalu. Most visit the park to swim, snorkel or even do leisure dives, but very few actually walk the trails on the island and this is a shame as we have some great Lowland forest on the islands.

The most popular and interesting trail has to be the one that runs from Park HQ to Padang Point on Gaya Island. Its only 1.95 km long and will take you just under 2 hours to do a nice slow walk. To get there, you will need to get your boatman to send you to Park HQ on Gaya Island and make sure you ask him to pick you up 2 hours later at Padang Point.

At Park HQ, you will have to register and inform the ranger on duty of your intention to trek. The start of the trails runs along the beach and soon the cool, shady forest canopy will envelop you.

It takes a couple of minutes to adjust your eyes to the surroundings before you start to see the many wonders found in the rainforest. The forest on Gaya island is the closest example of Lowland rainforest that we have to the City and was actually Sabah’s first timber concession which was granted out in 1879 and it was also Sabah’s first Forest reserve (1923). The trails are shaded by the canopy of tall trees of various species with the tallest being “keruing” (dipterocarpus grandiflorus).

In season you will find hundreds of the strange two winged seeds littering the ground. Some of the other unique trees that you will see along the trek include the primitive Cycads - considered a living fossil as it has been around from the time of the dinosaurs. Tall Clumps of Nibong, fish tail and rattan palms with some orange ixora bushes. Delicate Maidenhair ferns cling to the rocks and look out for bulbophylum orchids that grows on a large boulder next to the trail.

Close to it are the wild vanilla orchids hanging from the branches overhead and you might also see bright red
Views from the trail.
wild nutmeg fruits on the trail, as they commonly grow here.

There is a wooden boardwalk that leads through an area of Mangrove and it’s a surreal experience to be walking amongst the stilt roots of the mangrove forest.

There are not many animals on the islands, but Gaya is home to some Wild boars they are rarely seen and you can count yourself lucky if you come across monitor lizards and long tailed Macaque monkeys on the trail. Often the raucous call of the Pied Hornbill can be heard as they forage for fruits in the canopy.

All too soon you find yourself at the end of the trail at Padang Point. A restaurant has been built here and you can enjoy a refreshing drink while waiting for you boatman to come pick you up.

Getting there: Boats are available at Jesselton Point in the City.

Text and photos by David de la Harpe

Desa Cattle Dairy Farm

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Thursday, October 5, 2017 | 18:51

The state of Sabah is blessed with many wondrous attractions and generally easily reached on rather good paved roads .Mesilau situated on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu is no exception .

Mesilau is a small village situated on a ridge on the slopes of Mountain Kinabalu and is about 100kilometers from Kota Kinabalu . Mesilau, named after the Mesilau River, is an area situated at approximately 2000 m above sea level on the East Ridge of Mount Kinabalu in the Kinabalu National Park. To get to it , one first goes to the farming town of Kundasang between Kinabalu park and the town of Ranau.Drive straight through the town of Kundasang and head for the mountain . Places of interest here are the Desa Diary farm, an 18 hole golf course (which is the highest golf course in Sabah ) the Mesilau Nature resort which is sadly now closed due to logistical issues after the last Earth quake and various home stays and small resorts. It has a delightful climate which is cool and windy being at such a high elevation and next to Mount Kinabalu .

Currently on of the most visited attractions at Mesilau has to be the Dairy farm. Many local and foreign visitors make a point of visiting the farm for it cool weather and scenic views. Fields of green grass with black & white Frisians grazing cows amidst rolling valleys and hills with a backdrop of majestic Mount Kinabalu if the weather permits , otherwise it will be pillowly clouds , remind many people of similar scenic views in New Zealand . it has also became the haunt of many local newly weds for photo shoots.

The farm has undergone tremendous renovations since its inception for the betterment of the cows and visitors . There is a glassed viewing gallery for visitors to observe the daily milking of the cows. A couple of pens to which visitors are allowed to get up close to some calf and goats . You may also feed them with grass or milk for a small fee . It is a great bonding opportunity for families with young children. The farm also produces its own Gelato which is delicious and creamy , fresh flavored milk together with about 4 varieties of cheese. All these items, together with a gift shop selling memorabilia of the Cows are available for visitors to purchase .

Definitely an interesting option to do on a day out of the city. 

Text and photos by David de la Harpe

Khoo Kongsi – Heritage jewel of Penang

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Friday, September 22, 2017 | 18:38

The Clan house.
After the founding of Penang by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786, Penang became a magnet for many Chinese who left China seeking their fame and fortune. These imigrants came from various districts and villages in China and upon arriving in a new strangy country , usually banded together into clans . There were 5 such clans in Penang and one of them was the Khoo clan and it is to them that we owe a debt of thanks for building the incredibly beautiful Khoo Clan house in George Town . The khoo’s originally came from Sin Aun Village in Xing Lin District, Xing Lin Town, Amoy (Xiamen) and the first documented account of one of its members was Khoo Mo Liu, a 14th generation descendant of Chneh Pang. Born in 1752, he died and was buried on the island in 1795.

By 1816, the Khoo population in Penang was around 100. Most of who were enterprising traders and established businessmen. When the Cheng Soon Keong temple of their home village in China needed funds for restoration, they donated 120 Dollars in the name of the “Penang Tua Sai Yah Public Fund” and soon after the members decided to build their own clan house or Kongsi as it is locally known. In 1850, they purchased a block of land from an Englishmen and converted the existing house into a clan house. It was named Leong San Tong and was used for gatherings, ancestral worship and weddings. A few years later, the Board of Trustees built a block of office buildings on the vacant lot of the courtyard to house a conference and administration hall. With the respective clan houses as the nuclei, these kongsi demarcated their territories with their own terrace houses on three or four sides of the perimeters. This adjoining, closely-knit and defensive model settlement, like a clan village in the colonial city, is a rare form of congregation practiced among migrant communities. Today this secluded and defensive sort of construction is very visible as you leave Canon Street and walk through the gates into the settlement.

Half a century later (1894), with many of the clan members now wealthy businessmen of Penang, the board of trusties decided to demolish the old clan house and build a new one using master craftsmen from Southern Fujian. It took eight years to complete this new clan house but unfortunately, the magnificent building was almost completely razed by fire on Chinese New Year’s Eve in 1901.

The loss of the grand clan house was a painful blow for the clan, but they decided to reconstruct the clan house from scratch in 1902 and it took them 4 years to complete. The two constructions spanned thirteen years and cost more than one hundred thousand dollars each. The Leong San Tong we see standing today is the one completed in 1906. It was partially damaged in World War II when the Japanese bombed George Town however repair works were done to fully reinstate the clan house to its former glory in 1958.

Main hall of the ancestrial temple.
The Khoo Kongsi has to be one of the finest examples of Chinese architecture in Malaysia . The entire building is covered with intricate tiled shard work, mural paintings, wood and stone carvings many of which have been gilded in gold leaf. It is a not to be missed attraction on the Penang Heritage trail.
Open Daily from: 09:00 am to 5.00 pm.
Entrance fee: RM10.00 per person.
Text and photos by David de la Harpe (

Saint Michaels Church

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 | 18:58

Monsignor August Wachter.
The story of the coming of Mill Hill missionaries of the Catholic Church, to Borneo, came about due to the reverent desire of an English mother for her son to perform his religious obligations. In 1876, Mrs. E Rodway of England, wrote a letter to an English Benedictine priest, complaining that her son, Captain WH Rodway, an officer in the Sarawak service, was unable to fulfill his religious duties as there were no Catholic priests Borneo. This set in motion the Mill Hill Missionaries who were given the task of bringing the Catholic Church to Borneo. The first priest of the Mill Hill mission arrived in Labuan on the 29th of July 1881

They went about their mission of converting the native animist to Christianity from Labuan and soon spread to the mainland. Putatan was at that time regarded as a large district populated by many rice farming Dusuns and the area of Penampang was considered part of Putatan. In order to travel to the villages in Penampang, people would travel up the Moyog River from Putatan.

St. Michael Church Penampang.
In 1890, the Mill Hill missionaries decided to build a school in Penampang . They chose the village of Dabak along the Moyog river .The school was to introduce Catholism to the people there and after a number of years, many of the local people had been converted into Catholicism. There were a number of small wooden churches in the area but Monsignor August Wachter who was in charge of the mission there, decided to have a permanent stone church built for the growing followers. This is today the St. Michael Catholic Church and is the oldest church in the Penampang District. It is located on a steep hill on the far side of Penampang town. The Foundation stone was laid during a special ceremony on 29th September 1936, during the Feast of St. Michael. It took a long time to build, as the stone had to be hand hewn from local stone nearby. When the Japanese army arrived in conquest of North Borneo during the 2nd World War, only the walls of the church had been constructed. However due to this fact the building was not bombed and construction resumed after the war. It was finally completed in 1947. Sadly, Wachter was not able to see his completed church, as he became a victim of the Japanese regime. He and seven priests, one religious brother and three lay workers perished between July and August 1945 at Sapong, Tenom. They were arrested and forcibly made to march the 100km to Tenom in the hot sun, on the railway track under the command of the Japanese soldiers.

Today the St Michael’s church in Penampang is a bastion of the Catholic mission and well worth a visit for it historical significance.

Text and photos by David de la Harpe.
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