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The Invention of Kadazans

Posted By Dennelton Mandiau on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 | 12:48

In 1921 the Kadazan population was still only two per cent literate, almost animists in belief and without benefit of education. The Catholic Mill Hill Mission however had begun in 1882 to open schools for the KD population on the West Coast south of modern Kota Kinabalu. After a very sluggish and difficult beginning, there was much faster development after end of World War Il. By 1953 there were 40 Catholic schools in Sabah with almost 6,000 students, the majority "indigenous". In the whole school system (including government and Chinese schools) there were then 3,385 students classified as "Dusun". Most of these were KDs of the West Coast studying in one of the 40 Catholic schools, including the famous St. Michael's secondary school in the Penampang valley behind Kota Kinabalu. While less than four per cent of the KD population was Christian in 1931, a quarter had become so by 1960, and a majority are today (up to the point in time). The Government schools taught in Malay and the Chinese in Chinese, but the Catholic schools opted to teach literacy to rural folk initially through their local KD dialect, shifting gradually by the third or fourth year into English. From these schools, therefore, there emerged in the 1950s and 1960s a small elite of educated, Catholic KDs, fluent in English but confident in speaking and writing also their own language in romanized script. Although there were many pressures to adopt the use of Malay and English during everyday exchanges in the towns, familiarity with this standardized form of Kadazan language was reinforced through the many editions of the Kadazan Catholic catechism and prayerbook (Vazaan doid Surga).

The majority of this educated group appear to have believed that they and their language was "Kadazan". The British colonial government, however, still called it "Dusun and doubted whether it was a single language at all rather than a range of dialects. The 1950s and 1960s could be read as a struggle between these two views, with the former emerging victorious. Although the process of standardizing language through the use of an agreed form in education, the church, the state and the media was much later in coming to KD than to most other languages which have survived the transition to modernity, that process was undoubtedly taking place among the first large cohort of educated KDs.

In January 1953 the Sabah Times began publication as the colony's first English-language daily, with about 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. Most of these subscribers were no doubt Chinese and Europeans, but the newspaper's Sabah-born editor, Donald Stephens (Australian father, KD mother), imaginatively included one page of news "in romanised Malay and Dusun", as the Government report put it. In fact, however, the KD section of the newspaper was called by Stephens "Kadazan Corner", and it spelt the language according to the only system widely known — developed for the dialect of Penampang and Papar by the Mill Hill missionaries, and dispersed by them to a wider spectrum of Catholic schools. Stephens justified this policy later:
It was done in answer to a natural rising pride among the Kadazan peoples and a knowledge of their desire to be known by their own name and not by a name which they feel had been nothing but a label hanged on them, put there by others without their consent… I feel that if the Kadazans are ever to feel one that common link (of language) should be strengthened, and there was no better way of strengthening it than by trying to standardise the language. The obvious answer was to start with the Kadazan as spoken in the Penampang/Papar area because it is in this area that the people have gone a long way in having their language written down.... One could have picked the Kadazan spoken in Tuaran or Kota Belud or Ranau for use but because the Kadazan spoken in Penampang and Papar were the most commonly understood and had already been used as a written language (Romanised) it was obvious that the best choice was the Kadazan as used in Penampang/Papar.
The same group of educated Penampang KDs who began to write for this Kadazan Corner spawned in 1953 a "Society of Kadazans", dedicated to uplifting the backward KDs of the area, and protecting and preserving their culture. Their cause was helped when the first modern dictionary appeared, a Kadazan Dictionary and Grammar compiled in Japanese internment by a Mill Hill missionary and published with Australian Colombo Plan help. It shared their view both of the name and the spelling of the standardized language in process of emerging.

As an oral medium radio was not obliged to develop a common written standard, but it had a much wider appeal and is still remembered as having pioneered the Kadazan idea in the interior. "Radio Sabah" began transmitting a few hours a day in 1953, in English, Malay and Chinese, to 2,700 holders of radio licences. The first broadcast in what the Government again called "Dusun" was in 1954. At the beginning of 1957 this became institutionalized as a daily programme of 15 minutes, and "the Kadazan people" responded so enthusiastically that this was raised progressively to 30 and then 45 minutes -per day by the end of 1957, and 14 hours a week by 1960. In fact the inspiration for much of this success, Fred Sinidol, was an enthusiastic "Kadazan" from Penampang, who took his

“Kampung Program" around the villages broadcasting the music of local artists, talks on old customs, and news, While the majority of programmes in the other languages were relayed from outside sources, the Kadazan programme was wholly indigenous over 60 per cent in the form of local music groups, some of whom walked up to 60 miles for the opportunity to record. This immensely popular programme, though recording people in a variety of local dialects, did much to popularize the idea that they were all part Of a single language group called Kadazan.

The origin of the term Kadazan is still debated. Many believe it is derived from the word for "towns" - kakadazan and therefore designates the semi-urbanized coastal people as opposed to the liwan - upcountry people of the area between Ranau and Tambunan. Others think kadazan, or its interior equivalent kadayan, is simply a regional name long used for the people of the Kota, Penampang and Papar areas of the West Coast, or that it means people of the land as opposed to sea-farers. Donald Stephens and his supporters, however, prefered to interpret it as a term meaning "our people", once accepted by all KDs but since "forgotten" because of pressure from British officials not wanting to see the KDs proud and united. At the opposite extreme the anti-Kadazan activists of USDA later argued that it was not an indigenous word at all but derived from Malay kedai meaning shop or town, whence kedaian (people of the town) or in coastal dialect, kadazan. There was enough ambivalence in the term itself and the motives for which it was adopted to lay the basis for much future difficulty. Peter Mojuntin correctly reflected his own 1950s-educated generation in writing that "nearly all educated or striving to be educated Kadazans have come to regard the word 'Dusun' as derogatory when referred to them during the colonial days". Their use of Kadazan, he thought, was part of their demand to be treated with as much respect as all the other races in Sabah. Although these early nationalists were undoubtedly sincere in wanting to apply the label to all the indigenous people of Sabah, they could never dispell completely the associations of the term with urban sophistication. Already in the 1960s a fieldworker in Ranau noted that while the Dusuns of this area readily accepted that they were one people with the Penampang evolués, “the idea that they, the people of Ranau, should be called ... Kadazan never was very popular”.

Endangered Identity: Kadazan or Dusun in Sabah --- Anthony Reid
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I'm Dennelton from Sabah, editor of www.tvokm.com. I was a blogger since 2008, I have a great interest about blogging and seeking additional income through the internet. Follow me with like our official Facebook Page HERE

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