By Emin Madi
KUNDASANG, Feb 7 (Bernama) -- The 80-year old Lunsin Koroh is a special kind of KadazanDusun 'bobolian' or high priest, whose unusual task is not about treating sick people but 'befriending' the spirits of the majestic Mount Kinabalu.
For decades, Lunsin has been entrusted to keep alive this age-old local custom of performing ritual ceremony on the top of Southeast Asia's highest mountain for one particular reason: to 'appease' the mountain spirits to allow a safe passage to the climbers.
In the past, Lunsin used to climb up and performed the ritual at Panar Laban (about 3,353 metre high) but lately and because of old age, Lunsin has chosen the top of a small hill near Timpohon Gate, where climbers start their ascend.
"I am too old to climb the mountain now but since my service is still needed (to appease the spirits) I have decided to do it within the foot of the mountain," said Lunsin who performed the ritual at Timpohon Gate recently.
Watching the old man in action reminded this writer's early experience of covering a similar assignment in the mid eighties, where Lunsin with the help of a group of mountain guides made the 'offering' at Panar Laban, a place where climbers spend a night before making the final ascend to the summit in the wee hours the next day.
Lunsin himself was a former mountain guide but because of his 'bobolian' pedigree, which he inherited from his great-great grandfather, he gradually became the official 'mononolob' or mountain priest.
To perform the ritual, Lunsin was always in the company of his 'komburongoh'or magical charm, a paraphernalia of mystical objects, believed to be a collection of rare species of plants which is said to be guarded by spirits.
The ritual ceremony itself requires seven white chickens, eggs, betel-nut and tobacco.
To complete the ritual, Lunsin, donned in black outfit, first shakes his 'komburungoh' and immediately start murmuring long and strange incantations in Dusun language.
In some instances, the old man was overheard calling the names of the many 'keepers' of the mountain, particularly 'kinomburawan' which according to Lunsin, is the king of the Mount Kinabalu spirits.
Later, Lunsin, with the help of fellow villager, Douni Lajsou, slaughtered all the fowls which would be taken home for consumption.
To mark the completion of the ritual, Lunsin planted a piece of sharp-edge wood at exactly where the white chickens were slaughtered, which according to him, would act as a weapon to punish those who fail to comply with the 'agreement'.
The practice of this local custom can be traced to the early history of mountain guiding among the Dusun community living on the steep mountain slope at Bundu Tuhan, about 10 km from Kinabalu Parks.
One such famous guide in the 1940's was Gunting Lagadan, a Dusun village headman, whose name is engraved on a piece of wooden signs at Low's Peak, the mountain's highest peak. Lagadan was said to have conducted the same ritual during every climb.
It was not ascertained whether the missing climbers had been the victims of the mountain spirits or due to their own negligence, but according to Lunsin the incidents could be due to some 'unbecoming' behaviours of the climbers which 'irritated' the spirits of the mountain.
In 1976, a form five student was reported missing while climbing Mount Kinabalu and in 1989, two other climbers from Sarawak met with the same fate. Their bodies were never recovered.
Their mysterious disappearances occurred at a time when the local custom of holding ceremonies to appease the spirits of the mountain observed from generation to generation were discontinued for unknown reasons from 1970 until it was revived in 1993.
The Kadazan-dusun community, especially among the non-Muslims, still regards Mount Kinabalu as the resting place of the dead souls.
"It's an honour and I hope to keep this tradition (of performing the ritual ceremony) alive as long as my feet can carry me," said Lunsin with a tinge of nostalgia.
With an average of 15,000 visitors to the Kinabalu National Park, a World Heritage Site, each month, Mount Kinabalu has become an increasingly popular destination, thanks to the introduction of the annual International Climbathon competition which has now become a yearly affair.