Thursday, November 08, 2012

Kudat: Music at sunset in Rungus territory

Kudat is best known as the Tip Of Borneo but there are many other attractions there

I HAVE added another feather in my cap — I have stood on the Tip Of Borneo, famously known as Simpang Mengayau in Kudat, Sabah, where the South China Sea  meets Sulu Sea in the east.

What a feeling to watch the waves breaking on the rocky outcrop and to catch the sun setting as well. It provokes feelings both calm and peaceful. The roar of the sea is rousing and soothing all at once.

Arriving early at the site, I climb a short distance to the look-out point which houses a bronze globe marking this place as the Tip Of Borneo.

The globe bears this interesting snippet of information. To the Rungus, the ethnic group of Kudat, Simpang Mengayau is called Tanjung Sampang Mangazou — tanjung means tip, sampang is junction and mangazou, battle. Rungus folklore has it that their forefathers fought fiercely to defend Rungus territory from invading armies.

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet landed at this area while circumnavigating the globe. They stopped here for 42 days to repair their ships before continuing their voyage of discovery around the world.

To get to the Tip Of Borneo requires some manoeuvring on the rugged outcrop. I find it a bit daunting. You need some sure-footedness to walk along the path leading to the promontory. Some of the gaps are almost 30cm and on top of that, the surface is slippery. A mis-step can mean landing in the sea!

I can only look on enviously as the nimble-footed  proudly pose for shots as proof of their success.


Since it’s a three-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu and not exactly on the smoothest of roads, a stop at the bee farm in Kampung Gombizau is a welcome break. This is carried under the auspices of “one district one industry” programme to boost the livelihood of the people.

This recommended tourist attraction is a chance to see bee farming by Rungus women. We are shown how the bees are kept in their hives. To calm the bees so that they will not attack us as the frames are taken out to show us the different types of bees, they are sprayed with smoke. It takes about five minutes for the bees to recover. We learn that bees are attracted by bright colours, so those in colourful clothing decide to keep well away. White is the best colour as it keeps them calm, which is why beekeeping suits are white.

Wild honey is less sweet than farmed honey and beeswax tastes like chewing gum! Naturally, the latter is good for making candles.


The most fascinating side trip for me is a stop at the gong making village of Kg Sumangkap. This village has a history of making the native gongs for centuries.

One very busy and chatty gong maker at work is Roslina Jomoun. The 32-year-old says while her family is traditionally involved in the business, she is the only one of six siblings who still carries on the trade.

“I have been making gongs for 17 years to help supplement the family income,” she says. Her husband is a civil servant.

“I look after our four kids. So whenever I get orders or when I am in the mood, I will work on the gongs,” she adds.

The gongs come in sets of seven to nine, ranging from small to big ones. Made from zinc alloy and brass, they are in demand for weddings and other ceremonies.

“It’s time-consuming as it is handmade. I take up to a day just to make the bubud (the top cap of the gong),” she says.

Some of the tools she uses are salvaged from trucks and modified for the purpose.

Rohana Makutt is also busy as she has received orders for the gongs from as far as Kuala Lumpur.

“Kudat district is famous for gongs,” she says with pride, adding that they also supply gongs to Sarawak and make them to specific customers’ needs.

The gongs have to be tuned properly as different tribes such as the Rungus and Bajaus require them with a different pitch. Apparently, there are only two surviving gong makers capable of tuning all the different gong sets.

A good brass set can cost up to RM10,000 while a single gong may go for RM250 each. The favourite design is dragon motifs and black is the common colour.

“We have people buying gongs for home decoration,” she says, showing us souvenir items such as gong key chains and miniature gongs.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Kudat: Music at sunset in Rungus territory