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Momolian priestess & priests together with guardian of sacred mountain poise at “International Sacred Mountain Guardian Summit Commemorative Accord Stone" in November 2015

Momolianism is a belief system of the Kadazan-Dusun people of Sabah, formerly North Borneo. The belief is that land is a gift from the creator, the earth is a centre of the universe and that the land connects them to the past, present and future. This system of belief, inherited from the ancestors, was passed down through the Bobohizan, (Kadazan term) or Bobolian (Dusun term) priestesses.


This belief system has its origin in the first ancestors' interaction with the natural and spiritual environment at Nunuk Ragang the legendary ancestral home of the Kadazan-Dusun. This belief system was an integral part of the Kadazan-Dusun life before the advent of organised religion. Central to Momolianism is the belief that the Kadazan-Dusun live in an environment consisting of the "seen material world" (Pomogunan Tulun) and the "unseen spirit world" (Pomogunan Tosundu). It was most important to ensure continuity of the balance and order between the natural and spirit environment.[1] Some scholars would equate this to animism.

Basic belief[edit]

Communications with the spirit world

The Kadazan-Dusun believed that there is as much effort on the part of the denizens of the spirit world to communicate with the denizens of the material world as are the denizens of this material world attempting to communicate with the denizens of the spirit world. This effort at communication gave birth to the office of the bobolians, categories of members of Kadazan-Dusun people with special gifts and abilities to communicate with the counterpart in the spirit world. The bobolian's counterpart in the spirit world is known as the susukuon or "reference spirit being". The ability to communicate with each other is described as kih gimbaran or osundu (in possession of spiritual power). This power is at the same level as another category of members of Kadazan-Dusun people known as osiou (in possession of fearlessness in war/warrior).

It was for this reason that in past times when the early egalitarian Kadazan-Dusun community faced unprecedented crisis, the bobolians would provide the spiritual guidance whilst the warriors rendered their warfare services. Gifts and sacrifice play an important part in establishing communication between the material world and the spirit world. To initiate communication, a bobolian has to initially provide gifts to the counterpart spirit in the form of prepared food (boiled chicken flesh and egg) and drink (fermented sweet tapai/lihing). The counterpart spirit or spirits in the spirit world may also establish communication with humans via medium that impact directly on human senses such as hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste. Thus, for example a Kadazan-Dusun on his way to the farm is informed by a spirit of impending danger by the frantic warning call of the lokiu bird (a woodpecker) or a lontugi (giant millipede) stationary on his or her pathway. He or she would then desist from continuing with her journey.

When the people violate the balance between the two world, bad things will occur to the people world and bobohizan/bobolian will be called as the moderator to speak with the spirit world. Sogit (animal sacrifices) will be offered to the spirits as a symbol of peace. For example, a man became ill when he cleared a land because he didn't performed the Adat Mansalud, a ritual performed by bobohizan/bobolian to "ask permission" from the woods spirit to clear the land for farming or to hunt animals in forest. He will be healed if he ask forgiveness and give sogit to the spirit with the help of bobohizan/bobolian. They believe that the Kadazandusun world, called riniba (human world) was created and controlled by Kinorohingan (god), the mighty spirit that live in Libabou (heaven)." This entity will punish the human world if the people disobey the pantang (rules) and adat (customs) or did wicked things like sumbang (marriage between family members), adultery, monindaat (killing other people with black magic). The punishment will be in the form of pestilence, natural disasters and crop like paddy died suddenly. That is why Kadazandusun people in the past strictly follow their pantangs and adats and village/clan/tribe chief (Molohingon) will punish any of the villagers or member of the tribe/clan break the pantang or disobey the adats (in the form of sogit, and in some big case, the perpetrator will be instructed to leave the village or tied in a raft and thrown to the river). Before that, the chief must ask the Diwato (spirit form-messenger of Kinorohingan) with the Bobohizan/Bobolian as a moderator.


The Kadazan-Dusun believed that in the past the community had experienced a unique salvation event. This salvation experience was not for the purpose of easing or to guarantee a place in paradise, but was to ensure the survival of the Kadazan-Dusun race. In that event, Huminodun, a human maiden daughter of Kinoringan and his wife Sumunundu, allowed herself to be sacrificed, her body parts dispersed over the earth to later sprouts as food plants for the people facing extinction during a devastating famine. From henceforth the Kadazan-Dusun people celebrate Huminodun's sacrifice as the Tadau Kaamatan or Harvest Festival thanksgiving to her.

The Name

The name of the Kadazan-Dusun deity is still debated, with some considering Kinoingan or Kinorohingan as just a deified and worshiped human ancestors whilst others think that a more appropriate approached would be to refer to their God as "Minamangun" (creator). This contrasting stand may be the result of influence from members of the community who had embraced other organised religions such as Christianity or the Islamic faith and the need to thread with care so as not to seen to going against their new faith. During the preparation of the first Kadazan-English Dictionary by the European missionary, certain word, including the word for God, were wrongly translated by the translators.[2]

The dead

The belief system of the Kadazan-Dusun has no concept of heaven and hell. The dead were believed to have just passed on to another realm of life and moved to the new home Nabahu or Akinabalu (from the word "aki" meaning "old man"), later officially named Mount Kinabalu. The body of the dead, consigned to burial as immediately as possible (also referred to as "lisok" or hide), to prevent foreign spirit invasion, and the spirit (referred to as "koduduo" or "your second" sent off by vigorous hitting of the floor on which the coffin was laid. On the seventh day a ceremonial "popouli" (to invite home) was conducted to allow for the koduduo to reenter the earthly home so as to enable it to "retrieve any forgotten belongings". This ceremony includes "momisok" or switching off lights so as not to scare off the koduduo. The Bobolian's role in this ceremony is to ensure that the koduduo is properly sent off. In 2015 a major earthquake which caused the loss of several lives occurred at Mount Kinabalu, presumed by Bobolians to have been caused by the misbehavior of several European men and women who stripped naked on Mount Kinabalu's peak. The dead ancestors of the Kadazan-Dusun were said to be angered by the desecration of the home.

Traditional healing[edit]

Momolianism is closely tied to traditional healing because all the Bobolians are traditional healers. The process of healing in Momolianism is referred to as "manampasi", which is somewhat akin to salvation, only that it involves a process of ritual "negotiation with denizens of the spirit world" so as to temporarily not accept the koduduo's entry to Nabahu.

Evolution of Momolianism[edit]

Momolianism began as a belief system to guide the early small community of settlers life interactions with the highly forested natural environment of Nunuk Ragang. As the environment changed due to human exploitation the belief system also undergo changes to accommodate to new reality of community life.

Forest Phase

The need to evade a crisis of overpopulation at site and over exploitation of the forest resources at Nunuk Ragang led to the introduction of the Minorit (tiny spiritual beings) concept so as to spur migration and dispersal. The Bobolians' advice to the Nunuk Ragang warrior leadership(s) to initiate the abandonment of Nunuk Ragang was fully complied with by the people leading to the migration up the Liwagu Kogibangan (left fork) and the Liwagu Kowananan (right fork) rivers. This point to the strong influence of Momolianism in ensuring continued existence and population growth of the Kadazan-Dusun people.

Paddy Cultivation Phase

After the introduction of paddy planting, the community was subjected to another major crisis involving severe crop failure and consequent famine. This led to the introduction of concept of worship of Kinorohingan and Huminodun (Traditional Tadau Kaamatan festival). This phase of evolution of Momolianism could not have happened at Nunuk Ragang. The Nunuk Ragang inhabitants were not wet paddy planters, but practice vegeculture, i.e. cultivating and propagating the yams, sweet potato and cassava using suckers and cuttings. The Rumanau people ethnic group were the first Kadazan-Dusun to acquire the skill of wet paddy planting. Hence their name "Rumanau" which means "one who cultivate wet paddy".

The Gusi Cult Phase

Worship of Jars began among the Tuaran Kadazan-Dusuns.

The Guritom Cult Phase

Veneration of skulls at Sunsuron. This phase developed in tandem with the advent of the headhunting phase among the Kadazan-Dusun. At Nunuk Ragang the Kadazan-Dusun families, being small community, were at peace with one another and the Guritom was non-existent. The Guritom (house of skulls) at Sunsuron, Tambunan had been removed and the skulls transferred to the Sabah Museum. Another site at Sogindai, Ranau was previously being used as a Guritom. The Guritom Phase came about as a result of the absence of the Law and as an attempt at presenting visual warning to any party deviating from the norm in relationship among the descendants of the Nunuk Ragang settlers.

The Syncretistic Phase

The coming of European influence had a major impact on Momolianism. The largely tolerant Catholic religion, allowed for dual practice of Momolianism and Christian Faith to exist side by side.


  1. ^ Segunda, Patrick (2004)"Biodiversity in Malaysia" in the book The Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. New York: Routledge. p.180-185
  2. ^ Luping, Herman. (2011) The kinoingan Question in the Daily express 4 September 2011.Kota Kinabalu.