Nunuk Ragang

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Coordinates: 5°43′N 116°51′E / 5.717°N 116.850°E / 5.717; 116.850

Nunuk Ragang entrance.
Nunuk Ragang seen from a street.

Nunuk Ragang is a site traditionally considered as the location of the original home of the ancestors of the Kadazan-Dusun natives who inhabit most of Central Borneo. The site, nearby a village named Tampias, is located at the intersection of the left (Liwagu Kogibangan) and right (Liwagu Kowananan) branches of the Liwagu River to the east of Ranau and Tambunan in Sabah. The two river branches joined up to flow into the Labuk river and drain out into the Sulu Sea. At the site, and under a giant banyan tree, a settlement referred to as Nunuk Ragang was founded. The giant banyan tree was said to be able to give shade to a longhouse sheltering 10 families in it. The legend about Nunuk Ragang had been passed down via oral traditions to the younger generations. No archaeological dig has been carried out to establish the veracity of the legend. Under the strong influence of the modernization, with the accompanying strong emphasis on other bigger encompassing cultures, and coupled with the passing of older generation, interest in this heritage will wane and disappear.

In 2004, the quasi-government group Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) set up a memorial near Tampias at the site of what they believed to be the original village. The word "tampias" means "sprinkled" or "dispersed". The memorial was built in the form of a huge fig tree. The association conducts annual pilgrimages to the site, timed to coincide with the inauguration of its paramount chief, the Huguon Siou.


The name Nunuk Ragang is derived from two Kadazan-Dusun words "nunuk" which refers to the "banyan" tree and "ragang" which is a shortened form of the word "aragang" which means "red colored". The two words together therefore refer to a red colored banyan tree. Zoologically, there is no known banyan tree with red leaves or trunk. This fact has contributed to the mystery surrounding Nunuk Ragang but the most logical reason for naming the settlement as "red banyan" is that the settlers, in their attempt to attract attention to their presence, intentionally made the banyan tree to appear red. The Kadazan-Dusun has a fondness for riddling, giving names to places, things and actions in terms other than the actual.[1] The Chinese has a fondness for using the red color, an important color in Chinese culture, to advertise and attract attention, whereas the Kadazan-Dusun are less inclined to attract attention and prefer the black color. Black is the first color preferred by the Neolithic people.

Religious and Cultural Life[edit]

At the Nunuk Ragang settlement began the belief system and culture of the Kadazan-Dusun. There was no word for "religion" among the ancient Kadazan-Dusun and to them it was just a sort of relationship between the seen and the unseen. Some people would equate this to Animism. This belief system centers largely on their livelihood and rituals so as to maintain the balance, order and harmony between themselves and between them and their environment, which consequently provide conditions for bountiful cultivation and harvests and continued existence of the race.[2][3] At the settlement also began Momolianism, a philospohical system, which when coupled with the belief system, had guided the life of the Kadazan-Dusun people up to the present age.[4]. Surrounded by thick primary forest teeming in wildlife, nature and nurture became the foundation for the birth and growth of the belief system and cultural heritage of the Kadazan-Dusun.

Food and Material Needs[edit]

The Dusunic-speaking peoples, descendants of the pioneers at Nunuk Ragang, are today agriculturalists and paddy planting is the common occupation among them.[5] But according to oral traditions passed down from elders, the Nunuk Ragang people were practicing vegeculture. Vegeculture is the cultivation and propagation of plant food by utilizing the suckers of plants such as the yam, the sweet potato and cassava, eliminating the needs for seeds and permanent storage thus facilitating rapid migrations. Bamboo and Rattan were the primary materials used for all forms of activities connected to home construction and storage. To light a fire the settlers used dried cottony bark scraped from the Polod palm tree. Metal, used for making dangol (short machete) and pais (carving knives) was already available, most probably through barter trading with coastal peoples. The Nunuk Ragang settlers also adapted to their environment by becoming hunter-gatherers and trappers. Salt, an important food enhancer and preservative was only intermittently available from the distant coastal region, prompting the Nunuk Ragang settlers to search out for sosopon (natural salt lick) frequented by wild animals. This persistent shortage of salt also gave rise to two important techniques, "memangi" and "manalau", for the preservation of meat and fish. Memangi produces "pinongian" or "bosou" (meat or fish preserved using the fleshy kernels from seeds of the Pangium Edule tree), and manalau, a smoked meat called "sinalau".


Using the Kadazan-Dusun population of 555,647 (2010 census) as base, probable number of 20 individuals (in the 10 rooms longhouse) at the early Nunuk Ragang longhouse, average yearly growth rate of 1.7%, and applying exponential decay calculation [6] the extrapolation back to the past yield the figure 602 as the number of years passed since the establishment of the Nunuk Ragang settlement. This roughly coincides with the year 1408 AD, approximately 33 years after Ong Sum Ping, the raja of Kinabatangan river arrived from Fujian, on a mission decreed by the new emperor of the Ming dynasty to obtain a precious treasure said to be guarded by a mysterious creature on top of Mount Kinabalu. Ong Sum Ping, together with his sister, was only too glad to flee from the social unrest in China following the demise of the Yuan Dynasty. After establishing a staging station known as Mumiang on the Kinabatangan river, Ong Sum Ping sent an exploration team up the river Kinabatangan. The team failed to arrived at any source of the river on mount Kinabalu. Ong Sum ping became more involved in Brunei Court intrigue when his sister married Ahmad, who would later became the sultan of Brunei. Ong Sum Ping himself married Princess Ratna Dewi, a daughter of the first sultan of Brunei, Sultan Muhammad Shah (1368-1402).[7] When upon the demise of Ong Sum Ping, and his son Awang or Hiawang was appointed the raja of kinabatangan he continued his father Ong Sum Ping's mission to Mount Kinabalu, but this time the Labuk River, the two tributaries of which, Liwagu Kowananan and Liwagu Kogibangan, became the main exploration route to the mountain. A staging station for the final assault up the mountain was built at the confluence of the two rivers. This campsite later became a permanent settlement as the Chinese explorers, mostly conscripted from among the native ethnic tribes people of newly invaded Formosa (Taiwan), decided not to return to China, in part because of Hiawang's conversion to the Muslim religion. The Chinese soldiers, explorers and porters later married local native women. The native women themselves were descendants of Austronesian migrants to Sahul during the Neolithic period thus giving rise to the ancestors of the Kadazan-Dusun.[8] This explain the close language and cultural similarities between the natives of Taiwan and the natives of Sabah. There are no known Banyan tree having red coloured trunks or leaves. But the colour red is an important symbol in Chinese culture.[9] The Chinese explorers and soldiers hung pieces of red fabric and banners on the banyan tree to indicate their presence to any follow-up Chinese parties moving up the Labuk River and even celebrated the new year and pray to their ancestors before red colored altars. The follow up Chinese parties never came. Raja Awang was more concerned with Brunei court political affairs and the lucrative trading in natural resources extracted from the Kinabatangan River basin. The Chinese soldiers and explorers were abandoned to fend for themselves. They pined to "muli wagu" or "return home again" to China but feared the wrath of the emperor for failure in the mission to obtain the Jewel. Hence the spreading of the Kadazan-Dusun from Central East to West of Borneo. Some Kadazan-Dusun, notably the ethnic Bundu of Kuala Penyu still worship their ancestors in the traditional Chinese way. To the natives the Banyan tree had turned red and began to refer to it as "hilo id Nunuk Ragang" later shortened to Nunuk Ragang. The longhouse was not a village but more of an early shelter or campsite for the explorers, soldiers, porters and their local native wives and children.


The Nunuk Ragang settlers reached several important milestones in their social evolution. Firstly, when the population at Nunuk Ragang reached a certain critical number, so as to unable to give shelter to all, the settlers naturally began to move out into several peripheral sites, for homesteading. Here originated most of the different tribes with different names. The most plausible date for this to happen is soon after 1430 AD when the first 3 couples, born at the longhouse, would have set up their own family. Secondly, by 1480 AD all the first generation family would be past 80 with some having died, leaving the descendants somewhat isolated deep inside North Borneo. As time passed by, the cultural influence of the Chinese near the coastal region of Kinabatangan would have waned leaving the Nunuk Ragang people with few remembrance of their heritage, apart from the symbolic "red" colour and perhaps some ceramics from the Ming dynasty. At present there are about 40 different sub ethnic tribes under the Kadazan-Dusun race, each given its name by their neighbor from the main activity and/or subsequent location of their homesteading at Nunuk Ragang.

  • The Bundu
  • The Ida'an
  • The Begak - The Begak ethnic group are a people who separated themselves from the Ida'an due to religious misunderstanding. When the Ida'an leader, Abdullah, converted to the Islamic faith sometime in 1408 AD (which coincidentally is the same year Hiawang, the new raja of Kinabatangan replaced Ong Sum Ping) a majority of the Ida'an opted to continue their ancestral belief.[10]
  • The Subpan - The Ida'an, Begak and Subpan were previously one people. In view of 1408 AD as the date of the split between Idaan and Begak, the Begak and Subpan might not be a direct descendant of the Nunuk Ragang settlers. The three sub ethnic Kadazan-Dusun tribe are probably descendant of Austronesian migrants who came in during the expansion to the Sahul and Kublai Khan's preemptive invasion of Borneo to thwart Srivijaya's further design on Borneo after their annexation of Pontianak. They are related to the Kadazan-Dusun descendants of Nunuk Ragang settlers only by way of their female kins being married to the Chinese at Nunuk Ragang Mount Kinabalu climb staging station.
  • The Liwan - The Liwan ethnic tribe derived their name from the word "saliwan" meaning "outside". Their homesteads were spread mostly outside the Nunuk Ragang proper, preferring to lead a life as semi-nomads gathering forest product such as damars and trapping wild animals. Later when they associate and allied with the Bundu ethnic group they merge and collapse into each other giving rise to the Bunduliwan dialect group.
  • The Tuhawon - The Tuhawon inherited their ethnic name from their abode and main occupation at Nunuk Ragang forest fringes, particularly at the entrance into the Pudan-Tubau box-like valley where there are abundant supply of rattan ("Tuhau" in the Kadazan-Dusun language), an important item in the Kadazan-Dusun society. The Tuhawons were the first people to discover and settle the Tambunan Plain.[11]
  • The Rungus - The Rungus had their early settlement at a geographical feature known as "Pirungusan" i.e a nose-like natural site between two rivers. They share similarities in language with the Tanga'ah which points to their close relationship at Nunuk Ragang.
  • The Lobu
  • The Mangka'ak
  • The Rumanau - The word "rumanau" means "one who cultivate wet padi". The Rumanau were the first to learn the skill of wet paddy planting.
  • The Kwijau - The Kwijau, also known as the Kureow, have a close language affinity to the Murut. Prior to the coming of the British Administration, they inhabit most of the upper rivers and hills flowing from the Crocker Range into the Keningau Plain.
  • The Tangaa - The Tangaa's or Tangara's original settlement after leaving the longhouse were in an area with abundant "tangar-tangar" growth. They subsequently migrated out towards the West Coast, peopling the Papar and Penampang area. Two branches of the ethnic groups have migrated back down the Labuk River, from whence the Nunuk Ragang ancestor came, to settle the Beluran area.
  • The Tolinting - Tolinting is a species of grass popularly used as a herb for women who has just given birth. The Tolinting ethnic tribes lives in an area with lots of these grass.
  • The Tagahas - The Tagahas has received notoriety as a fierce and warlike tribes. They claim descendant from a warrior class, hence their name "tagahas" meaning "the strong".
  • The Tambanuo - The Tambanuo people is a subgroup of the Orang Sungai.
  • The Orang Sungai -
  • The Bonggi -
  • The Kimaragang -

Leadership and Social hierarchy[edit]

The Huguan Siou leadership, a unique position to defend the culture, rights, identity and dignity of the Kadazan-Dusun was non existent at Nunuk Ragang. This leadership position, which had its roots at Guunsing, Penampang was only institutionalized after the formation of Malaysia in 1963.[12] Although the Nunuk Ragang society was egalitarian, at times of challenge or crisis they were led by warriors, who in turn were guided by the words of Bobolians, as revealed by divine revelation from spirits. These bobolians were mostly women who play their role as priestesses. Women thus play an important function in the early Nunuk Ragang society.

Exodus and Dispersal[edit]

After a number of years, a major crisis, called the Minorit Push, caused the Kadazan-Dusun to completely moved out of the site. The driving force behind the movement out and dispersal of the Kadazan-Dusun from Nunuk Ragang was said to be the Minorits, legendary tiny spiritual beings, emerging out of the ground to enforce their practice of infanticide. This exodus and dispersal led to the peopling of each territory in North Borneo. Each territory peopled had its own particular attraction or pull for peopling such as for example the Minkokook Pull for the Tambunan Plain and the Gomala Pull for the Kundasang/Bundu Tuhan Highland. It is not known why the ancestors were unable to fend off the Minorits, but in light of the Kadazan-Dusun love of the practice of riddling,[13] and couching of taboo terms in alternative words and phrases, the legend of the Minorits is most likely a composite narratives of several natural phenomena and man-made activities, which evolved overtime into this reason for moving out of Nunuk Ragang. The most likely candidates are the smallpox and collapse of the soil fertility resulting from the advent of invasive lallang grasses. In this connection, the word "minorit" merit explanation. According to research conducted by I.H.N.Evans, the word minorit is used by Dusun in two phrases i.e. "minorit O' paka" referring to the vast sea of lalang invasively growing at newly cleared forest, as visible in Tempasuk and Matunggong. Another use of the word is in the phrase "minorit O' lasu" referring to skin disease with spots of the same size spread all over the body. The Minorit push can therefore be attributed to either the degradation of the land at Nunuk Ragang due to fertility loss as the grass species, lallang grass invades the land after forest clearing or the advent of smallpox epidemic among the people. The Smallpox pandemic which began in 1588 AD in Europe, decimated up to a third of the population. The population at Nunuk Ragang in that year was just about 180 individuals. The Kadazan-Dusun race would not have emerged to become a people if the ancestors had not moved out and dispersed. The people of Nunuk Ragang never had the opportunity to avail of the practice of Variolation (also known as inoculation) even though this method of prevention of the smallpox was first invented in China around 1500. Nunuk Ragang, an ideal site at the confluence of the Liwagu Kogibangan and Liwagu Kawanan and draining out into the Sulu Sea via the Labuk River had most of the ingredients for the emergence of a Kadazan-Dusun River Civilization[14]. Unfortunately the dispersal of the Kadazan-Dusun contributed towards the failure of the race to rise above culture to achieve the status of a civilization. The word Liwagu derives from the Kadazan-Dusun phrase "muli wagu" meaning "return home again". The male ancestors was never able to return to their homeland (possibly Taiwan). Cut off from their heritage, the descendants made the best use of the environment to which they were born into, thus giving birth to the unique Kadazan-Dusun culture. Present day Kadazan-Dusun leaders suggest that representatives of each sub-ethnic tribes under the Kadazan-Dusun race conduct an annual "muli wagu"/homecoming to Nunuk Ragang as added tourism product to develop their common home.

Minorit as a Metaphor[edit]

The term Minorit is a metaphor of the monoculturalism emergence in the Kadazan-Dusun community, the deterioration of natural resources in Nunuk Ragang, and the extreme population there. It is related to the religion of the Kadazan-Dusun ancestors who at that time practised animism and worshipped Kinorohingan as God and Huminodun as in Bambarayon (the spirit of food sources and their savior). After rice cultivation was introduced in the Kadazan-Dusun community, Bambarayon was associated with rice spirits. In the future, anywhere the Kadazan-Dusuns would make new settlements, monoculturalism and harvesting festival have become parts of their culture.

In the Minorit story, it is said that at the time of Kadazan-Dusun ancestors were living in early settlements in Nunuk Ragang, there was an attack that emerged from the soil in the forms of small creatures. It is unknown whether weapons were used by the Minorit creatures. An anthropologist had interviewed several people who claimed that the tiny Minorit spiritual beings forced the Nunuk Ragang community to follow their practice of eliminating newborn babies if the baby showed signs of abnormal growth. The Minorits were only selecting their babies, who were obviously very young, with the aim of reducing the use of their food, and to ensure the bodies of the people in Nunuk Ragang were "all the same" in size.

The Minorit Push is indeed a metaphorical depiction of social crisis in Nunuk Ragang because it refers to a kind of unspecified creature which does not exist today. However, it became a revolution which forced the community to initiate a massive evacuation of Nunuk Ragang.


The possibility of further pinpointing the exact origin of the Kadazan-Dusun from before the Nunuk Ragang settlement was further enlightened during the official visit of Taiwan's minister of Council of indigenous People's, Icayang Parod in early June 2017. Masidi Manjun, Sabah minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, referred to the numerous similarities particularly in ethnic languages between the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and the Kadazan-Dusun.[15]


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  2. ^ Berinai, Judy (2013). Liturgical Inculturation in Anglican Worship in light of the Spirituality of Indigenous people of Sabah.Oxford Center for Mission Studies, Oxford. p. 62-67
  3. ^ Patrick Segunda (2004). Biodiversity in Malaysia in the book The Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment. Routledge: New York p.180-185
  4. ^ Patrick, Tracy.(2017)Book on Way of Life of Kadazans launchedin the Daily Express, May 30, 2017. p.4
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  9. ^ Low Kok On (2006). Reading Symbols and Mythical Symbolism the "Tambunan Dusun Origin Myth" Kota Kinabalu:Universiti Malaysia Sabah. pp. 38-40
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  11. ^ Gibon, A (1986).Tambunan:The Pople, their Culture and Customary Laws. Penampang, Sabah: Kadazan Cultural Association.
  12. ^ Puyok, Arnold and Bagang Paridi (2011) Ethnicity, Culture and Indigenous Leadership in Modern Politics: The Case of the Kadazan-Dusun in Sabah, East Malaysia. Universiti Teknologi MARA, Sabah. p.190-193
  13. ^ On, Low Kok and Lee Fook Fee (2012). Investigating the Relationship between Kadazandusun Beliefs and Paddy Spirits, Riddling in Harvest-time and Paddy Related Sundait. Southeast Asia Journal of General Studies: p.71-94
  14. ^
  15. ^ Chin, Mary ( 2017 ). Chance to explore Taipei tribal links. Daily Express, pp 10. 2nd June, 2017. Kota Kinabalu: Sabah Publishing House.
  • Rutter, Owen. (1922). British North Borneo: An Account of its History, Resources and Native tribes. London: Constable and Company Limited. pp. 56–65
  • Gidah, Mary Ellen (2001). Archetypes in the Cosmogonic Myths of the Australian Aboriginal People and the Kadazandusuns of Sabah . Kota Kinabalu: Universiti Malaysia Sabah Press.
  • berinai, Judy (2013). Liturgical Inculturation in Anglican Worship in Light of the Spirituality of the Indegenous people of Sabah . Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Oxford. p. 62-67
  • Monica Glyn-Jones (1953). The Dusun of the Penampang Plains, 2 vols. London, p. 117.
  • I. H. N. Evans, (1953) The Religion of the Tempasuk Dusuns of North Borneo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 187–88;
  • Benedict Topin, (n.d.) “The Origin of the Kadazan/Dusun: Popular Theories and Legendary Tales” in Our Cultural Heritage, Kadazan Cultural Association, pp. 73–77.
  • The Legend of Nunuk Ragang in Malay.
  • Nunuk Ragang and the Mystical Origin of the People of Sabah accessed April 30, 2006.
  • Allan Dumbong, "Empowerment of Kadazandusun Youths in Nunuk Ragang" (2007)[specify]