The story behind Keningau’s oath stone

KENINGAU: Except for the words written in old Malay spelling, the oath stone in front of the Keningau District office seems just like another rugged rock.

Most visitors are not tempted to spare a moment to delve into the meanings of the words written on a plaque that is affixed to the large foot-shaped stone.

But following the official national level celebration in Sabah to commemorate the Malaysia Day on Sept 16 this year, the historical stone finally received some recognition.

The stone was originally placed within the compound of the old Keningau District Office, adjacent to the district hospital, but was later relocated to the present site.

The man who was very much involved in setting up the historical oath stone was former state secretary Tan Sri Richard Lind.

According to Lind, the idea of the oath stone was mainly to resolve the initial opposition of the rural native chiefs on Sabah’s move to join the Malaysian Federation.

“Several prominent native chiefs (or locally known as Orang Kaya Kaya) had certain reservation over the idea of Sabah joining the Federation, simply because they felt they would not be able to understand what was going to be written in the proposed Malaysian Federation Constitution,” explained Lind, who was the Keningau District officer then.

“There was much discussion and consultation. I tried my best to allay their fears and suspicions,” he told Bernama.

After resolving the apprehension, then came the idea of an oath stone to acknowledge their acceptance of the Federation.

So a suitable stone was sought for the purpose.

“As the district officer at that time overseeing this assignment, the task became all the more urgent when it had to be completed to commemorate the first anniversary of Sabah’s independence through Malaysia,” Lind said.

He said after considerable efforts, he identified a stone in the middle of Pegalan river, near kampung Senagang, a small village along the Keningau-Tenom road.

“This stone had all the characteristics for use as an oath stone. However, getting it out was difficult as it was in the middle of the river with the water flowing fast,” he said.

However, with the help of a local building contractor, Nip Kui Chiang, the stone was winched out from the river and transported to the site chosen by local leaders.

Lind said, he then commissioned a plaque to be made by the Thornycraft Shipyard in Singapore to be affixed to the stone.

Local leaders wanted the Federation’s Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj to unveil the stone but in the end Federal Minister of Labour Tan Sri V Manickavasagam was delegated to officiate the event.

On Sept 16, 1964, on the first anniversary of Malaysia Day, a large crowd gathered at the old district office compound to witness the historic occasion of unveiling the oath stone.

Among those present then were the Chief Minister Tun Fuad Stephens, Datuk G S Sundang, the president of Pasok Momogun, the main opposition party at that time; Yeap Kee Aik, then Federal Secretary; OKK Sedomon Gunsanad, OKK Angian

Andulag, community leaders, government officers, native chiefs, village headmen and representatives from various ethnic groups.

The 47-year-old oath stone, weighing more than two tonnes, is a symbolic memorial that displays the terms under which the natives agreed to the formation of the Federation.

The terms displayed on the plaque (in Malay) mention three tenets; Freedom of religion in Sabah; the government of Sabah holds authority over land in the state; and the native customs and traditions must be respected and preserved by the government.

In return, the people of the interior pledged loyalty to the Malaysian Government.

In the early years, a moningolig (a ritual using a chicken as sacrifice) is held at the site in conjunction with Malaysia Day celebration, attended by about 100 people, including politicians, government employees, students and community leaders representing various ethnic races.

The service was also a tribute to pre-independence leaders as well as to remind the younger generation about Sabah’s place in the creation of the Malaysian Federation.

According to a local, John Gitang, during the first moningolig when the stone was first unveiled a strange thing happened, a white rooster simply ‘refused to die’ after it was slaughtered for the ritual.

Gitang thought the rooster was dead and brought it back home but as his wife was about to clean it, the rooster suddenly came back to life.

Fearing that misfortune might befall on them, they decided to put off the family’s dinner plan and the lucky cockerel survived.

Meanwhile, Natural Resources Development and Environment Deputy Minister Tan Sri Joseph Kurup suggested that the oath stone be relocated to a suitable place in view of its historical value.

He said its present location was no longer appropriate because the site would be used to expand the district office. — Brenama

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