Living the past in the present

VISITING Maranjak Longhouse Lodge at Kampung Bavanggazo, Matunggong, 40km from Kudat, Sabah, has always been an eye-opening experience for me because of the people’s lifestyle and culture which are a throwback to the days of yore.

UNSPOILT: A preserved traditional Rugus longhouse.

It never ceases to amaze me that in the old days, a village could be made up of a couple of longhouses with hundreds of people living together in harmony.

They planted padi or went hunting together. There were births, deaths and marriages but all the celebrations and mournings were held within the close-knit community.

At that time, one longhouse could be housing more than 70 families with their own space and rooms, much like the modern terrace houses, but with communal halls built on stilts.

According to Jackson Utaray Sogunting, construction of the Longhouse Lodge Maranjak was based on the concept of the traditional Rungus longhouse.

“It is not occupied by any families now because it is solely for visitors but concept is the same. You don’t see many rooms as the design follows the traditional longhouse.

“I’m sure it’s unique to our guests although there are still quite a number of longhouses in the area that are occupied by our people,” said the 47-year-old who is a relative of the Lodge’s owner, Maranjak Malarag.

Jackson said the idea was to show guests the Rungus lifestyle of yesteryear and their ingenuity in building homes with their unique architecture.

The Rungus longhouse is different from the Murut longhouse as the former is lower on shorter stilts, and pudgy, being wider.

Jackson also said the community wanted to ensure the younger generation know about their traditional architecture and preserve it for posterity.

“It’s a heritage worth keeping,” he added.

In the past, building materials were gathered from selected hardwoods in the jungle, bamboo plants and palm fronds. The abode could be added on as new families arrived.

During my first visit to the longhouse several years ago, I saw a contraption outside the building that looked like a bubuh (fish trap).

I later learned the contraption had a more sombre function. It seemed back then that the punishment for incest was a slow agonising death – by drowning.

The perpetrators were placed in the bubuh and thrown into the river or sea. Any offspring from the illicit liaision were also subjected to the same fate.

The ruling was in force until the late 1950’s – just before independence. This form of punishment may seem harsh now but it kept the people in line during those days.

It is commendable the Maranjak longhouse is putting the bubuh on display as a reminder to the people not forget their past and how life was back then. It will also ensure the people do not forget their adat or laws of life.

Jackson said cultural heritage of the Rungus was not the only thing they shared but also Nature. The Lodge provides activities such as jungle trekking, mountaineering, cycling as well camping in the jungle.

Traditional music and dances such as sumandai-mogigol and manaradan (warrior dance) are on the entertainment programme as well.

“We also serenade guests with traditional music such as the sundatang or turali,” Jackson said, adding that the sundatang is a string instrument similar to a guitar and the turali is a nose-blown pipe that gives out a high-pitched but rather plaintive sound.

The people usually carry out these activities in the morning when the atmopshere can be hauntingly beautiful. Traditional cuisine are also provided for tourists.

Souvenir hunters can get many types of mementos from a handicraft stall near the longhouse. These include beadworks, traditional musical instruments and woven clothes, among others.

Jackson said the Lodge had hosted thousands of tourists over the years, adding that they were always receptive to its offerings.

The Lodge can accommodate up to 100 people at any one time. And those who want to experience Rungus cultures, traditions and food can visit the Maranjak Homestay.

Guests can visit various places of interest such as Sumangkap, well for its gong-makers, the Honey Bee Farm of Gombizau and the bead makers at Tinagol.

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