Village synonymous with gongs

PART AND PARCEL OF LOCAL TRADITION: The gong shop. — Pictures by Anna Vivienne

KOTA KINABALU: Kampung Sumangkap Matunggong, Kudat, a small village just a couple of kilometres from the main road, usually affirms its claim to fame during a festival when it comes to life with the sounds of gongs and feasting.

One such festival is the Gong Festival which is apt for the village because it’s there that the gong-makers are found – a group of about 20 families supplying buyers statewide with this home-made  percussive instrument.

Gong-making in Kampung Sumangkap has been going on for a long time. In fact, the area is now synonymous with the activity. The commercial venture is an tradition passed down from generation to generation.

MORE LUCRATIVE: Seline Ojingan married into the business.

Seline Ojingan has been making gongs since she came to live in the village in 1994. The petite 34-year-old mother learned how to make gongs from relatives and friends after she got married to a local.

“Life isn’t easy as a housewife, especially when you depend solely on your husband for everything,” she said.

After realising gong-making was a way to make extra income, she decided to learn how to make them.

Nowadays, she makes standard gongs and as well as smaller ones as souvenirs.

“I can make seven gongs between a week and 10 days,” she said, adding that the traditional skill of making gongs should be perpetuated.

MOTHER AND GONG MAKER: Roslina Jomuon learned the skills the hard way.

Roslina Jomuon from another village but married a gong-maker in Sumangkap, has been helping her husband with his work.

A mother of four children, the 33-year-old said she acquired her skills through hard work.

“I’m proud to say I can make seven standard gongs in a week and several souvenir gongs in a day. It’s hard work but well-worth it when  I see finely-made gongs in my display shelf.”

GONG MAKERS: Ronney Makuut watching a relative making a gong.

She also makes the smaller kulintangan gongs for dances, and accompaniment with other musical instruments such as drums and pipes.

Sumangkap-born Ronney Makuut used to tap rubber (he still does) but he saw gong-making as a good way to make extra income.

“I have seen my elders make gongs and am impressed with their skills and perseverance. It’s hard work.

“But with the demand, and tourists visiting our village, I see the potential in this cottage industry. Moreover, it keeps our tradition alive. I’m sure Sabahans will agree when I say the gong is an integral part of our music,” the 35-year-old said.

Ronney is helped by his wife and relatives and everyday, one can see them beat metals into gong-shaped objects behind their display hut.

His sister Rohanna Makuut, 36, whose shop is just opposite his, echoes his sentiment, saying the gong-making industry in Sumangkap should be perpetuated.

According to her, the Gong Festival does help to promote the area as Sabah’s gong-making village. The Festival itself has attracted many tourists — domestic and international — since it started in the mid-2000’s.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Rohanna Makuut at her gong factory.

“We’re proud of our skills, most of which were acquired from our ancestors. Even though some of us go to the tamu (traditional market) to sell our wares, we usually stay here and take care of our shops. It’s wonderful that people know where we are and they come to us nowadays,” she added.

However, not all is fine and dandy in the village. The villagers complain the roads have not been upgraded and the access route to the village from the main road has been damaged.

They welcome tourists but hope the authorities will look into the road condition as driving into the village is not comfortable due to potholes and damaged parts of the road.

The road outside of the village is also very dusty and people get covered by a thin coat of dust everytime a vehicle passes by.

“Please upgrade our roads,” the villagers pleaded.

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