Saturday, March 10, 2012

New Web Home


We are moving our blog to Wordpress platform. We will not be posting in here from hereon. However, we are not taking down this blog either but this platform will no longer have further updates. Please visit us at our new blog platform at .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slavery and Piracy in North Borneo

By : Justin Sunam Wong

I was reading A Decade in Borneo, written by Ada Pryer or Ada Blanche Locke. She is the wife of the first Resident of the British North Borneo Chartered Company (BNBCC) in Sandakan and in North Borneo, Mr William Burges Pryer. It was published in 1893; fourteen years after the founding of Elopura or Sandakan and about six year prior to the demise of William B. Pryer on 11 Januay 1899 at age 54 *1. Sandakan was founded by Mr Pryer on 21 June 1879 *2.

Pryer's monument in Sandakan. Souce :

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How places got their names

The following is collected from the collective memories of NBHE members. It's not much but I thought it would be a waste not to share it. 

Api Api was what Kota Kinabalu used to be known before the name was changed to Jesselton and later to Kota Kinabalu. Some Hakka still refer KK as Ya Pi. There are at least 2 accounts on how the settlement came to be known as Api Api. 1) Named after a big fire caused by rebels in 1897 which razed down the Pulau Gaya settlement. 2) named after some kind of plants which were plentiful in KK.

Karamunsing in Kota Kinabalu was named after a type of plant/tree used to be abundant in the area, which in local dialect was known as Karamunceng or Karamunsheng tree.

Keningau used to be known as Kaningau.  Oscar Cook in 'Borneo the Stealer of Hearts' mentioned it as such. The town got its name from a type of cinnamon tree known as Kaningau in local dialect which grow/grew abundantly there.

Kota Belud was derived from Sama words, which directly translates to Hill Fort, or rather, Fort on the Hills. It was one of Mat Salleh's strongholds during the 1897-1900 uprising against the (British) Chartered North Borneo Company.

Labuan got it's name from the "Malay" word for anchorage i.e. Labu-an. In Sama language labu' means drop and labu-an is to drop, in this case dropping achor. A Bruneian would have pronounced it as Labu-han. A small village in Kota Belud shares both the name and the role as an achorage, albeit on a small river for small sampans.

Lok Kawi is named after Cowie. Lok is bay in Bajau language and Kawi is the Malaynised Cowie

Manggatal is the correct name not Menggatal, some overzelous outsider coined this Menggatal. The name was derived from a mango tree which  found abound near the present river, the type of mango "kambasang" which is quite coarse and it irritates your throat hence gatal in Malay. The place has a lot of these species of mango, hence Manggatal was born.

Sandakan was said to have acquired its name from the word Sanda-kan, where Sanda means  pawn off/sell off. This word is common among the peoples living in the area and Southern Philippines, as well as the Iranun people in Kota Belud. Obviously this refers to the British North Borneo Company (later chartered) acquisition/lease of the area from the Sulu Sultanate in the early 1870's.

Tenghilan named after a large Manggilan tree where people used to do their daily sustenance activities

Taun Gusi, a major village in Kota Belud got it's name after a major flood decades ago accidentally unearthed many ancient Chinese jars, similar to the ones that are very popular among many tribes in Sabah. The words Taun Gusi literally translates to Jungle of Jars in Sama language.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remember this Song? Hand in Hand, we welcome you...

A gift to Sabah. Courtesy of Mr Frank Faurillo.

Drop Off Box

By Justin Sunam Wong

Bonding with Gaya Street (BGS) is a modest and yet unique exhibition in that where the conventional exhibition format, you have a designated venue and all the exhibition subjects are located in that one place. With BGS however, our Creative Director, Ms Yee I-Lann, opted for a more organic and personal touch, personal in a sense that it is the community that is telling its own stories. 
I-Lann interviewing her subject. Photo courtesy of ProArt

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bonding with Gaya Street

By : Justin Sunam Wong, NBHE Founder

The cat is out of the bag! New Sabah Times has published our press release. In a way, this is kind of a soft launch of the event itself. It all started with a walk in Gaya Street in October 2011. A few of us enthusiasts decided to meet up and explore Gaya Street.

Some of our members in Gaya Street
Most of us take Gaya Street for granted. I personally, only think about Gaya Street when I have a craving for Bak Kut Teh in the evening. Incidentally, my West Malaysian friend was amused when I revealed to him that we have Bak Kut Teh in the evening. He told me with great authority that Bak Kut Teh should be taken in the morning as breakfast. Well, he might be right, Bak Kut Teh was a concoction conjured up by the coolies of old days, to give them nourishment and energy within their limited resources; Necessity is the mother of invention they say. Before long, they perfected their recipe and Bak Kut Teh evolved into the mouth watering fare of present day but I have digress. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Train Trip to Tenom

The first things I noticed were the raintrees standing at the edge of the padang. They were massive and must be very old and, therefore, have witnessed a lot of events. I wonder what they’d say if they could talk. The next thing I realized was the quietness and the leisurely way the people went about doing whatever it was they did.

Huge raintrees at the edge of the padang

After a glass of cold lemon tea and some toast, it was time to explore Tenom. Someone said we should go to the coffee place where we’d be able to sample the famous Tenom coffee and buy some to take home. We walked from one block of shops to another but couldn’t locate the place. So Tenom isn’t such a small place if something as popular as a coffee outlet couldn’t be located.
“Is that it?” I asked Justin.
“No,” he said, “that’s the market.”
And further down: “No that’s a food court.”
“Closed? No customers?”

Closed shops

Another closed shop

More closed shops; note the sky!

It was a Saturday but many shops were closed; their shutters pulled shut but unlocked. It was as if the proprietors have given their staff a break so they could go home for lunch and maybe take a nap before coming back to the shops.

 We couldn’t locate the factory which produced the famous Tenom coffee so we walked along the quiet streets and five-footways to watch the people.

There were many used clothes vendors but hardly any potential customers rummaging through their goods. One could get bags and shoes, too!

There was a roomful of men enjoying themselves around the billiard tables… macam di KK. I was tempted to take a photo but those men would know I didn’t belong to Tenom so…

I passed through Tenom decades ago and I remember it as a vibrant, bustling place. It had been an important town during the NBCC era. With the building of the railway lines at the turn of the century, huge areas that were once inaccessible, virgin jungles had been opened up to turn them into rubber and coffee plantations. Because both these cash crops became huge revenue-earners, they later justified the building of the railway tracks through the uninhabited forests and along difficult terrain.

Tenom was also a busy town then because all traffic from the coastal towns of Sabah had to pass through Tenom to go to Keningau and Tambunan. (Tambunan was connected by road to KK only in the early 1970s.)

Since there was nothing much to see we strolled back to the railway station, stopping to see whatever caught our attention on the way.

People crossing the street despite the No-Crossing-Here sign. Note the closed shop.

Notice of road accidents. If there has been none since 1999, why bother updating the information? Good point!

Soon it was time to go. The train went pooot…pooooot! And Paul asked, “Is everyone on board?” No one appeared missing when the train pulled out of the station approximately two minutes before departure time.

But wait! When we were chugging along at ten miles an hour, and the Tenom Station was a faint dot in the distance, Caroline called! She had been left behind! Thank goodness for modern technology. Stop the train! Stop the train!

We discovered that not only the train could stop, it could reverse all the way back to the station!
Hello, Caroline and Annette. So sorry we didn’t notice you were missing!

There was no more exciting incident after that except at the stretch where a party of goats were strolling along the tracks dead ahead of our oncoming rail-bus.
Get off the tracks! Get off the tracks! But the goats, perhaps unaccustomed to the night train service, ran straight ahead. One poor, little goat must have been so tired it stopped on its track, turned around and looked up at us! Some passengers were already visualizing barbequed mutton—hot, moist and tender—beside their cold beers!

But the train slowed down and came to a complete stop. A few villagers standing near the tracks shooed the goats off the tracks into the dark night. We reached the station, happy that no goat was retrieved as a dead passenger.

The beautiful sunset was a fitting end to the great day!

Let me conclude this post with a delightful poem written about the North Borneo train. It appeared in the fortnightly North Borneo Herald and is believed to have been written in 1912 or 1913 by an un-named writer.

Over the metals all rusted and brown
Thunders the mail to Jesselton town.
Tearing on madly, racking not fate,
Making up time—she’s three days late.
See how the sparks from her smoke-stack shower
Swaying on wildly at three miles an hour.
Sometimes they stop to examine a bridge,
Sometimes they stick on the crest of a ridge,
Sometimes they find the line washed away
And postpone their advance the following day.
Beaufort to Jesselton—tour of delight—
Taking all day and the best of the night.
Over the rails all rusted and brown
Drives on the mail to Jesselton town.

(Thank you to Susan for pointing out the poem to NBHE! And our heartfelt appreciation goes to our gracious host, Paul, and the GMR and his SSR crew for making the trip possible!)