Gong is the most important idiophone in traditional music of Sabah indigenous people and found throughout Sabah state. Gong is usually made of brass or bronze, it produces muffled sounds of a deep tone, when its thick and broad rim was hit by a stick. As the backbone of most music ensembles, gong is played in almost every social event in Sabah.
Pic: Kadazan Papar girls playing gong in Harvest Festival
When Sabahans want to dance, they beat the gong. When they want to celebrate wedding, they beat the gong. When someone dies, they also beat the gong. Gong is also played in other occasions such as animistic religion ceremonies, festivals and welcoming guests.
Gong is more than a musical instrument in old days that have no phone. Besides showing happiness and sadness, gong was also a communication tool to send signals to other villagers up to 5 miles away. The listeners can tell from the rhythm that if it’s a good or bad news. Slow rhythm means an invitation for having a drink. Fast rhythm indicates danger. When someone is dying the beats start slowly at first increase in speed and then on death resume a slow beat.
Pic: Rungus boys beating gong in longhouse
In the past, gong is highly valued and owning gong is a sign of wealth. Villagers would exchange livestock for a gong and gong is one of the common items in brideprice. Gong is valued by its age and tone. People that time can recognise the unique sound from individual gong and even tell if a gong has flaw. Therefore, stealing of gong is rare, because owner (and other villagers) will locate his gong once the thief beats it.
Pic: Dusun Tindal people from Kota Belud playing gong
Pic: Murut playing gong to welcome guests
Gong is widely used by Kadazandusun, Murut and Bajau people in their traditional music. Each ethnic group has its own distinct musical forms such as the number of gong used, styles, tempos and tunings, and in combinations of other instruments such as drums to accentuate the main rhythms. A set of 5 to 12 gong is being played in most cases, sometimes it can go up to 36 gong.
Pic: Sulu Sandakan dancing on the gong
Pic: Use of gong in Betitik music of Bajau
Pic: Beating gong 1 or 7 times is a common way to launch an event by VVIP
Pic: gong as a symbol of Kadazandusun culture on building of KDCA Penampang
“If you can’t sing, you can beat a gong.” – John H. Alman
Pic: structure of gong ensemble of Murut Timugon community (Source: Jacquline Pugh-Kitingan)
There are many types of gongs, but in general gong can be divided into three main groups, namely, tawak, chanang, togung. Some gongs have interesting motif on it. Individual gong also has a name which denotes its sound or rhythm it plays. These musical names vary in different tribes.
Pic: Chanang Kimanis gong, note it has two bosses
You may play the following video to listen to the sound of gong:
Kampung Sumangkap, the Gong Making Village
In Matunggong of Kudat district, you can see gong making process at gong factory of Kampung Sumangkap (Sumangkap Village). When I entered the village, I saw no “factory” but a typical Sabah village of over 60 wooden houses, with 30 or more gong workshop scattered near to them.
Pic: entrance of Kg. Sumangkap Gong Factory
Btw, visitor is required to pay a small fee at the ticket booth near the entrance. The gong factory is open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm (including public holiday). The following is the rate of Admission Fee (as of Jul 2014):
Adult (12 years and above): RM5.00 (≈US$1.60)
Children (6 to 12 years old): RM3.00 (≈US$1)
Children (below 6 years old): Free
Pic: trying to lift the Biggest Gong in Malaysia (or in the world?)
The highlight of this village is the Biggest Gong in Malaysia. This giant gong is 20 feet tall and weigh 980 Kilograms. Funded by Malaysia Handicraft, it took 5 weeks for 4 local gong craftsmen to make this gong from 20 pieces of 4′x8′ zincs.
There are many other big gong displayed in the field for tourists to take photos with.
Sumangkap Gong Village was inspired and initiated by a well-known local Gong craftman named Mr. Majabab @ Majabab B. Omlunru in 1968.
Pic: Gong workshop next to village house
Visitors can walk freely in the village and visit individual gong workshop to see craftsman making gong. Probably I visited on weekend, so the village was quiet and only two families busy making gong.
Before the visit, I thought I would see sweating gong-smith pounding iron next to a flaming stove, in a smokey and noisy environment. Instead, the gong makers use gas welder to melt and join pieces of galvanized iron sheets together, and occassionally using hammer to touch-up the outline of gong.
Most villagers are Rungus, the indigenous people of Sabah. Rungus is skillful in all sorts of craftwork and their women are the best weaver and handicraft maker in Sabah. They are very friendly and totally don’t mind I busybody around while they work.
Pic: a woman making the boss and base of the gong
Each gong workshop is a shop by itself. Besides watching gong making and buying gong, variety of smaller souvenirs in gong shape are available for sale on the spot. The smallest item is gong keychain that costs only a few bucks. You also can bargain with the seller.
A complete set of gong can cost thousands of dollars. As gong is in good demand, Sabah also imports gong from the Philippines, Indonesia or Brunei.
You also can order custom-made gong, in the size, motif / design and wording that you specify. How cool it is to use gong as an ornamental signage for your shop / house.
Sumangkap Gong Village is very accessible but very far, it’s about 140 KM north of Kota Kinabalu city (See location map). Just follow the highway to Kudat town, after 2.5 hours of driving you will see a brown signage reads “Gong Making Factory Kg. Sumangkap” and a big gong at your left in Matunggong area (see photo above). Turn to that junction and you will reach Sumangkap in minutes.
Matunggong Gong Festival
To have more fun with gong, you may visit the annual Gong Festival of Kg. Sumangkap. The upcoming one is from 24 to 25 Oct 2014 (subject to change).
Pic: Rungus people beating gong in Matunggong Gong Festival
As an opening, hundred of gong will be beaten by villagers and tourists, making it the noisiest festival of Sabah.
The gong beating is “fire at will” style. Just beat the gong non-stop until you make all the birds within 10 KM radius flee.
Pic: tourists have fun beating gong
After the launching, there are “Queen of Gong” beauty pageant and cultural performance line up for your enjoyment.
Posts related to Gong
Music of Gong Rock
A few children discovered strange rocks on riverbank when they were swimming at a river in Tambunan. When being hit, the rocks produce gong-like sound.
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The Cursed Gong Rock
This mysterious rock laying deep in the forest and looks like a gong. Legend says it is from a cursed longhouse. It’ll bring flood when disturbed.
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“If you can’t sing, you can beat a gong”, by John H. Alman, Sabah Society Journal September 1961
Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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Sabah may not have a lot of tall building, but we have many long building (longhouse). Though other Sabah native tribes such as Murut and Dusun Lotud also build longhouse, larger number of Rungus people, a sub-ethnic of Kadazandusun (largest indigenous group of Sabah) with a population of 80,000*, still practise the traditional lifestyle of living in a longhouse today. In 1930s, there was a Rungus longhouse stretched as long as 5 Kilometers!**
Pic: a traditional Rungus longhouse
A Rungus longhouse (known as Vinataang in local language) is made up of 7 to 15 or more family apartments co-joined laterally. Most residents in a longhouse are relatives among themselves. If new family is added, the owner would extend the longhouse at one end. A Rungus village consists of 1 or more longhouses (usually 5 or 6). Longhouse is common in northern part of Sabah, from Matunggong, Kudat, Kota Marudu to Pitas.
Traditional longhouse is built from wood, bamboo and atap (palm leaves). To avoid flood and wildlife such as snake, the house is lift off the ground by stilts made of hard wood such as bogil, belian ironwood, mangrove wood and manzalangan**. In old day, they also raised pigs under the longhouse. The roof is dry palm leaves of sago or nipah, and needs to be replaced every 3 to 5 years.
Pic: entry ladder to longhouse
There are many taboos about longhouse. For example, the site of a new longhouse is chosen based on signs such as dream, animals, weather and human behaviour. If a python (which symbolise death in local belief) appears at the construction site, they would not build the longhouse there. In contrast, tortoise is an auspicious sign. Guest who enters apartment under construction, or leaving the house without informing the host will bring bad luck. The wood of toodopon and puvok trees can’t be used in making house, as they will bring illness, disaster or bad luck. Nevertheless, after many Rungus converted to Christian, they may not strictly uphold these belief now.
Pic: the long and wide corridor of longhouse. Rungus longhouse is divided into two distinct areas, the apad or common gallery (left), and Ongkob or compartment area (right). Apad is an open area for work and leisure activities such as rice pounding and celebration.
The raised platform (tingkang) of apad is a general working area and sleeping area for older boys.
Pic: flooring made of split bamboo or nibung.
Pic: The wall is created from the bark of manzalangan. There are some holes on the wall if you want to peek what your neighbour is busy on lol.
Pic: I was staying in Maranjak Longhouse for a night and this is my bedroom in longhouse. They have electric bulb to light up the room and corridor. The mosquito net can keep hungry mosquito at bay. There were far fewer mosquitoes than I thought because the longhouse is near to the forest. The wall is so thin that I can hear clearly what the girls in next room talking. During bedtime, I can almost hear the girl breathing, as if she was sleeping on my bed. Luckily she didn’t snore (but I did, HAHAHA). The longhouse is a bit warm in daytime, but at night it is quite cooling. In my dream, I heard two geckos fighting near my bed.
During my stay in Maranjak Longhouse, I took a closer look at the Rungus longhouse.
Then I saw a tower at other end of the longhouse. At first I think it’s for the guard. Then they tell me that that tower is called Rorizan, the place to keep the most beautiful girl in the longhouse.
In case you fall in love with the girl in Rorizan… FYI, to marry a Rungus lady, big muscle is not enough. You also need brain and patience.
Because, you will be tested by Inuog Dazang (Teka Teki Puteri) puzzle, to free the rope from interlocked rattan knots, without cutting it. If you succeed, you can marry the girl without paying any bride price. You can try until you cry but not getting it. Don’t worry, I already have the formula for you. You can buy me some beers if you win a Rungus bride.
Pic: you may have seen the photo of Rungus people dancing Mongigol Sumandai (a welcoming dance mimic the movement of dragon and the male being the head of dragon) and think that Rungus man can have many wives. Rungus marriage is monogamy. Sex before marriage is strictly prohibited, as Rungus people believe this will bring sickness and death to their village. Besides, girls are kept separate from boys except at work. I’m talking about the old time.
Nowadays each Rungus family prefers to have their own house. Also, it’s rare to see thatched-roof Rungus longhouse as corrugated zinc is preferred roofing material. If you see an authentic longhouse, very likely it is built for the tourists.
Pic: photos of “modernised” longhouse, which is more durable and offers bigger space. More livable but lack of cultural identity.
Pic: longhouse with solar panels (certified low-energy green building). This longhouse in KDCA Penampang costs about half a million Ringgit (≈US$157,000) to construct!
Longhouse is not the only cool thing about Rungus. Rungus is renowned weaver. They produce finely woven textiles, handicraft and beadwork which incorporate intricate traditional motif.
The motif design of Rungus is inspired by animals, plant and other things in their environment. Each piece takes 1 to 7 days to make, depend on its complexity. Some motif carries meaning such as good health.
The handmade beadwork of Rungus is so beautiful and colorful that it is one of the most popular souvenirs tourists bring home. It’s also nice as an exotic accessory for lady dress. With prices start from only a few dollars, it’s quite affordable.
If you go to Kudat, I highly recommend you to buy some handicraft from the locals. In fact, most Rungus handicraft for sale in city shops are from them, but being priced higher by distributors.
Pic: Rungus woman is also skillful in producing homespun cloth made from cotton (kapok)
The traditional costume of Rungus is truly unique. I haven’t seen other Borneo tribes that share the similar traits. The photo above is the “most traditional” custome of Rungus women, who wear Ganggalung, disc of brass coil necklace of 40cm in diameter, and Lungkaki, the tightly coiled ornament covering the lower leg. Ganggalung and Lungkaki are seldom worn today. They told me that the brass outfit is heavy and make them lazy to move.
Pic: A Rungus man wearing colorful sash and a sigal, the traditional embroidered headgear. He looks serious but he is very friendly.
Staying in Longhouse
If you would like to experience staying in longhouse, you may visit Kampung Bavanggazo or Maranjak Longhouse Lodge in Matunggong, about 150 KM north of Kota Kinabalu city and 40 KM south of Kudat town (see Location Map). Both longhouses are only a few KM away from each other and their owners are brothers.
Their longhouse can host about 30 to 40 guests at a time. The accommodation fee is about RM60 – RM80 per night (≈US$19 – 25). You also can sign up for some activities such as fishing, crab catching, hiking and tour around in Kudat.
Lastly, mind your head when you visit a longhouse. Incoming! LOL
**source: Sabah Traditional Ethnic Houses, published by Department of Museums Malaysia (ISBN: 978-967-9935-81-3)
Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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