Spooky silhouette of trees

10 Taboos in Borneo Forest

Now is Hungry Ghost Month, so it’s a good time to talk about the spiritual world. Borneo forest was used to be the most mysterious area on earth, only adventurers dared to explore it. Today, even tourists can visit our forest, but it is still full of mystery and many visitors have unexplainable experience.

misty Borneo forest

Like Indians who believe everything has a soul, the locals believe the forest is the world of spirits. Therefore, we have a set of rules to follow when we go into the forest, especially the undisturbed forest. I hear many scary stories of someone whom I know breaking the rules. Below is a list of 10 Big No-No in Borneo forest.

1. Don’t Pee Everywhere

Old folks would advise you to say “Excuse Me” before you pee in the jungle, though there is nobody around. This is to inform the “invisible” entity to give way, so you won’t pee on them. Btw, any language will work as “they” can read your mind. I have relatives who didn’t believe this and one of them even purposely peed at the grave. So, at night he saw a man standing next to his bed and stared at him angrily. He was terrified for a few days until he went to the site to apologize, then the spirit left.

pee in the wood

Never pee at termite nest, big tree and boulder, which can be the home of the spirits. Peeing at river and stream is not a good idea too. Urinate at sacred sites such as Mt. Kinabalu can bring serious consequences, case in point, a group of 10 disrespectful foreign tourists were blamed for causing a magnitude 6 earthquake. Most people think that it’s only a coincidence, but they get more angry with these fools anyway.

2. Don’t be Busybody

Our forest is rich in biodiversity, so is the forms of spirit. If you see, hear and smell something weird or unknown in the forest, just keep quiet and move on. For example, you would smell something stink or fragrant, so strong that as if it’s just next to you, or you might suddenly feel a chill in your spine for no reason.

dark forest

Do NOT mention it or ask your friend what it is. It’s probably a spirit comes to check you out or tries to play a trick to lure you. If you respond, it’ll follow you. If you ignore it, it’ll vanish. My ex-classmates didn’t ignore this at Kinabalu Park, so they found 2 “extra” misty human figures in group photo. Some of my friends even hear someone calling their names or foot steps behind. No matter what, don’t go off-trail to investigate. Curiosity kills the cat.

Tour package to Semporna

3. Don’t Make Noise

Whoever enters the forest is an outsider invading the territory of the spirits. Usually they don’t bother until someone disturbs them with noise. If you have been to Mt. Kinabalu, you would recall your guide advised you not to be noisy. According to the locals, Mt. Kinabalu is the resting place of the death.

Borneo forest

Student is the most annoying group. Despite advised by guide, they are negligent and soon forget about it. Then the mountain is echoed with their loud noise and laughter. Then later at night, some of them would be harassed by black shadow during bedtime. I had heard so many cases like this.

4. Don’t Swear

Jungle trekking can be unpleasant to most people, as Borneo forest is dark, warm and humid. People start to complain when they sweat profusely or get tired. Remember, something is seeing you and hearing you. Your negative attitude will be a magnet for negative energy and that includes bad luck. Sooner or later, you would see the whiner getting into trouble such as a bad fall.

Your positive qi (energy) is your best defense. Keep swearing doesn’t help, it will only worsen the situation.

tree root

5. Don’t Joke

If you see anything ugly or funny in a forest, don’t make fun or laugh at it. I know a fellow from Kuala Penyu who laughed at an ugly old tree, then he lost in jungle and almost died of dehydration. According to him, he followed his “friend” in front of him, but his friend didn’t talk and respond to him. Actually it was a spirit that disguised as his friend and made him lost in the wood.

dragon head tree

6. Don’t Bring Raw Meat

Most local hunters know this rule. The locals tell me that meat, especially raw pork and salted fishes, will attract something undesirable. I heard story of a driver who kept raw wild boar meat in the car felt that the car became “heavy” when he drove on winding roads next to the forest of Tambunan. One of my friends even saw a tall and black human figure with red eyes at roadside of Papar.

big trees

For local people who hike a lot in Sabah forest, they would know the popular taboo named Kopunan. In the forest, you are not supposed to mention any food that is not available there, not even joke about it, for example, saying something like “Hey, is there any burger here? I wish I have a cold bottle of Coca-Cola with me.” Doing so will generate an unfulfilled desire and that negativity will bring bad luck.

7. Don’t Disturb Anything

Leave everything in place as it is. Take nothing but photograph. Keep in mind that the forest is the property of others. That’s why workers of logging companies are strong believers of Feng Shui and God of Earth (Dato). You can see them worship Dato (拿督公 in Chinese) in their forest campsites. The spirits hate the loggers so much that the workers need the protection from the God of Earth.

God of Earth (???)
Pic: God of Earth (Dato) is widely worshiped in construction & logging sites of Sabah

If you have to take something, ask for permission (say to the air), and you better leave something behind as an “exchange”. However, if you take anything in national park, no matter it is live or dead specimen, it’s stealing and you will be fined RM1,000 or more. So just don’t do it.

8. Don’t Sleep Anywhere

Based on common belief of locals, Bambangan, Banana, Banyan and Bamboo are the most haunted trees of Borneo. There are many ghost stories related to these trees too. If you camp in the jungle, stay far away from them.

bamboo forest

I have a friend who was a girl scout and camped a lot in the wilderness. She said one day a hammock next to a banana tree spin like crazy and freak out everyone. Personally I saw fireball with tail hovering in bamboo forest. My late grandmother said it’s the spirit of the newly deceased.

9. Don’t Make Fun of Wildlife

Every living thing is the “citizen” of the forest. It is understandable that people may consume them for living, but it is unforgivable to torture or make fun of them. I was told that a group of hunters caught a monkey in Trus Madi. They put cigarette in the mouth of the dead monkey and had good laugh of it. That night an unusual strong wind blew away their camp.


10. Beware of River

Without pollution, the river in deep jungle is crystal clean and we will swim. Be careful, my Long Pasia guide warned. Before entering the water in remote area, we should throw lime or a pinch of salt into the river to cleanse it. During camping, he also advised us not to sleep in parallel direction with the river. Or we would find that we are relocated to another location in next morning. This has happened to his guests. Weird huh?


Call me superstitious if you want. Well, many broke the rule but nothing bad happened to them, so you can remain skeptical. Anyway, the rules are easy and won’t cost you anything. Four rules have something to do with our mouth, so just shut up in the forest, haha.

Notice by Sabah Parks
This notice in Kinabalu Park reminds “naughty” tourists to behave themselves.

For those who don’t listen to the old folks, they would experience bad consequences such as incubus and sickness. In serious case, it could be bad weather, accident, lost in jungle or being haunted. Though most Sabahans are converted to Christians or Muslims, most of us believe there is another kind of energy living in the forest. Another reason to follow the rules is to show that you respect the cultures and belief of locals, no matter you believe it or not.

Borneo wood

I’ve walked hundred Kilometers in forest and never harassed by any spirit. Just Respect the forest. Before I enter any forest, I “talk” to them, saying that I’m just a friendly visitor and don’t mean to disturb them. When I walk in the jungle, I praise everything I see and thank them for the nice surrounding. In almost every case, the moment I walked out of jungle, it rained, as if they waited until I finished my journey. It happens so many times that I can’t believe it’s just a coincidence. I’m trying to say, they will be nice to you if you respect them.

local guide

If you enter a remote pristine forest, it’s also advisable to bring a local villager / guide with you. The spirits would be less hostile if they see you coming with someone they know. For safety reason, the locals know the place well too. Do you know the locals appease the spirits of Mt. Kinabalu annually, to protect the climbers?

making offering
Pic: making offering to mountain spirit with 7 betel nuts, eggs, tobacco rolls and chicken

For high-risk expedition, you can request a local shaman (locally known as Bomoh) or high priest (Bobolian) to appease the spirits for a smooth journey. They also can neutralize the curse or chase away the evil spirits, in case you get one from the forest. However, if you don’t feel alright after a jungle trip, the first thing you should do is to see a doctor instead of Bomoh. It could be allergy, food poisoning, viral infection, Malaria, etc., a 99% chance that there is a scientific explanation.

Pic: a Bobolian

Hey, please share with me if you got any story ok. 🙂

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

10 thoughts on “10 Taboos in Borneo Forest

  1. This is a very unusual and ‘different’ sort of how to guide. I was aware of #3 but most of the others are new to me. I guess most of it is common sense that I don’t do it… but interesting to read some of the reasons behind some of these beliefs.

    1. Hi Serene, most outdoor people (especially kaki hutan) know these Do & Don’t. However, this might be the 1st time someone writes a “guide” about it. 🙂

  2. Hello again Murphy 🙂 You helped me plan my trip a lot so far, with your valuable advice and articles and I need your advice again 🙂
    I searched your blog for ‘malaria’ and this is the most appropriate post where I think I can address my questions.
    I know everybody says we should consult our doctor but she knows nothing about Borneo . We are searching the internet but we would really appreciate your advice on this matter. Our pharmacist recommended Malarone for us but we are reluctant to taking medicine unless it is absolutely necessary On the other hand I wouldn’t want to get sick. What is the best solution from your point of view? Is Malarone available in Kota Kinabalu and would you know how much it costs ? And please some advice regarding the best solution to repel mosquitoes as I would like to use an eco-friendly one but they say they’re not effective .
    We will have 2D/1N on Mt Kinabalu , trekking the park trails & loop-trail, 1 day rafting on Padas river, 5 days of scuba-diving on Mabul and 3D/2N at Kinabatangan 🙂 I know, a lot of activities !!! I think we’ll come back more tired that we started our holiday :)) .
    Looking forward to your advice, Gia

    1. Hi Gia, our country has strict regulation on drugs. Malarone may not be widely available or it might require doctor’s prescription, but I’m not the best person to answer this. 🙂 Anyway, I can share what I know, because I planned to get one for my Maliau Basin expedition team last time.

      I consulted a pharmacy and they recommended Doxycycline as it has the mildest side effect.
      1. Doxycycline is available in pharmacy of Sabah. The fee is about RM35 for 40 tablets.
      2. Take one pill every day (or as advised by pharmacist), starts 2 days prior to the trip, for next 4 weeks.
      3. You would be sensitive to sunlight. Wearing hat and long sleeved shirt may soothe the side effect.

      But we didn’t go for it, as the danger of probable side effect and allergic reaction is significantly higher than Malaria. It’s very risky to hike in treacherous terrain with a dizzy head. Personally I never take any medicine for Malaria prevention. I only use insect repellent to keep mosquitoes at bay.

      1. Thanks again Murphy for your advice. Having so many separate trips during 2 weeks we should take antibiotics for a very long time and I really don’t want to mess up my system with them 🙁 I think we prefer to use a strong DEET repellent only when we’re in the dangerous areas and immerse myself in essential oils like eucaliptus or neem oil . Hopefully we’ll be alright 🙂
        I just have one thing that is not clear : from what I’ve read malaria mosquitoes don’t live at greater altitude, so for our trip in Mt Kinabalu park should we worry about them ? Oh and also for Padas River rafting I know we should wear strong sunscreen and mozz repellent , but is it any malaria or other health hazard ?

        1. No, mosquitoes won’t be a concern if you are in Kinabalu Park HQ, but they are present in Poring Park (lower altitude). You would meet most mosquitoes in your trip to Kinabatangan. It depends on your luck, sometimes there are many or very few around. If you stay near mangrove, the tiny sandflies would be a problem. They are particularly active during dusk in warm & humid day. You can use DEET repellent to drive them away.

        2. OK, thanks for confirming ! Most probably I will use a strong DEET repellent and cover my body best as I can, rather than taking such a strong medicine for so many days. I hope I’ll be just fine with preventative measures 🙂

        3. No problem Gia. 🙂 FYI, it’s very hard to find repellent with DEET formula here. One of the places you can get it is at an outdoor shop located in ground floor of Suria Sabah shopping mall in Kota Kinabalu city centre.

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