Ghosts of Kinabatangan

Ancient Ghosts from the Coffin Hill of Kinabatangan (True Story)

This is a true ghost story happened to my friend. Since today is the start of hungry ghost month of Chinese, I guess a haunting story would serve as a great opening. Everything being said here is from the first-hand source. I didn’t make up anything. Let’s start by calling the three guys in this story as Robert, David and Yusof.

Agop Batu Tulug
Agop Batu Tulug is about 40 metres high and houses about 125 log coffin of 600 to 900 years old. The highest caves look like the eyes of a skull.

In 2005 or 2006, Robert, David and Yusof were on a road trip to tour around East coast of Sabah. One of their stops is Agop Batu Tulug, which is located next to the highway between Sandakan and Lahad Datu. Agop Batu Tulug literally means Sleeping Rock Cave in local language. It’s a 40-metre-high limestone pinnacle with a few big caves that store about 125 wooden coffins from 600 to 900 years ago. Basically you can call it a coffin hill.

Information panel of Agop Batu Tulug
Information panel of Agop Batu Tulug. In local language, Agop = Cave, Batu = Rock, Tulug = Sleeping. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

As a burial site, Agop Batu Tulug doesn’t receive a lot of tourists. It’s under the care of Sabah State Museum and open to public. Anyway, it’s highly accessible and visible by the roadside, so these three guys decided to pay a visit. They bought the tickets, then walked up to the hill to explore the caves with old coffins.

At first they checked out the caves in lower level, which houses coffin of ordinary people. A staff on-duty told them that the human remains in the coffin were transferred to the museum, so they assumed all the coffins are empty, which is not true.

Agop Lintanga, the burial cave for ordinary people.
Agop Lintanga, the burial cave for ordinary people. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Cave burial with log coffin was used to be a practice by Orang Sungai and Murut Tangara living in upstream of Kinabatangan plain. The reason why they did it still remains a mystery. Most wooden coffin are carved from one big chunk of Belian log (Borneo Ironwood). Belian wood is so dense and heavy that it sinks instead of floating on the water.

Later Robert reached the Agop Sawat, the highest cave that has the best collection of ancient coffins. The coffins in this cave belong to VIP such as village chief, upper-class and warriors. You can tell their status by looking at the buffalo head decoration and motif carving on the coffins.

Tour package to Semporna
Log Coffin in the Agop Sawat cave of Agop Batu Tulug
Wooden Coffin in the Agop Sawat, the highest burial cave of Agop Batu Tulug for high status people. This was where Robert offended the deceased. Credit: Photo by Jacob Mojiwat (source)

David said, “The coffins seem heavy. I wonder why these people carried them all the way up to the hill for burial?” Being the strongest guy among them, Robert took it as a challenge. He walked to a short and wide coffin that laid on a raised platform at his waist level. He grabbed one end of the coffin with both hands, lifted it up and down a few times to weigh it. “Ok ba, I can lift it,” he said.

“How about the longer one next to it?” David said. Robert did the same again to that coffin, and smiled, “Can ba, not too heavy for me.” The guys were laughing and didn’t know that both coffins were not empty. Robert has disturbed something inside.

Log Coffin in Agop Batu Tulug
Burial in cave with log coffin was used to be the traditional practice of Orang Sungai and Murut Tangara in upstream area of Kinabatangan plain. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

After the visit, they continued their road trip and overnight in a hotel of Tawau. After taking shower, watching TV and chit chat, they went to bed around 11 PM. They all stayed in the same room with triple beds. Robert was sleeping in the middle, David at his right and Yusof at his left.

Feeling something, Robert waked up in midnight. Through his sleepy eyes, he saw two dark figures standing in front of his bed. The left one was a tall and thin figure, about 6 feet high, and the short one at the right was between 4 to 5 feet tall. Because of the bathroom light behind these figures, they appeared as silhouettes. Robert thought they were David and Yusof. He wondered why they were standing there in late night. He just ignored them and back to sleep.

Layout of hotel bedroom
The layout of the hotel room where Robert and his friends spent a night. Robert drew this diagram to tell his story.

Both figures came to his bed. The tall one went to the footboard and the short one to his right side. Then they shake the bed of Robert violently. Robert was annoyed and asked them to stop, but these two fellows didn’t quit. Robert turned his body to the right, and he saw David was sleeping on the bed. Shocked, he checked his left and saw a sleeping Yusof. Robert was terrified, “huh? Then who are these two guys shaking my bed?”

The ghosts stopped shaking and Robert could tell that they were giggling, as if they did something funny and naughty, though they made no sound. Before Robert could react, the tall ghost started crawling onto his bed and moving on top of him. The short ghost pressed his shoulder and waist, Robert couldn’t move and shout. He experienced sleep paralysis with open eyes. It’s not a dream!

Log Coffin in Agop Batu Tulug
The coffins with buffalo head and beautiful carving usually belong to people of high status such as aristocrat, village chief and warrior.

Soon the tall ghost was on top of his body and stared at the face of Robert. Robert only saw a translucent, smoke-like black humanoid shadow that had no face. The tall ghost pinned his hands to the bed and giggled again. Then it licked the face of Robert from chin to forehead. Robert remembers that it’s a huge tongue and he could even feel that wet and slimy tongue touching his face.

Finally Robert could sit up after struggling hard. Both ghosts leaped to the front of his bed and giggled again. Then they turned left and walked to the window and disappeared into the curtain. Robert was scared. He waked up his friends, but none of them had any idea what was happening. Robert decided not to talk about it until daytime. He only could pray and waited for the sunrise in fear.

Log Coffin in Agop Batu Tulug
Most log coffin are made of Belian wood (Borneo Ironwood). Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The next morning Robert told David and Yusof about his paranormal encounter. The size of the ghosts matched the coffins that they played with, so they realised that they may have done something disrespectful to the deceased at Agop Batu Tulug. The ghosts just reciprocated by shaking Robert’s bed, like what he did to their coffins.

This story ghost was featured in Mysterious Borneo (神秘的婆罗洲) series in Shuang Xing channel (双星) of Astro
This story ghost was featured in Mysterious Borneo (神秘的婆罗洲) series in Shuang Xing channel (双星) of Astro in April 2023. “Robert” was interviewed in the TV.

Therefore, before they returned to Kota Kinabalu City, they dropped by Agop Batu Tulug again. Robert parked the car at the roadside, opened the door and faced the coffin hill. He apologised sincerely to the ghosts and said they didn’t mean to offend them. He also requested the ghosts not to follow them. Fortunately, the haunting ended after his apology.

In fact, this is not the only case. In one incident, a girl in a student group was possessed after a visit at Agop Batu Tulug. She was made to tell the others that never disturb those living in coffin hill. Just be respectful when you enter their territory and you will be fine. To learn more taboos, you may check out my article about some Do and Don’t in Borneo forest.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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