Himpogot, the money belt

A guy is lucky if he is born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It’s a blessing if a Kadazandusun lady inherits a himpogot from her mother. Himpogot is a “money belt” made of 18 or more British silver coins chained together, and it is the most shiny accessory of traditional costume of Kadazandusun, the largest indigenous group of Sabah.

Tangkong and Himpogot
The older the Tangkong and Himpogot, the more valuable they are

In old days, wearing precious metal such as silver is a way of showing off a person’s wealth. Now himpogot is a symbol of elegance and classy beauty. The “ori” (original) himpogot means antique silver coin belt passed down (to daughters normally) as heirloom from ancestors and it’s very rare now.

Kadazan Dusun and Murut people wearing himpogot
Himpogot is a common accessory among Kadazan, Dusun and Murut people of Sabah

Therefore, due to its rarity, it’s a great pride for a Kadazandusun girl to wear a full set of 3 sparkling ori himpogot belts, which weigh more than 1.5 Kilograms, about as heavy as a big bottle of mineral water. The term Himpogot is derived from the Kadazan word pogoton, which means to tighten the tie.

One to five Himpogot belts are worn
One to five Himpogot belts are worn

Himpogot is widely used in traditional costumes of native tribes in Borneo and have different names, e.g. Botungkat in Dusun, Pipirot Linggit in Murut, and Sementing Ringgit in Iban. The way Himpogot being worn is also different among ethnic groups.

Standard way of wearing himpogot by Kadazan Penampang
Standard way of wearing himpogot by Kadazan Penampang

The “standard” way of wearing himpogot is usually referring to Kadazan Penampang style. A maximum of three himpogot belts are used, one on the waist and another two, before and after the tangkong brass belts. This looks beautiful with black velvet dress with gold trimmings (siling).

Bajau lady (left) wearing Himpogot
Bajau lady (left) wearing Himpogot

In contrast, Dusun Lotud uses one himpogot together with Lilimbo (Rattan Hip Band), whereas Dusun Tempasuk from Kota Belud will wear up to 3 himpogot on the hip. Kadazan Papar ladies use one on the waist and 2 or 3 on the hip.

Tour package to Mataking
The coin belt (Sementing ringgit and dangling coins (Sementing Buchai) of Iban girl
The coin belts (Sementing ringgit) and dangling coins (Sementing Buchai) of Iban girl

Though Iban is considered as a Sarawak tribe, Sabah has some Iban people living around Sipitang and Tawau too. In addition to silver coin waist belts (Sementing ringgit), Iban female also wears the dangling silver coin chains on skirts, hundreds of coins are used, pretty impressive. But Iban has its whole way of using and wearing silver coins, and I won’t cover more.

Dusun Tindal men wearing Himpogot
The men of Dusun Tindal also wear Himpogot

The prices of himpogot can vary considerably. The “ori” (original) himpogot can cost more than 1,000 Ringgit. The fake or imitation ones usually cost from RM90 to RM200, depending on the quality.

Tangkong (left), the brass belt and Himpogot (right), the silver belt
Tangkong (left), the brass belt and Himpogot (right), the silver belt

The original Tangkong brass belts also cost a fortune. A complete set of 3 tangkong and 3 himpogot belts can worth over RM15,000 (≈USD$3,750). But these are traditional jewelleries that are seldom available for sale.

Himpogot worn as shoulder bands by a Murut Paluan woman
Himpogot worn as shoulder bands by a Murut Paluan woman
Miniature Himpogot
Miniature Himpogot for children, which is half the size of standard himpogot.

British Trade Dollar

Most of the time I only see old British coins used in himpogot. The most common coin being used in himpogot is the British Trade Dollar issued between 1895 and 1937 . This silver coin consists of 90% silver and was used to be a ‘Trade Coinage’ (coins manufactured by one country for use in another country) widely circulated in China, Hong Kong, Malaya, Borneo and Brunei as an international currency in early 20th century.

Antique himpogot exhibited in Monsopiad Cultural Village
Antique himpogot exhibited in Monsopiad Cultural Village

Now let’s play a game to see if you can identify an original himpogot. There are two himpogot below, tell me which one costs RM3,500 and RM150. Guess. Don’t scroll down too fast for answers ok.

MYR150 and MYR3,500 Himpogot
Guess which Himpogot is MYR150 and MYR3,500

On the coin is the Britannia standing on a shore, holding a trident in one hand and a shield in the other, with a merchant ship under full sail in the background. This coin was known as Ringgit Tongkat (Walking Stick Dollar) and Botungkat (having a stick) in Malaya and some Dusun respectively because of this figure. Britannia is the female personification of the British Isles and she symbolizes unity, liberty and strength. The Britannia side must face outward when himpogot is worn.

This himpogot is valued at MYR3,500
This himpogot is valued at MYR3,500 (≈USD$880)

Answer: The second (bottom) himpogot is valued at RM3,500, while the one on top is only RM150. Have you gotten the right answer? The average price of each coin in ori himpogot is RM184! I checked eBay and found these coins are worth more than USD$50 each (collector’s quality). FYI, each coin has different value. Anyway, their prices exceeds silver value due to their numismatic (coin collector) appeal.

Himpogot with faked coins
Himpogot using faked coins is a lot cheaper

Look at the photo of RM150 himpogot above. The words and graphics have shallower emboss and the surface is more whitish in color. According to the seller, the shiny surface is a plated silver. Another thing you can see is the year on these coins are all the same.

The coins of Himpogot in different years
The coins of ori Himpogot in different years (1897, 1898, 1900, 1901, 1903, 1911).

Now look at the original himpogot above. The British trade dollar coins are naturally worn and have different years. The weight of this .900 fine silver coin is about 26.95 g. Stanis, the seller, says the real silver coins will make crisp ding-ding sound when hit each other, whereas the fake coins will make “ta-ta” dull sound. It’s a fake too if it is magnetic. You can read this article to spot counterfeit British Trade Dollar.

These three himpogot cost MYR2,500 to MYR3,500.
These three “ori” himpogot cost MYR2,500 to MYR3,500.

Above are three original himpogot that costs (from top to bottom) RM2,500, RM3,000 and RM3,500. It costs RM9,000 if you want these three belts as a complete himpogot set! On the reverse of the coin is an arabesque design with the Chinese symbol for longevity in the center, and the denomination in two languages: Chinese (壹圓 = One Dollar) and Jawi ( ساتو رڠڬية‎ = One Ringgit). You can learn more about the history of this coin.

Mexican coin in Himpogot
Note the Mexican coin (used as buckle)

Sometimes other silver coins are used in himpogot, like the Mexican coin above and the following copper-nickel 25 Pence in 1977 that celebrated the Silver Jubilee (25th Anniversary) of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Straits Dollar, and Hong Kong Silver Dollar. Himpogot with coins that aren’t drilled with holes has higher value.

Himpogot made of copper-nickel 25 Pence coins in 1977 that celebrates the Silver Jubilee (25th Anniversary) of Queen Elizabeth’s reign
Himpogot made of copper-nickel 25 Pence coins in 1977 that celebrates the Silver Jubilee (25th Anniversary) of Queen Elizabeth’s reign (Photo from the book “Cultures, Customs and Traditions of Sabah Malaysia – An Introduction”)
Himpogot with Chinese words
Himpogot with Chinese words that reads “中國古代四大美女” (means 4 prettiest ladies in ancient China), with name and portrait of these women on the coins. (actually this isn’t coin)
Himpogot made from France coins
Himpogot made from France coins?

Just a thought. Does anyone make new himpogot with new silver coins? For example, they can buy new British silver coins, which costs about RM75 to RM90 each, for making of a new himpogot which costs about RM1,500. Though it’s not an antique, it’ll become ori after passing down for a few generations, a good investment.

Handicraft stall of Stanis in Tamu (open market) of Donggongon town
Handicraft stall of Stanis in Tamu (open market) of Donggongon town

If you want to buy original himpogot, you may look for the stall of Mr. Stanis in Tamu (open air weekly market) in Donggongon town, which is open in Thursday and Friday mornings. His stall is the largest handicraft stall in the middle of tamu.

stall of Stanis
His stall only opens in the morning of every Thursday and Friday.

However, these himpogots are stored in his little treasure chest. You can ask him to show you. You better hurry. Last time I mentioned about his RM8,000 Tangkong and it was sold. Original himpogot is a rare and highly sought-after item, so I’m sure it’ll be gone soon. No, he didn’t pay me any commission or ad fee.

Special thanks to Anne from Chanteek Borneo Gallery for providing a lot of information about Himpogot.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

2 thoughts on “Himpogot, the money belt

  1. i think its the same as the needle on the cinema seat and with a message ‘welcome to the aids world’
    i guess u can call them urban legends?
    i heard of one, if you want to sabo a car, just pour sugar into the fuel tank, does not work actually.

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