I was at Kampung Hungab the other evening. For those of you not from Malaysia, a kampung is a community or village, or a subdistrict. So, Kampung Hungab is in Donggongon (I can neither say or spell that correctly!) which is in Penampang, which is part of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I suppose we could say my kampung was Neasden, which is in the Borough of Brent, which is part of Greater London. 😀
In 2008, my husband Mike brought me to the kampung for the first time, to meet his Kadazan relatives. It’s taken me a full year to get a grip on which children belong to which parents, and who is married to who, and why we are even related! They are the branch from Mike’s late grandfather’s last wife. Then last year, I discovered that they have an ancestor who was from a branch of my dad’s family. So they are actually my Kadazan family too, independent from Mike.
Kampung life is completely different from anything I have personally experienced. People live close together. I don’t mean just physical closeness (I lived in a street in London for 10 years and didn’t know many of my neighbours). It’s a continuous “Open House” situation, meaning people drop by without invitation and pass the evenings together, eating, drinking, playing cards. They are always in each other’s company. It’s the daily life.
For me, the best thing has to be the children’s lifestyle: they are with each other from morning to night – playing, napping, jumping in the pool, weaving in and out of some thirty or so familiar adults ranging from grandparent to teen siblings. Imagine growing up with that as the backdrop of your childhood. I grew up as a single child in a nuclear family, in a big city, in a cold country. A different dimension.
So, we were in someone’s home (well, a group of about five very big homes built around each other on land off the big road which leads to Millennium. Some paddy fields opposite) when about 20 kids and a few adults turned up, to sing carols. I was so bummed out that I didn’t have my camera with me, and completely forgot that there was a small Nikon in the car. Anyway, I recorded them with my Nokia Slide. Sorry the audio is poor, but at least you get an idea of how lovely these kids were.
“They are all with the kampung choir, which sings at St. Michael’s church,” Lily Tann told me. “But these are the young ones, not the older ones who are the first line singers and who would have sung at the church on Christmas morning.”
These kids sang in English, and in Kadazan. “When we were young, the seminarians taught us how to sing in (harmonic) voices,” Lily continued. “These young ones still try to do that now, but they don’t have the kind of training we used to have.”
The primary school next to the church is called St. Joseph’s. “When we were there, they taught us in English,” recalled Daisy Tann. “We had to speak in English to each other too, in school, because they pretended they would fine us, if they heard us talking in Kadazan! Who had money to be fined? So we learned fast!”
“There was only one road to the school,” said Beatrice Vincent. “The road went a long way round, so we all walked across the paddy fields to get to school instead. We walked along the bunts (raised pathways dividing the paddy fields) but the farmers didn’t like us walking there when it was raining, because the bunts would collapse when we stood on them, and water flowed from one paddy field to another. So they would chase us, and we had to run away!” She laughed.
“Yes, and we would be barefoot,” added Lily. “Natural leather soles in those days! We always travelled in groups when we walked. Our parents were really strict about us being careful and not going with just anybody to school. So if someone with transport stopped to offer us a lift, we ran away from them.”
Mike’s uncle Harry Tann was in the first church choir to be formed from Hungab, about 50 years ago. St Michael’s Church is the oldest Catholic church in Sabah. It sits on a hill in Donggongon, with a river running parallel to the road which leads to the church.
“Relatives lived across the river,” Mike said. “Everyone went to the church on Sundays; about ten to fifteen couples would be getting married that day. Then afterwards, we would all head across the river to play cards. There would be a lot of eating, drinking, gambling and cock-fighting.”
Lily said in those days they used a makeshift bamboo raft to get across the river. Mike said they sent out a chicken or a dog on the raft, to check there were no crocodiles around, before people started across.
Well, I think I will be making a visit to St. Michael’s in 2010. I’d like to hear more kampung singing, and take some pictures of this very old church. And maybe some of the river. And who knows whether there is still a raft there…surely no crocs…