Monday July 9, 2012
The ‘grey’ seat of Pensiangan
ONE MAN'S MEAT
By PHILIP GOLINGAI
The Pensiangan parliamentary constituency in Sabah’s interior, consisting of Nabawan and Sook state seats, is held by Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah – a Barisan Nasional component party known in Sabah as a mosquito party as it has an MP and a state assemblyman.
ON the Salung River deep in the remote interior of Sabah, a wooden boat powered by a 40hp outboard motor was on a journey which I call “political tourism”. The journey started at Kampung Salung accessible only by a 21km timber trail from Sapulut about 78km from Keningau town.
I drove a Ford Escape 4WD at about 30kph on the timber track. On the way, lorries laden with logs lumbered towards Keningau.
“Take a picture of them,” my cousin Joe Suleiman told me, indicating the two Murut youths on a Honda Cub motorcycle that was blocked by a pick-up truck.
Just as I was about to snap a photo with my Nokia N8, the motorcyclist with a passenger, who was trying to conceal a bakakuk (homemade shotgun), sped off.
“They’re going wild boar hunting,” said Joe, who is familiar with the area as he had set up solar power systems in schools there.
Near the jetty at Kampung Salung, six wooden boats, also with two 40hp outboard motors, were docked under shady trees by the riverbank.
“They are from Indonesia,” said Popolong Ampogol, a boatman, pointing to the boats.
The passengers of the boats had travelled for about eight hours from Mansalong in Kalimantan, Indonesia, to purchase alcohol (cheaper in Sabah than in Kalimantan) and subsidised goods such as petrol and sugar in Keningau town.
Locals also travel to Mansalong to visit their Indonesian relatives and to buy hard-to-get items such as the bakakuk.
Just like Popolong, the Indonesians were Murut. “But they speak Murut with an Indonesian accent,” he said.
About 45 minutes into the white-water adventure, the river forked.
If the boat turned left, it was downstream to Kalimantan. If it turned right, it was upstream to Pensiangan, a town with four wooden shops.
The boat owner Popolong turned right. Later that night in Pagalungan, under a kerosene lamp, the 48-year-old Murut told mengayau (headhunting) stories.
“In 1938, during Musim British (when Sabah was a British colony), my father (who was 17 years old at that time) followed his father to mengayau,” he related in Malay. “It was my father’s first experience headhunting which at that time was rarely practised by my community as the British had prohibited it.”
I was in Murut country.
The Murut, one of the largest indigenous groups in Sabah, populate the interior and southeastern parts of the state and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak borders in Borneo. The Murut hunters have replaced their blowpipe with bakakuk.
I was on a journey to flesh out the Pensiangan parliamentary seat (6,089 sq km) which is slightly smaller than the state of Negri Sembilan (6,686 sq km).
On paper, Pensiangan, consisting of Nabawan and Sook state seats, is “grey” (50/50) for Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS, a Barisan Nasional component party known in Sabah as a mosquito party as it has an MP and a state assemblyman).
Just look at the election results.
In the 2004 general election, Datuk Bernard Maraat of PBRS defeated independent candidate Martin Tommy, a Murut lawyer, by only 808 votes.
In the 2008 polls, PBRS president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup won Pensiangan uncontested after the returning officer rejected the nomination papers of a PKR politician and another candidate.
As the victorious Kurup walked out of the Nabawan community hall, someone punched him in the face.
On March 13, 2008, the Kota Kinabalu High Court declared null and void the election result of the Pensiangan seat. However, on Feb 12, 2009, the Federal Court quashed the nullification of Kurup’s election to the seat.
The day before my river trip to Keningau town, I called the mobile phone number of Kurup, who is Deputy Rural and Regional Development Minister.
A woman picked up the phone. Thinking she was his press secretary, I asked if her boss was in town.
“Why?” asked the woman who did not want to identify herself.
“I want to talk to him about his Pensiangan seat as it is problematic,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she said, sounding angry.
“Based on the previous election results, it is a grey seat,” I said.
It was an “oops!” moment for me. It turned out to be Kurup’s wife, Puan Sri Melinda, on the other end.
“Puan Sri, why are you answering his phone calls?” I asked.
“We share the same number,” said the woman, who is the steel behind the PBRS president.
Kurup would be in Keningau town the next day but I would not be able to meet him because of my river adventure.
Along the banks of Salung and Tagol rivers, there were solitary, freshly-painted pinkish-coloured wooden houses and Murut graves scattered far apart.
Later, I learnt that the houses and graves could be significant in the Pensiangan election.
> Editor’s note: Part two of the Pensiangan “political tourism” will appear next week.