Hardly any revival of the traditional beliefs
Published on: Sunday, October 13, 2019
By: Ricardo Unto
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KOTA KINABALU: There has yet to be any substantial revival effort of traditional beliefs in Sabah, said a University of Malaya (UM) scholar.

Associate Professor Dr Hanafi Hussin from UM’s Arts and Social Sciences Faculty said the responsibility to preserve traditional beliefs should be shouldered by the respective ethnic communities.

“Traditional beliefs are owned by the communities…so if they abandoned these old religions, it would be impossible for other ethnic groups to preserve these religions,” he said when met after presenting a talk on the “Unique Belief Systems and Traditional Religions of the Indigenous Peoples of Sabah” at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), here.

“These old religions will be left abandoned without being practised and eventually forgotten unless there are people who want to revive them.

“However, so far, I do not see any revival of traditional beliefs except for several practices deemed customary or cultural as the identity representation of the particular ethnic group.

“In this case, certain elements in the traditional beliefs which had been practised by their ancestors are being brought forward by the present generation, as long as they see it as not contradicting their religion.

“For me, these elements are cultural manifestations to preserve their identity.”

While noting that the advent of major world religions, like Islam and Christianity, may have affected the continuation of traditional beliefs, he said “philosophically, the old religions are still there, it’s just that they were no longer practised.”

“An individual can choose which religion suits him or her best…if the traditional belief had been chosen, then he or she can continue to practise without mixing it with the major religions.

“And if he chose to embrace a major religion, then, of course, the person will abandon his or her traditional religion.

“When a group of people embraced a new major religion, the traditional religions still exist but they are not being practised.

“But some of them could start to learn back the old religions as they are aware that it would be a great loss if they are not being practised.

“However, I think this is very unlikely to happen…it is nearly impossible for someone who had embraced a major religion to revert to the old ways.

“Even among the ‘bobohizan’ (Kadazan ritual specialists) who have been the leaders of traditional religious practices, eventually, some have left the old practices and converted into major religions,” he said.

Hence, he said, the persistence of traditional religions are hard to be ensured.

“It is hard for traditional religions to be applied in major religions as the beliefs are different.

“For example, a Christian would live and work hard to be a good Christian according to the teachings of Christianity and anything from the traditional beliefs could not be infused in it.”

To this end, it is very rare to witness a traditional ritual nowadays.

“For the Kadazan of Penampang, for example, rituals maintain a balanced relationship between the Kadazan people in the physical world and spirits in the spiritual realms.

“And the role of the ‘bobohizan’ is to restore the balance and normality,” he said. 

He also disclosed that most of the older generation of “bobohizan” had either opted to embrace new major religions. 

And these rituals are also connected to their lifestyle, for example, rice farming.

“Practicing traditional beliefs is mostly among the old folk now.

“Rice farming rituals are no longer practised …it is even quite rare to see people in Penampang plant paddy now.

“However, the traditional beliefs are still appreciated through the celebration of cultural events like the Harvest Festival,” he said.


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