Tribute to Mat Salleh
Published on: Saturday, April 23, 2016

By Leonard Alaza
THE annual Sabah Fest promises yet another exciting cultural extravaganza this year where it will pay a nostalgic tribute to Sabah’s historical past.

Entitled “Gulu-Gulu”, which in the Dusun language means a long time ago, the stage is set for the amazing story of legendary warrior Mat Salleh told in a musical stage performance that features some of Sabah’s unique ethnic dances.

It will be a thrill to see how the entire show – the dances, songs, music, lights and vibrant colours – are choreographed to present the life story of the man who the British colonisers accused as trouble maker and bandit but to the natives, a hero and freedom fighter.

Much of his life recorded in history was centred on a rebellion against a foreign and oppressive system that led to some fierce battles that ended with Mat Salleh’s death. But did he? It will be up to the audience to decide at the end of the show.

But like any good story, there is an element of love and magic, and maybe a twist or two, to add to anything else that history might have lacked interest in telling. The audience will appreciate the prominence given on Dang Bandang, who was Mat Salleh’s principal wife, in the show.

Said to be so pure that her feet must never touch the ground, Dang Bandang’s portrayal in the show takes the audience deep into matters of the heart between two souls who held on to each other in the face of life-threatening situations.

All the battles and romance are set against a backdrop of places in Sabah that Mat Salleh had travelled to – and where some fierce blood-spilling battles took place – but have now become spots of tourism and cultural value.

So, a long, long time ago, it all started in Sandakan.

The year was 1883 when Sandakan was the capital of the British North Borneo. Mat Salleh and his followers first travelled to the district from Sugut to protest the collection of tax imposed by the government of North Borneo in 1895.

About 50 years later, Sandakan was occupied by the Japanese on Jan 19, 1942.

Fast forward to the present day, it is the second largest town in Sabah and is also known as the gateway to wildlife hotspots including the Kinabatangan river, Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary, Turtle Islands Park and Gomantong Caves.

Sandakan is also known for its rich heritage and is home to historical landmarks such as St Michael’s and All Angels Church, Agnes Keith House, Puu Jih Shih Temple and the Sandakan Memorial Park.

Moving on to Gaya Island where Mat Salleh led his troop in an attack to burn the early British settlements in 1897 before approaching Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu).

Gaya Island is now one of the islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, which is a quick boat-ride away from the city coastline. The marine park is popular among island day-trippers, offering activities such as zip lining, diving, snorkelling and a variety of water sports. The island is also home to luxurious accommodations – Gayana Eco Resort, Bunga Raya Resort and Gaya Island Resort.

From the island to the mountains. History shows that Mat Salleh built a fort in Ranau but it was abandoned after the second attack by the British in 1898. The name Ranau originates from the Dusun word ‘Ranahon’ which describes a wet field of lowland rice or paddy fields. The local communities were predominantly wet rice and hill rice farmers and they believed that was life in every form and being, including rocks, trees and rivers.

Ranau and Kundasang are home to Malaysia’s first Unesco World Heritage Site – the Kinabalu Park and home to the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Other attractions include the Poring Hot Springs, Mesilau, Kundasang War Memorial and Sabah Tea Garden.

In early 1898, with the advice from the Sultan of Sulu, Mat Salleh agreed on a peace agreement with the British.

This took place at Kampung Palatan in Ulu Menggatal. The agreement ensured his accessibility to Inanam and Tambunan and the release of his men who had been captured and imprisoned by the British.

Menggatal and Inanam today are bustling towns with a light industrial area.

Not far from these areas lies Penampang, often considered the stronghold of the Kadazan community and the centre of their political and cultural development. Here is where the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) Cultural Village is located where the annual Harvest Festival Grand Finale takes place from May 30 to 31.

Other places of interest here include Kipandi Butterfly Park, Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, Monsopiad Heritage Village, St. Michael’s Church and the Tamu Penampang in Donggongon.

About 60 kilometres away from Penampang across the mighty Crocker Range is where Tambunan is, the district where Mat Salleh was believed – or not believed – to have been killed by the British. A Mat Salleh Memorial was built in Kampung Tibabar to commemorate the man who spent six years leading a rebellion against the British Chartered Company.

Sabah Fest 2016 will be held at the Sabah Culture and Arts Complex auditorium from April 29 to May 1.

The three-day extravaganza will also highlight the State’s rich cultural heritage with a handicraft and traditional food showcase.

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