Borneo: The Rungus Festival

This blog is part of a series of three that focus on the people and culture in the Kudat region of Borneo, particularly the Rungus tribe. It is based on my limited experience and subject to my creative interpretation…

We did not know what to expect from the Rungus Festival but what an awesome festival it was. Held in our volunteering village of Tinagol over two days to celebrate traditional sports and the Rungus belief in Spirits.

The Rungus traditional religion is that of nature (although a lot are now Christian) in which they believe that spirits embody the natural world and that some people can possess spirits of animals or natural objects which give them super powers! Pretty awesome, especially as the powers seem to be focused on cool things like giving strength, making people really heavy/immoveable or really lucky (one villager who’s a firm believer in this stuff and sacrifices pigs to the spirits keeps winning the lottery!).

On the Friday, the festival’s focus was on traditional sports which included climbing a dead tree trunk, spearing a hoop, racing on stilts, dancing to the birdie song and Tug of War.

The highlight when we were there was the Tug of War. This is a sport taken very seriously in the area. 

We got involved in an exhibition match of villagers vs. visitors. We were asked to be on the village’s side so we took the strain and heaved on the whistle. I love Tug of War. 

I gave it all I had…but we started to lose ground…so, aligned with the festival’s focus, I summoned the spirit of Mr Oldershaw (Dave-o), my primary school headmaster who used to ref our Tug of War games…he told me what needed to be done…I cleared my throat and yelled the “Heave!” battlecry to get the team pulling in unison. To my surprise the chant took and all I could hear was monstrous bellowing of our battlecry from my teammates. From here we made light work of the visitors and emerged from the battle victorious!

The Saturday was apparently more focused on the spirit element, and particularly those with the strength spirit as there was a Strongest Man Competition. Unfortunately we couldn’t make the Saturday but we did have a go on the equipment the day before and I confirm we don’t have the strength spirit in us.

I’m yet to be convinced on the Spirit belief but it is a nice way to celebrate people whose genetics and training make them better than average in certain categories.

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