KOTA KINABALU: The rise of the metaverse is spelling an end to the trade of Kadazandusun spiritual healers, who “travel” to a parallel world and call upon other beings.
These bearers of age old traditions and their practices are going extinct, mainly because almost no one wants to learn the trade of the bobolians or bobohizans (priests and priestesses).
Instead, the people have embraced religion and technology. Many of the traditional beliefs, which are linked to animism, no longer have a place in their lives.
Practised solely by the chosen people called the bobolians or bobohizans, they claim to have the ability to go into a trance and transport from one location to another, and to communicate with other beings of this world, unseen by naked eyes.
The purpose is to heal, to call upon the spirits of nature, and most importantly, act as guardians of customs, of beliefs and of traditional rites.
One of the oldest surviving bobohizans in Sabah is Stella Manggala, 76, who has been in the trade since young.
Insisting it is not black magic, she said she had always used her ability to communicate with spirits to heal, to appease, and to seek permission before a ceremony (be it a marriage, a funeral, welcoming of new guests or opening up of new lands), and to do good.
She said natives in the past were mainly pagans and animists who believed that every being has a spirit and that this earth does not belong just to humans and animals.
This is why the role of the bobohizan is significant during Kaamatan when they need to thank the rice or padi spirit for the bountiful harvest.
According to legends, Kaamatan is celebrated after the ancient gods saw the sacrifice of their daughter, Huminodun, who was the most beautiful girl alive, to save the people from starvation.
Her death was said to have allowed for a bountiful harvest of padi for the people.
“There has to be a way how we do things.
“We have to seek permission from the earth, from god, from below before a ceremony is performed,” Stella said.
When mistakes are made, a proper form of punishment or fine (sogit) has to be given in accordance to the customs and beliefs of every ethnic group, or village, or district, she said.
Recalling how she knew she had this “gift”, the mother of seven said it happened after a dream she had when she was a little girl.
“I dreamt that someone, a higher being, was telling me that I have a ‘guru’ above and below. And then I woke up,” said Stella.
Soon, she seemed to have acquired automatically classic Kadazandusun, a language only known by a handful of people, mainly bobohizans. She delved deeper into it, learning about the chants and so on.
For the bobohizans, their essential tools when performing a ritual include the komburongoh (a type of tree root found in swampy areas, believed to house the spiritual guardians of the bobohizans).
These roots are cut and strung carefully, as the maker must not “poke its eye”.
Without the eyes, the komburongoh would be useless.
There is also the sindovang (a brass instrument which acts as a bell or telephone used during a trance), a sword, and the tapi do bobohizan (bobohizan skirt with bells, which is an important item to announce one’s arrival while entering the spiritual world).
For Stella, it is important that the natives remember their roots and uphold their traditions and ancestral beliefs.
“It is sad that there are only a few of us left. We are the keepers of tradition and we are what people refer as ‘experts’ in the area of customs, rites and ancient knowledge,” Stella said.