Please, try to understand us

Many of you Malaysians over in the Peninsula get quite offended when I quite bluntly tell you: “You don’t get it.” When it comes to Sabah, I mean.

Flag of the Malaysian state Sabah. Based on a ...
Sabah state flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is, you don’t. I am not saying it as an insult so those offended people in the corner over there, have a cookie and don’t take it personally.

Now, let me educate you a little.

Some of you compare Sabahan anger over some PKR rep unilaterally bestowing the title ‘Huguan Siou’ on Anwar Ibrahim to the furore over using “Allah”.

They are not the same thing.

Declaring Anwar ‘Huguan Siou’ is the equivalent of naming a foreign worker Sultan of Johor.

Or giving Justin Bieber a British knighthood.

‘Huguan Siou’ directly translated means ‘brave leader’. In the old days, a ‘Huguan Siou’ was the leader of a tribe’s warriors (pangazou), chosen by consensus and after much deliberation.

Those were the days when the tribes were constantly at war and headhunting was still practised. The Huguan Siou could not just be any man: On his shoulders lay the safety and the survival of the clan.

Over time, the tribes eventually became the collective we know now as KDM or Kadazan/Dusun/Murut formed by the three main tribes. The Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) is now the keeper and bestower of the title of Huguan Siou.

It is not a title given out lightly, or one that can be bought or sold, like Datukships in this country.

The first KDCA-selected Huguan Siou was the late Tun Fuad Stephens, Sabah’s first chief minister, who had been instrumental in the state becoming part of Malaysia.

He had an interesting lineage: he was half-British and half-Kadazan on his father’s side and half-Japanese and half-British on his mother’s. To top it all off, he was Muslim but chose not to abandon his father’s surname when he converted.

Stephens was living proof that Huguan Siou is not about racial purity, nor was it about faith. It was about leadership. And he had proven himself, many times over. No Sabah leader has yet managed to win over both the largely Christian KDM natives while also being accepted by the Muslim Sabahans that included the Bajaus, Suluk and small minorities among the KDM.

Then came Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan. He defied Berjaya and Haris Salleh’s excesses, choosing to run as an Independent candidate in Tambunan.

“Against all odds and despite massive threats, insinuations and “vote-buying” through on-the-spot approval of development projects and other private amenities, incumbent Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan retained his State Assembly seat with an overwhelming majority of 3,048 votes.” – (Source: The Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) website)

He went on to form PBS, helming it to victory in four elections. BN for years tried to paint him as anti-Muslim, as well as trying to stir up racial and religious sentiment in the state. It was unacceptable to the federal government that a non-Muslim could defy the status quo and helm the state.

But then 1994 happened and the great frog exodus occured, when Pairin was betrayed by his own men in PBS. He has never recovered, eventually ‘surrendering’ and returning to the BN fold. And I fear his courage and will to fight has been sapped by years of enduring BN’s attacks on his leadership.

Dear Jonathan Yasin: You so easily confer ‘Huguan Siou’ to the man who was rumoured to have been behind the ‘frog’ incident? You happily give one of our highest honours to a man who turned a blind eye to Sabah’s poverty and hardships all the years he was still with BN?

But I don’t blame Anwar. It’s not like he asked for the title.

Still, PKR has to stop pretending it understands the state. This latest incident just proves it doesn’t. Work with local parties, stop fighting with them for seats.

The locals will not forget you made Azmin Ali Sabah PKR chief for a while.

You complain we treat you like outsiders, but the truth is it takes a local to ‘get’ how complicated we are. It is a different world in Sabah and unless someone is willing to spend years in the state, (which Azmin clearly wasn’t willing to do considering how little time he spent there), West Malaysian politicians can never hope to get traction.

Sabah and Sarawak, by the terms of the Malaysia agreement, have autonomous rights that make each state the equivalent of the whole Peninsula. We are not just ‘other states’.

We are equal but not the same. There are rights that we have, traditions that we keep that we ask you politely to respect or at least, allow us to explain to you.

It is obvious that PKR has a lot of listening to do.





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