Vancouver and Sabah’s sininggazanak

The opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics had First Nation “welcome poles.”


kinarutThe welcome poles reminded me of sininggazanak that I knew about in when I was in Sabah decades ago, totemic wooden figures ceremonially placed in the field of a Kadazan who had died leaving no heirs. Besides commemorating the dead person, the sininggazanak asserted the claim of the person’s blood-family to the land; a childless person’s land is inherited by his or her siblings and their children. The spirits associated with the figure protect the land. Found only in the Penampang / Putatan / Kinarut area sininggazanak are now rare as they have been overtaken by modern land title systems.

The most famous sininggazanak, a rare female one, was at Kampung Tampasak in Kinarut. It has has now been replaced by a stone replica and stored in the Sabah Museum for preservation.

Peter Whelan has written about the sininggazanak in: “Commemoration of a childless person: a custom among the Kadazans (Dusuns) of the Kinarut – Penampang – Putardan region” in Sabah Society Journal, 6(1):7-26, 1973-74, and Traditional stone and wood monuments of Sabah, ed. by K.M. Wong (Kota Kinabalu : Centre for Borneo Studies, Yayasan Sabah, 1997). ISBN 9839722034