Lost hiker mystery: What the forest wants, the forest takes

  • Living
  • Monday, 13 Jul 2015

In part two of our story on missing hikers and forest spirits, hikers share more harrowing experiences of being 'spirited away'. Read part one Lost hiker mystery: Did 'orang bunian' kidnap Teo Ming Lean?

Sarimah Yusuf’s problems began when she picked up a strange pink flower at the end of a trek to Pine Tree Hill, Fraser’s Hill, on April 25.

“My heart started beating hard. I felt weird. Like there was a voice calling my name. It seemed to get closer and closer to my ear,” recalls the legal firm employee.

“Then there was a strong fragrance. I couldn’t tell where it came from. I was overcome with sadness. I didn’t want to go home.

“I felt tempted to follow the voice from below the hill inviting me to follow it. I felt as if I was entering another world. I was crying hard. I didn’t want to hear those voices any more. And that’s when I fainted.”

M.K. Ganesan, the hike leader, remembers seeing Sarimah suddenly descending the hill very quickly on a rope. “After about 1km, we heard a lady crying and screaming. We rushed forward and noticed it was the same lady who had roped down fast,” he recalls.

They saw Sarimah seated on a log at the foot of a tree, with her hands clutching both her ears. She was facing downwards and shaking uncontrollably. “We calmed her and tried very hard to get her to walk with us. She was afraid of something we couldn’t see but she says was following all of us,” adds Ganesan. “In our opinion, clearly she had been ‘possessed’ by something.”

As Sarimah was being driven out of the forest that day, her delirious meltdown changed to hysterical laughter.

Sarimah Yusuf was disturbed by a spirit after she picked up a strange pink flower in the jungle.
Hiker Sarimah Yusuf says that she was "disturbed by a spirit" after picking a strange pink flower in the jungle. She makes it a point now to say her prayers before going into the wild.

“That night, I could still hear her screams in my head. It was hard to sleep,” says Sarimah, adding that her ustaz later told her that she was “lemah semangat” or weak in spirit. “It’s easy for these things to enter us when we are jiwa kosong (our souls are empty inside). I had taken up hiking after my divorce last year.”

Despite the episode, she has since returned to hiking. “Nowadays I follow buddies who know the jungle well. And before entering the forest, I will say prayers for safety, to protect me from spirits and jinns.”

No complaining

Grace Wah went on a tough hike up Gunung Yong Belar (2,181m, on the border of Kelantan and Perak) in 2009, with K, a friend. While on the hike, K was complaining to her friend non-stop, not realising that she was breaking a jungle taboo: people should not complain about things.

“The next thing we knew, K sprained her ankle,” recalls Wah, an executive assistant in a training company. “Next, tent arrangements had to be changed and a camper lit a mosquito coil and placed it outside our tent. This caused K’s eyes to become painfully swollen. Her nose was blocked by an allergy too.”

Grace Wah says one should not moan and complain about things when in the jungle. As a Christian, she also prays before hiking.
Hiker Grace Wah recounts an inexplicable experience she had with a friend on Gunung Yong Belar, after breaking a jungle taboo.

The next morning, on the way out, Wah and K lost sight of the hikers in front of them who were fitter and faster.

“We thought there were sweepers behind us who would soon catch up with us after they had finished clearing the campsite. But after about 30 minutes, we realised nobody was behind us,” remembers Wah. “We tried to retrace our steps and whistled to alert our group but to no avail. Panic set in and K began to cry. We tried to stay calm and pray.”

Eventually, the other hikers launched a search and managed to find Wah and K.

“When we asked them how they knew where to look, the rescuers told us they had bumped into two Malays guys who said they had spoken to two Chinese girls on their way up Yong Belar.

“Truthfully, we never met those two guys,” says Wah. “Were they angels? Until today, it remains a mystery to us.”

She adds that she had been told not to complain or speak negatively when walking in the jungles and on mountains. “The spirits are said not to like it and will punish those who grumble. I honestly do not know if our problems had anything to do with that. But since then, I have been mindful not to complain when hiking.

“As a Christian, I always pray before entering the jungle. I do believe in the existence of the spiritual realm and of spirits. It’s wise not to provoke them and to mind our own business.”

She still goes hiking happily: “I’ve learnt from experience. If these things didn’t happen, we would have no stories to tell.”


On the subject of the Sabah earthquake being caused by angry spirits, Alim Biun, a senior researcher at Kinabalu Park, says there are many community taboos among the Kadazandusun people. “There are rules to follow in the jungle. Arrogant words are totally banned,” he says.

“If people break the rules, they may get cut by knives or bitten by snakes. They may be lost in the jungle for days or their crops may fail. There are many such stories among the Kadazandusun people,” says Alim, who comes from Kampung Bundu Tuhan, a village in the foothills where many Mount Kinabalu guides come from.

In the past, the people would ask the spirits for permission before going hunting.

“There was strict discipline for this. We couldn’t even say that we are hunting, we have to use indirect words, like we are ‘hoping for good luck’ in the jungle,” explains Alim. “This is to avoid alerting the spirits that we going hunting, otherwise they may get the animals to run away.”

In the past, hunters were told to kill only one or two animals and not be too greedy. “And if they got one animal, they had to bring back everything. They could not leave any body parts in the jungle or misfortune may happen.”

He adds that the forests around Mount Kinabalu have not been cleared. “This is because we believe the souls of our ancestors still live there.”

Alim Biun, a Senior Researcher at Kinabalu Park, says there are many Kadazandusun community taboos for the jungle.
Alim Biun, a senior researcher at Mount Kinabalu National Park, says the Kadazandusun have a list of taboos governing proper jungle behaviour: "Arrogant words are totally banned."

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