Sabahan first, then a Malaysian


I AM a Sabahan first, then a Malaysian.

I’ve lived in Klang Valley longer than in Kota Kinabalu, but I don’t consider myself as a Selangorian or a KLite.

You can take me out of Sabah but you can’t take Sabah out of me. I’m not sure why. Is it the ngiu chap (beef noodle) I ate when growing up in Kota Kinabalu?

Is it because 90% of my relatives live in Penampang (a Kada­zandusun-dominated district near Kota Kinabalu)?

I don’t even know the lyrics of the Selangor state anthem even though I’ve lived in Klang Valley for more than two decades. I know by heart Sabah Tanah Airku, the anthem of my homeland.

I’ll get excited when El Hadji Diouf, the Senegal footballer, plays for Sabah. However, I wouldn’t if Selangor were to sign him.

I don’t even vote in Subang Jaya where I live and where my kid goes to school. I vote in Penampang.

I do love living in Klang Valley as it is more developed – the aisle of the supermarkets here is wider than those in Sabah and they have better steak selection – whereas Sabah can be like a third world country with its frequent “earth hour” (euphemism for blackout), schools without walls and gravel road “highways”.

However, I see Klang Valley as a place where I work and Sabah as the place I will eventually return to when I retire.

Actually, what I am first depends on where I am. If I’m outside of Malaysia, I will be Malaysian first, then Sabahan.

What is a Malaysian? When I was packing my bags to study in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the United States in the early 1990s, I included items such as Lat cartoons, Sheila Majid and Headwind CDs, and photographs of iconic Malaysian sites. (I had to pack these items as when I studied overseas, it was before the age of Google.)

For me, these items defined me as a Malaysian. If Americans asked me what was Malaysia, I would let them read Lat cartoon books, listen to Sheila Majid and Headwind, and show a photograph of Mount Kinabalu.

Who I am (Kadazandusun, Sabahan, journalist, Golingai, Catholic or heterosexual) also depends on who I’m with.

For example, just say that I’m discussing the 16-year-old conversion case of a Christian in Kinarut, Sabah, on WhatsApp with Christians, I would be giving a perspective that might be different if there was a non-Christian in the group.

Depending on who is in the group, I might change my perspective that you might think I’m a hypocrite, schizophrenic or a politician.

Malaysia is a melting pot (a place where different ethnicities are melted together) and salad bowl (cultures juxtaposed – like salad ingredients – but do not merge into a single homogeneous culture).

Through my interaction with other ethnic groups in Malaysia such as Melanau, Murut and Malay, I absorb a little of their culture but my Kadazandusun culture remains.

I’m Kadazandusun first, then Malaysian. That’s what makes me typically Malaysian.

Related story:

Why the obsession over our race? We’re Malaysians

Race first? It’s not racism

Some using identity to highlight cultural heritage

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