Some Sabahans still trapped in time

An almost dried up river in Pitas, Sabah.

I GREW up at a time when villagers in my kampung in Sabah carried water from the river to their wooden houses on a bamboo pole.

That was in the 1970s.

My family lived in a suburb in Kota Kinabalu and almost every weekend we would travel about 12km to Kampung Pogunon in Penampang to stay in my parents’ village.

Although the distance was only about 12km, our two homes felt like they were poles apart. The cement home in Kota Kinabalu had basic necessities such as piped water and electricity, while the wooden home in Penampang didn’t.

But it was fun for a kid (I was nine years old in 1976) to live for the weekend in the village.

For example, we would play in the Moyog river for hours with our cousins until our parents had to send someone senior to order us to muli (Kadazandusun for “go home”) or we would be caned.

Our body didn’t itch after bathing, as the Moyog river was crystal clear back then. Now irresponsible activities have polluted the river that was once a lifeline to villagers living along it.

The Moyog community is fighting back. There’s a community movement against the owner of a duck farm located upstream that is polluting the river with poultry waste. The owner has also wantonly cut the hills where his farm is located, causing the soil to wash into the river and turn it brown.

When we walked home about 400m or so from the river, we would be carrying water in a pail (about 10l) or a gallon (in Sabah, a plastic container is called “gallon” and can hold four litres). The older folk preferred the traditional way of carrying water, using a bamboo pole.

It was called sagou (Kadazandusun for “to fetch water”). The water was for cooking and drinking (it was a time when nobody would have believed if you told them that in the future people would be paying for bottled water).

Another fun way to bathe was in rainwater kept in a dorom (a Kadazandusun word for oil drum that can hold 208l of water). You could submerge yourself inside the dorom. The water was icy cold.

I have many memories of the Moyog river.

For instance, seeing a “whitish” body of a woman a villager had found stuck on the bank of the river. She had drowned a few kilometres upstream during a flash flood. (Usually town people from Kota Kinabalu did not know when a flash flood would happen. The clue is when you see debris and leaves flowing from upriver.)

Then in the late 1970s – probably in 1977 – piped water arrived in Kampung Pogunon. Instead of mooi sagou (to go and fetch water), water was coming into our homes.

Turn the tap and treated water would flow. Development had arrived in my village.

Yesterday, I shared my Moyog river experience with the ‘D’ SALAPLITES WhatsApp group consisting of people who live or lived in Kampung Pogunon.

My 55-year-old cousin Joe Suleiman (who is a Kadazandusun by the way) reminisced about those days.

“The boys of Pogunon in those years were king of montotolop (a diver who hunts for fish using a homemade spear gun). As soon as we came home from school we had an express lunch and rushed to Moyog or Timpango river. We would always come home with river fish,” he said.

Eddy Lopinjang, a 52-year-old nursing tutor who lives in Pogunon, shared her memories.

“Without piped water, the Moyog river was the main source for water. Fetching water from the river was routine. We needed to fill up the tipang (big jars for keeping water) and dorom,” she said. “With piped water, we do not have to worry about having no water.”

Fast forward to 2016.

In June this year, I was in Sabah’s Pulau Banggi, Malaysia’s largest island, to see how Malaysians suffered without piped water. There was a #BanggiWaterCrisis on the island, the size of Singapore, during the prolonged El Niño-induced dry spell since the end of January.

Villagers from Kampung Palak Darat had to make a round trip of 6km to a spring to collect water for drinking and cooking. They want to set up a 3km gravity water system costing about RM40,000, but until now they don’t have the money to start the project.

There are many areas in my state which do not have piped water. It is tragic that Sabahans do not have such a basic necessity.

I wonder why development has not reached them 39 years after piped water flowed in Pogunon.

It doesn’t help that there is a Sabah Watergate scandal where millions have been siphoned off from water projects. Based on the MACC investigations, it looks like the alleged corruption is statewide.

No wonder there are Sabahans who live as if they are still stuck in the 1970s.

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Opinion , Philip Golingai , columnist


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