Mount Kinabalu, allegedly the highest mountain in South East Asia, is still revered by many among the Kadazan people of Sabah. Mt. Kinabalu still has a fairly strong influence on the daily lives of the native peoples.
The ancestors of the Kadazan people saw this mountain rising into the heavens (or Heaven), so it seemed to them. They may have concluded that this mountain was the resting place of their long-gone ancestors. They, therefore, called this mountain Nulu Aki Nabalu. In the Kadazan language, its name is Nuhu AkiNabahu.
"Aki" means grandfathers and every male ancestors of the past. The male gender normally includes the female gender. Therefore, Aki would include "Odu" meaning "grandmothers" and female ancestors.
Nabahu in the Kadazan language means "coffin" or "resting place." Akinabalu, therefore, means "resting place of dead grand parents." It has nothing to do with the words "China / Cina (Kina)" and "balu" which in Malay means "widow." Thus, there is no such thing as Chinese widow. It is a mere theory of recent times. It is a mere legend!
Whereabouts of Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu (or Mt. Akinabalu) is found in Sabah in the eastern part of the Federation of Malaysia that came into being on 16th September 1963.
Sabah was the former North Borneo nation under the administration of the British North Borneo Company, and later by the British Crown office. It was administered by the British as a territory separate from the other British colonies.
As indicated by the former name, "North Borneo", Sabah is at the north-eastern part of the island of Borneo, the third biggest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. Borneo has an area of 288,869 sq miles or 748,168 sq km.
Mt. Kinabalu is located in the interior of Sabah, within the Kinabalu Park. This park had been declared by UNESCO in 2000 as a World Heritage Centre. It is the first in Malaysia. Mt. Kinabalu is a designated Centre of Plant Diversity for Southeast Asia.
Kinabalu is the home of the largest flower in the world, the Rafflesia and the giant pitcher plant, as well as a myriad of flora and fauna.
The town of Ranau and the village of Bundu Tuhan are a stone-throw away from the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The vegetables gardens of Kundasang and the Ranau Hot Springs are close by.
Mount Kinabalu is 13,455 feet above sea level. It is made up of molten rock formed millions of years ago. Recent surveys revealed that Mt. Kinabalu is lower than this. It was found that this mountain is not the highest mountain in South East Asia. But its fame has not diminished.
Legends of Mount Kinabalu
There are a number of legends connected with Mt. Kinabalu. You may or may not have heard about the legend of the three Chinese princes who came to steal a great pearl being guarded by the Dragon of Kinabalu.
It is said that the youngest prince managed to steal the pearl and survived. To cut a long story short, he later married a "Dusun" girl who became "Kina (Chinese) Balu (Widow)" after the prince died. This is an interesting legend. But it remains what it is, a mere legend. The true meaning of the name of Mount Kinabalu is already explained above.
There is another story, a true one, that revolves around the chief mountain guide at Mt. Kinabalu. This may become a legend in its own right. It was about one chief Mt. Kinabalu guide by the name of Gunting Lagadan. His name is synonymous with Nulu Nabalu.
It was reported in a tabloid years ago that on a certain day, Gunting Lagadan brought two big white male tourists up the mountain. Seeing that one of the climbers was facing some difficulty, he offered to carry his backpack. The big man laughed, refusing the offer. He could not imagine that a smaller man was stronger than him.
However, by the time, they reached the mountain peak, that person was so exhausted that he could not go down the mountain. Gunting carried him with his backpack down the mountain.
They were truly amazed at his strength. Yet Gunting was not a very big person.
Kadazandusun continue to offer their services to tourists.
Renaming of Jesselton as Kota Kinabalu
After fire destroyed all the buildings on Gaya Island on 12th July 1897, the settlement was relocated to the mainland and named "Jesselton" (Jessel Town) after Sir Charles Jessel, the Vice Chairman of the British North Borneo Company Court of Directors.
Jesselton was renamed "Kota Kinabalu" after independence. This was taken from the name "Kinabalu" which, in turn, was derived from Akinabalu.
"Kota" means fort or fortress. Kinabalu is explained above. You may wonder whether this could mean "The Fortress of the spirits of(Kadazan) Ancestors".
Kota Kinabalu is situated on the west coast of Sabah, adjoining the districts of Penampang and Inanam and the newly- established district of Putatan.
On 2nd February 2000, Kota Kinabalu was raised to city status.
Mount Kinabalu, the Venue of the Annual Kinabalu International Climbathon
Every year, around October, Mt. Kinabalu becomes abuzz with activities connected with the Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon. Local Sabahan Guianus Salagan and Danny Kuilin were often among the leading pack.
If the mountain is indeed the resting place of Kadazan ancestors, they would probably be unhappy that so many people continue to disturb their peace.
On a clear day, you can see Mt. Kinabalu from afar, mysterious, quiet and calling you to come closer. In order to have this feeling, go to Kota Belud which is partly inhabited by the descendants of Odu Sayap, the only daughter of Aki Maragang.
This mountain fascinated and inspired generations of Kadazan people. It will continue to do so until the end of time.
Allow it to inspire you, too.