Monsopiad Cultural Village: A Living Museum

People said that our eyes were the windows to our souls.  As I walked into the “Siou Do Mohoing” or House of Skulls at the Monsopiad Cultural Village in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah , the skulls, with their hollow sockets for eyes, made me wonder where their souls had gone.  Said to belong to pirates and plunderers decapitated by the fearless Kadazan warrior, Monsopiad, about 300 years ago; these skulls now hung silent and sightless.

Monsopiad Cultural Village,Sabah

Monsopiad Cultural Village,Sabah

Monsopiad Cultural Village , the first living museum in Sabah , was established to honor Monsopiad for his bravery in protecting his village and people from the enemies during his war-faring times.  Opened in 1996 and still operated by Monsopiad’s direct descendents today, the living museum was easily reachable by land.  Located in the district of Penampang, about 16 kilometres from the city of Kota Kinabalu , it only took half an hour to drive to the village, Kampung Kuai, where the living museum was actually situated.

We arrived in the afternoon.  Monsopiad Cultural Village was open from 9am to 5pm daily.  The entrance fees for Malaysians were RM55 for adult, RM30 for student and RM20 for senior aged 55 and above, but free for children.  Non-Malaysians had to pay a higher rate at RM75 for adult and RM50 for student, but again free for children.  Entering the place, we were warmly greeted by ushers dressed in traditional Kadazan-Dusun costumes, brought to the restaurant nearby and given welcoming drinks in bamboo containers.  The drink was cold and quite sweet, and turned out to be the local rice wine, “lihing”.  We were told that the sweeter the rice wine, the higher the alcohol content, which could range from between 13% to 21%.  Needless to say, I felt a little warm buzz after finishing my drink.

Monsopiad Cultural Village,Sabah

Monsopiad Cultural Village,Sabah

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Then we were off to tour the grounds.  Our first stop was to take a look at the “Gintutun Do Mohoing”, a monolith standing 4 metres tall and weighing more than 2 tons, which was said to be carved out of a cliff surface. There was nothing really spectacular about the monolith except that this was where Monsopiad brought his freshly chopped heads to be dried on bamboo poles erected around the structure, accompanied by chanting from the “Bohohizan” or High Priestess, war cries from other warriors, and dancing from the maidens.  The images stirred up were rather fascinating yet gruesome.

Next was the “Kotos Di Monsopiad” or Monsopiad Main House where we could view the lifestyle of Monsopiad and his descendants in those days and times.  There was a traditional rice barn called “Tangkob”, which displayed the tools for padi or rice farming: the laadu (plough) made from ironwood, kikizapan (rice extracting apparatus or grinder) made with wood and metal, ceramic jars, and rice containers made from tree bark, rattan and bamboo.  Interestingly enough, a clay skull and hisad (palm leaf) were hung on the rice containers to help guard against evil spirits.  Underneath the rice barn, there were an exhibit of traditional utensils and ingredients used for making “lihing” or rice wine.

The House of Skulls was our next stop.  Scattered around the house were several old “tajau” or ancient jars, including a “Panding Tiga”, which was a 16th century ceremonial jar. Then right in the middle of the house, there were 42 skulls, all dried up, covered with palm leaves to ward off any evil spirits, and hanging quietly from the roof.  We could see some of the blood stains and age cracks on the skulls.  It was just a little bit creepy for me.  I was super glad and relieved to be out of the House of Skulls.

We were in time to watch the cultural performances, which were held twice a day at 11am and 4pm.  The cultural performances encompassed the “sumazau”, a festive Kadazan-Dusun dance that was performed with much joy, grace and beauty to the exciting tempos and beats of gongs and rhythmic ethnic music; and the “magunatip” or bamboo dance, a popular dance using bamboo poles that would test the feet’s timing and agility.  We were also invited to learn and join in the dancing.  It was most entertaining and enjoyable.  What a fantastic way to end our exploration of the life of Monsopiad, a famous legend amongst the great Kadazan head-hunter warriors of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah .

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