Saturday, October 15, 2011

How Sunsuron Got Its Name?

By Joseph Pirin

The Sunsuron Village
Source : Google Images

One may wonder, how the Kg. Sunsuron got its name? hmm... lets see...

It took me over 3 weeks in compiling the theories about How Sunsuron Got Its Name? that scattered all around the internet. Although most of it maybe just a public opinion or traditional story-telling that passed through from a generation to new generation, there might exist some truth in it afterall.

There is no written record on the selected topic of When did the Sunsuron is founded?, thus, the word Sunsuron itself maybe originated from some actual event or significant occurring.

Despite of what I've said in the above sentence, there were actually a statement existed that can be used to relate the topic; When did the Sunsuron is founded?...

An excerpt from a book, The Dusun-A North Borneo Society by Thomas Rhys Williams (1965) is best to describe the possible period of Kampung Sunsuron establishment. Thomas Rhys Williams had resided in Sunsuron Village from September to December 1959, for gathering mythical accounts of the peoples of the area. The research was undertaken as part of a study of the Dusun of North Borneo conducted under auspices of the National Science Foundation (Grant 5-018) (Williams, 1961).

He wrote:
"Prior to 1880 the plain area was unoccupied and appears to have served as a boundary zone and cockpit of head warfare for several local groups. After 1885, native police patrols under European officers of the North Borneo Chartered Company established a tenuous form of order sufficient to allow initial settlement on the northern fringe of the plain. Settlement of the valley floor along the eastward course of the Sunsuron river proceeded rapidly in the years 1900-1925. However, continued fears of head taking slowed settlement of the central and south portions of the Tambunan plain. Those areas, along the southward course of the Pegalan river, were not cleared of primary jungle until the mid 1930s." (Williams, 1965:67)
According to Williams (1965), he stated that there is no village on the Tambunan plain prior to 1880. Only after 1885, then the human settlement is rapidly increased. The Northern fringe of the plain to which he refer possibly includes Sunsuron Village, by accepting the fact that Tambunan Town as the centre of Tambunan Plain. But, as what Phelan tells us, An examination of these statements would probably reveal that Tambunan valley has an older and better developed social history than is suggested by Williams (Phelan, 1994).

Unfortunate to tell that, I'm only discussing the topic based on a secondary data which some people might say not really reliable but indeed the one that I refer to is an absolute account from a first-hand information. With addition of futher research, revise and review, an output of a more detailed account would be a better reference. I'm highly appreciate to those who contribute any other version of theory. Any suitable information will surely being updated later on.

From what I have read in the past few weeks, there were perhaps two different version of theory about the actual origin of the village name. One is written by an official Kg.Sunsuron website and the other one is by Aliran Pemikiran Pendidik Malaysia .

The first theory tells that the name Sunsuron is originated from The Sunsuyon Incident.
The word “bridge” in Kadazan Dusun is sunsuyon. Kampung Sunsuron once had a bamboo bridge built by the villagers to cross the Sunsuron River at that time. The village was initially known as Kampung Sunsuyon, however over the period of time, the name was unintentionally changed to Sunsuron.

While the second theory tells that the name Sunsuron is originated based on the nearby river which is surely refer to the Sunsuron River.

The original article is written in Malay Language, so, I'd translate it to english as to maintain the uniformity of my language writings and also for international understanding. An excerpt from the article is as follows,
The village got its name based on a river that flows nearby. According to a story by former local leader named Gimbang bin Biangoh aged 80's (during this article is written), the river will over-flood each time when the rain falls.

Each time the over-flood occur, the paddy field, huts, and even the livestocks that exist close to the river will get destroyed or drifting away by the current of water. The destruction of paddy crops and other properties is inevitable each time the flood happen. This kind of situation leads to a dishearten among the settlers an thus naming this river as Bosuron (a Dusun word). This word means Very Stubborn in english word ("Sangat Degil" in Malay word.)

The alteration of the pronunciation to Sunsuron however is clearly unknown. The Sunsuron river is still pouring its flood each time of rainy day especially at upstream part of the river at Crocker Range but not frequently as before. But the strangest thing is that, in a year, this river is surely burst out its biggest flood at least once and definitely will destroying the paddy fields surrounding it.

Actually, there was another alternate version of theory about the origin of the Sunsuron name that I've heard, a first-hand account from the elder villagers of Sunsuron through a personal communication. Although it is sounds ridiculous but somehow it might have some basis in the story. The story begin when a Dusun hunter from the village (at that time still nameless...) going to hunt a palanuk (mousedeer) at nearby jungle. Accidentally, the palanuk run towards the river ( a same river that flows from his village), unable to chase it, the hunter settle down and took a rest. While resting, he heard a conversation of tombiruo (a ghostly spirit of the dead)... (this story is starting to get weird right??) hehehe...ok, their conversation is also about the palanuk. Coincidentally, they're also hunting down the same palanuk that the hunter hunt for. One of the tombiruo ask, "where is that deer had gone?" and the other tombiruo answered, "it had run towards the Sunsuron river". Their conversation probably in a local language thus understandable by the Dusun Hunter. As a result, the hunter who doesn't get anything however had brought up a name to his village which is based on the river named Sunsuron that he heard before. The name remains until today.

Sunsuron River.
Source : Google Images

The similarity between all the theories is that, all of it is connected to the river itself. 1st "Bridge", 2nd "Flood" & 3rd "The river name"... So, I'd personally suggest that the name of the river is appear earlier before the village is given a name.

Otherwise, by comparing all the three theories, the first and second theory seems to be a bit more logical than the third one. It is because the third one is close to a myth or local legend while the other two has a connecting idea with the village identity that may form a basis to the possibility towards the origin of the name, Sunsuron.

From my opinion, there is perhaps some truth in both theory. The fact that, both word Sunsuyon and Bosuron might be an origin word of the settlement name (Kg.Sunsuron) at that time. And by the time the village aged over a hundred years, it's no doubt that the original name pronunciation is slowly changing through a generation thus, emerging a village name called Sunsuron. With no evidence of any ancient writing records during the founding period of this village, it's too difficult to identify the actual history behind the name Sunsuron itself.

The earliest writing that shows the existence of the name Sunsuron for a village that located in Tambunan dates back in the late 19th century. With involvement of Sunsuron during the Mat Salleh Rebellion Era leads to a history record that written by many administrators of the British North Borneo Chartered Company, either in a personal diary, writings, official documents, annual reports, sub-district reports or colonial news articles.

A passage from the book, Stories from Sabah History by Whelan (1968), a loosely written story based on records available in British Colonial Office.

"At the head of a group of Tegas, Mat Salleh attacked the Sensurons and..."

In this passage, the name Sunsuron is spelt as Sensuron, which is differ to the present one by a letter "e". But, the differences in term of spelling can be explained with a huge number of wrong spelling for village name in Tambunan like Tembau instead of Timbou, Teboh instead of Toboh, and a district name, paper instead of papar or local Dusun sub-tribe name, Tiawan instead of Tuhauwon and Tegas instead of Tagahas. Thus, meaning that the author doesn't really giving so much attention with the actual spelling in any of it.

Another account, Williams (1961) wrote, "For the people of Sensuron village, the rules which govern behaviour are to be found in the mtyhs often repeated." The spelling in this account is a same case with the above account.

Meanwhile, there was another account written by Pius Kating (1989) entitled The Skulls of Sinsuron. That's another vary spelling of Sunsuron, differ to the present one by a letter "i". But, of course, one might thinks that " why should care about the name? As long as the official name is Sunsuron, then its okay! ". Well, the only purpose on why am I brought up this topic is because of this reason; to form an uniformity for all literacy writings about Sunsuron Village and also to avoid any misunderstanding about the actual spelling of its name in the future.

An account by Wood & Moser (1958) wrote, "Since the building of the jeep road, a jungle track of an unknown age leading from Sinsuran at the north-east edge of the plain across the Crocker Range to the coastal plain of Penampang has declined in importance." Again, that is another varied version of spelling of the village name.

Ironically, there was a street at Kota Kinabalu City that called Sinsuran... Some people who doesn't know about the existence of a village in Tambunan named Sunsuron always end up mistook Sunsuron as the Sinsuran Street. I don't know if both name is somehow connected or whatsoever, or the person who give a name for the street is originally come from Sunsuron village?! For surely I don't know...

Any suggestion & recommendation is most welcome...Thanks ^__^

(Note: Correct me if u spotted anything wrong in this article, ok... peace^^ )

The writer of this article, Joseph Pirin, is researching material for a writings on the The Long History of Sunsuron and would appreciate any information or copies of photographs pertinent
to this subject. Please contact by Email,

You guys can also empower your knowledge on this topic by reading the references that i had listed below. Some of it i had used in my weekend research and of course, its worth to read. Okie...

References/Further Readings:

Phelan, Peter R. 1994. Head-Hunting and the Magang Ceremony. Natural History Publication (Borneo).

Pius Kating. 1989. The Skulls of Sinsuron. In: Marsh (ed.) Tales and Traditions from Sabah. The Sabah Society, Kota Kinabalu. p.51.

Whelan, W.G. 1968. Stories from Sabah History. Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) Ltd., Hong Kong. p.39-55 (chapter 4 – Mat Salleh’s Last Battle).

Williams, T.R. 1961. A Tambunan Dusun Origin Mtyh. Folklore Texts, The Journal of American Folklore, American Folklore Society. Vol.74,No.291,Jan-Mar.1961.

Williams, T.R. 1961. The Form and Function of Tambunan Dusun Riddles. The Journal of American Folklore, American Folklore Society. Vol.76,No.300,Apr-Jun.1963.

Williams, T.R. 1965. The Dusuns-A North Borneo Society. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York.

Williams, T.R. 1966. Cultural Structuring of Tactile Experience in Borneo Society. American Anthropologist, Ohio State University. Vol.6,No.1. (pg.27-39)

Wood, D. P. J. and Moser, B.J. 1958. Village Communities in the Tambunan Area of British North Borneo. The Geographical Journal, The Royal Geographical Society. Vol.124,No.1,Mar.1958 (pg.56-66).

Interviews with the village elders..... and also some internet source article...

Internet Source. Kampung Sunsuron History.

Internet Source. Bagaimana SUNSURON Mendapat Nama.

Joseph Pirin 2011©
All right reserved.


  1. good job bro...i'd heard the history from Gimbang Biangoh in 1977(i,m 8 yrs old)and Bro Peter Phelan when i'm in st martin...this info will be an important doc as a ref next time... to our new generation..

  2. yes....indeed is an important documents written by him...

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