Sunday, October 2, 2011

Watu Tinuridung of Sunsuron

Ever heard about this menhir (stone monument) before? The story behind it are fading with time. So, let us read some literature review on the above topic... There were indeed some writings exist, an excerpt from the past.

This is what I'm found, an excerpt from one of my favourite book collection entitled Traditional Stones and Wood Monuments of Sabah by Peter R. Phelan in 1997. It tells perhaps a complete history about Watu Tinuridung of Sunsuron, also includes an alternate story version by Pius Kating in 1989.

The excerpt in the book is as follows;

Watu Tinuridung at Sunsuron Village


There is a large stone standing in the middle of Sunsuron Village in Tambunan known as Watu Tinudirung. The top of this menhir is 2.13m high; its base is 2.18m across and it has an average thickness of 23 cm. In the 1970's when the population of Kampung Sunsuron had grown too large to be administrated by one Ketua Kampung (headman), it was decided to form two villages for administrative purposes; one half became known as Sunsuron Ulu and the other as Sunsuron Laut, each with its own headman. The dividing mark between the present two kampung is Watu Tinuridung.

According to the local oral tradition in Kampung Sunsuron, the origin of the stone dates back to the Mat Salleh period. In 1898, a truce between British North Borneo and Mat Salleh was agreed to. As part of the agreement Mat Salleh was stay in Tambunan. According to local comment in Sunsuron, Mat Salleh first came to Kampung Kirokot and after a short stay there he settled at Kampung Tibabar in the centre of Tambunan plain. He visited Kampung Sunsuron and ordered the peoples there to follow his laws, threatening oppositon with fines and punishment. The peoples of Sunsuron decided not to bow to this threat and prepared to defend themselves. They dug a circular hollowed-out area and used the earth to erect ramparts around it. The depth of the excavated area was such that a man standing inside it could not be seen from the outside. The defensive site was circular in shape and is said to have had a circumference of 40m. While digging they came upon a large flat stone. They dug the earth all around it in order to remove the stone. When they saw the shape of the stone, they decided to put it standing. All the people of Kampung Sunsuron cooperated to erect the stone. In the local dialect, the action of erecting something is monuridung and it is from this verb that the stone got its name Tinuridung.

After the stone had been erected, two priestesses (bobolian) performed a ceremony "in order to bring to life the spirit of the stone". The names of the two priestesses are still remembered; Yundiai and Kubioh. There were male bobolian present also but the two women were the main functionaries. The purpose of having a spirit living in the stone was to keep away from the village any sickness or disease and also any fightingin which sharp instruments would be used. As part of the ceremony, a pig was sacrificed. Lustral water, known locally as popodsu' was poured on the stone and also sprinkled on all those present at the ceremony.

At the present time it is believed by at least some of the people of Kampung Sunsuron that the spirit is still in the stone and this spirit is considered to be a good or friendly one. however, the spirit does not receive any special respect or attention any more. One of the reasons suggested for this fact is that the two priestesses who performed the initiating ceremony are no longer alive.

Soon after the stone had been erected, Mat Salleh came again to Kampung Sunsuron and demanded seven buffaloes from the villagers. Mat Salleh picked out a man named Gadog and asked him to hand over a buffalo. Gadog was unwilling to comply with the order, and furthermore, encouraged the rest of the people to oppose the demand. Mat Salleh could not hide his anger when he noted this action of Gadog. He left, but that night under cover of darkness he returned to invade the newly-built fort.

The people of Kampung Sunsuron had suspected that Mat Salleh and his followers would make an attack and they decided on an unusual plan of action. They left the fortification undefended but hid themselves all around the fort. Mat Salleh and his men came, found the entrance unlocked and entered. When they were inside the people of Kampung Sunsuron locked the door and had the enemy trapped inside. For three days they were unable to leave and during this time they had little of no food supplies or water. On the night of the third day, they managed to climb out and they disappeared in the darkness. Then Mat Salleh set up a post on the top of a nearby hill called Kimatan. From there he started firing a cannon at the fort in Kampung Sunsuron. It so happened that the cannon exploded and parts of it fell down the hill to a place called Goingki which is about 1km from the site of Watu Tinuridung. Years later a man named Gundalon came upon parts of the cannon when he was clearing some land in that area for hill-padi. He used the material of the cannon to make rungs worn by women round the waist as part of Kadazan traditional costume.

The struggle against Mat Salleh continued. He had his main fort at Tibabar. Finally with the arrival of the government forces Mat Salleh was defeated and peace returned to the area. Because of the events connected with Watu Tinuridung and particularly because of the deaths of several men in defence of Kampung Sunsuron, the stone is revered as a momorial to the bravery of the people of that period (Marcella Moini Gubau, pers.comm. 1988).

Another account (Kating 1989:61) of the menhir in Sunsuron traces its origin to a man of exceptional strength and size who took refuge in Sunsuron. Although at first the people received him well, they could not keep him for long because there was not enough food to feed him and he was a very lazy fellow who refused to work. Eventually he was told to leave. Before leaving, however, he took a huge rock from the Sunsuron river and placed it in the middle of the village, as a gesture of gratitude. He said the villagers couldtake cover behind the rock should a war break out. the big rock can still be seen in Sunsuron, and was apparently used as a shield against the battle of Mat Salleh's guns during the rebellion (Kating,1989).


  • Credited to Phelan, P.R. 1997. Traditional Stones and Wood Monuments of Sabah. Pusat Kajian Borneo (Centre for Borneo Studies), Yayasan Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. chapter 6 - Memorial Stones of Notable Events.p.69-71.

p/s : There were a lot more history about other stone monument & wood monument all around Sabah. To know more about it, buy the book at any available book store. ~But I guess this book is quite rare to be found nowadays...don't know why! Maybe out of print....Hmm...
Just give it a try...

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