Rediscovering The Power Of Stories: UPKO’S Past Is Our Present

One Man’s Opinion -By Sindin Ranggangon (Kiulu)

From infancy to old-age, we learn about our world, our family, and our identity through the simple but profound medium of stories. Just as soon as we have food enough and arms to comfort us, we want stories – multiples of them – until at last we fall asleep, our mind alight with places we have never been and people we may never meet.

Stories are powerful. Stories of the early  movement  and founders of UPKO, men and women and in particular Fuad Stephens,  GS Sundang, Ghani Gilong and Peter Mojuntin (just to mention a few) remind us that the Momoguns can do anything if we are willing to follow. Of course, they faced challenges similar to ours. They needed encouragement as we do. Their stories and struggles remind us that the awakening of these people have changed the world we live in.

Stories are also the way we draw nourishment from all that has gone before us, the way we make sense of the past. We discover our identity through family stories told around the dinner table: we create bonds with long-ago relatives and characters who form that ” inspiring bits of data” and turn them into a tale that moves and shines, and makes the hearts of another generation beat a little faster.

That’s one of the reasons we love to hear stories. We learn from stories. In fact, stories are some of the best ways of UPKO’s marvellous plan for the Momoguns.

When we tell stories about the early period of  UPKO’s movement to our children, they share these stories with friends and our neighbours because stories are compelling.

UPKO is aware of the power of stories. And we too are invited to share the story of UPKO’s leading of this movement. Children are not born knowing where they came from, why they are here, and where they are going. There fore, they need to hear these stories, for our history is as important part of who we are. We are called to share the stories of UPKO’s leading, especially with our children – eventhough my own story illustrates that adults, too, are drawn by stories.

We believe the vision and mission of UPKO is to build bridges across time. It offers a unique way of rearching out to people who may not have known UPKO’s history, movement and achievements. And hopefully being deeply impressed, start to think differently.

The UPKO movement since the late 1950s and early ’60s was most  evident  and the growth of a self-conscious indigeneous people nationalism. Through UPKO, its founder Fuad Stephens, a wealthy timber magnate of Kadazan-Australian parentage managed to arouse the indigenous people to a greater concern for their rights, and fostering a greater pride in their culture.

As an accomplished journalist and a flamboyant and engaging person, his first journalistic campaigns were for the acceptance of the older name “Sabah”  for the territory then described as British North Borneo, and for the abolition of official use of the term “Dusun” in favour of  “Kadazan”. He argued that the term “Dusun” had been affixed by outsiders, and was not used by any of the indigenous peoples to describe themselves. Further, he claimed that its conotations (an English equivalent  might be “country hick”) were not likely to assist the tribal people to develop a pride in themselves and their culture, nor to encourage them to move into the modern world and assert themselves in the governance of their state.

As an official nominated member of the state’s Legislative Council he  argued these causes on frequent occasions, at the same time giving himself full press coverage and backing. Though eventually Stephens was to succeed in getting the name of the territory officially changed to Sabah (shortly before it was incorporated in the new federation of Malaysia), there has remained some resistance to the term Kadazan in certain circles. Its “nationalist” conotations were lost upon no-one, and in official publications and pronouncements the British Government never fully adopted it.

In 1960 Stephens wrote, “The more forward looking and better educated Kadazans are beginning to feel that the Governnent prefers not to encourage the use of the term Kadazan…because the word is beginning to take shape as the unifying influence among the so-called Dusun people.”

One of Stephens’ principal concerns was to extend the use of the Kadazan language, to standardize it, and to increase educational opportunities for tribal people by having the language taught in schools. This last he recommended repeatedly in the Legislative Council, pointing out that the record of the British Government in this respect was lamentable, and that political advance was unthinkable until the general level of literacy was raised.

To give force to his conviction that the Kadazan language was capable of development and could well become a vehicle for the modernisation of his people, he started a “Kadazan Corner” in his English-language paper, and later initiated a fully Kadazan edition of the paper. “Kadazan Corner” was written in the dialect of the Penampang area and included news items and discussions which were felt to be of particular concern to the Kadazan community.

When Radio Sabah was inaugurated in 1955, this further assisted efforts at standardisation based upon the Penampang dialect.

Stephens who had benefited from a  pre-war Christian mission education had urged the government to accept a greater share of responsibility in the provision of school and teacher. Before the war the Charted Company had opened only 21 schools in the whole of Sabah, in which the language of instruction was Malay and the aims were deliberately kept low.

Only the mission schools were providing anything more than the merest rudiments of literacy, and it was mainly the Chinese who took advantage, although the Roman Catholic mission worked also among the pagan peoples in Papar and  Penampang in creating a “Kadazan intelligentsia”, several of whom subsequently went overseas for university education and  were to become the political spokesmen for their people.

As a wealthy and generous man he contributed personally to the efforts of many villages to set up the so-called Native Voluntary Schools. As such, he was habitually invited officially to open these schools, and in his accompanying speeches he always stressed the long-term political and social importance of education for the Momogun.

Oppos! Sorry guys…this story is long and winding – need to cut short and take a breather!

At any rate, we know that through UPKO when Sabah helped form Malaysia in 1963, Stephens became the first Sabah Chief  Minister for a year before being commissioned as  Malaysian Ambassador to Australia.

This is the fundamental story and nation building cornerstone why we should stand in the very forefront with other like-minded Malaysians to defend, preserve and uphold the progresive and multi-racial basis and character of UPKO.

However, UPKO’s  history is not only focused of their past achievements in Sabah. But since TS Bernard  and DSP Madius revived UPKO after the fall of PBS, many successful inisiatives have been achieved in the country that tell their own stories. Some are  stories of sacrifice, pain and loss. Others tell about miracles and challenges overcome. All are memorials to UPKO that is passionately in love with the Momoguns. We need to remember these stories, not because they glorify the past. We need to remember that they are UPKO’s past – and our present.

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