Ratings: * Strange monument along the Ranau-Telupid highway. Good place to take a break.
Lost Ratings: ** Another culture/building to put in your “strange” checklist.
Travellers who make their way to Sandakan by road from Ranau will hardly find anything interesting along the way to break the monotony of the long journey. Oil palm plantations dominate the countryside. However, alert travellers might notice an interesting structure on the right about an hours drive from Ranau. Although it is located at some distance from the main road, the structure stands out from its surroundings and is easily spotted.
This structure or building is known as the Nunuk Ragang Monument. From afar, the monument resembles a fort, but on closer inspection, you will find big-holey windows dotting the walls. The strange building is topped by a pyramid-shaped umbrella. Fans of Japanese anime might think that this building would not look out of place in a Miyazaki Hayao movie. It might even be a Hobbit house from the Lord of the Rings.
I first noticed this building on my second road trip to Sandakan. I was probably sleeping the first time. The Nunuk Ragang monument is located in Tampias, about an hour from Ranau town. If you are coming from Ranau, proceed pass the Sabah Tea Plantation at Kampung Nalapak. At around Km 54, there is a bridge that crosses Liwogu River. You will see the monument somewhere in the distance to the right. The signboard to Nunuk Ragang is somewhere after this. The road is unpaved but passable even by small cars. When I was there, the gate was unlocked, so I just walked right in. The inside of the building is empty except for some faded pictures and descriptions. Swallows have made this building their home and bird shit litter the floor. This looks like an abandoned building, but the Nunuk Ragang event is held here annually, and they probably clean this place up once a year. Outside, there is a staircase leading to the top where views of the surrounding countryside and rivers are visible.
What is Nunuk Ragang?
So what is the Nunuk Ragang? According to Kadazandusun legend, the Nunuk Ragang is the name of the village where the Kadazandusun people originated. This original settlement is believed to be located at the site where the monument has been built in Tampias. This makes sense as the place is located between Tambunan and Ranau, in the mountains where the local indigenous people have carried out farming on the slopes of the hills. The name of the village is derived from two Dusun words – Nunuk and Aragang. Nunuk is the local name for the fig tree or banyan tree, and Aragang means red. It was said that there was a giant fig tree in the original village which provided shelter and food for the inhabitants. The people of Nunuk Ragang had a carefree life. All their needs were provided by the tree. Animals and birds would come and seek shelter under the canopy of the tree, and the fruits of the tree were enjoyed by all. The villagers would also climb up the tree and bask in the warm morning sun. From afar, this gave the tree a reddish colour. It was also said that the latex of the tree flowed into the river giving the river a reddish colour. Whatever the reason, it was known as the Red Fig Tree, or Nunuk Ragang.
Later on, outsiders came and mingled with the local people, bringing with them their own culture and customs. The Chinese brought along the Jar culture, while the Bruneians and Suluks traded gongs and swords. As the population grew, the fig tree was no longer able to provide enough food for everyone, and the Kadazandusun people decided to venture afar to seek greener pastures. Other reasons given for the migration are epidemic disease, natural instinct of man to explore, internal struggle and warfare. That is why the Kadazandusun people, the original inhabitants of Sabah, are now found throughout the state.
Since 1996, the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) decided to make an annual pilgrimage to this spot to commemorate their origins and in 2004, a monument was built. The Nunuk Ragang Day is fixed on the first Sunday of July.
From the top of the monument, you can see two rivers of different colours flowing together to form one bigger river. The rivers are appropriately named Kogibangan (Left) and Kawananan (Right), and the main river is called Liwogu (Deep calm).