The Sininggazanak

What is it? A statue in a field

Where is it? Kinarut, Sabah

Should you go? ** for something different and a chance to stretch your legs in a local town

Lost ratings: ***** Ask a local sitting next to you in a bar in KK, and you’ll probably get this response “A sinin what?”

I have always wanted to look for a sininggazanak ever since I first read about it in Rough Guides. While the name evokes images of a cheeky leprechaun-like spirit, it is actually just a wooden statue. A sininggazanak statue is carved by the blood relative of a Kadazan man or woman who has died without heirs. This is to commemorate the dead person as well as to stake a claim on his or her land. According to Kadazan tradition, land should be passed on to a person’s child, and if that person is childless, then it should be passed on to a blood relative. That is to say, a man’s land should be inherited by his brothers or sisters and not by his wife or wife’s family. Likewise, a dead woman’s husband does not inherit her land. A sininggazanak in the middle of a paddy field signifies that the field still belongs in name to the dead person. It is also believed that spirits inhabit the statue and is the guardian of the paddy field.

A tradition which is found only in the Penampang – Putatan – Kinarut area near Kota Kinabalu, sininggazanaks are difficult to find these days. The most famous one was at Kampung Tampasak in Kinarut. To preserve this heritage, the Sabah Museum authorities negotiated the purchase of the statue for the sum of one water buffalo, one pig, one chicken (RM230) and RM50 cash. A vital part of the agreement was for the authorities to carve a stone replica of the sininggazanak and put it at its original location. The original used to be displayed in Sabah State Museum, but is now kept in the storehouse instead. A replica of what the statue looks like can be seen on the pillars of the arch at the entrance to the museum.

Much better is the real stone replica at Kampung Tampasak. Tampasak is also another name for the Tembesu tree. This tree is a good timber tree and the heartwood is strong and durable. Sininggazanaks used to be carved from this wood. Not sure if the name of this village has anything to do with it though.

Getting there: This village is located about 30 minutes walk from Kinarut town. Between the 2 rows of shop houses, there is a road that crosses the railway track. Follow that road until you come to a T-junction. Turn left to get to the main road and then turn right. You will see a field down below. The stone replica can be seen beside a tree in the middle of the field. It can be difficult to find on your own and my directions are not that accurate, so ask around in town.

It’s an interesting piece of carving and makes a good photography subject. The statue is that of a female and the whole figure including the pedestal stands at 2.6m. The actual figure is 1m tall. The surrounding countryside is also a good place for a stroll on a cloudy day. But watch out for the numerous buffalo dung that dots the trails.

Further reading: Traditional Stone and Wood Monuments of Sabah by Peter R Phelan provides a detailed explanation of sininggazaks and other monuments.



  1. Philip G said,

    July 18, 2008 at 5:49 PM

    More about sininggazanak of Penampang. The sininggazanak, a tall maypole like post, is an object of veneration among the pagan Kadazan people of Penampang. Thre sininggazanak belongs to a Kadazan at Terawai, Penampang. It is the heart (core) of a temassuk log about fourteen-foot-long, fluted, and carved with various animal forms, among which biawak (iguanas) figure prominently. The carvings themselves are not unlike the carvings on old coffins which are found in certain caves in the Kinabatangan district.

    On the rare occasions when a moginakan (pagan feast) is held, the top of the sininggazanak is decorated with kisad (grass) and with kain blachu (clothes) streamers. Pigs are slaughtered at the post of the post, and their blood smearted thereon.

    A sininggazanak is the residence of at least one potent spirit, and a Kadazan-Dusun man will not willingly approach close to one at night. Nobody has ever heard of the desecration of a sininggazanak post, eg. there never has been of a Kadazan-Dusun in a convival moment (and Penampang Kaadazan-Dusun people have many such moments), testing his parang’s (sword) sharpness by taking a hack at the post,etc. In fact the sininggazak is a very strong pantang (taboo). It has also apractical value, for it serves to mark its owner’s land boundary. Contributed 16.4.1935.

  2. losttraveller said,

    July 18, 2008 at 10:51 PM

    Thanks for the information Philip. Would appreciate it if anyone else with knowledge about Kadazan/Bajau/Murut/etc culture further enlighten us on the interesting customs of the people of borneo. Went to Nunuk Ragang the other day but lack actual information to blog about it.

  3. Tadpole said,

    February 20, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Hey, glad to see you back online. I’m also very curious about Sininggazanak & want to photograph one myself.

    • losttraveller said,

      February 20, 2012 at 7:05 PM

      thanks tadpole. Actually this is an old post which I re-posted. I think the sininggazanak replica is still there in Kinarut.

  4. dayz j said,

    June 28, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Hai. Really we have that this in Kinarut? I lived and grew up in Kinarut, but never heard any of this. Been in the village before, its near to our school. Actually, maybe its easier to reach this kampung through old road Penampang-Papar. After Esso Station in Kinarut, drive 1km ahead, slowly after the St Augustine church, you’ll find junction mentioned above. Maybe I should look for this on my way home today =) Nice info.

    • losttraveller said,

      July 5, 2012 at 10:45 PM

      i’m surprised by a lot of things i read in the guide books as well. some things i don’t know about, and some just plain wrong. 🙂 Enjoy your trip!

    • January 3, 2015 at 7:20 PM

      There was the Sininggazanak in Tampasak, Kinarut, when I was a little girl. It was no more there. When we were passing by the paddy field, we would not want to go near it out of fear. We would be running with all our might if we have to pass the area at night time. It was such a memory in the early eighties. In-fact the story about the childless is true. The person who erect the Sininggazanak was my great-grandmother sibling.

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