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.