April 1, 2010

Legend of Mt Kinabalu – Mixture of Myth & Truth

The following story was taken from Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association’s website.

One of many KadazanDusun legends compiled by Joanna K-Kissey, Director of State Archives. Please take note that I copied it verbatim.
One of popular legends of Mount Kinabalu is about the dragon who lived at the top of Mount Kinabalu, who was said to have a ‘Butiza’, a lunimous jewel a bezoar stone, which he used as his lamp and plaything.
On moonlight night the people of Ranau and Tamparuli places would look up at Kinabalu and they saw the bright gem being tossed up and caught again and again on the dragon’s forked tongue.
The story about this dragon luminous jewel, spred beyond the seas, even as far as China. The Emperor who heard about it was determined to get possessions of the jewel. He send away of his best warriors to get it but all in vain. Till, he finally decided tosend his two sons, Wong Wang Kong, the elders, and Wong Song Ping, the younger brother. The brothers sent in their own junk equipped with men.
When they finally reached Borneo and came to Kinabalu Mountain, they found out that it was such a difficult task. The elder brother was disappointed with their futile attempt but the younger brother was working on his strategy to take the jewel.
He first made a colourful Chinese lantern and lighting a candle inside. It glowed like a fabulous gem. He then made a giant kite with light string but the strongest cords. Then he waited for a soft breeze. But as he waited we watched and learned from far below the habit of the dragon. He learned that at a certain hour, the dragon would leave his jewel unguarded to look for food. Then the right moment came for him when the wind was right and the dragon went to look for food.
He mounted on the kite himself with his lantern and ask his men to hold the ropes and ordered the kite to be launched. The kite rose up till it reached the mouth of the dragon cave and quickly he grabbed the gem and substitute it with his gleaming lantern. As a signal, the kite was hauled back and Wong Song Ping was back into his ship.
When the dragon returns, he soon found out that he has been tricked. Quickly he swam toward the junks at unbelievable speed. The men thought they were about to perish when Wong Song Ping had another bright idea. He ordered his men to heat up canon balls until it red hot. When the dragon drew near, it opened his terrible mouth to seize his victims, the men flung towards him the glowing balls. Surprised and absessed by his longing for his gleaming plaything, the dragon thrust out his tongue, caught and swallowed one of the glowing balls. Lashing the water to a white froth with his frenzied tail, his stomach seared by the heat and heavy with the iron within him, the dragon dropped behind until exhaused gave up his pursuit and sank below the waters.
When everything was calmed and the two junks sailed happily on towards China. Just as they are about the reach China, the eldest brother who was consumed with jealousy for not being the one to capture the ‘bezoar stone’, told his brother that being eldest he should be the one to have and present it to their father. Without much hesitation, he seized the jewel from his younger brother. But the younger brother being an unselfish man let him have his way.
When they reached China and went up to their father, it Wong Wang Kong who told of their successful mission, their hardship and danger and nothing about Wong Song Ping cleverness in taking the stone and saving their lives. However, the emperor was wise man and know his sons well when he saw the change in the younger son’s face. He guessed much of what had happened and was sorry for it.
Secretly, he ordered his first jeweller to make a replica of the gem and gave it to his younger son. However, his son knew that this was not his bezoar. He therefore decide to leave China in order to avoid a fight against his brother.
That night he reloaded his junk with his men and set sailed. He did not care where he went, he just let the monsoon take him where it blew. He finally at a river mouth on the coast of Brunei and there they anchored.
When the Sultan of Brunei heard of his arrival he send his brother to receive him. There they exchanged gift and felt between them. Wong Song Ping decided to stay on in Brunei and when his friendship with the Sultan, Halah Batatar, deepen Wong Song Ping asked for the hand of the Sultan beautiful daughter in marriage. The Sultan readily consented to the marriage and great feast and rejoicing were held throughout the land.
Through the years that followed, the Sultan saw all the wise and courageous things that his son-in-law did, his trust and affection for him grow. He therefore decided that be became his successors after his death. So Wong Song Ping, Prince of China, slayer of the dragon of Kinabalu became the second Sultan of Brunei, who ruled wisely and well.
Now, I heard and read about this legend when I was a kid but it was never this detailed and I don’t recall they ever mentioned the names. I thought to myself, “wah! That’s far fetch even for a legend!”. So I decided to look into it. To my surprise and delight, these people really existed. At least for Wong Song Ping and Sultan Halah Batatar.

Wong Song Ping or Huang Senping 黃森屏 or what he is better known in Brunei by his Hokkien name, Ong Sum Ping was either a Chinese Prince or just a commoner as told in various versions of his story. Some even suggested that his name Sum Ping was actually a title that his men bestowed on him, "Chung Ping" which means General in Chinese.

Briefly, Wong Song Ping and his sister with some chinese developed a community in the Kinabatangan area. He and his men became a formidable military power in their area and he developed a symbiotic relationship with the first Sultan of Brunei and the following Sultans. He married the daughter of the first Sultan and was given the title Pengiran Maharaja Lela and made Chief of the Kinabatangan.
According to Salasilah Raja-Raja Brunei (Geneology of the Brunei Kings), Wong Song Ping succeeded his father in-law to become the second Sultan of Brunei. Chapter 211 of the official History of Ming also suggested this. You may read about the different version of Wong Song Ping's biography here. First version and second version. I suggest you read both versions to have a balanced perspective of the man and history.
Halah Batatar was the first Sultan of Brunei. He was also known as Awang Alak Betatar or Alak Betatar prior to his conversion to Islam. After his conversion he was known as Sultan Muhammad Shah who ruled Brunei from 1363 to 1402.

It’s odd to note though that Halah Batatar only converted to Islam when he married to a Johorean-Temasik princess when he himself was from Taif Arabia and the son of Sultan Betatar? In any case, he established the Sultanate of Brunei, the name supposedly derived from the noble and honorable race of Saudi Arabia called Buranun. 

There you have it, our legend actually revolves around real historical figures. Also interesting to note that Chinese presence in Sabah is way way earlier than we thought, at least for me. Always thought that the Chinese came and live in our region circa 1800.

Some even linked Wong Song Ping to Hang Tuah, that legendary Malay warrior. Seems like Wong Song Ping has been spreading his seeds. Read here to find out more about Wong Song Ping's other influence.
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