May 7, 2011

North Borneon Hero : Korom of the Muruts

Korom was an early 20th century Murut warrior. The Murut is one of the oldest community in Borneo. They inhabit the interior and south-western parts of North Borneo and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak border.

They were the last ethnic group to renounce head hunting in North Boreno. Some account that they did this when they embraced christianity. The word Murut means "Hill People". 

As head hunting community go, they were probably the most troublesome group. Other ethnic groups collected heads only during time of war with other villages or "country" as what the natives called other village then. For the Muruts, the rite of passage for a man was for him to collect a head from other villages. Failure to do so, would mean he would not be able to get married. 

The other great warrior of the Muruts was Ontoros. Unlike Ontoros, Korom it seems, do not get much publicity. There's not much literature on him. 

The Muruts referred to Ontoros and Korom as guru na amul, teachers of amul. It was said that Korom was born blind, that is why he was named Korom. In Murut, it means "his eyes was closed". 

One day Korom fell asleep under a bamboo tree, the spirit came to him in the form of a beautiful woman and told him that she would give him supernatural powers, all he had to do was to take her as his wife. I guess he did.

Pic from the book Blood Brothers by author Lynette Ramsay Silver

These are feats that he was said to be capable of :
  • He drank poison and eat broken glass but could not die,
  • If he hit someone with his bare hands, the person would die immediately,
  • He was in a boxing match and he hit someone in the jaw, the jaw was severely damaged,
  • He was good in tracking. He could hear the sound of wild boar by just putting his hand on the earth.
  • During the Japanese occupation, he used only a "parang" or a machete to kill 4 Japanese soldiers. They say his "parang" was magical. It stayed short while in its scabbard but when Korom pulled it out, it would grow longer. 
  • When the Japanese captured and imprisoned him, he mysteriously escaped despite being guarded heavily,
  • When he was caught again by the Japanese, they chopped him up and burned him alive. When the Japanese checked his burning body, they saw that it had turned into a log,
  • The British heard of this Murut warrior's magical power and wanted to test him and gave him a challenge which Korom gamely accepted. They tied him up and put him into a sack which they also tied. They threw him into the middle of the sea. To everyone's amazement, he was found later drinking in the coffee shop. 
During World War II, Korom was a rebel and some said he was a Sergeant with the North Borneo Armed Constabulary. It was claimed that he spied for the Allied Forces by pretending to be working for the Japanese. He provided intelligence on Japanese positions and some credited him with the escape of 500 Allied POWs.

More research should be done on Korom's background. It's a shame that his deed might soon be forgotten. Was it because he was friendly to the British as I do not find any account of him rebelling against them unlike Ontoros. Was it because of this that he was dropped from being mentioned as a hero for Sabahans?  

Source - Shamanism : an encyclopedia of world beliefs, practices, and culture, volume 2 - Page 826. Available for preview at google book. (As suggested by a kind reader :D. I've added the source of my post)   
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