Oath stone brings focus to Keningau Heritage Museum



ASIDE from being known as a town in interior Sabah, Keningau is not known for much else. But this looks likely to change with a decision that will result in having a piece of Malaysian history permanently placed there.

Earlier this week, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup announced that the ‘oath stone’ (or Batu Sumpah) that pledges the support for Malaysia by the people of ‘interior Sabah’ will be placed permanently at the Heritage Museum (Musium Warisan) in Keningau.

The stone was planted in the compound of the Keningau District Office for many years. It caught widespread attention when someone uprooted it and returned it sometime later with some inscriptions chiseled off.

An uproar ensued because the words ‘ugama bebas dalam Sabah’ had been removed. After interventions by numerous parties, the new-look stone which will find its home at the Keningau Heritage Museum will have all the original wordings of the stone, except that they are now etched in a metal sheet mounted on a stone. So much about the stone; but what about its new home?

The Keningau Heritage Museum was established in 2008 and is located at what was formerly a government rest house built in 1946 and completed in 1947.

The rest house was built by the Borneo Construction Company Ltd. It lays claim that many Malaysian luminaries such as Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak, had visited Keningau and stayed at this historic rest house.

Today, visitors can view various aspects of Keningau’s history, covering the culture, history, zoology, ethno-botany and sports. What used to be probably the only place to spend a night for visiting government officials 50 years ago has been turned into a local museum that houses numerous historical collections dating back to the colonial days, ranging from artifacts and old photographs.

Some of these items were donated by either expatriates who used to live here or by descendants of famous families of the area.

There are two large antique Chinese jars donated by a man who claimed that spirits live within. A guest at his house claimed he saw the image of a lady emerging from one of the jars.

The owner, sold to a common local belief that many old jars are the abode of spirits, decided that he did not want them anymore in his house and donated them to the museum. Other amusing exhibits are some photos of a beauty queen (Ms Julita Angian) of Keningau in 1958 including a recent photo of her.

All in all, the Keningau Heritage Museum is certainly one of a kind a good way to spend a morning or an afternoon, especially when there’s someone at hand to share a tale or two about the origins of the oath stone.

To the uninitiated, Keningau can be accessed via the Kimanis Road, or following the recommendation of this writer, via the town of Dongongon in Penampang and up through the cool of the Crocker Range to Tambunan, with its terraced rice fields, and then to the central valley of Keningau. This route, is about 131km and between two and a half hours drive or more, depending on the number of stops you make and traffic.

A large number of lorries still use this route when transporting goods to and from the interior. Keningau was known for logging and some downstream timber industries. Oil palm dominates the landscape. The town itself has a reputation of being ill-planned. One former chief minister labelled it a ‘rojak town’ some years ago.

The majority of Keningau’s inhabitants are Dusuns and Muruts with a sprinkling of Chinese and many recent Indonesian immigrants. Keningau gets its name from Kendingau, which is the local name for the spice “cinnamon”.

This used to be collected and exported worldwide during colonial times. Keningau has also bred many of our local leaders who were instrumental to our independence from colonial rule, and the formation of Sabah as part of Malaysia.

By : David De La Harpe
New Sabah Times