Monday, 03 Aug 2020
29/07/2020 05:06 PM

By Emin Madi

KOTA KINABALU (Bernama) – The gruesome headhunting ritual of Borneo is long gone but the ethnic Dusun Kujau tribe still practises ancient rites to honour the spirits of those beheaded by their forefathers.  

In Kampung Lipasu in Bingkor, located in the interior of Keningau district and about 105 kilometres from here, a 100-year-old human skull takes pride of place in the village’s community centre.

Inhabited by the Christian-majority Dusun Kujau community – a sub-group of the Kadazan-Dusuns – Kampung Lipasu villagers believe that the spirit of the dead person still resides inside the skull and it must be “honoured” regularly via a special ritual known as mansilad in the Dusun Kujau language.

During the late 18th century when headhunting was rife among the tribesmen of Borneo, mansilad was performed when Dusun Kujau warriors returned to their settlement bearing the heads of their rivals as trophies after a successful expedition.

After the ghastly practice ceased to exist, mansilad too was no longer performed – until in 1982 when the Kampung Lipasu villagers decided to revive the ritual to placate the spirit of the dead. 

Said Sabah Dusun Kujau Association secretary Saidi Tarai @ Tharoi: “Although the headhunting instinct among the Dusun Kujau community has long disappeared, they are still obliged to honour the spirit living in the skull, even if the mansilad is not conducted in the same grand scale as the original ritual.”

He told Bernama it was their ancestors’ belief that even though the skull belonged to one of their victims, the person’s spirit must be accorded due respect to prevent any untoward incident.



Back in 1982, Kampung Lipasu had two skulls as relics of its community’s headhunting days but only one remains now as the other has disintegrated.

Saidi, 62, who was present when the 1982 mansilad ritual was performed, said the two skulls were transported in an open lorry to a community centre in Bingkor, about three kilometres from Kampung Lipasu.

“Several female bobolian (shamans) guarded the skulls in the lorry, accompanied by a group of men beating gongs.

“After alighting from the lorry, the skulls were carried in a procession into the community centre, where the shamans chanted incantations to honour and placate the spirits that were said to be living in the skulls,” he said, adding that upon the completion of the ceremony, the skulls were returned to the village.

Bobolian Joseph Mitah holding the human skull believed to be the victim of ancient custom of Head-hunting in North Borneo, now Sabah.

The last “surviving” skull is now in the care of the village shaman named Joseph Mitah, 52, whose job is to make sure that its spirit is “honoured at least once a year so that it will not become restless”.



Joseph Mitah (left) standing beside the old human skull with Saidi Tharoi.

Saidi, who lives in Kampung Bingkor Baru, is doubtful that the 1982 mansilad ceremony would ever be replicated as it is difficult to get the services of shamans who are familiar with the elaborate ritual, which includes awakening the spirit and making offerings to it. Not only that, conducting the ritual was also a costly affair.

“Shamans are not easy to find now as our younger generation is not too enthusiastic about learning how to perform the ritual and chanting incantations in the Dusun Kujau language as they are more comfortable speaking in Bahasa Melayu,” he said.  

Post-1982, Kampung Lipasu shaman Joseph has been performing a simple ritual to appease the spirit that is said to reside in the skull that remains in the village, said Saidi.

“He would sprinkle the blood of an animal, which can be a pig, cow or chicken, on the skull. The cost of the animal is borne by an individual from the Dusun Kujau community,” he added.

Saidi said when he and his wife Florencia visited Joseph to seek permission to take a picture of the last remaining trophy, which was kept amidst the dried leaves of the silad plant – a type of palm that grows in swampy areas – the shaman consented but only after he had chanted some incantations.

 “From what I learned, there were a few people in our community who once kept these skulls as trophies but they probably disintegrated over the passage of time or got destroyed after their house caught fire,’ he said.



According to Saidi, Bingkor’s Dusun Kujau community also holds a mansilad ceremony during the annual Kaamatan or harvest festival, which is celebrated by Sabah’s ethnic Kadazan-Dusun community.

“But unlike the mansilad for human skulls, the ceremony for Kaamatan only requires one or two shamans to perform the ritual.

“Like other harvest festivals, the mansilad for our rice harvest is more like thanksgiving and to seek the blessings of Kinarahingan or God for a better harvest in the coming years,” he explained.

The ritual, he added, is also to “appease the spirits of the paddy” so that the community can continue to enjoy bountiful harvests.

Bingkor has a Dusun Kujau population of about 600. The early generations of this ethnic group used to live at the foothills of the Crocker Range in Sabah’s west coast division.


Edited by Rema Nambiar






Malaysia National News Agency
No.28 Jalan BERNAMA
Off Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur

Tel : +603-2693 9933 (General Line)
Email : helpdesk[at]


Exclusive Press


Privacy Policy
Security Policy