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Dismissing scorn over quake link, Sabah leaders says stripping tourists broke the law

KOTA KINABALU — Sabah leaders have come out in defence of the state’s customs and ancestral beliefs now being derided globally after a senior government leader blamed last week’s deadly earthquake on tourists who stripped naked on Mount Kinabalu.

Dismissing scorn over quake link, Sabah leaders says stripping tourists broke the law

Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Pairin (centre) said he had a premonition that something bad was going to happen earlier this week when he saw a flight of swallows circling outside his house during breakfast. Photo: The Malay Mail Online

KOTA KINABALU — Sabah leaders have come out in defence of the state’s customs and ancestral beliefs now being derided globally after a senior government leader blamed last week’s deadly earthquake on tourists who stripped naked on Mount Kinabalu.

Despite the mockery and scorn, state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun who was among those targeted explained that the demands for the group to be punished was rooted in deeply-held reverence for the mountain considered sacred to the natives.

“We are not apologetic of our rich cultural heritage. They define who we are and we should be proud of them. They (foreigners) don’t understand our customs and traditions. They make their own conclusions based on their own values, not based on ours.

“Other countries, too, have native laws and taboos and if they can respect those in other countries, there is no reason why it should be an exception in Sabah,” he said.

While the May 30 incident in which 10 foreign tourists posed nude atop Malaysia’s tallest peak had stirred anger in the state then, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister and Huguon Siou (paramount leader of the Kadazandusun) Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s remarks blaming them for a deadly earthquake last week has eclipsed the initial outrage.

Mr Pairin’s claim also provided ample fodder for media outlets; UK daily The Sun published an article headlined “Your boobs have angered mountain gods”, while the Daily Star titled theirs “Naked Brit girl caused killer quake”.

The Daily Mirror used the headline “Nude student faces jail for ‘causing deadly quake’” along with the line “Locals in Borneo say gods on sacred mountain were angered by photo prank”.

Commenters on the news portals also criticised the state and its people for their “superstitious and archaic” beliefs.

Mr Masidi pointed out that the titillating titles masked the fact that the tourists’ act, earthquake notwithstanding, would have merited punishment for breaking both local laws and norms.

“There have been apparent fact-twisting by certain foreign media. I don’t know whether this is on purpose just to ridicule us or their failure to appreciate our local traditions and customs,” said Mr Masidi, himself a Dusun-Muslim from the foothills of Mount Kinabalu.

In Sabah, the Dusun community at the epicentre of the earthquake have been shielded from the mockery but not from at least 60 aftershocks since Friday’s (June 5) earthquake. They have heard of the stripping incident and are offended at what they deem was arrogance and disrespect on the tourist’s part.

Some will say that the spirits of the mountain are angered but most, out of courtesy, will also stop short of saying it was caused by the incident.

“There are things that seem illogical, devoid of any scientific explanation. Leave them as they are and let our faith decides our stand. After all, many of us believe in our own God unconditionally even if we have yet to meet Him,” said Mr Masidi.

“What is important is that they were detained and remanded for investigation according to the provisions of our law, the same law that applies to everyone else,” added Mr Masidi.

United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Organisation president Madius Tangau said the foreign media’s controversial portrayal of Sabah was damaging and inaccurate, and failed to convey that the tourists’ act was illegal in and of itself.

“Yes, there have been insinuations and claims by some to link the earthquake with the nudist incident, but the fact is the nudists are being detained for investigation on their behaviour, which is against Malaysian laws.

“I hope the said editors have come to their senses in that their credibility and reputation have been put to serious question,” he said, adding that some did not bother to verify their story sources.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Joseph Kurup said that when visiting or travelling, tourists should also be respectful and mindful of local customs, even those from “advanced and civilised countries”.

“The visitors who went nude while on our sacred mountain demonstrated no respect at all to our native laws and to the people of Sabah, especially to the indigenous people.

“We welcome all visitors to our Malaysian Sabah but please respect our customs and cultures. What our visitors did on Mount Kinabalu were so hurtful and this must be understood,” he said.

According to a police report by Sabah Parks staff, 10 tourists were alleged to have stripped and posed naked for photos on Mount Kinabalu’s peak on May 30 and reportedly rebuffed their local guide who tried to stop them, telling him to “go to hell”.

Four tourists – Canadian siblings Lindsey Petersen, 23 and Danielle Petersen, 22; Briton Eleanor Hawkins, 24; and Dutch national Dylan Snel, 23 – were arrested and are now held under a four-day remand order while waiting to see if they will be charged for indecent behaviour.

The other six are believed to have left the country.

The four are being investigated under Section 294(a) of the Penal code for public indecency, an offence which is punishable by a maximum three months’ jail term or fine or both.

However, there is talk of dually charging the four in native court for the same offence, which will also be punishable by jail term or “sogit”, a native term for a “cooling down” compensation that can be paid in the form of livestock, or money.

The magnitude 5.9 earthquake last Friday, the strongest recorded in Malaysia, claimed the lives of 18 climbers on Mount Kinabalu. THE MALAY MAIL ONLINE

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