Not Simply a Grass

by Herman, 2009

 The Flying Dusun Blog!

Bamboo really is a grass, the biggest grass in the world – technically speaking it belongs to the true grass family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae, tribe Bambuseae. Some of its members are giants, forming by far the largest members of the grass family. Bamboos are defined as plants that have segmented, typically hollow, woody stems that sprout from underground rhizomes. Bamboos flower at intervals of up to 10 years, after which the plant may die.

Bamboos grow mainly in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa and South America. There are around 91 genera and more than 1000 species of bamboos known in the world, and the Forestry Research Centre in Sepilok has recorded a total of 36 species for Sabah.

The bamboo species in Borneo have been in the region long enough to be indigenous, although some species may have been imported from other countries over the past three thousand years, such as Gigantochloa balui. However, proper evidence is lacking.

The local people in Borneo have made wide usage of bamboos, a very versatile, as well as abundant and fast growing source of food, medicine, building material, and raw material for all sorts of daily implements, from cooking containers to ceremonial knives.

Local Bamboo Names

Some of the bamboos found in Sabah, with their local names: K = Kadazan (Penampang area); D = Dusun (generic if no area defined); R = Rungus; M = Murut

Uga’ding (K); Rugading (D)
Schizostachyum brachycladum

This is “Yellow Bamboo”, mostly found around and in cemeteries, and nowadays in landscaping. Its culm is a bright light yellow with attractive green striations, giving it a very elegant look. I have found that in Tambunan people make suki (cups) during weddings for serving rice wine. Unfortunately the suki do not last, the bamboo curls and splits when drying up, and its colour becomes an uninteresting grey-brown.

Poing (K); Poring (D)
Gigantochloa levis, 15 to 30 meters high, culm diameter up to 20 cm   

Called ‘poring’ in most Dusun isoglots, this is the biggest and strongest bamboo in Sabah; it is used in buildings, from temporary stilts (in pondok), to permanent flooring and walling (Kadazan Penampang usage) and even roof tiling (Tamparuli). Instruments are made from poing, such as the tongkungon (zither / chordophone) and the togunggu’ (an idiophone, known as tagunggak amongst the Murut and togunggak amongst the Dusun), and many more daily implements – there are no limits to its usage. The shoots (sokok) are collected as food.

This bamboo has a particularity: it is not attacked by any bore-worm, and even in the open deteriorates very slowly. Floors and walls, as well as other implements made from this particular bamboo might last, without further treatment, up to thirty years.  
Tamahang (K); Tamalang (D); Rugading Tamalang Silou (D – the yellow variant)
Bambusa vulagris, up to 15 meters high, culm diameter up to 6 cm

Usually to be found along rivers, tamahang can be confused with poing, but it is smaller and its sokok (shoots) is very bitter. Tamahang is used in the constructions of fences that will last about three to six months.

Note: there are certain times when this bamboo (and also other species) cannot be cut: if cut before full moon, bore-worms attack the wood and lay their eggs. The hatching larvae will quickly deteriorate the bamboo. If cut after the full moon (after the bore-worms have laid their eggs), the bamboo lasts longer. 

Bahui (K); Balui (D Moyog); Malui (D); Rugading Balui (D – if yellow)
Gigantochloa balui, 15 to 18 meters high, culm diameter up to 10 cm, thick wall

A green, sometimes yellow, thick-walled bamboo with no particular usage, but may be used to make a straw to drink tapai (siopon), and a sharp knife/spear to kill pigs. Can be confused with rugading but its walls are much thicker.

Humbising (K); Sumbiling (D)
Schizostachyum lima, up to 12 meters

A thin bamboo that is also referred to as ‘sumbiling’. The Kadazan and Dusun used to make a certain type of ‘knife’ to kill pigs, and a sumbiling spear kills better than others because of natural poisons in the bamboo; it can be used to make instruments such as the sompoton (an aerophone), the turali (‘nose-flute’, an aerophone) and the suling (an end-blown flute). It may also be used to make straws to drink tapai (siopon).

Wulu (K); Tulu (D); Rugading Tulu (D – if yellow)
Schizostachyum brachycladum, up to 13 meters high, culm diameter up to 6cm

A bamboo that an untrained eye easily confuses with poring or even rugading in its yellow form but it is much lighter. Often used as a ‘cooking pot’ for glutinous rice, to make water containers and baskets.

Tombotuon / Tombutuong (D)
Schiyostachzum blumei, up to 5 meters high, culm 2 cm

Bamboo with spiny branches, and middle branches can branch again; seldom used but finds its application as a ‘straw’ to drink rice wine. It can be confused with sumbiling and tulu rugading but tombotuon has thicker walls.

Wadan (D)
Dinochloa trichogona – Borneo climbing/scrambling bamboo; D scabrida; D sublaevigata

Sap (wadan) is used as an eye drop; no further information (27/03/07).

Tongkungon (D)
Bambusa blumeana, up to 22 meters high, culm diameter up to 20 cm

Famous for its shoots, which are sweeter than those of poring. As the name indicates, this bamboo is used to make the tongkungon, a bamboo zither and also the tagunggak (the bamboo gongs), two types of indigenous instruments. However, poring (Gigantochloa levis), which is more readily available is also used.   

Polupu (D)
No further information (27/03/07)

Lampaki (D – Tambunan)
Schizostachyum pilosum

No further information (27/03/07)

Items made from Bamboo

Since most of the daily items and utensils of the Kadazandusun were made from bamboo, the list could almost be continued ad infinitum. Here below is a selection of the most widely encountered bamboo implements in household, hunting and leisure; the spelling may vary according to different areas and the dialect spoken there:

Tuki (K, D; generic): small (one section) container to store / fetch water etc
Bangau (K): container (one section of bamboo) for pickling meat and fish
Suki (K, D; generic): cup for drinking (rice-wine)
Tangob (D): king-sized suki
Tanggung (D): rice wine container (in which a set of sinompuruk can be immersed for filling)
Tongik: one suki at the end of a rattan rod (see sinompuruk)
Sinompuruk (K, D; generic): seven (or less, or more) suki tied to a rattan rod to serve lihing to Sumazau dancers
Siakad, Sikang (K, D; generic): spoon
Singkarad, sonduk (K, D; generic): large and small spoons
Gigiu (D): spatula type of spoon
Lolodi (D): serving spoon
Sumpit (D): chopsticks
Kulumpang (D): long serving bowl, trough
Tumpung (K, D; generic): container for serving rice-wine / fetching water (one section)
Tanggo’ (K); Tangga (D): container (long) for fetching water
Hinazun (K): container (long) for fetching water
Lugut (K): container with hook for fetching water (Dusun: sangit, tangga’, rugut)
Suduon, Suduwon (D): bamboo kindling / firewood (also 'regular' firewood)
Piipinandat (K); Sesalahan (D): shelf above the hearth for drying meat (sinalau, salai)
Palangko (D): sort of shelf for plates and dishes
Kohintung (K); Poniri’ (D – area?); Razak (R): tray (round) for drying padi, fruits etc
Hihibu (K); Lilibu, Rilibu (D); Roldibu (R): tray (oval) for winnowing padi
Balatak (D): basket
Burung (D): small woven container
Kukurungan (D): widely woven chicken basket
Kolobon (D): bamboo mat
Siung (K); Sirung (D): conical hat
Nimboul (D): thin strip of the skin of bamboo (poring, tombotuon) used for weaving trays, baskets etc…
Sokok (K, D; generic): bamboo shoots (for eating)
Sosompui (K): blowpipe used to kindle fire
Tataas (K): filter (sieve type) for filtering rice-wine
Tataasan (D): filter, sieve (generic)
Sisiop (K): pump-filter to extract rice-wine
Sabpa (D): tobacco container
Boubui (K): torch, lamp
Togunggu’ (K); Togunggak (M): bamboo idiophone
Tongkungon (K, D; generic): bamboo zither
Sompoton (K, D; generic): bamboo aerophone
Suling (K); Suriling (D): flute (end-blown)
Tobuii (K); Tobuih (D): ceremonial flute (one pitch only)
Turali (K): flute (‘nose-flute’)
Bungkau (K, D; generic): mouth (Jew’s) harp
Baambang (K): spear made from sharpened bamboo
Lontop (K); Lawatik (D): trap (a length of bamboo just fitting the squirrel - trappers terminology)
Sunggul (K, D; generic): squirrel trap (with noose)
Tungkasip (K); Kasip (D); Rungkasip (R): fowl / squirrel trap (guillotine style)
Bubuh (K, D; generic): fish trap (barrel trap)
Bohot (K): fish trap (enclosure made from bamboo slats tied together)
Bangkaha’ (K): long fish trap (barrel style) / bamboo pole with split top for drying enemies’ heads; also as a place for chicken to lay and hatch eggs (in generic Dusun gigimpuon)
Berusat (D): similar to bangkaha’, used as a fish trap and also if fish is to be stunned with tuboh.
Gigimpuon (D): a contraption for chicken to lay and hatch eggs (bangkaha’ in Kadazan)
Tampanau (K); Rampanau (D); Tantarakid (D): toy (walking stilts)
Takalak (K): toy for children (a bamboo pole with two wheels at one end)
Bunsiling Poring (D – modern): bamboo bicycle
Sisingkobongon (K): toy (pump / canon to propel seeds / water)
Lazangan (K); Tongkisus and layangan (D): propeller/windmill (used as a scarecrow and as toys)
Tompuusiosi (K): scarecrow in padi fields (sometimes of the windmill type)
Wakid (K, D; generic): carrier basket (wide at top)
Berait (D): rucksack (with lid)
Saging, Sinaging (K, D; generic): open carrier basket (wide at bottom); any carrier basket
Baazit (K): small, flattish basket (rucksack without lid)
Bahod (K): big basket
Gozong (D): big basket rucksack style
Gozong (K): berait in Dusun
Garansang (K): roughly woven basket to carry pigs
Gakit (K); Rakit (D): raft, ferry
Bangkar (K): raft
Tampatau (K): single bamboo-pole raft
Sosoutan (K); sorutan (D): slim bamboo lath over which rumbia leaves are folded in the making of atap (sinorut [D])
Sosorut (D): “thread” usually made from tombutuon but also from lias and rapot/hapod to thread rumbia leaves over the sorutan/sosoutan
Binabat (K); Binarabat (D): woven partition (generally poing or tamahang is used)
Tohig (K); Tolig (D– Telipok); Limput (D): piece of split bamboo (board) for walling 
Hisiu (K); Siliu (D – Telipok); Sili (D): piece of split bamboo (board) for flooring
Tinongkop (D): bamboo poles split in two lengthwise (for roofing, walling, fencing)
Tansar (D): fence (bamboo laths are woven horizontally between poles)
Sinoropit (D): fence (bamboo laths driven into the soil upright)
Lalambangan (D): gate (all-bamboo)
Papahu’ (K): hoe for processing sago
Solunsug (K, D; generic): bamboo water pipe to conduct water to rice fields
Bonut (K, D): knife (generic, but amongst the Kadazan especially for cutting the umbilical cord)
Susuhat (K): needle (large, for repairing bags etc)
Sosopuk (K): pump
Sunsuyon (K, D; generic): bridge
Tukad (K, D; generic): ladder (a single pole with wooden cross- shafts, or a notched bamboo/wooden pole)
Pupuuvan (K); Gigimpuan, Gigimpuon (D): chicken hatchery (looks like bangkaha’)
Singkobongon (K): bamboo canon (badil)
Tundus (K); Tandus (D): spear
Tapon (n), magapon (v): fishing rod, fishing

Other related terms:

•    Vuhu’ (v): to weave bamboo to make binabat
•    Kopoingan (n): (root: poing) an area overgrown with bamboo
•    Guvas (n): bamboo stem / tree
•    Songuvas (n): (root: guvas) one stem of bamboo (cut)
•    Wadan (n): bamboo sap


Bamboo showhouse in Kundasang

Kitchen in the above home

Self-locking device (in hearth)

Bamboo bridge (2 poles)

Side view of above bridge, you dare cross it?

Single pole bamboo bridge (sunsuyon) for the really daring!

Bamboo sections being filled with rice, which will be cooked over an open fire

Bamboo section collecting coconut water for the making of bahar (palm toddy)

Drinking lihing (rice wine) from a tumodung

Sinompuru' - rice wine cups

Tongkungon (bamboo zither)

Children playing with s
ingkobongon or badil - bamboo canons (dangerous, don't try this at home!)

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