Tangkayau’d pinipin
Tundu undu winorun
Ilo Nabalu
Ilo gayo ngaran
(Dusunic mantra, unknown source)

Liver of the earth
Heart of the universe
That Mountain
That great name

Sabah, Borneo – the land below the wind where the people are warm and welcoming. Visit any place in Sabah and you will find that Sabahans are among the friendliest people and always generous with their smiles, food, cultures and tales of Mt. Kinabalu. Any chance they get, a true Sabahan will boast to you about the mystics of Aki Nabalu.

The majestic Mount Kinabalu has always been the pride of all Sabahan. Standing tall at 4,095 metres above sea level it is the highest peak in Malaysia. The massive mountain towers  over the other peaks along the Crocker Range.

Myths and mystics have always been associated with Mount Kinabalu and often time the Mountain has been a source of identity for Sabahan, especially one who grow up under the shadows of Aki Nabalu.

Many says that the name Kinabalu originated from two words : Aki and Nabalu, which in loose translation means Grandfather or ancestor and mountain. Native elders still refers to Kinabalu as di’Aki, meaning belonging to grandfather or sometimes even just Aki as in the old man.

It is no mystery why the elders refer to the mountain as Aki, they believe that all spirit belong to the mountain and will return there after their time in this realm has finished. Thus Aki is the guardian who keeps the mountain, and lead the souls back to the mountain when its their time. Native of Sabah has always revered Aki Nabalu for this reason.

When you climb Mt. Kinabalu, you will find several mountain plateau before reaching the summit. It is said that these plateau are places of rest for the spirits before Aki comes to greet them, as once the spirit guardian arrives the spirit will forever remain in Nabalu. This belief leads to people climbing to the mountain plateau and call the spirits of their dead relatives to return to its human body and be resurrected. One of these plateau has been named Panalaban, derived from the Dusunic language talab which means to stop. Literally meaning to stop the spirit from going towards Aki.

Although Sabahan have long stopped climbing to Panalaban for this purpose, to this day ethnic leaders still performs blood sacrifice rituals in Panalaban to appease Aki. The ritual calls for white fowls to be slaughtered at the mountain as well as other offerings. It is when this rituals have been skipped that Aki would awaken from his rest and will shake the mountain. Though this is not the only thing that can waken Aki’s wrath, that just add more to the mystics of Aki Nabalu.  

Mountain guides are not just path leaders that shows you the way up the summit, all mountain guides lives along the foothills of Kinabalu. Most have a short and stout built, with thick and wide feet. This is because they make their living by planting crops along the mountain ridges and collecting herbs and other medicinal plants. In a way Aki is their predecessor, leading people to the summit. How mystical, right?