At 4:30 am in the foothills of Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, 125 members of the Bundu Tuhan and Kiau communities set off on a pilgrimage to the sacred resting place of their ancestors for the first time in nearly 50 years. Mt. Kinabalu (known to the communities as Gayo Ngaran) is the highest mountain in southeast Asia and now a prime tourist destination. When it was gazetted as a national park in 1964, community members were no longer allowed to enter the area they had traditionally used for subsistence for centuries. Earlier this year, they successfully gained permission from Sabah Parks to have one day set aside strictly for them to return to the mountain.
Before beginning the pilgrimage at sunrise, a spiritual leader from Kiau performed a monolob, a prayer and traditional sacrifice of 7 chickens to gain permission from the spirits for the ascent of the mountain. They then departed in groups of 10, accompanied by Global Diversity Foundation community researchers who are documenting the process through participatory video. They will return to the base of the mountain for cultural events and celebrations. The pilgrimage is occurring alongside the first Kinabalu Biodiversity Expo from Dec. 2-5, which includes an ICCA forum, an ethnobotanical walk, film screenings, and a biodiversity market. For photos of the events and some of the surrounding biodiversity, see our Flickr set.