For the uninitiated, Tambunan is a town in the interior of Sabah, about 80 km away from Kota Kinabalu. Its populace are mostly Dusun. According to Low Kok On of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, in the early 20th century, the social structure of the Tambunan Dusuns consisted of seven sub-tribes namely Tuwawon, Tagahas, Tibabar, Bundu, Gunah, Palupuh and Kohub. Today, the Tuwawon, Tagahas and Tibabar sub-tribes are still concentrated in Tambunan.
So what’s the story behind the name Tambunan? Long long long time ago….. The area that is called Tambunan in present day was only but a thick jungle with abundance of wild animals and jungle produce. Over time, the people from Nunuk Ragang explored the area and decided to open a settlement there. One of the first group of people that ventured to this area was led by a man named Gombunan. Among the party were Gombunan’s wife and child.
Gombunan, besides being a warrior amongst the people of Nunuk Ragang, was said to be a wise and kindhearted leader who always looked after the welfare of his charge. The women folks planted corn, tapioca, rice, while the men hunted for wild games like deers and wild boars. The area that they settled in proved to be fertile. Everyone was happy. Eventually, more people trickled in to the area and more areas were opened for agriculture activities.
One day, the people’s tranquil was shattered when a group of warriors from a tribe called the Tonsudung from a nearby village to the east of Gombunan’s settlement came and raided their settlement. These fierce warriors destroyed whatever and whoever in sight! A number of Gombunan’s people perished. However, Gombunan and his warriors managed to repel the attack and chased the Tonsudung out of their settlement.
Enraged by their defeat, the Tonsudung plotted their revenge on Gombunan. One day, Gombunan was out and about his orchard alone, when a group of thirty Tonsudung warriors captured him. They murdered Gombunan and took his head back to their village. There, they put Gombunan’s severed head on a long pole so that all the villages could see it and made fun of Gombunan’s people at the loss of their leader.
Gombunan’s people were saddened at the death of their leader and mourned for many days. They named their settlement Gombunan thereafter in honour of its namesake. The people Gombunan swore that they would avenge their leader’s death.
Around this time, a tribe located at the west of Gombunan, migrated to the nearby area of Gombunan. This tribe was called the Tamadon. The people of Gombunan and the Tamadon were on friendly terms. The Tamadon realized that eventually, the Tonsudung would attack them. Therefore, they offered their alliance which I’m sure the people of Gombunan gladly accepted.
So it came to pass that the Tonsudung decided to conduct another raid against the people of Gombunan.
Thinking that they had weakened the people of Gombunan, they were rudely surprised tto find hat their opponents were way larger in number than they had anticipated. Half of the Tonsudung raiders perished in the raid while the remaining scattered into the jungles.
The people of Gombunan and the Tamadons celebrated their victory by having a large feast. Plenty of food, plenty of dancing no doubt and definitely plenty of Tapai (rice wine). At the end of the revelry, with the approval of the elders from both sides, they renamed their settlement to Tambunan. You guess it, Tamadon Gombunan. There these two tribes lived united and happily ever after.