The Kadazandusun “Miohon Pinisi” Celebration in Sabah

The immediate families of the Groom and Bride lend support to the union.

By Richard A. Gontusan

It is a ceremony as old as time. The “miohon pinisi” is the traditional wedding ceremony of the Kadazandusuns of Sabah. “Miohon” means exchange while a “pinisi” is a little lump of cooked rice.

Besides being their staple food, in essence, rice possesses a spiritual dimension in the psyche of the Kadazandusuns. It is, after all, the embodiment of Huminodun, the daughter of the creator, who was sacrificed to save mankind from starvation.

In the olden days, in keeping with customs and traditions, Kadazan youths of the opposite genders were prohibited from mingling freely. The only available opportunity for them to mingle was at the annual harvesting of rice in the fields where roving eyes would meet, leading to marriages. In a sense, rice that brought a couple together would eventually grace their marriage.

Although the pageantry and frills associated with western weddings have gained tremendous popularity among the Kadazandusuns, the “miohon pinisi” continues to hold sway in a Kadazandusun wedding. While the ceremony itself has evolved over time, the essence of the miohon pinisi remains intact. 

On November 30, Christian Aaron Michael Gontusan of Kapayan and Stella Unnal of Sipitang held their wedding reception at a major hotel in Putatan, which was merrily attended by over 300 family members and guests.  Since Christian Aaron is a Kadazan, the “miohon pinisi” ceremony was ostentatiously featured at the reception.

Stepping on a stone to symbolically strengthen the marriage.

During the miohon pinisi ceremony, the wedding couple, attired in their Kadazan fineries, first walked gingerly towards the stage. As they approached the stage, they were met by a bobohizan or priest, in this case, Havier Adam Gontusan, and his assistant. The bobohizan directed the couple to step on a stone for the marriage to symbolically assume the strength of a rock. Next, the bobohizan ran two “siungs” or traditional Kadazan conical hats simultaneously over the couple’s bodies, from their heads to their legs. While doing so, the bobohizan chanted an ancient prayer which supposedly would repel negative vibes from undermining the future of the union. 

Bobohizan Adam Running the siung to ward of negative vibes.

Upon the completion of that part of the ceremony, the couple were then ushered on to the stage, where they took their seats on a matted floor, surrounded by their family members who had joined them on the stage. 

Before the seated couple were placed a small wok of chicken soup, a bottle of rice wine and a coconut bowl of rice. Using their hands, the couple formed lumps of rice, and dutifully fed them to each other in turn. The gulping of chicken soup and the sipping of wine followed soon after. All this while the family members sang the song, “Piahanan Pinisi,” an old Kadazan song composed by a popular local songwriter, Wilfred Mojilis, which encapsulates the meaning and symbolism of the ceremony. 

Aaron and Stella exchange lumps of cooked rice or momiohon pinisi.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the couple took a bamboo cup each, and offered the rice wine to those on stage for them to sip, skipping those who were under-aged of course.

To mark the end of the ceremony, the couple performed the Sumazau dance, surrounded by their relatives and friends who danced along with them to the live beat of gongs. This dance is called the “Mingkuung,” signifying that the couple were officially married with support from their relatives and friends who would take it upon themselves to keep the couple within their circle.