ACTUAL CASES OR LEGENDS?
In our field notes from our original research (1959-60, 1961-63)
I found no reference to any behavior that could be classed as rape
or intercourse achieved by physical force. In the summer of 1986
we returned to the Rungus and found that major sociocultural changes
had taken place. One informant reported an instance of sexual assault
that occurred during our absence in which a Bugis man, notable for
their aggression, killed a Rungus woman. My informant surmised that
the Bugis tried to have intercourse with her, but she did not want
to, and therefore he killed her. This story is labeled in my fields
notes under the Rungus term manabpo', which means "to seize",
"to catch", or "to constrain". It is the active
focus of the stem -tabpo-'.
Thus the Rungus are aware that sexual assault can occur, the men
more so than the women. There are the stories told about the orang-utan.
And there are stories told by men about Pinonguvakan, the name of
a bathing pool in a stream.
The Bathing Pool Called Pinonguvakan
We first discovered this story in 1987 from an informant who had
been my assistant in 1959-60 and 1961-63. At that time I worked
for two years with two village headmen on Rungus customary law,
and my assistant had sat in on all these sessions during which I
collected numerous cases on marriage, fornication and adultery,
assault, and verbal aggression. In no instance did I elicit any
cases involving sexual aggression. However, in 1987 he told me the
story of Pinonguvakan, in fact two versions of it.
In the first version a woman is killed at a bathing pool called
Pinonguvakan, allegedly named after an aspect of this event. All
bathing pools in rivers are named, usually after a natural feature.
The name of the pool called Pinonguvakan can be translated as "the
place where (her legs) were pulled apart", as one would pull
apart a forked stick. This lexeme focuses on the action of pulling
something apart, and does not specify what is being subjected to
this. In the case of the bathing pool my informant stated that a
man had done this to a woman because she did not agree to have intercourse,
and she died. Both were Rungus, but my informant did not know their
names or the name of the village where this happened.
In the second version, given by my informant seven months later,
the woman survives, and she and the young man are put to marriage
by the headman. The man wanted the woman, wanted to have intercourse,
but the woman did not agree. He apparently violently spread her
legs apart, dislocating her hips. She could not walk. And he was
afraid she would die. So he carried her back to the longhouse on
his back and got someone to put the joints back into place. They
were then put to marriage.
In the first version this account was referred to as a tuturan
or "story", that is an account of an actual happening.
In the second version it was referred to both as a tangon, a "myth",
and a tuturan, "story". And the act was referred to as
mangagai, "to bring about sexual intercourse", "to
make a woman". These terms are used in everyday language with
no connotation of violence. My informant later on remembered the
name of the village where the bathing pool is located, near to the
village in which we did our research.
During field work in 1990 we systematically followed up on this
story and tried to determine its distribution and the variation
in themes. All subsequent versions of the story, with but one exception,
refer to a bathing hole located not in a distant village but in
the village where we resided for field work.
The exception involves a Pinonguvakan in a neighboring village
where a head was discovered floating in the river with its jaw pulled
open so that its mouth was split. My informant for this story also
opined that there must be Pinonguvakan water holes in almost every
village, as it can refer to a split branch of a tree, a common occurrence
along rivers, as well as other similar happenings.
To return to variations on this story of forced sexual intercourse,
several male informants have never heard of the story or the water
hole. But another informant said he had heard the story from his
father, an elderly man in 1959. The story is essentially the same,
but they were not made to marry. This informant used the term mizut
for the sexual attack, which means "to fuck each other",
although in the story he told it was clear that it was against the
wishes of the female. A term such as mongizut, "to lay the
woman", "to get the woman to fuck", would have more
been more appropriate, even though the violence indicated in this
story goes beyond the usual sense of the term.
Another version told by one of the old and knowledgeable informants
in the village involved two young men who were suitors for the same
maiden. They each grabbed a leg to take her away and as a result
split her apart so that she died. The two young men then killed
each other. This occurred by a bathing pool in our village but far
upstream... However, he did not know the names of any of the participants...
A former headman gave roughly the same story as the second version
I had elicited from my first informant, except that the water hole
was in our village of research. A young man wanted to have intercourse
with a maiden at the water hole. She refused. He tried to argue
her into it. She still refused. He grabbed her legs; she held them
together. They were dislocated at the hips. The young man then carried
her back to the longhouse. The headman put them to marriage, as
no one else would marry a maiden who could not walk. Some medicine
was applied, which alleviated the dislocation enough for her to
walk about but with a limp. The young man's family had to give a
water buffalo to the maiden's family, and provide a large bride-price
This informant, younger than my elderly informant whose version
of the story involved two young men, also maintained that he did
not know the names of the participants in this story, but he did
know their descendants. However, he could not give us their names.
They had moved to another part of the Rungus territory. But a headman
in another village, now long dead, had lived in that longhouse with
the girl, he stated.
It is important to note here that the explanation advanced for
the events in the Bugis case and in the various versions of the
Rungus case is that the woman refused to have coitus. As we shall
discuss shortly, Rungus cultural expectations are that women have
the right to refuse intercourse at any time, extramaritally or within
marriage. Thus, there are several questions that remain unanswered
in the accounts recorded. Why was the woman alone at a bathing pool?
To avoid charges of being improper, Rungus women do not generally
go unaccompanied to bathing pools. Was she encouraging the man?
Was the dislocated hip the result of a passionate mating, or was
it the result of forced intercourse? We are not clear on this as
there were no witnesses to this event. If there are no witnesses
to illicit sexual intercourse but the couple are found out, it is
expected that the woman will claim that she was induced to have
coitus, that she was not actively inviting sexual relations, and
this claim will be accepted. So we do not know whether the reportage
of the event is accurate or not. What is more, we don't even know
whether this story reflects an actual event or whether it is constructed
to justify the unusual name of a bathing pool so that it is only
a projection of feelings of sexual aggression. What we do know is
that after almost four years of research we have only one verbal
report of a possible case of physically forced intercourse, not
a pattern of sexual aggression.
While this case illustrates that it is possible to talk about physically
forced intercourse, although there is no word to differentiate it
specifically as such, discussions of it are in fact extraordinarily
rare. And women are not familiar with stories about the Pinonguvakan,
not even the wives of the men who related the story to me.
Two Accounts of Maidens Having Hands Laid On Them
There is a line between being grabbed hold of by a man, being constrained
by a man, and being induced to have intercourse, although at times
when women are accustomed to following the wishes of men this may
be a fine line. And the Rungus use the same term to refer to both
actions. This is based on the root -tabpo'- and appears in various
forms, manabpo', tabpa'an, etc. In 1990 I recorded the following
In the first account it is questionable whether it is an account
of an actual happening or a cautionary tale told by a father to
his son, my informant. In attempting to ascertain whether it represented
an actual legal case, I found that my informant referred to it at
different times as both being a myth or legend (tangon) and a story
There was a young man who had been catching hold of girls to get
them to have intercourse with him. (In the story the verb manabpo'
is used for what he did.) The maidens told the headman, but the
young man maintained he was being falsely accused. This happened
three times. Then the headman told the maidens not to admonish the
offender when he grabbed them, but to take his headcloth and run.
There was a maiden who decided to entice the young man to catch
her (mokitabpo'). When they had had intercourse and she was leaving
the scene, she said that she would not tell the people in the longhouse,
and maybe they could meet again. Then she asked where he got his
headcloth from. He replied it was his own. She asked to see it,
and then asked the young man if she could take it home so that she
could learn the weaving pattern. He agreed.
On returning to the longhouse she went immediately and told the
headman. And he recognized who the young man was by the headcloth.
There was a village moot and the young man had to give as compensation
a large gong to the parents of the maiden. The other girls who had
been taken earlier (tinabpo') received nothing. (This seems anomalous,
given the following story.)
I asked my informant why the maiden didn't just take the headcloth
and run. He replied that she was afraid that the young man would
outrun her and perhaps kill her to prevent her reporting the incident
to the headman.
The second account deals with an alleged actual case that occurred
before the British arrived. There was a young man who chased maidens
when they went to get water at the river and caught hold of them
(manabpo'). Some maidens agreed to have intercourse. But some didn't
and were left alone. These latter maidens reported to the headman
what had happened. But the youth denied the accusations.
The headman suggested to the maidens that they get together and
beat the young man. A strong maiden said, "Wait I minute. I
will go for water by myself."
So she went, and as she bent over to fill her bamboo water tubes,
she was caught hold of (tabpa'an) by the man. She told him to wait
until she was finished filling her water tubes to have intercourse.
In the meantime she told him to hold on tight to her back. When
she finished filling the tubes she took hold of the youth around
his legs. She then took him piggyback to the longhouse. The youth
did not want to go, and his trousers fell off as she carried him
Then the headman said that the reports really were true. The maidens
who told the headman about being accosted were not lying as the
youth had claimed. The youth could no longer deny what he had been
doing. The headman at the moot said that the big strong maiden should
get a large gong from the youth. And the others who reported his
behavior to the headman got two small gongs each. The youth stopped
this behavior as he was afraid of being caught again.
One informant present while this story was collected said that
among the Rungus if a man tried to force a woman into intercourse
and she refused, he would stop. And if a woman is propositioned,
she can tell the headman and ask for a fine. It is notable that
in these two stories women got their own back at the men who had
taken advantage of them.
Finally, it is important to note that the root -tabpo'- is used
in two senses in these stories: "to grab hold of a woman"
and euphemistically "to make a woman".