SABAH POLLS | Villagers of the remote Kampung Terian in Ulu Papar, Sabah believe their home, surrounded by lush jungles and accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles, to be heaven.
However, the way of subsistence living for the 300 Dusun tribal folks is currently under threat as they might be forced to relocate if the Papar Dam, which the previous Warisan government proposed, is built.
Caretaker Chief Minister Shafie Apdal had insisted that the dam was necessary to ensure future water supply for the state's capital Kota Kinabalu, while detractors have demanded other alternatives.
Recently, villagers have placed banners at the entrance of Kampung Terian, which vote canvassers missed, promising that the villagers will only vote those who oppose the dam and that they will fight for their land to the death.
"Continue with the dam, and you will be cursed for seven generations," read another banner.
Kampung Terian is one of seven villages which Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) geologist Felix Tungal believes will be submerged due to the Papar Dam. Two other villages might be forced to relocate due to proximity to the river.
The idea of setting up a dam in the hills near Kota Kinabalu was not new. The BN administration had proposed the Kaiduan Dam in the Penampang district, which Warisan opposed.
When Warisan took over, it proposed damming up Sungai Papar instead, located in the Papar district.
Spearheading the opposition to the dam is the Taskforce Against Kaiduan Dam (Takad), which has now focussed on the Papad Dam.
Its chairperson, Diana Sipail (photo), said natives have been conducting rituals since 2010 when the Kaiduan Dam was first proposed and believe that its effects have held up.
"A curse could be cast whenever something belonging to the original owner is being taken away and in this case, our land.
"In 2010, we had 300 people from seven villages who performed the ritual. The effects are still in effect today," explained Diana.
She, however, said the curse only meant to bring bad fortunes on the target so they would not get what they wanted for seven generations.
'Dam will bring us hell'
Kulami Talah, 85, is a soft-spoken Kampung Terian elder who prides herself in raising all her 13 children purely based on the resources provided to her by nature.
"I don't want to see my home submerged. If my house is submerged, I am going to set the curse myself," Kulami told Malaysiakini at her home.
She believed that the future of her children and 51 grandchildren would be in jeopardy if their land was taken away. The octogenarian said she still forages and oversees the farms managed by her descendants.
Her daughter Evelyn Sipail (photo) is just as passionate about their ancestral land. She vowed to be "submerged" with the village if the Papar Dam is built.
"We don't want to leave, because this is the place where we shed blood and toil. We demand the state government to cancel the dam. We don't want it. Ulu Papar is heaven, but the dam will bring us hell," she said.
Loggini Gambidau, 80, said she had never had to leave the village and hence, she and her villagers should be left alone by the state government.
"The land gives us more than enough food, and I want the future of my children and grandchildren to be guaranteed," she said.
Loggini said that she had been part of various blockades in the past to prevent outsiders from entering the village.
'Angry and betrayed'
The Papar Dam project has been a hot political topic in the contest for the Moyog seat, where the dam will be located.
Opposition parties Liberal Democratic Party and Parti Cinta Sabah have objected to the dam, while BN and PBS have been largely silent.
Warisan's Darrel Leiking has been tasked with defending the seat for his party. In 2019, Leiking urged the state government to "listen" to objections, but he did not explicitly defy the party line.
Kampung Terian residents Nousi Giun, 39 (photo), and Oly Verron Den, 26, told Malaysiakini that they were disappointed with the Warisan over the Papar Dam, despite originally objecting to the Kaiduan Dam.
"The government was offered various options to the dam project (but chose not to accept it) when the alternatives worked (well) in other countries.
"Of course, I was angry and felt betrayed. I would reject Warisan this time," said Nousi, adding this time he needs to make a smart choice.
He said what Kampung Terian and the surrounding villages needed was tarred roads, which he said other Kadazan Dusun Murut villages had been receiving.
This was necessary, especially now when more youths are returning home due to the economic slowdown.
A dirt trail connecting Kampung Terian to the urban areas was created in 2009, but it cannot be traversed during the rainy season.
A trip to Kota Kinabalu would require a four-wheel-drive vehicle which must cross two rivers. Alternatively, villagers have to walk eight hours to reach the city.
Follow Malaysiakini's coverage of the Sabah state election here.