In Memory of Laura

I first met Laura W.R. Appell in 1986 when she and husband George and their daughters had just returned to Sabah after many years. Newly working in Sabah’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, I had arranged to meet them at the Sabah Museum together with one of their Rungus friends, a village headman whose name (from memory) was KK Marajun. We met at the indoor marble steps going up to the Museum’s exhibition gallery. My immediate impression of Laura and George was that they were open and friendly, with a sincere love for Sabah and especially the Rungus.

 

Over the years, I came to know Laura well. In addition to public lectures and family get-togethers during their 1986 trip (they were friends of a couple of my husband’s brothers, the eldest of whom was then Sabah’s Chief Minister), we met up during many of their subsequent visits to Sabah and at Borneo Research Council international conferences. We also kept in touch by mail and later email. Laura was an amazing person. She had first lived among the Rungus with George and their first baby daughter Laura, during fieldwork for George’s doctorate from 1959-1960 and 1961-1963. George always credited Laura for the success of their fieldwork, especially with uncovering the details of the Rungus belief system and the intricacies of the ritual language. This was because, as in most indigenous Sabahan societies, only certain gifted women were the priestesses of the traditional religion among the Rungus. As a married woman with a child, Laura naturally formed friendships with the bobolizan or priestesses who themselves were married women with children. From them she learned about Rungus cosmology, ritual systems and family life. Laura’s research on the rinait, the huge body of chanted ritual poetry memorised by the bobolizan, formed the basis of the Sabah Oral Literature Project that was later established by Appells and their Rungus cultural dictionary.

 

Laura and I shared many things in common—our love for Sabah and its indigenous peoples, a passion for true ethnographic research, our love for our families and children. Laura encouraged me in my research into Sabah’s music. It was Laura who first told me about how novice bobolizan used to play the turali noseflute to learn the rinait—being prohibited from reciting the verses outside the ritual context, they would play the softly sounding noseflute to help memorise the patterns of the poetry. At the time, I thought that the imitation of the sound of rinait chanting was merely a melodic device for Rungus turali performance, just as the Lotud imitate the tunes of secular songs with their turali for entertainment, or the Kadazan Dusun of Tambunan copy stylized mourning crying with their turahi to express melancholy when they remember deceased relatives years later. Laura’s explanation based on firsthand experience with the bobolizan, however, provided a different perspective on Rungus noseflute performance practice.

 

I miss Laura, her bright blue eyes, her infectious laugh and sense of humor, and her practical straightforward approach to life. She was totally unpretentious and genuine, a loving and devoted wife, mother and grandmother, and a true friend.

 

Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan, Ph.D., Professor of Ethnomusicology, and
Holder of the Kadazandusun Chair,
Universiti Malaysia Sabah

Bibliography

Appell, G. N., and Laura W. R. Appell
  1961 A Provisional Field Dictionary of the Rungus Dusun Language of North Borneo. Duplicated. (Microfilm may be obtained from the Educational Resources Information Center, Clearinghouse for Linguistics.)
  1993 To Converse with the Gods: Rungus Spirit Mediums. In The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo. Robert Winzeler, editor. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series Volume 2. Williamsburg: Borneo Research Council.
  2003 Rungus Dusun. In: Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the Worlds’s Cultures. Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember, eds. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files and Kluwer/Plenum.
  2004 Death among the Rungus Momogun of Sanah, Malaysia: The Dissolution of Personhood and Dispersion of the Multiple Souls and Spiritual Counterparts. In Journeys of the Soul: Anthropological Studies of Death, Burial and Reburial Practices in Borneo. William D. Wilder, editor. Borneo Research Council.
  2012a The Collection of Oral Literature and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Field Guide. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2012b The Sabah Oral Literature Project: Theory and Methods. In The Collection of Oral Literature and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: A Field Guide. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2012c Nature and Function of Oral Literature. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013a A Cultural Dictionary for Translation and Exegesis. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research. Http://www.firebirdfellowships.org/a-cultural-dictionary-for-translation-and-exegesis-of-texts.html.
  2013b Code Sheet for Recording Oral Literature. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013c Code Sheet for Transcription and Translation. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013d Rungus Classes of Oral Literature. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013e Ethical Issues in Recording Oral Literature. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research . Http://www.firebirdfellowships.org/ethical-issues-in-recording-oral-lite rature.html.
  2013f Sabah Oral Literature Project. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research . http://firebirdfellowships.org/sabah-oral-literature-project.html.
  2013g Rungus Vowel Phonemes. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
     
Appell, Laura W. R.
  1958 With Paddle and Notebook in the Northwest Territories. Appalachia 24:37-44.
  1988 Menstruation Among the Rungus: An Unmarked Category. In Blood Magic: New Perspectives in the Anthropology of Menstruation. Thomas Buckley and Alma Gottleib, editors. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  1991 Sex Role Symmetry Among the Rungus of Sabah. In Female and Male in Borneo: Contributions and Challenges to Gender Studies. Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr., editor. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series Volume One. Williamsburg: Borneo Research Council.
  1998a Memorials: Datuk Kitingan Sabanau. Borneo Research Bulletin 29:8- 9.
  1998b Memorials: Florence May Langdon Ewins. Borneo Research Bulletin 29:8.
  1998c Memorials: Geoffrey Riddle Hedley. Borneo Research Bulletin 29:8.
     
Appell, Laura W. R. and G. N. Appell
  1993 To Do Battle with the Spirits: Bulusu' Spirit Mediums. In The Seen and the Unseen: Shamanism, Mediumship and Possession in Borneo, Robert Winzeler, editor. Borneo Research Council Monograph Series Volume 2. Williamsburg: Borneo Research Council.
  1997 Rungus Ritual Text from Sabah Oral Literature Project. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2012 Community-Based Field Methods for the Collection of Oral Literature. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013a Collection Suggestions. Sabah Oral Literature Series No. 3. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
  2013b Collection Issues and Suggestions. Phillips, ME: Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research.
     
Unpublished Papers
     
Appell, Laura W.R.
  1994 The Seizing of Indigenous Lands and the Destruction of Cultures by the Governments of East Kalimantan and Sabah, Malaysia. Paper delivered at the Borneo Research Council Session Land, Law and Culture: Human Rights in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, Vinson H. Sutlive, Jr., Chair, at the Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, December 4, 1994.
     
Appell, Laura W. R. And G.N. Appell
     
  1995 The Risks in Using Ethnicity for Mobilizing Political action: The Failure to Transform Kadazan Ethnic Identity to Political Identity in Sabah, Malaysia. Presented at Borneo Research Council Session “New Skins, New Wine: Substance and Symbolism of New Sociocultural Forms in Borneo,” Christina Kreps, Chair, at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, November 19, 1995.

 

 

 

Fellowship Announcement Application Guidelines Tributes