Families And Friends Remember Sabah’s Selfless Guides

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Sabah on Jun 5, Channel NewsAsia visited the families of three mountain guides who lost their lives in the tragedy.


KOTA KINABALU: Mount Kinabalu looms large in Sabah, physically and spiritually.

At 4,095 metres above sea level, it is one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia. Wherever you go in Sabah, you can get a glimpse of its imposing presence. Its peak, though often shrouded in mist, looks majestic on a clear day.

For the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun tribes, Mount Kinabalu is also the sacred resting ground for the departed. They hold on to this belief, even though the majority are now Christian.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Sabah on Jun 5, Channel NewsAsia visited the families of three mountain guides who lost their lives in the tragedy.


Marius Salungin had ten siblings. His brother, Joseph Selungin, was the youngest. Marius remembers him fondly.

“We laughed a lot when we were around him,” Mr Salungin said, when asked to describe Joseph, who died in the earthquake with two climbers.  “Because he told us a quite a lot of jokes. He was fun to be with. That’s him.”

Marius Salungin lost his brother Joseph Selungin, a mountain guide, in the Sabah earthquake. (Photo: Ray Yeh)

“One of the guides found him,” he continued. “He told us that he was holding two customers.”

The guide that Mr Salungin had referred to is Mohd Sharul Lizam, who said: “I knew what he was wearing, what backpack he was carrying, so I could confirm that was Joseph. He was covering his two climbers. They cuddled. But rocks fell on top of them.” None from the group survived.

Joseph Selungin was 33 years old. He is survived by his wife and two children aged four and two.

To help them cope, Mr Salungin said: “We discussed among our siblings in the family and we will try to help our best. And as for now, I think the donations that have come in will help the family. Hopefully the wife will be able to handle the money well.”

Joseph Selungin’s funeral service on Jun 10. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

Mr Salungin also told Channel NewsAsia that he would “tell Joseph’s children that their father was a very responsible person, also very jovial, contagious and happy-go-lucky.”

“He would have wanted the children to be successful and be like the father, responsible and to have positive characters.”


Valerian Joannes and Jessica Sikta got engaged in December last year and had planned to tie the knot in November. But Mr Joannes, who was on the ropes atop Mount Kinabalu when the earthquake struck, died in a rock slide with 10 young students and teachers from Singapore.

“He told me that the children were very young,” said Ms Sikta, 25. “Before this, he only took adults.”

Valerian Joannes and Jessica Sikta on their engagement day. (Photo: Jessica Sikta)

Mr Joannes, who was 28, had worked as a Via Ferrata trainer for three years.

His fiancée told Channel NewsAsia that he loved kids. “He would pinch them on the cheeks, but he cannot hurt the children,” she said. “If we had children, I’m sure he would have been a very good father. But now it’s only a dream that will never come true.”

For their wedding, Mr Joannes had planned to surprise her with a song he composed and performed. “He was very talented and he was a good singer,” she said. “The last song he was able to give us was titled ‘I will hold your hand.’

“In the song, he said that every relationship goes through rough times, but we are always able to get back together.” Ms Sikta explained, while the song played in the background. “And then he sings, please forgive me.”

Jessica Sikta remembering her fiance. (Photo: Shushan Lam)

It is believed that Mr Joannes had time to get out of harm’s way after the earthquake, but died trying to save some of students.

“If he is still with me now, but the kids are gone, I know he would not be happy,” said Ms Sikta. “He would have been traumatised.” She believed “that’s why God took him”.


Sapinggi Ladsou, 56, had 10 children. Of the five boys, four became mountain guides like himself. Robbi was one of them.

“We feel the impact of Robbi’s passing,” Mr Ladsou told Channel NewsAsia. “It’s not just losing one child out of 10 children.”

Robbi Sapinggi a few months before the earthquake struck. (Photo: Nelson Chua)

According to eyewitness accounts, Mr Sapinggi, 30, had survived the initial rock fall after the earthquake. Badly injured, he instructed his climber to descend without him, because he wanted to help others on their way down the steep slope.

He died shortly after rescuers found him a few hours later.

“We received many messages from Robbi’s ex-clients. They told us how Robbi had helped and encouraged them,” said Lynn Thiang of Amazing Borneo, the tour company that worked with Mr Sapinggi.

“If you have climbed Mount Kinabalu before, you would know many people wanted to give up right before reaching summit because it was very tiring,” said Ms Thiang. “But Robbi would encourage the climbers and give them the confidence. We are all proud of Robbi, that he died for a reason.”

Robbi’s funeral. (Photo: Amazing Borneo)

The veteran mountain guide left behind his wife, Reena Joshi, and their 6-month-old baby. Ms Joshi, a UK national, met Robbi seven years ago while travelling through Sabah.

“Her family is worried about her,” Mr Ladsou said, “so I want her to stay here, so that we can help her.”

Ms Thiang also said: “Robbi really loved his son and I’m sure he wants to see that his son is well taken care of.”

 (Photo: Ray Yeh)


Visiting bereaved families and friends so soon after the tragedy struck, Channel NewsAsia’s producers did not expect the warm welcome extended to us from everyone we met along the way. In those few days, we witnessed another kind of spirit that lives in Kinabalu’s mountains.

It is the spirit that transcends human instinct to run from danger, to save lives. It is also the spirit that welcomes strangers into one’s home amid personal grief and sorrow.

The locals call it the Sabahan Spirit. And it is this spirit that will help the communities pull through and rebuild.

This article is Part 3 of a special report on the Sabah Earthquake. Part 1: For the guides who survived the Sabah quake, a long road to recovery. Part 2: Mount Kinabalu guides still cut off from livelihoods. Catch documentary special Heart of Courage: Sabah Guides on Channel NewsAsia, Jun 23, at 8.30pm


Source: www.channelnewsasia.com

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