A Tribute to the Dusun Guides of Mount Kinabalu

Published: 09 June 2015

Robbi Sapingi was an active member of PR GOMPITO, the community organization of Kampung Kiau Nuluh on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu.

PR Gompito is a member of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS). In fact, the Vice-President of JOAS, the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia, comes from this village too.

According to VP Sintiah Semanding, Robbi was an active member of the community organization, always participating in meetings, gotong-royongs, training workshops and joining others in the field to prepare the community map of their village.

Robbi lost his life in the earthquake tragedy on Mount Kinabalu on Friday, 5 June 2015 in what is now a tale of heroism and extreme self-sacrifice.

Three other indigenous Dusun guides also perished that day – Velarian Joannes, Ricky Masirin and Joseph Selungin. All were said to have lost their lives while fulfilling their responsibility as guides and in keeping with their Dusun upbringing which places a higher value on attending to the needs of others before your own.

While their efforts were not enough to save the lives of 14 others, including one Filipino and six Singaporean schoolchildren, the actions and sacrifices of the other mountain guides and porters did a lot to prevent more casualties and deaths.

The media, both mainstream and online, have been right to acknowledge and praise the efforts of this group of active first-responders. And the public have been quick to second that.

After the quake, some 90 local guides were deployed for search-and-rescue operations on the mountain.


Gunung Kinabalu is a sacred place of the Dusuns and a treasured heritage of the people of Sabah.

It is a place where you have to leave your egos behind, leave your prejudices aside, and a place where you acknowledge the local owners and respect their beliefs and worldviews. Only then will you understand what it means to be a part of a community.

And it was in this spirit of community that the four mountain guides gave up their lives for others.

Our heartfelt condolences to their families and of all others who lost their lives in this tragedy.

Rest in Peace, friends. You have made your families and your people proud.

[Photos from the social media and local newsmedia.]


Robbi Sapinggi, 32, married with a 6-month-old son. The veteran guide and a climber were well on their way down when the earthquake struck and he was hit by falling rocks. Despite being hit and bleeding profusely, Robbi instructed the climber to descend first, prioritizing the person’s safety before his. According to reports, Robbi had wanted to wait for a rescue team and not attempt a descent on his own. After about five hours, he decided to slide down the rocky slope. When the rescue team found him, he was barely alive. He died moments later.


Joseph Selungin, 33, was last seen hugging two of his guests in an attempt to protect them, using his body as a shield. All three died. Mr Selungin left behind his wife, a 4-year old son and a 2-year old daughter. He was about to celebrate his wedding anniversary on June 12, and had promised his wife that he would be back.


Valerian Joannes, 28, was to marry his girlfriend of 12 years later this year. He got engaged to Jessica, a 25 year-old nurse, three months ago. His last wish to her was for her to teach him First Aid so he would know what to do if called upon to be a first responder in an emergency. Valerian was a mountain guide with Mountain Torq which operated the Via Ferrata (Iron Road) facility on the mountain. This was where the Singaporean students were during the earthquake.


Ricky Masirin, 28, had worked as a mountain guide and trainer on rope-use at the Via Ferrata facility for the last two years. He was with the Singaporean students when the earthquake happened and was killed by falling rocks.