Fikri Jermadi considers the terms and conditions that may apply in watching Aaron Cowan’s film.
‘Huminodun’ tells the story of Ponompuan (Alexandra Alexander), the daughter of Kinoingan (Boni Mosios) and Sumundu (Jenifer Lasimbang). In the traditional legend, both parents are seen as the creators of the world, breathing life into this existence we have here on Earth.
Once created, the stewardship of the world is entrusted to their children, Ponompuan and their son, Ponompulan (Hazli Bojili). However, on Earth Ponompulan is the one who went rogue, going against the wishes of his family in leading human beings astray. Kinoingan, descending from the heavens, got his hands dirty to take him out of the equation.
As punishment, he rained on Ponompulan’s followers (us) famine and other disasters. However, having seen and believing in the good of mankind, Ponompuan becomes distraught at this turn of events, and offers herself as a sacrifice, in a bid to overturn her father’s course of action.
Her death transformed her into Huminodun (meaning ‘transfigured sacrifice’ in Kadazan), ensuring that mankind would once again live on in balanced prosperity. It is believed that her spirit, Bambarayon, lives on in the bountiful harvest of the land today, and the legend begets Kaamatan and Unduk Ngadau, important dates on the Kadazandusun calendar.
The story above is a familiar one for those native to the land, given that its telling is passed down orally from the elders of the community. Having said that, those acquainted with holy books can see parallels with stories of fallen angels and wrathful gods; others of a more Tolkien persuasion may even connect the demise of Ponompulan with the likes of Morgoth.
It could be argued, though, that many from Peninsular Malaysia may not be as aware with the tale itself for a variety of reasons. To that end, it is good that this film (directed by Aaron Cowan and Jo Luping) would exist in this form. Ideally-speaking, it should be watched along with Emily Mary Chin’s documentary of the same name for greater context.
Yet at the same time, there is also a disquiet that exists within me about those leading the film. I recall the theory of cultivation as proposed by George Gerbner, speaking warily of others telling our stories. Granted, he was discussing the ills of capitalism rather than colonialism, but it is a pertinent point all the same.
More to my own point, the director’s name stood out in the credits list. Aaron Cowan doesn’t strike me as a particularly local name, though it wouldn’t be the first time I get caught out on that front. Research suggests him to be a filmmaker of some experience and skill, with personal and professional ties to the context of the film’s making.
That this film is also backed by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah means that the version we’re seeing on screen is an official, rubber-stamped edition creatively-led by a foreigner. That is not a bad thing in and of itself, but if a nuanced and balanced look is what you’re looking for, I suggest giving Emily’s aforementioned documentary a spin.
Having said all that, by all accounts proper care has been taken in the making of this film. It is, after all, a tale with many variations, handed down from one generation to the next through what is known as rinait, a form of ritual chanting. Seeds sown in such varied ways will grow in different directions, and that is no less true here for both the story and this film.
Additionally, perhaps it is my skepticism that needs addressing. Baz Luhrman’s ‘Australia’ receiving similar support from the Australian government doesn’t detract from the film itself, does it? Similarly, I suppose you can enjoy the latest Alex Ferguson documentary without making too much of the fact that his son is the film’s director.
Moving beyond such political economic discussions, there is something else I need to note. According to the blurb, ‘Huminodun’ is an hour-long television programme, but the version I saw on YouTube is 30 minutes long. Released briefly in time for this year’s Kaamatan, it could be that this picture I’m seeing is not the most complete.
With such terms and conditions in mind, there remains plenty to be seen in the film. Cowan’s green screen experience is put to good use; along with the visual effects work, it gives some of the scenes a grander supernatural treatment. I can appreciate the challenges of such work on location, so credit to the team led by Angelo Sagoli Olid, for it is due.
On screen, the same is given to Boni and Jenifer for providing the proper emotional weight to Ponompuan’s sacrifice. The focus of the tale has been on the eponymous character, and with good reason. However, what ‘Huminodun’ does here orients a little more of the emotional perspective to the parents, highlighting their own emotional cost as well.
All the same, Ponompuan remains the locus of the film; through she is not at fault for the problems raised in the story, that she is responsible for righting the sins of others does not sit well with me. To that end, the film did a good job in emphasising that sense of misogynistic injustice, lending greater sympathy to our lead character.
On that note, Alexandra Alexander’s first on-screen performance understandably feels a little lightweight, but I’m impressed with Hazli Bojili, and feels that he has more to offer with more meat on the bone. It is also good to see Marc Abas in the film, a casting that’s beginning to feel like it’s part of a deal signed with the devil, guaranteeing his presence in many of these films (see ‘Avakas’ for further proof of this).
All in all, ‘Hominudun’ is a good film to watch, especially for those less aware of the tale and its importance. There remain some asterisks here and there that may not feel all that comfortable for everyone, but then again, you can’t please them all. For those wishing to see more of such stories historicised in fiction films, this is a good step forward.
Featured image credit: Ice’s Archive