The Tarob and the Sacred Oath. Liminal Spirits and Stories Creating Heterotopic Spaces in Dusun Culture




transmedia, web documentary, Dusun, Sabah, Southeast Asian folklore


This article explores two stories told during the production of the transmedia documentary project Big Stories, Small Towns: Bongkud-Namaus in the Dusun villages of Bongkud and Namaus in Sabah, Malaysia. Both stories relate to hungry and sacred entities – an atomised, monstrous moon-eating spirit called the Tarob, and a sacred oath bound in blood, which eats anyone who breaks it. The article will introduce the Big Stories, Small Towns project, the process that underpins this project and the site of production in Sabah of one iteration of the Big Stories, Small Towns, before analysing heterotopic conceptions associated with aspects of folklore in the Southeast Asian region. Providing a theoretical framework that reflects upon a key text by Evans (1953) – an early translator of Dusun folklore for Western audiences – aspects of Dusun culture will be explored that illuminate details of the two case study stories. An historical and theoretical treatment of the stories will frame a fusion of transmedia and folklore in manifesting liminal beings to emergence. This fusion of transmedia and folklore facilitates representation and remediation of cultural identities, thus enabling a wider society – in this case Malaysian society – to develop a more nuanced cultural awareness of itself.

Author Biography

Martin Potter, James Cook University

Dr Martin Potter is a Lecturer in Creative Arts and Media at James Cook University. He is Creative Director of documentary production company Big Stories Co., which produces feature and broadcast documentary works including recent titles Motorkite Dreaming (NITV- SBS) and The Family (BBC, CBS and Melbourne International Film Festival). He is a director and producer of large-scale, multi-year, media for development projects in South and Southeast Asia in partnership with international organisations including UNICEF and US-Aid. His research and media making explores relational and participatory cultural practices and is embodied in transmedia works including Big Stories, Small Towns (Winner Community Champion, SXSW Interactive 2012) and the acclaimed White Building program in Phnom Penh ( He has a forthcoming edited book with Jonathon Louth, Edge of Identity: The Production of Neo-Liberal Subjectivities, published by the University of Chester Press.   


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How to Cite

Potter, M. (2017). The Tarob and the Sacred Oath. Liminal Spirits and Stories Creating Heterotopic Spaces in Dusun Culture. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 16(1).