Until now, Kinabalu’s name is still a mystery. The most popular view derives it from the Kadazan words, Aki Nabalu, meaning ‘the revered place of the dead’. The local Kadazandusuns belief that their spirits dwell on the mountain top. Among the bare rocks of the summit grows a moss which early Kadazandusun guides said provided food for the spirits of their ancestor.
Many of the mountain’s early explorers reported that their Kadazandusun guides performed religious ceremonies upon reaching the summit. Sir Hugh Low wrote that his guide carried an assortment of charms, pieces of wood, human teeth, and other paraphernalia weighing three kilograms (seven pounds) up to the summit. Whitehead recorded the slaughter of one white chicken.
These ceremonies were performed to appease the spirit of the mountain as well as the ancestral spirits who lived there. Nowadays, a ceremony is conducted annually by the Kinabalu Park’s guides. Seven chicken and eggs, as well as cigars, betel nuts, sirih leaves, lime and rice are sacrificed, and later enjoyed by the guides.
Another theory about the mountain’s name comes from the derivation of Kina meaning “China” and Balu, meaning “widow”. A Kadazandusun legend tells the story of a Chinese prince ascending the mountain. He is seeking a huge pearl on the top which is guarded by a ferocious dragon. The prince succeeds in slaying the dragon and stealing the pearl. He then marries a Kadazan woman, but soon abandons her and returns to china. His wife, heartbroken, wanders to the mountain to mourn. There she was belief to turn into stone.