Arrested tourist ‘sorry’ after naked photo on sacred mountain

Father of British backpacker appeals to Malaysian authorities for clemency


British backpacker Eleanor Hawkins, who has been arrested in Malaysia for posing naked on top of a sacred mountain, knows what she did was “stupid and disrespectful and is very sorry for the offence that she has caused”, her father said today.

The 23-year-old, from Derby, was one of 10 trekkers who stripped on Mount Kinabalu on May 30th in a stunt that a local official said was insulting to indigenous people, suggesting it may even be considered the cause of an earthquake that killed 18 people days later.

The father of Ms Hawkins has appealed to the authorities not to make an example of her, amid fears for her safety after the prank was blamed for causing a deadly earthquake.

Ms Hawkins was arrested at Tawau airport on Tuesday before she was due to depart for Kuala Lumpur.

She appeared in court on Wednesday with Dylan Snel, a Dutch tourist, and Lindsey and Danielle Petersen, two Canadian siblings, court sources have confirmed.

The four were remanded for four days pending further investigations into alleged indecency.

Ms Hawkins’ father, Tim, who runs his own mechanical engineering business in Derby, said: “I would like to appeal to the Malaysian authorities. I have got every faith in their judicial system. I just hope they don’t make an example of them after the tragic earthquake.”

Mr Hawkins said he spoke to his daughter on Wednesday morning: “She is obviously upset. She’s pretty scared. But it was good to speak to her.”

Ms Hawkins was educated at the independent Ockbrook school in Ockbrook, Derbyshire, which she left with four A-levels at grade A.

She graduated last year from the University of Southampton with a masters in aerospace engineering, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She worked as a barmaid in a Southampton pub while studying, as well as spending the summer of 2013 on a Camp America summer placement.

Her duties as a riding instructor at Pompositticut Farm Day Camp in Hudson, Massachusetts, included “being a responsible role model for all children and younger members of staff at all times,” her LinkedIn profile said.

Officials in Sabah state, in the northern half of the island of Borneo, accused the tourists of showing “disrespect to the sacred mountain”, which at 4,095 metres is south-east Asia’s highest peak.

Sabah’s indigenous Kadazan Dusun people believe the tourists’ behaviour angered the spirit of the mountain and was the reason for a 5.9-magnitude earthquake, which six days later struck near the mountain, killing 18 climbers.

Sabah’s deputy chief minister, Joseph Pairin Kitingan, said a special ritual would be conducted to “appease the mountain spirit”.

Sabah’s state tourism minister, Masidi Manjun, said the suggestion that the tourists’ actions had caused the earthquake was “misconstrued”.

“I never said that they actually caused the earthquake, but their actions were against the people of the largest tribe in Sabah. The mountain is a revered and sacred site,” he said.

Myths of the peak

Mount Kinabalu is the subject of many competing myths and legends about its name and spiritual significance.

The local Kadazan-Dusun people believe its name derives from the words “Aki Nabalu”, meaning “the revered place of the dead”.

The Kadazan-Dusun have left tributes for their ancestral spirits that roam the peaks for hundreds of years, a practice that was first recorded by British colonialist Sir Hugh Low in 1858.

Popular folklore differs, claiming the mountain’s name actually means “Chinese widow”.

Legend tells the story of a Chinese prince who scales the peak in search of a pearl guarded by a ferocious dragon.

The prince kills the dragon and marries a local woman, but abandons her and returns to China.

The woman’s spirit is said to wander the mountain lost in grief.

Despite these differences, the need for respect for Mount Kinabalu and its spirits is frequently emphasised to all that travel to the Unesco World Heritage site.

Guardian and PA