Meet Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas 

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A law degree holder, model, singer, personal trainer, Unduk Ngadau beauty queen and now, a politician. She is also the state-level Unduk Ngadau 2019 organising chairperson. And she’s only 30-years-old! Despite her amazing accomplishments, Jo-Anna remains a down-to-earth and humble young lady who is not afraid to speak her mind and reach for her dreams. 

SMB: Back in 2007, what was going through your mind when it was announced you had won the Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan title?

The sound of people cheering for me at that point sent chills down my spine up. The memory of “TUARAN” being announced as Unduk Ngadau 2007 is still vivid in my mind. When Tuaran was announced, I actually asked my runner-up, Brenda Melonie Takom from Putatan, “TUARAN?” And she said, “YA!!!”

When I was growing up, I was always body- shamed for being overweight. I thought of giving it a shot to join Unduk Ngadau at the age of 18. There was nothing to lose. I guess it was my way to face anxieties of being ridiculed. Of course, prior to that I made a commitment to change my lifestyle not just because of the pageant per se but for my future self too.

When the top 2 contestants were announced, winning or not was secondary to me but to earn the title of Unduk Ngadau 2007 would be a testament to my hard work. Unduk Ngadau is an amazing platform to empower and inspire young women to be relentless in the pursuit of their dreams and never let fear hinder them from reaching their goals.

 SMB: You became a viral sensation for your public speaking and ability to speak English, Malay, and Dusun fluently. Where did you learn your languages?

I was privileged enough to grow up in Kiulu with my late grandmother and had my primary school education in SK Pekan Kiulu from 1995-1997 where my schoolmates conversed mostly in Dusun. My grandmother’s Malay wasn’t great so she had to converse with me in Dusun. My mum spoke to me in Dusun since birth. I speak English with my dad and Malay at school. I wish I could speak Chinese though. 🙂

 SMB: As the newly-appointed chairperson of Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan State Level committee, there are some people who may feel pageants are outdated, or that they glorify a certain look over anything else. How would you respond to such claims?

First of all, the Unduk Ngadau, unlike any other beauty pageants, originated from the legend of Huminodun where it narrates the unparalleled beauty of Huminodun who sacrificed her life in exchange for a bountiful harvest for her community when the Seven Scourges took place on Earth.

Hence, the KadazanDusuns idolise Huminodun and select the Unduk Ngadau (zenith of the sun) in order to remember that she was a perfect embodiment of the perfect heart, mind, soul and body.

The story behind the Unduk Ngadau pageant has some mythical and historical elements to it. It is also embedded deeply in culture. With regards to the spirit of Unduk Ngadau, the pageant itself does not glorify only beauty; but a combination of beauty, grace, ethnic, command of language, and knowledge in one’s culture.

 SMB: How do you plan to use Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan as a platform for the Tourism industry in Sabah?

Kaamatan is a Tourism product of Sabah where local and international tourists would want to experience the culture showcased during this festive season. The Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan needs to be nurtured as a product of the Tourism industry in Sabah by having the Top 3 State Unduk Ngadau winners to assume the role of cultural ambassadors for the State. For the other Unduk Ngadau winners from every district, they will actively participate in highlighting their district as a tourism product to attract tourists to visit and experience the culture and traditions of the native people.

This is a continuation of the efforts of which the Unduk Ngadau contestants have done their local research concerning the traditional costumes, cultures and the ethics of the district they represented during the pageant. These are efforts to develop the rural areas by giving emphasis to community-based tourism.

 SMB: Before you pursued the political world, you were a law student, in the entertainment industry, and a certified fitness instructor. Why the shift in career?

 If we look at current world leaders today, a recent data showed that 17 percent of leaders – including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines studied law. I believe that having a legal background definitely gives one a broader perspective to inform their political ideas. 

As for me, I am a very opinionated person and I enjoy arguing a subject matter thoroughly. Suffice to say, having a law degree and pursuing a Masters degree in International Law was best suited for me.

I graduated from my LLM in 2014 and had the opportunity to work in London until early 2016. That was the year when Parti Warisan Sabah was established by YAB Datuk Seri Panglima Shafie Apdal, Chief Minister of Sabah. In fact, YB Datuk Darell Leiking introduced me to this party in October that year. The State was in dire need for young politician blood. They needed new faces and ideas to develop this nation. So I decided to join the “SABAH UBAH” fight (then) and here we are now in the “SABAH BARU” era.

On the other hand, singing and fitness are my hobbies that I love doing during my leisure time.Composing songs and writing lyrics are my way to unwind. I will also make time, at least five times a week before work to hit the gym for 45 minutes before I start my day.  Personal training was more of an “extra income” job during my years in the U.K. It was never my intention to pursue a career in singing or fitness.

For me, there was no shift of career. It’s just the beginning of my career.

 SMB: Did you originally plan to pursue politics? Were you were worried about being scrutinized and judged. If no, what changed your mind?

I was always curious about local and international current affairs. I was born into a political family. My grandfather,the late OKK Rampas bin Gumpai was the founder of Kiulu. My mum, Sulah Rampas was a candidate for DUN Kiulu in 1994 and my uncle Datuk Louis Rampas was a State Assemblyman for three terms in Kiulu from 1999-2013. I think this influenced my curiosity towards political party affairs since primary school.

Back in the UK in 2015, my colleague and I were commuting on the Jubilee Line Underground tube to Waterloo Station, out of the blue, she told me that my character would make me a politician one day. Of course the year 2015 was filled with headline-grabbing news of Malaysia. She reminded me of the news headlines on the Evening Standards newspaper that evening that Malaysian politics was in a mess. I really thought it was a bit too far-fetched and a joke of the day for me being in politics at that time.

Little did I know that 18 months later, I would be an aspiring politician with Parti Warisan Sabah. After analysing the whole political landscape closer in 2016, I figured that GE-14 was the right time to venture into politics.I knew at that point, that being a member of an opposition party would potentially expose myself to bullets of political propaganda. If I was a rational person, I would have thrown in the towel and call it quits! I guess politicians are just an eclectic bunch. 🙂

It was not an easy journey. However, I truly believed that there must be a Change for Sabah. We had to conquer the fear of change. Someone had to fight for Sabah. Being a politician has been a career I wanted to pursue later in life but I never expected it to be in my 20s.

 SMB: How do you deal with the pressures of looking a certain way, especially in the era of social media?

Winston Churchill said “In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.”

So, never cease to pray while going through the good and bad times. As a woman in politics, things can be pretty acrid at times and you’ll need to toughen up. All eyes are on you like a hawk. When I stepped into the realm of politics, I knew public pressure were the challenges I will face. To survive the choppy waters of politics, staying laser focused on my work and the people of Sabah kept me on the railroad.

 SMB: What does being a politician mean to you, especially with the current political climate?

 Being a politician is no regular job and has no official clocking-off time. It demands a lot of sacrifices and you can never turn back. However, my biggest passion in life is helping others uplift their livelihoods. By recognising the woes of the Sabahan voices on unemployment, the need of improving public and basic infrastructure, healthcare facilities as well as more economic opportunities in Sabah, we have to roll up our sleeves and crack down into business of governing.

In our modern society, we need service-oriented young people in providing development, strength and diversity to the citizenry. The country also needs dynamic leaders to ensure that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the efforts and spirit of our forefathers in forming Malaysia to be materialised too.  am absolutely grateful for the privilege and the opportunity to influence the course of governance and help to uplift the community in my capacity as the Political Secretary to the Chief Minister of Sabah/Finance Minister, YAB Datuk Seri Panglima Shafie Apdal. 

SMB: You have certainly set high standards for all aspiring beauty queens especially in Sabah. What does the term “beauty with brains” mean to you?

I wouldn’t like to describe it as beauty with brains but beauty with a purpose, like the legend of Huminodun. In our modern society, we have realised that the younger generation’s knowledge in Sabahan culture, ethnicities and good command of the local language is rapidly deteriorating. A Harvest Queen must not only be beautiful but knowledgeable about their mother tongue, culture and ethnicity.

Unduk Ngadau is the climax of every year’s Harvest Festival events. This most highlighted event brings the attention to the young generations of Sabah. The Unduk Ngadau contestants must strive to raise awareness to the mass by promoting as well as preserving our culture and mother tongue. Apart from that, the Unduk Ngadau pageant would be one of the best platforms to emphasize education as it empowers women in the community as a whole.

That is what an aspiring Unduk Ngadau should aim for.

SMB: What is your message to aspiring beauty queens out there?

Be as organic as possible! You will never go wrong by being authentic. I truly believe that our existence in this world is to put a stamp on the future, and making a contribution to future generations. To my sisters out there, every Unduk Ngadau winner have their own unique strengths and we must aim to achieve a goal by leaving a legacy with your uniqueness. That will make you outstanding. You would definitely want to be remembered as an Unduk Ngadau who advocated in what you stand for.

SMB: Will we see you running for ADUN again in GE15?

The main priority now is WORK! We are currently working round-the-clock to deliver the manifestos promised during GE14. The people chose Warisan to govern the state and we must ensure that their well-being are taken care of. I will be moving around the whole State of Sabah for the next few years.

Will I run as a candidate in GE15? Iit is too early for me to make that decision but of course, I will let the president of the Party to decide on that matter in due course.