10 things about: Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas, native beauty queen turned budding politician

Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas spending time in her hometown of Kiulu. — Picture courtesy of Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas
Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas spending time in her hometown of Kiulu. — Picture courtesy of Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas

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KOTA KINABALU, June 11 — A law degree holder, model, singer, personal trainer, Unduk Ngadau beauty queen and now, politician.

Jo-Anna Sue Henley Rampas has worn many hats in her 28 years of life, and according to her, the latest one is the one she is most passionate about.

The Kiulu native first made waves at the Unduk Ngadau, a Kadazan dusun beauty contest, some 10 years ago and has been in and out of the limelight since.

The multi-talented British-Dusun is a former Bintang RTM star with a law degree from the United Kingdom. She is also a certified fitness instructor.

She worked in advertising, curating Samsung’s Milk Music for Malaysia and Indonesia while in London.

Since returning home about a year ago, she has put her law degree on the back burner for now. She plans on making permanent waves as a people’s representative in her hometown as part of the new Parti Warisan Sabah and as the icon of Wira wati, the party’s young womens’ wing.

Her venture into politics may seem out of the blue, but those in the know are aware that she comes from a family of politicians; her grandfather was a native chief, and her mother was also into politics, having stood as a candidate for the now defunct parti AKAR.

Her uncle, Datuk Louis Rampas, was a three-term former state assemblyman for Kiulu.

Despite her obviously Eurasian looks and slight British accent, Rampas finds it easy to mix with locals, thanks to her command of Dusun and local Sabahan slang.

It helps that she is naturally outgoing, and although happy to share most things about her life, she insists on keeping certain things, like her marriage, private.

Young, ambitious, bubbly and proudly Sabahan, she talks about everything from a gym injury to her venture into politics and being the heaviest girl to win the Unduk Ngadau title.

In her own words:

Growing up in Kiulu, KK, Penampang and Petagas, I think I had a fun childhood. I had friends from the city and the kampung, and they are two different worlds. I thought I adapted well to both, although they were very different. I was just as happy to run around outside climbing trees as I was playing video games. I guess when you’re young, you don’t care, you just want to play.

The state Unduk Ngadau in 2007 was my first and last beauty pageant — I was encouraged to join it by my friends while waiting for our SPM results. I didn’t think I would win. I was at my “maximum chubby” at the time. I was the heaviest contestant at 60kg. Everyone was in their 40s and 50s. I was not insecure but I find it funny. I don’t know how – maybe it was just luck I won – I had prepared for it, and I had a good command of Dusun. I guess it’s about confidence and how you can embody the “huminodun” spirit to represent the KDM culture.

I really like to eat, I like egg yolks with rice for instance. At the age of 19, I was getting bad headaches and the doctor told me I had high cholesterol for my age. It took me awhile but I began to lose weight over the years. I was going to the gym regularly, and I got certified as a fitness trainer in the United Kingdom, as a way to earn extra income. I think I surprised myself and everyone by being so into fitness now, especially weight lifting. I was never into sports in school. My mum is surprised, she never thought I would get involved in anything so physical.

I dislocated my shoulder at the gym last year while in the UK and had to have surgery. I’ve now got three screws in my shoulder, and had to stop weight-lifting for awhile. It’s not the same anymore, the doctor says I won’t have the same strength anymore and I’m more fragile now. Recently, a vigorous handshake with a villager caused a muscle tear in my shoulder. For a weight-lifter to have this injury, feels like the end of the world. But I won’t give up though, I will prove the doctor wrong and get back into training.

My venture into politics is not that surprising, actually. I’ve always been interested in the issues concerning the people and everyone in my family has an opinion. My mum was a candidate for AKAR in 1994, my uncle was a state assemblyman from 1999 to 2013 and my grandfather was a native chief who was among those who discovered Kiulu... it’s in my blood.

I actually heard about Warisan from the workers who were renovating my house. I googled them and found out that Darell Leiking, whom I already knew, was also part of the new party. I found out more about them and thought if I were to join a political party, this would be it. Later on they told me they were looking for a youth icon for the Gen Y and Z in Sabah and wanted to give me the opportunity. I thought it was the right platform for me.

One thing interesting I’ve found out in the recent jelajah, the younger generation in urban areas, they’re not into politics as much as those in the rural areas. Sure, they talk about issues on social media but they’re unlikely to go out and do anything about it. Those in rural areas however, are more concerned about their issues, political landscape, I didn’t expect this. It was easier to talk to the rural youth about their political needs. They are tuned into what’s happening and they know their local leaders. Maybe the urban youth are busy and more concerned with their jobs.

I don’t think I’ve ever faced any issues being a mixed marriage kid – I blended well with everyone – I didn’t get bullied, I didn’t stick out or anything. Sometimes in the kampung, I’d get called orang putih sesat but it was not threatening or offensive, just funny.

However, my mum did face issues for marrying a Westerner when she was running as an opposition candidate in 1994. People put up banners that said “Suami Sulah Rampas penjajah. Adakah kita mau dijajah lagi?” I still remember that although my parents try to shield me from that.

People say I’m only in Kiulu now because it’s nearing the elections. But I’ve been away and of course when I come home to KK, I want to go home. I still have family in Kiulu and I want to spend time where I grew up – in my family home by the riverside. To say I only go home back because of the elections is wrong.

I’m the eldest of three. My brother is autistic and lives in his own world – he’s happy though. He was born prematurely at 24 weeks. He’s a bit of a life reminder to me. As a baby, doctors insisted he wouldn’t survive, but he fought so hard. He was born in 1991 when technology wasn’t always advanced and he was a bit of a miracle baby. I remember my mum crying a lot. But he was such a fighter. When I think of my problems in life, and that the people around me complain about, I am reminded of him and how much he fought and survived just to be able to live. He is just happy being him now. 

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