People & Culture

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With a population of about 2 million, comprising of over 30 different races speaking over 80 local dialects, it offers a diverse and multicultural experience. The three main indigenous groups of Sabah are the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut, and Bajau.

Kadazan-Dusun

bobohizan-200x300The largest, the Kadazan-Dusun, make up about a third of the population. These are the prosperous rice producers of Sabah, although in recent times many have ventured into other trades. Living in the interior plains they are well known for their unique customs that feature female priestesses called ‘bobohizan’ presiding over still practiced ancient rituals.

They have souls and spirits that must be appeased from time to time through specific rituals. In these modern times, some of the rituals are less performed accept during certain festivities.

Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival is a unique celebration of Kadazandusun society. It’s a celebration to honour the Rice Spirit – Bambaazon or Bambarayon and giving thanks for yet another bountiful year. The festival begins on the first of May at many district levels. The rites and customs of the Pesta Kaamatan is a tribal practice of Kadazandusun and also Murut peoples. The Bobohizan or Bobolian who are the High Priests or Priestesses (depending on the district/area undertaking the preservation) will conduct the ritual. In different districts, the priests or priestesses may be addressed to differently, for instance in Tambunan district they are known as Bobolian, in Tuaran as Tantagas and in Penampang as Bobohizan.

Bajau

bajau-200x300The Kota Belud Bajau Horseman are the famous Cowboys of the East. During special occasions, the Bajau Horseman wears a black, sometimes white, long-sleeved shirt called badu sampit . Smart, gold buttons betawi run down the front opening and the shirt is also decorated with silver flowers called intiras .

The trousers are more tight-fitting than the bajau bridegroom’sseluar sama . The horseman’s seluar sampit is balck, and both the shirt and trousers have gold lace trimmings sewn on. He also wears a headpiece podong similar to the Bajau bridegroom’s.

The Bajau horseman wears a silver-hilted dagger karis at his side. The sheath is made of wood and silver. He also carries a spear bujakand a shipping crop pasut .

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Bajau horseman is his horse, or rather pony. It has its own costume and is more gaily dressed than the rider. The ourfit kain kuda almost completely covers the pony except for holes for the eyes and nose. This cloth is tied around the pony’s legs to keep it in place.

The saddle sila-sila is not like the cowboy saddles of the West but rather a smaller piece of buffalo hide so shaped to fit the pony’s back. A thick piece of cloth lapik is placed under the sila-sila .

Antique brass bells seriau , colourful reins tingalu and bridle kakang all make for a very festive pony costume. In all their finery, both ride and pony become quite an attraction.

Murut

murtu-200x300Being one of the largest indigenous groups in Sabah, Murut comprise of subgroups such as Baukan, Gana’, Kalabakan, Okolod, Paluan, Sulangai, Serudung, Tagal, Timugon and the Beaufort and Keningau Murut. Literally “Murut” means “hill people”. They inhibit the interior and southeastern parts of Sabah and the territory straddling the Kalimantan and Sarawak borders. They are mostly shifting cultivators and hunters with some riverine fishing. Those of Murut origin speak 15 languages and 21 dialects. The language commonly used and understood by the large majority is Tanggal. Their language is also related to the Kadazandusun languages.

Once feared as fearless headhunters and longhouse dwellers, the Murut these days have abandoned much of their age-old traditions especially headhunting. They are also very skilled in hunting with blowpipe.

In the by-gone era, collecting heads of enemies served a very precise function in Murut society. A man can only get married after he has presented at least one head that he has hunted to the family of the desired girl. Heads also play a very important role in spiritual beliefs.

 

Did You Know

The biggest pitcher plant in the World

Nepenthes rajah can be found in Mount Kinabalu, Sabah is the biggest pitcher plant in the world can be filled with 2 liters of water which is about 8 cups of coffee.