Today is
Resource Centre
THE PEOPLE AND CULTURE OF SABAH

With around 32 indigenous groups in Sabah, one can expect to see tribal dresses of various styles. Most of these have retained much of their original design and color. Many of these traditional costumes are of black material, and one of the reasons for using such a sombre color is that in the past, the people could rely on a few types of vegetables and plants from which to extract dye to color the cloth. If they needed to add color to the black, beads of red, orange, white and green were sewn on. Traditional costumes also included antique bead necklaces and belts, antique hand-engraved silver jewellery, and belts of old silver dollar coins. Most of these accessories have been handed down from generation to generation. All are very valuable and priceless. 

 

The Kadazandusun
This is the largest ethnic category in Sabah and is predominantly wet rice and hill rice cultivators. Their language belongs to the Dusunic family and shares a common animistic belief system with various customs and practices. Their ancient beliefs on the verity that everything has life - the rocks, trees, and rivers are all living things. 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.


Customs & Beliefs
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.
It is believed that rice in whatever form embodies Bambaazon that must be protected from harm. The homecoming of Babaazon is an integral part of the Harvest Festival. Ancient folklore tells of the ultimate deed of Kinoingan or Minamagun - The Almighty God or Creator, who sacrificed his only beloved daughter, Huminodun so that his people would have food. Various parts of her body were planted from which plants grew. During the Magavau ceremony, the Bobohizan will select some stalks of rice that are left undistributed until the harvest is over. In some districts, the chosen stalks are cut before the field is harvested and are then brought into the owner's house. The task of Bobohizan is to search and salvage the lost Bambaazon who are hurt or separated from the main mystical body. In the old days, this ceremony was often performed in freshly harvested fields during the first full moon after the harvest to invoke the rice spirit.
The language used by Bobohizan is archaic whose meanings have been buried in time and known only to the few remaining Bobohizan these days. The vital aspect of Magavau is the paraphernalia used to summon Bambaazon. The sacrament of Magavau may vary according to district practices but the ceremony always ends with food offerings to Bambaazon and merry making for the village folks.
The highlight of Pesta Kaamatan is the selection of the pageant queen or "Unduk Ngadau" which can be literally translated as "Zenith of the Sun". It conceptually derives from the sacrifice of Huminodun. The maiden who has the honour of being selected should bear semblance to Huminodun and will represent all that is virtuous in the revered Huminodun.    

Kadazadusun

Bajau

Murut

The Bajau
The 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's seluar 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 bujak and 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.


The Rungus
The Rungus living in the Kudat district are known to have maintained their ancient traditions to this day. Even the traditional ladies costume has not many changes made to it. Some of the women still wear costumes made from cloth processed form hand-grown and hand-spun cotton.
The design of the Rungus costume is simple. A black cloth with little hand-stitched patterns worn from the chest to the waist becomes the blouse ( banat tondu ) and the skirt is a knee-length sarong (tapi rinugading) of the same material. Another length of black cloth, about 28-30 cms. Wide is slipped over the head and it rests on the shoulders draped over the arms like sleeves.
What makes this outfit very interesting is the belts and necklaces that go with it. Little brass rings and antique beads looped through thin strands of stripped bark ( togung ) becomes a wide and colourful hipband called orot. To wear this, the orot is slowly and carefully coiled around the hip. Then a last string of beads ( lobokon ) is hung loosely from the coil. The orot is hand made by the Rungus men as the technique is known only to them.
The Rungus are also well-known for their beadwork and the costume shows off some of their finest. Two shoulders bands ( pinakol ), about 6 to 8 cms wide are aworn diagonally over each shoulder and cross over in front. The bead-work often tell a story and this one in particular tells of a man going spear-hunting for a riverine creature. Usually the pattern must follow ancient designs when worn with this costume.
Long antique bed necklace ( sandang ) are also worn diagonally over the shoulders. These necklaces often include ivory-white discs, obtained from the shell of the kima ( tridachna gigas ) as well as animal bones.
Several necklaces of reddish-brown glass beads and the chocker-like suldau with the white kima as the centre-piece further adorn this costume. The large burambun and the smaller giring are antique brass bells that sound with the slightest movement.
The Rungus lady's hair is combed into a bun and a multi-coloured floral head-piece ( titimbok ) is worn. A thin band of beads strung together ( sisingal ) is tied around the forehead and then pieces of cloth sewn together in rows to form colorful pigtails ( rampai ) are tided at the nape.
This costume, with all the beads and belts, is worn during festivals. Rungus ritual specialist also wear the complete outfit when conducting rituals.

The Murut
Being 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.

Customs & Beliefs
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.
The essence of Murut tradition of feasts is distinctive. No merrymaking will end at least until sunrise and can last up to seven days later. This is especially the case with weddings or funerals. Through modernization, no more heads must be furnished for weddings but jars along with cloth, beads, gold and ivory bracelets have taken its place. All these dowry items will be proudly displayed at the ceremony. Jars or "sampa" holds a prominent status in their customs. The Murut know the age of sampa and treat them will due respect. Jars are also a place of spirits. Beads play an integral role in Murut life. Wedding beads must be presented in the form of belts, necklaces, headgear and decoration. The wedding ceremony must be held in the bride's longhouse, tapai or rice wine must be served and all the meat has to be pickled.
The Murut keep the bodies of their deceased in a jar and place them in colourful and elaborately decorated grave-huts along with the deceased's belongings. The body will be placed in the foetal position inside the jar and a gong will be placed over the mouth of the jar to close it. However this custom of burial is becoming rare with the availability of wooden coffins.

Opening Ceremony of Kaamatan Festival

The Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Festival Beauty Queen)

Pesta Kaamatan
Most native Sabahans consider rice to be more important than just the main staple food. There is a certain sacredness attached to it, for it is a food given to them by Kinoingan, the Almighty Creator so that his people should never want for food. He sacrificed His only daughter- Huminodun and from her body parts, padi (rice) grew. This was Kinoingan's ultimate act of benevolence and to this day, His people repay the deed by conducting various ceremonies to honour Bambaazon, the spirit of Huminodun as embodied in rice.
The most well-known of these is Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival which begins on the first of May and celebrated throughout Sabah. Of major importance to this thanksgiving ceremony is the Magavau - a ritual to invite Bambaazon to the Pesta and is conducted only by the Bobohizan or high priestess. Festivities cannot proceed without the presence of Bambaazon and it is through Magavau that the Rice Spirit is invoked.
In the past, Magavau was conducted in the padi fields on the first full moon night after the harvest. A party of Bobohizan led by the foremost senior, would weave a slow procession through the fields chanting prayers to Bambaazon. A male warrior would walk ahead of this group waving a sword in the air, to ward off any evil that might try to disrupt the ritual. The food offered must be of the best quality. When the spirits come, only the Bobohizan will be able to feel their presence. The spirits will find, neatly laid out for them on banana leaves, the choicest chicken meat, eggs, betel leaves and pinang (areca nut), tobacco and kirai ("rollie"). The finest tapai or rice wine is offered to the spirits.
A second offering arranged in a winnowing tray is placed on a specially built bamboo platform. This is for the spirits to bring back to the spirit world to feed those creatures that would otherwise feed off the padi. Pesta Kaamatan around the state culminates in the state level celebrations on May 30 and 31 every year with Magavau being enacted indoors before the celebrations begin.

The Unduk Ngadau
Unduk Ngadau is a beauty pageant held during the Kaamatan cultural event normally held in Sabah, Malaysia. The title comes from the ethnic word Runduk Tadau which means 'the girl crowned by sunlight'. Unduk Ngadau is one of the most recognizable cultural events in Sabah and the beauty pageant is unique to the state.
The Unduk Ngadau beauty contest was started to pay respect to Huminodun, the sacrificed daughter of the Kadazandusun spirits Kinorohingan and Suminodun. It is believed that she was the one who taught the priestesses, known as locally as Bobohizans their ritual mantras which exist today.
Contestants in the state-level pageants are generally the winner of their district's pageant. However, some districts hold joint pageants which produce more than one state-level contestant. Notably, Tuaran and Tamparuli hold a joint pageant in Tamparuli, with the first-place winner going on to represent Tuaran, and the second-place winner representing Tamparuli.
In recent years, participants from Peninsular Malaysia have been able to participate in the pageant by representing Klang Valley.
The state-level pageant is held on the 31st of May each year at the Hongkod Koisaan building in Penampang, and is the highlight and ending point of the monthlong Kaamatan celebrations.

 

 

Recommended Travel Packages:
MONSOPIAD CULTURAL VILLAGE
KOTA BELUD SUNDAY MARKET
TIP OF BORNEO AND RUNGUS LONGHOUSE