Monday, 29 July 2013

The Races in Sabah

Sabah flag

Sabah's History & Culture

Known as the ‘Land below the Wind’, Sabah on the eastern side of Borneo is home to over 30 different ethnic races with over 80 local dialects. Its title comes from its location; directly beneath the typhoon belt making it free from climatic disturbances. Despite the advent of modernity, tradition and culture still prevail in local lifestyles, especially as a practice to welcome international visitors. A visit to Sabah is indeed a multi-cultural and fascinating experience.
Sabah’s early records indicate that it was broken up into various areas ruled by local chieftains in the early 9th Century. Later, in the 15th Century, it became a part of the Brunei Empire until an American Trader named Moses arrived in the 1880s’ to lease it. From there, it was passed on to an Englishman named Alfred Dent who converted the lease into a cession. The British North Borneo Chartered Company was thus established, ruling over the state until the Japanese occupation during World War II, after which it became a British Crown Colony. In 1963, Sabah joined the coalition of Malaysia.
Sabah’s 2 million residents are a diverse mix of races, with the Kadazan, Bajau and Murut forming the main indigenous groups. There are of course, sizeable populations of Chinese, Malays and Indians who form the majority of Malaysia’s social landscape.


The largest indigenous group in Sabah is the Dusun, which makes up a third of the population. They are known as prolific rice-producers, but many have gone into other commercial markets outside their traditional field. They are also known for their colourful customs, including those that involve female priestesses named ‘Bobohizan’. Their most famous festival is the Harvest Festival or ‘Tadau Ka’amatan’, which celebrates a season of good rice harvest.
Kadazan/Dusun sub-ethnic groups

           Kadazandusun is the collective name for more than 40 sub-ethnic groups which can be divided to three main groups: the Kadazan/Dusun, Murut and Orang Sungai.
Kadazan/Dusun group: Central Dusun (Bundu-Liwan of Ranau, Tambunan, Keningau and Papar that is the largest Dusun. Dusun Tindal of Kota Belud, Tuaran and Tamparuli. Sinulihan of Kiulu, Penampang, Inanam, Menggatal and Telipok. Tagahas of Ulu Papar in Penampang and Papar interior and in western Tambunan. Tuhawon of Kg. Tikolod Tambunan, Tolinting of Kg. Tolinting Ranau, and Tibabar of Kg. Tibabar Tambunan).
Kimaragang Dusun (Tobilung, Tagas, Talantang/Tandek/Maragang, Sandayoh, Sonsogon, Sukang and Tagaro). Kadazan/Tangara/Tangaa' (Kadazan Penampang, Kadazan Papar). Kadazandusun of Klias that is Tatana, Tutung and Kadazan of Membakut and Bisaya. Dusun Lotud of Tuaran, Rungus of Kudat, Langkon (Kota Marudu) and Pitas, Dusun Kwijau/Kuriyou/Kuyau of Ulu Monsok and Bingkor Keningau, Dusun Gana of Bingkor Keningau, Dusun Bonggi of Pulau Banggi Kudat, Dusun Minokok of Ulu Kinabatangan, Dusun Mangkaak/kunatong of Beluran, Dusun Pingas of Ulu Kinabatangan.
Murut group: Tagol, Lun Bawang/Lun Dayeh, Timugon, Paluan, Keningau Murut, Baukan, Tenggara of Ulu Kinabatangan, Sandakan, Lun Dayeh, Tidong, Okolod, Selungai and Serundung Murut near Kalimantan.
Orang Sungai group: Abai Sungai of Kuala Abai, Kinabatangan, Sungoi Sungai of Beluran Sandakan, Tombonuo, Lingkabau, Dumpas, Dusun Ulu Kinabatangan (Rumanau/Tampias Lobu, Lanas Lobu, Lobu, Makiang, Kolobuan, Sinobu and Malapi).
The Kadazandusun ethnic group make up 1/3 of 3.2 milion Sabah's population. 600,000 are the Central Dusun.

           The majority of the Kadazan-dusuns are Christians, mainly Roman Catholics and some Protestants. Islam is also practiced by a growing minority.
The influence of the Spanish missionaries from the Philippines resulted in Christianity, in its Roman Catholic form, rising to prominence amongst Kadazans. A minority of them are Protestants due to later British influence during the 20th century.
Before the missionaries came into scene animism was the predominant religion. The Kadazan belief system centers around the spirit or entity called Kinorohingan. It revolved around the belief that spirits ruled over the planting and harvesting of rice, a profession that had been practiced for generations. Special rituals would be performed before and after each harvest by a tribal priestess known as a bobohizan

           The Bajaus are known for their many skills, from farming rice to rearing water buffaloes and making boats to riding horses. They are established mostly in Sabah’s coastlines, near the sea which is a central part of their culture. Traditionally, they are a nomadic, sea-faring people, with pockets of their race scattered in other countries across South East Asia. A peaceful lot, the Bajaus often put on shows demonstrating their awesome skill in horse-riding and handling for visitors during the annual ‘Tamu Besar’ Festival in Kota Belud.

The Bajau also spelled Badjao, Bajaw, Bajao, Bajo, Badjau, or Badjaw), are an indigenous ethnic group of Maritime Southeast Asia. Bajau continue to live a seaborne lifestyle, making use of small wooden sailing vessels (such as the perahu and vinta). They are also known as Sama or Samal.

The Bajau are traditionally from the islands of the Sulu Archipelago, as well as parts of the coastal areas of Mindanao and northern Borneo. In the last fifty years, many of the Filipino Bajau have migrated to neighboring Malaysia and the northern Philippines, due to the continuing conflict in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Currently they are the second largest ethnic group in the state of Sabah, making up 13.4% of the total population. Groups of Bajau have also migrated to Sulawesi and Kalimantan in Indonesia, although figures of their exact population are unknown.

Bajau have sometimes been referred to as the Sea Gypsies, although the term has been used to encompass a number of non-related ethnic groups with similar traditional lifestyles, such as the Moken of the Burmese-Thai Mergui Archipelago and the Orang Laut of southeastern Sumatra and the Riau Islands of Indonesia. The modern outward spread of the Bajau from older inhabited areas seems to have been associated with the development of sea trade in sea cucumber (trepang).

Sub-groups of Bajau

         Commonly, many sub-groups of Badjao are named after the place or island they live-in for many years. Even though they are called Bajau, each sub-groups has their own unique language, cultures and tradition. However, certain sub-groups are able to understand the languages of other sub-groups. For example, some Bajau understand the Bajau Ubian language, and the Bajau Ubian and Simunul in Sabah are able to understand and speak the Tausug language called the Suluk language in Sabah. The general terms for the native languages of the Bajau is Вahasa Вajau or Sinama.
Lists of Bajau sub-groups:
  1. Ubian – Originate from the island South Ubian in Tawi-Tawi, Philippines and make up the largest Bajau sub-group in Sabah. They reside in sizable minorities living around the towns of Kudat and Semporna in Sabah, Malaysia.
  2. Bannaran - Another subgroup of Bajau originated from Bannaran Island in Tawi-Tawi. Mostly found in Kudat, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.
  3. Sama - Commonly known as Bajau Kota Belud, because most of them live in or near area of Kota Belud, Sabah. This is actually a misnomer as they can be found all over the west coast of the state, and not just in Kota Belud. They call themselves Sama, not Bajau and their neighbours, the Dusuns also call them Sama, not Bajau. British administrators originally defined them as Bajau.
  4. Samah/Sama Sulawesi Selatan' (Malaysia)
  5. Simunul – Simunul people can be found at Kampung Bokara, Sandakan, Semporna and Lahad Datu Towns. Simunul is an island in Tawi-Tawi where many Sama Simunul are still found and are the majority there. They are known among the Bajau group for having fair skin.
  1. Samal (Philippines, Malaysia) – A group native to the Philippines, a large number are now residing around the coasts of northern Sabah, though many have also migrated north to the seas around the Visayas and southern Luzon. The Samal are sometimes considered distinct from the other Bajau. They are the largest single group of Bajau.
  2. Bajau Suluk - This sub-group, of mixed heritage Bajau and Tausug, live mostly in Kudat, and have origins in the Philippines, hence, although living among Malay peoples for a substantial part of their history, are also able to converse in the Tausug and Samal languages.
  3. Tando' Bas - This sub-group was rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah from a place called Tando Bas in the Philippines.
  4. Ungus Matata - This sub-group was rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They had recently migrated to Sabah from a place called Ungus Matata in the Philippines.
  5. Tolen - This sub-group was found only at Bum-bum island, in Semporna, Sabah. No trace of them anywhere else even in the Philippines.
  6. Pala'u or Bajau Laut - The word Pala'u in Bajau means boat-dwelling, but is by many Bajau Laut considered derogatory, why they prefer the term Bajau Laut. This sub-group originally lived on boats all the time but almost all have taken to living on land in the Philippines. In Malaysia the boat-dwelling culture has been retained by some, but many others have built homes on land.
  7. Tabawan (Philippines, Malaysia) – This sub-group was rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. They have recently migrated to Sabah from an island called Tabawan, Tawi-tawi, Philippines. They are now numerous in Sabah.
  8. Banguingui or Balangingi Samal (Philippines, Malaysia) – Native to the Philippines, where the majority still live. This sub-group was rarely found in Sabah before 1970s. Some have recently migrated to Sabah. The Balanguingui were once slavers and pirates during the 16th to 19th centuries, capturing people from other nearby ethnic groups and often integrating them into their own culture.
  9. Sikubung – People from this sub-group were rare in Sabah before 1970s. They have recently migrated to Sabah


        Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige among the coastal Bajau, and the title of salip/sarip (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad) are shown special honor in the local community. Some of the Bajau lack mosques and must rely on the shore-based communities such as those of the more Islamized Аrabic or Malay peoples. The Ubian Bajau, due to their nomadic marine lifestyle, are much less adherent to orthodox Islam, and practice more of a syncretic folk hybrid, revering local sea spirits, known in Islamic terminology as Jinn.

The Muruts are found deep inland in Northern Borneo, renowned for their hunting skills using spears, blow pipes and poisoned darts. They used to practise head-hunting but have renounced it for a life of agriculture. Today, many cultivate hill paddy and tapioca, with some fishing and hunting in between.

The Murut were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. As with the Iban of Sarawak, collecting heads of enemies traditional served a very important role in Murut spiritual beliefs. For example, a man could only get married after he presented at least one head to the family of the desired girl.

Customs and religion

The Murut were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. As with the Iban of Sarawak, collecting heads of enemies traditional served a very important role in Murut spiritual beliefs. For example, a man could only get married after he presented at least one head to the family of the desired girl.
The Murut were shifting cultivators of hill padi and tapioca, supplementing their diet with blowpipe hunting and with some fishing. They live in communal longhouses, usually near rivers, using the rivers as their highways. Most have now converted to Christianity, with about a fifth of the population being Muslims. However they still maintain their culture.
Traditional dress for men was a jacket made of tree bark (Artocarpus tamaran), a red loincloth, and a headdress decorated with Argus pheasant feathers. Women wore a black sleeveless blouse and sarong, which fell just below the knees. Like most of the other indigenous groups in Sabah, the Murut decorated their clothing with distinctive beadwork and also made belts out of old silver coins. Another belt made of reddish-brown glass beads plus yellow and blue beads was hung loosely around the waist.
Murut wedding or funeral feasts can last several days. Ancient Chinese jars hold a prominent status in Murut customs. Jars are also a place of spirits, and larger jars were formerly used as coffins.

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