Culture of Sabah

Sabah is one of the multicultural states in Malaysia. The state has more than 30 ethnic groups, over 50 different languages and about 90 dialects.

Kadazan-Dusun is the largest ethnic group in Sabah; consisting of one third of Sabah’s population. Kadazan, along with Dusun people lives mainly on the west coast of Sabah and rural areas. The similarity in the dialect and culture makes the two ethnic grouped together. Traditionally, most of them were farmers, cultivating paddy rice and upland rice. Other livelihoods were fishing and hunting. This ethnic combines smaller groups such as Dusun Liwan, Dusun Lotud, Badahak, Tagahas, Tangara, Rungus, Orang Sungai, Kuijau, Tambanuo and many others. Sumazau is their traditional dance, as an appreciation after a successful harvest, usually on Kaamatan Festival.

A representative from the Kadazan Dusun community in Sabah.

A representative from the Kadazan Dusun community in Sabah.

Another famous ethnic group in Sabah is Murut, comprising 29 sub-ethnic groups such as Murut Tahol or Tagal, Tidung, Timugon, Sembakung, Paluan, Bookan and others. “Murut” refers to people that lives on the hill slopes or high grounds. The Murut people are the last group in Sabah to renounce headhunting as it is their spiritual belief that a man could not get married unless he presented at least one enemy’s head to the family of his desired girl. Like Kadazan-Dusun, Murut people also have their own harvest festival, called Kalimaran Festival.

Sumazau, the Kadazan-Dusun traditional dance

Sumazau, the Kadazan-Dusun traditional dance

Bajau is divided into two groups according to their territory. While the Bajaus in the west coast were farmers and fishermen with their extraordinary horse riding skills, the Bajaus in the east coast were farmers and skilled divers. Bajau people that lived in the west coast were called Bajau Samah and they lived around Putatan, Tuaran, Kota Marudu, Kota Belud and Papar. In the east coast, most of them lived around Kudat, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau. An interesting fact about the Bajau in Kota Belud is that they learned how to make samurai swords from the Japanese army long time ago and the quality of the swords rival the Japanese samurai sword. Even though the two groups are both Bajau, in terms of speech, costume, traditional food and culture are different.

Bajau Flotilla at Lahad Datu Waterfront

Bajau Flotilla at Lahad Datu Waterfront

Image credit to Wikipedia.org

The other ethnics have lesser number of people but that does not mean they are less significant. Iranun, another ethnic group, means “berkasih-kasihan” in Malay and they value the ties between their people. Lun Bawang ethnic people reside mostly inland and their livelihoods are cultivating paddy. Kedayan people were believed to have originated from Brunei since their language is similar to Brunei’s and migrated to Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan. Another ethnic is Suluk. They use Tausug language to communicate and their professed religion is Islam. There are still many other ethnics that had not been mentioned here such as Bonggi, Paitan, Binadan, Bisaya, Kokos, Rumanau, Lotud, Minokok, Tidung, Rungus, Kagayan, Tatana, Tagaas, Ubian, Kimaragang, Bajau Laut, Ida’an, Inokang and others.

A group of Rungus ladies

A group of Rungus ladies

Different ethnics have their own cultures and customs. For that reason, Sabah has many different celebrations. The traditional clothes of each ethnic also maintain has their own personality. Even the traditional dances are different. Thus, this contributes to the uniqueness of Sabah and makes the state even more fascinating through its culture.

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