Welcome From Murut Warriors


Headhunting from the old days when Sabah was still Borneo, has always fascinated me. Headhunting is to collect the heads of their opponents as trophies to demonstrate a warrior’s skills in battle. You can see the remains of heads collected by the famed Kadazan warrior at Monsopiad Cultural Village in Penampang. Incidentally, this site was also featured on the Survivor series a few years ago.

I had the opportunity to ask some of people I met from rural Tampurali about stories that passed down the generations. Would you believe she actually shuddered when I asked?  Upon pursuing the subject, I was told that the headhunting swords were buried in the jungle by the elders, not to be retrieved or revealed ever again. And sometimes when the young guys get drunk, they will head off into the jungle and looked for the swords.

Native musicians from Murut Cultural Village

Native musicians from Murut Cultural Village


The Murut Culture
Murut means “hill people”, and they usually go by their tribal names, such as Timugon, Gana, Nabai and Tagal or Sumambu. Headhunters in the past, they were also fishermen and hunters, skilled with their blowpipes.

You will notice that most of the traditional costumes are black, and the reason for using such a sombre color is that in the past, they could only rely on a few types of plants to extract dyes for their clothes. So to add color to their costumes, they add beads of many colors, and in different patterns. Traditional costumes includes bead necklaces and belts, hand-engraved silver jewelery and belts of silver dollar coins. Many of the accessories worn today are priceless, being past down from generation to generation.

The typical Tagal Murut costume is a black sleeveless blouse (sampayan pinongkoloh) and a black sarong (tapi) which falls to just below the knees. The beadwork forms vertical lines and panels that cover both the front and back of the blouse, and sarong.

I do not know if it applies to the Muruts, but it applies to the Papar Kadazan Dusun. You can tell the status of the woman by what she wears on her hair. Feather of any color on her head means she is single. Flowers mean she is married, and unadorned hair could mean widowed or any senior women.

Harvest Festival
All Sabahans are familiar with the Harvest Festival, or Pesta Kaamatan. Although the rites and customs of the Pesta Kaamatan are practiced by the Native tribes, all Sabahans join in the celebrations one way or the other. The true meaning is to honor the Rice Spirit, by giving thanks for a bountiful harvest.

Nowadays, it is also a celebration of their unique identities and customs. It is celebrated on the 30th and 31st May of every year. It is a fine time to join in the cultural shows organized by the various native associations and State government. Most people will turn up at the KDCA (Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association) in penampang. You will see photographers of all races and ages, this is a great opportunity for a photo shoot of all the native culture in Sabah. From the houses, to the activities, to the people and their customs. I am told that there are other venues but this is the one I am most familiar with. The activities has a carnival like atmosphere and you are made to feel welcomed to join in the fun. There are traditional games, as well as strong man contests, but this depends on what the organizers have arranged. The Ethnic Beauty contest comes to a finale during this time, the contestants having won their individual regional events, competes in the final for the title of Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan. Believe me, this packs a full house.

It would not be true to say that the headhunting days was a bloody period in our history. There just weren’t that many people around back then, and the groups were spread out quite far apart. You have to remember that those times, there was little communication, and I guess the Law of the Jungle prevailed. Imagine if you were on watch duty, and you saw a group of armed men approaching your village. You don’t know their intentions, so what would you do? If you made the wrong choice, you either got killed or see your village raided. Life must not have been easy back then, from the old stories raids were common. I think it would be fair to say that most of us would ambush the strangers and sort things out later.

On Your Trip Here
If you have a passion or interested in Borneo and headhunting days, here are my recommendations:

  1. Monsopiad Cultural Village in Penampang.
  2. Kadazan Dusun Cultural Centre in Penampang.
  3. Murut Cultural Village in Tenom.

You get to see a re-creation of a Kadazan village as it was in history at Monsopiad Cultural Village, and get to hear stories of headhunting days in Borneo. The guide who accompanied us can trace his ancestry back in time and is a descendant of Monsopiad. At the KDCA, you will see the various type of houses built by the natives of Sabah. The best time to visit is 30th and 31st of May.

The Murut Cultural Centre located in Tenom is 3 hours away by coach, and you will get to see rural Sabah. It will also take you to the Crocker mountain range. Maybe you will also find time to explore the interior of Sabah, and see the Rafflesia flower, widely acknowledged as the largest flower in the world, on the way to Tenom.

To find out more about the Murut Cultural Centre, call 6087-303363.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, March 21st, 2009 at 12:53 am and is filed under Featured, Living Here. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Welcome From Murut Warriors”

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