There are approximately 32 ethnic groups in Sabah, Malaysia. Aside from the biggest groups, Kadazan-dusuns and Bajaus, the Muruts are the third highest ranked in terms of population in north of Borneo.
The Muruts occupy mostly the interior of Sabah especially Tenom, Kemabong, Keningau, Sook, Pensiangan, some in Sipitang, Beaufort, Mile 17-Serudong Tawau and Kalabakan near Maliau Basin Conservation Area while some reside in Kuala Penyu.
The culture and customs of the Muruts are uniquely distinguishable from other groups in Sabah. One might be mistaken them to the Ibans of Sarawak as both performed headhunting in the past and certain features of the costume are identical. They too use blowpipe for hunting and attacking enemies.
The Murut men in the past liked to fight fearlessness to prove he is more courageous than others. Before marriage the men must go to the war, with at least one trophy to bring back to show he is ready to look after his own family. The trophy is none other than the head of their enemy.
|The Magunatip dance|
According to the Murut culture values, one must respects another and always unite with family and relatives. As in marriage, the bride family may ask the bridegroom for 20 big jars, 20 small jars, 10 water buffaloes and RM10,000.00 or more in cash as gift.
‘Mangalang’, a Murut dance was performed when the warriors return from a war. Other famous dances include the ‘Magunatip’ bamboo dance and ‘Lansaran’, where the men will jump as high as they can to reach their prize which is hung on top of their head. The Lansaran platform is bouncy, made from bamboos and woods in the Muruts’ longhouse.
In the event of funeral, the family must wait for at least seven days before they bury their loved one. Sometimes, funeral day could reach two weeks or even one month so that relatives and friends from afar can come to pay last respect. Those days, the Muruts used big jar as coffin.
|A replica Murut longhouse in Mari Mari Cultural Village|
For many generations, catching fish, farming and drinking rice wine are customary to the Muruts’ lifestyle. Other than rice, the Muruts eat starchy food in soft white grains called ‘sago’ as alternative food. Today, though many of the Muruts are educated and live a modern lifestyle in urban areas, drinking rice wine is still common particularly in rural areas or during festive seasons.
To experience the lifestyle of the Muruts, pay a visit to the Mari-Mari Cultural Village near Kota Kinabalu. Alternatively come and join the merriment of harvest festival in Sabah in the month of May, where the Murut and Kadazandusun people hold a month-long feast to celebrate this significant occasion.
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By Willie Ki & George Rejos
Pix: Willie Ki & Lawrie W. Kinson