"The Land Below The Wind', as Sabah is often referred to, is a land of diverse people. There are an estimated 32 ethnic groups in the state, each still keeping to their traditions. This means that you can expect to hear at least 50 spoken languages and if you listen even more closely, be able to differentiate at least 100 dialects.
The largest ethnic group is comprised of the Kadazan/Dusun community who forms about 1/3 of the state's population of approximately 1.7 million people. The Kadazan/Dusun community lives mainly in the west coast plains and valleys of this East Malaysian state. They were, and still are, the premier rice cultivators in Sabah. Good harvests are a central concern. As a result of this, their most famous traditional celebration is the Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival which is celebrated after the harvest.
Their preoccupation with rice planting and harvesting holds the key to understanding their traditional beliefs, including the selection of their annual Harvest Queen.
Other main features of their culture, such as the Sumazau dance, seem to have connections with rice planting as well - the graceful movements of the dancers' outstretched hands reflect the flight motions of birds which, of course, tend to frequent rice fields.
Kadazan/Dusun sub-groups include the Rungu, Lotud, Tambanau, Sanayon, Kimarangan, Minokak and Tenggera.
Another major ethnic community native to Sabah is the Bajau who lives on the west coast, mainly in Kota Belud. This group is very different linguistically and culturally from the Bajau Pala'u or Sea Gypsies in Semporna on the east coast.
The Kota Belud Bajau are versatile people - skilled as fishermen and farmers. They are also excellent horsemen and have been dubbed the 'Cowboys of the East'. Their horses, usually small ponies, are central to festivals and ceremonial occasions such as wedding when the bridal couple come together on horesback, with the horse as resplendently dressed as they are!
The Bajau Pala'u, in contrast, are expert boat builders and skilled seafarers who love to wander at sea in their boats which are called 'lepa'. Their boats are traditionally driven on sails that are tens of feet high.
This seafaring community does everything on their boats including marrying, giving birth, cooking, eating and celebrating festivals. They come ashore only for burials or to replenish their water supply.
Another important ethnic community is the Murut who live in the interior heartlands in southwestern Sabah. They were famous hunters and sharpshooters, who in the old days, used blowpipes and poison darts to hunt their prey which consisted of wild boar, deer and birds. Formerly head-hunters, this is a practice that has long since ceased!
Culturally, the Murut community is active and dramatic. Visitors are fascinated by the 'langsarang', a dance which sees performers bounce on a spring platform. The community's weddings are also famous for its elaborate display of bridewealth.
Copyright © 1998 by Leonard Ng Sze Lung (NH901933).
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