Murut people

Murut people
Regions with significant populations

Murut, Malay, English


Christianity (majority), Islam, Animism

Related ethnic groups

Lun Bawang, Kelabit, Kadazan-Dusun, other Austronesian peoples

The Murut are an indigenous ethnic group inhabiting northern inland regions of Borneo. A large percentage of the Murut communities are in the southwest interior of Sabah, East Malaysia, specifically the districts of Keningau, Tenom, Nabawan, and Pensiangan, along the Sapulut and Padas rivers. The literal translation of murut is "hill people".

Antanum was a famous and influential Murut warrior from Sabah who according to local oral history claimed to have supernatural powers. Because of this he was able to receive support from the chiefs and villagers from around Keningau, Tenom, Pensiangan and Rundum and led the Rundum uprising against the British North Borneo Company but was killed during fighting with the company army in Sungai Selangit near Pensiangan.[1]

The group is divided between lowland (Timugon) and highland (Tagol) subgroups. They speak the Murutic languages, a branch of the Austronesian family. The Tagol Murut language serves as their lingua franca.


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. Many have now converted to Christianity, however they still maintain their culture, however a small number of Muruts are Muslims. Most Muruts now were well educated and trained at many well known institution local or abroad, and most of them holds important post in the government, professionals, or doctors and not to mentioned a very successful business persons.[2]

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.

Musical Heritage

The Murut have a musical heritage consisting of various types of agung ensembles - ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone without any accompanying melodic instrument.[3][4]

Murut also used bamboo as a music, using bamboo to compose a songs. Some instrument of music like tangkung (Similar to a guitar although it only has 2 strings) was made from wood. Tangkung usually played when their leisure time.


  1. ^ *Regina Lim; Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (2008). Federal-state relations in Sabah, Malaysia: the Berjaya administration, 1976-85. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 29. ISBN 9789812308122. 
  2. ^ Joshua Project
  3. ^ Mercurio, Philip Dominguez (2006). "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines" (html). PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang - A home for Pasikings. Retrieved February 25, 2006. 
  4. ^ Matusky, Patricia. "An Introduction to the Major Instruments and Forms of Traditional Malay Music." Asian Music Vol 16. No. 2. (Spring-Summer 1985), pp. 121-182.

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