Lun Bawang

Lun Bawang

Infobox Ethnic group
group = Lun Bawang
"Lun Bawang"
poptime = c. 38100
region1 = flagcountry|Indonesia
pop1 = 25000 (1987 census)
ref1 = lower| [ Ethnologue report for language code:lnd ] ]
region2 = flagcountry|Malaysia
pop2 = 12800 (1982 SIL)
ref2 = lower|
region3 = flagcountry|Brunei
pop3 = 300 (1987 Langub)
ref3 = lower|
languages = "Lun Bawang"; dialects include "Trusan", "Lun Daye", "Papadi", "Lun Dayah", "Adang", "Tabun", "Treng", "Kolur", "Padas", "Trusan" & "Lepu Potong"
religions = Predominantly Christianity, minorities are Islam and animist
related-c = Kelabit, Lengilu, Putoh, Sa'ban & Tring
The Lun Bawang is an ethnic group found in Central Borneo. They are indigenous to the highlands of East Kalimantan, Brunei (Temburong District), southwest of Sabah (Interior Division) and northern region of Sarawak (Limbang Division). In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Lun Bawang are categorised under the Orang Ulu people; whilst in the neighbouring state of Sabah and Krayan valley in Kalimantan, they are more commonly known as Lundayeh or Lun Daye. At a regional level, the Lun Bawang people identified themselves using various names, for example Lun Lod, Lun Baa' and Lun Tana Luun.

Lun Bawang people are traditionally agriculturalists and practise animal husbandry such as rearing poultry, pigs and buffaloes. Lun Bawangs are also known to be hunters and fishermen.


The word Lun Bawang means "people of the country", whilst Lun Dayeh means "upriver people" or "people of the interior" and Lun Lod means "people living downriver or near the sea". Other names are derived from geographical reference to their rice cultivation, for example Lun Baa' (swamps) who lives near swampy areas and grow wet rice, and Lun Tana' Luun (on the land) who cultivates dry rice.

While insisting that they never called themselves "Murut", the Lun Bawangs were formerly identified as "Murut" by the British colonists and by outsiders (other ethnic group). [ [ Borders of kinship and ethnicity: cross-border relations between the Kelalan Valley, Sarawak, and the Bawan Valley, East Kalimantan. - Free Online Library ] ] In Lun Bawang language, the word "Murut" either means 'to massage' or 'to give dowry', and these meanings have little or no relation at all to the identity of the people. The name Murut might have been derived from the word "Murud", a mountain located near an old Lun Bawang settlement, hence might have just meant 'mountain men' or 'hill people' but was instead used by the colonist to identify this ethnic.

In addition to that, ethnologist found that the classification under the name Murut is confusing as the term is used differently in Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, that is whilst in Brunei and Sarawak it is used to describe the Lun Bawang people, in Sabah it is used to identify an ethnic group that is linguistically and culturally different from the Lun Bawangs. [ Pelita Brunei - Sastera dan Budaya ] ] [Appel, G.M. (1969)'The Status of Research among the Northern and Southern Muruts'. Borneo Research Bulletin. 1(2), pp 18-21]

In Sarawak, the decision to replace the term 'Murut' to 'Lun Bawang' to identify this ethnic group was made unanimously by Lun Bawang community leaders, and this decision was published in the Sarawak Gazette. [Abdul Hakim Bujang 2002, 'Interpretation (Amendment) Bill: 'Sea Dayaks', 'Land Dayaks' will be dropped while Lun Bawang will no longer be classified as 'Muruts', Sarawak Tribune, 7 May, viewed 10 April 2008, ] [] In the early 1970s, the use of the term "Lun Bawang" began to gain popularity amongst ethnologist and linguist, and it is now the most commonly used term to identify this ethnic group.


The Lun Bawangs made up of one of the ethnic natives that occupied the Borneo Island for centuries. According to Tom Harrison (1959) and S. Runciman (1960), the Lun Bawang Community is one of the earlier settlers in the mountainous regions of central Borneo and they are related to the Kelabit tribe. It is said that their dialects have some similarities as this may be due to the fact that the Kelabits are also another tribe from the mountainous regions of central Borneo and the Lun Bawang dialect is of the "Kelabitic" lineage.

The Kelabit people, who has close similarity to the Lun Bawang people, maintain that Lun Bawang people were once Kelabit people who originally resides the Kerayan-Kelabit highland of Central Northeast Borneo. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, they gradually migrated to the low lands near today's Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei.

One theory suggests that the migration of the Lun Bawang people to the low lands and gradual spreading out is due to various waves of migration of Lun Bawang people from different clans. The migration of Lun Bawang people from one clan to a region already inhabited by another clan, causes the latter to move to another region, despite them having similar culture and language. The strong clan identity of the Lun Bawang people is shown by their common tradition of identifying themselves based on their village or geographical location, for example, 'Lun Adang' who once resides the Adang river basin or 'Lun Kemaloh' who comes from the Kemaloh river.

Another theory suggests that the Kelabitic people were once natives of old Brunei, but were pushed upriver into the highlands by the invading tribes such as Kayan, Kenyah and Iban people. The ones that remained downriver (Lun Bawang people) were isolated from the ones who migrated to the highlands (Kelabit), causing their culture and language to slightly diverged.

Sather (1972) however theorised that a similar occurrence happened in East Borneo (now East Kalimantan). The Lundayeh people were once farmers in the lowlands downstream of Malinau river, living closely with the Tidong people. However, attacks by Muslim raiders (Bugis and Tausug) probably in the 17th century, caused them to migrate to the Kerayan highlands, whilst the Tidong people converted to Islam. [Cristina Eghenter, Bernard Sellato, G. Simon Devung 2003, 'Social Science Research and Conservation Management in the Interior of Borneo, Unraveling past and present interactions of people and forest' (page 25), CIFOR, WWF Indonesia, UNESCO and FORD foundation, viewed 10 April 2008,]

Nevertheless, these theories have yet to be proven and there are no substantial evidence to trace the origin of the Lun Bawang people or to prove any of these theories.


According to oral tradition, the Lun Bawangs (Murut) were brought under the rule of the Brunei kingdom by peaceful measures during the reign of Awang Alak Betatar. This is said to be accomplished through dealings between the Lun Bawang and Awang Alak Betatar's brother, Awang Jerambok. [Charles Hose, William McDougall, 1912 'The Pagan Tribes of Borneo, A Description of Their Physical Moral and Intellectual ConditionWith Some Discussion of their Ethnic Relations' viewed 17 June 2008, ]

Under the rule of the Brunei kingdom, the Lun Bawang were subject to taxes and tribute. The local leaders from the higher class ("lun mebala" or "lun do"') were apponted titles of nobility and were granted office in the sultanate. Some Lun Bawang were assimilated into Malay culture. [Keat Gin Ooi (2004) "Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor", Published by ABC-CLIO, pp. 272. [Online] ]

The earliest European written account of the Lun Bawang people is probably by Sir James Brooke in his journal written on December 24 1850, where he described the oppression that the Lun Bawang (then called Limbang Muruts) people faced by Brunei aristocrats, and where some had fought against this tyranny. [Henry Keppel, JamesBrooke 1853, 'A Visit to the Indian Archipelago in H.M. Ship Maeander: With Portions of the Private Journal of Sir James Brooke, K.C.B', Oswald WaltersB. Brierly, R. Bentley, Harvard University, viewed 1 April 2008, ]

Earlier description of the Lun Bawang people by Europeans were normally brief. Since the beginning, the Europeans had already called the Lun Bawang by the exonym Murut. For example, in Captain Bethune's "Notes on Borneo" (1846), he described

"The Muruts - Hill tribes of interior of Brune; much oppressed by the Kayans; little known; use the sumpitan".

In James Brooke's (and Henry Keppel's) book "The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy" (1846), the Murut people were described as inhabitant of Borneo interior, and that the Murut and Dyak people had given place to Kayan people whenever they are in contact with each other. []

A more elaborate European account of the Lun Bawang people is by Spenser St. John in 1860, where he described the impoverished condition of the Lun Bawang (then called Limbang Muruts) people under the rule of the Brunei Sultanate. He also gave account of the aborigines (Murut and Bisaya) rise to insurrection, however these rebellions were always suppressed by threat by the Brunei government to bring in Kayans to subdue the opposition. []

Spenser St.John also described the tyranny conducted by the Brunei aristocrats upon the Limbang Muruts, which include seizing their children to be sold as slaves if taxes were not paid, and on one occasion, when the Brunei capital were in a state of alarm by the marauding Kayan warriors, the Brunei aristocrat offered a whole Limbang Murut village to be pillaged, in return for the safety of the capital. [Spenser St. John, 1860, 'Life in the Forest of the Far East, Vol. II, Smith, Elder and Co, 65 Cornhill London, viewed 2 April 2008,.]


The Lun Bawang and Lundayeh practice agriculture, and cultivate both rice on hill called "lati' tana' luun" and rice from paddy field called "lati' ba". [Agricultural Practices of the Kerayan Lun Dayeh (1983) Christine Padoch, University of Wisconsin, Borneo Research Bulletin 15(1) [Online] Available at: pp.33-37 access date: 4 September 2008] [Wet rice cultivation and the Kayanic peoples of East Kalimantan: some possible factors explaining their preference for dry rice cultivation (1). (Research Notes). (1999) Mika Okushima, Borneo Research Bulletin [Online] Available at: Access date: 4 September 2008] Traditionally, cooked rice is wrapped inside banana leaves and is called "Nuba' Laya". Meat and fish are brined or pickled using salt and is stored in hollow bamboo stalk for a duration of a month and the pickled food is called "telu' ". Meat and fish are also preserved by smoking. Salt is obtained by evaporating brine from salt spring ("lubang mein").

Cattles and buffaloes are bred for their meat, and can serve as a symbol of financial status. These animals are commonly used as dowry that are presented to the bride's family from the groom's side.

In the old days, the men wear jackets made of tree barks called "kuyu talun". Cloth wrapped around the forehead is called "sigar" and loin cloth is called "abpar". A long machete ("pelepet") is tied to the waist, especially when it needs to be carried to tribal wars. As for the women, they wear "pata" on their head, "beret" on their waist, "bane" around the neck and "gileng" or "pakel" is worn as ornaments on their hands and wrists.

The Lun Bawang and Lundayeh belong to a group termed as Nulang Arc group (Metcalf 1975). These ethnic (along with other ethnics such as the Berawans, the Melanaus and the Kajangs) traditionally practiced an ancient tradition of secondary treatment of the dead. In Lun Bawang, this is called "mitang butung". Metcalf theorised that this practice is a characteristic of the most ancient cultural tradition in Borneo, before the arrival of other invading ethnics that influenced the diversification of culture and language in Borneo. [The Distribution of Secondary Treatment of the Dead in Central North Borneo (1975) Peter Metcalf Harvard University Borneo Research Bulletin 7(2) pp. 54-59 access date 27 August 2008]


The Lun Bawangs called their language "Buri Lun Bawang" or "Buri tau", "our language" .

Festivals and Celebration

Lun Bawang people celebrates "Irau Aco Lun Bawang" (Lun Bawang festival) annually on the first of June in Lawas, Sarawak. This festival is traditionally a celebration of the rice harvest, but now it showcases a variety of Lun Bawang culture and events such as "Ruran Ulung" (beauty pageant contest) and "ngiup suling" (bamboo musical instrument band).


Lun Bawangs were mostly animist before the 1920s. Under the rule of the White Rajahs (Vyner Brooke) in Sarawak, christian missionaries especially of the Borneo Evangelical Mission denomination had more access to the Lun Bawang highlands and they also preached Christianity to the Lun Bawang people. [The Borneo Evangelical Mission (BEM) and the Sidang Injil Borneo )SIB), 1928-1979: A Study of the Planting and Development of an Indigenous Church (2007) Jim Huat Tan, Oxford Centre for Mission Studies [Online] Available at:, pp. 24-27, Access date: 3 September 2008]

The majority of the Lun Bawangs are Christians, predominantly of the Borneo Evangelical Mission denomination. A small number are of other Christian denominations, such as True Jesus Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, or of another religion, such as Islam and Buddhism.


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