The diverse ethnic and culture of Borneo

Malaysia is well known for its diverse of ethnics and culture. Some minorities may not be as popular but are amazing in their own ways.

The main four traditional ethnic groups in Sabah are Dusun Tindal, Rungus, Bajau and Murut. Each group have their own traditional outfits, ornaments, language, traditional laws and festivals.


‘Tindal’ means land in Dusun, making the Tindals the people of the land. The traditional costume is a basic black with splashes of colour her and there. They consist of Sunduk, Sinipak, Kuapu and Simpogot.

The Kuapu was originally used to keep tobacco. These silver pouches are the ones that stand out distinctively. The tindal region begins from Kiau to Tempasuk to Tenghilan. Dusun Tindals call Kota Belud home, living in closely with the Bajau Samah.


The Rungus are an ethnic group of Borneo, residing primarily in northern Sabah in the area surrounding Kudat. The Rungus are believed to have migrated to Borneo 20,000 years ago making them the most traditional ethnic groups in Sabah. Their culture revolves around rice, coconuts and banana for income purposes.

Their traditional outfits are made from black cloth that was originally made of cotton grown, spun and woven on back strap looms in the village. It consists of the Sisingal, Tinggot, Pinakol and Sulau.

Rungus people also celebrate Kaamatan. This festival is usually celebrated on 31 May every year.


The Bajau are the second largest indigenous group in Sabah. They live a seaborne lifestyle, and use small wooden sailing vessels such as the perahu and vinta. There are large sub-groups under them called Ubian, Binadan and Iranun are some of them.

The Bajau are well known for the weaving and needlework skills. Their outfits are made up of brightly coloured satiny blouse, usually yellow called Badu Sipak. The flared sleeves show the cuffs of an under blouse in contrasting hue. They also consist of the Sarempak, Garigai, and Keku.


The Murut are an indigenous ethnic group, comprising 29 sub-ethnic groups inhabiting northern inland regions of Borneo. Murut are also known as the hill people. They were once apex predators who used spears and poison darts as hunting weapons. The traditional costume is a short, black, sleeveless blouse and a long, black skirt decorated with colourful beads.

The outfit comprises of the Salupai, Rarangkol and Pipirot. Like most of the other indigenous groups in Sabah, the Murut decorate their clothing with distinctive beadwork and also make belts out of old silver coins. The beads play in important role in the Murut culture as they are clearly visible in the traditional costume.

A large percentage of the Murut communities are in the southwest interior of Sabah, specifically the districts of Keningau, Tenom, Nabawan, and Pensiangan, along the Sapulut and Padas rivers. They can also be found inhabiting the border areas of Sarawak, especially around the Lawas and Limbang areas, where they are also referred to as Tagal people.

The beauty of Sabah doesn’t just stop here. There are many other ethnic groups with unique way of lives, tradition and culture which is the reason why Malaysia is recognised as a multiracial country.

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