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Kadazan people

A Kadazan man in Kg. Kuai Kandazon, Penampang, Sabah.
Regions with significant populations
23x15px Malaysia
(Sabah, Labuan)
Kadazan, Dusunic languages, Malay, English
Christianity (majority), Islam, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Kadazan-Dusun, Dusun, Austronesian peoples

The Kadazans are an ethnic group indigenous to the state of Sabah in Malaysia. They are found mainly at Penampang on the west coast of Sabah, the surrounding locales, and various locations in the interior. The Kadazan is the term being used referring to Dusun Tangara which most of them lived in town area. The term "Kadazan" first being used during Tun Fuad Stephens era.

Origins of the term 'Kadazan'

When Kadazan was an official designation for this ethnic group, it is widely believed that the term itself was a political derivative that came into existence in the late 1950s to early 1960s. No proper historical record exists pertaining to the origins of the term or its originator. However, an article by Richard Tunggolou[1] may shed some light. According to Tunggolou, most of the explanations of the meanings and origins of the word ‘Kadazan’ assumed that the word was of recent origin, specifically in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He says that some people have theorised that the term originates from the word ‘kakadazan’ (towns) or ‘kedai’ (shops), and from the claim that Kadazan politicians such as the late Datuk Peter J. Mojuntin coined the term.

However, there is evidence that the term has been used long before the 1950s. Owen Rutter, in his book, The Pagans Of North Borneo, published in 1929, wrote: “The Dusun usually describes himself generically as a tulun tindal (landsman) or, on the West Coast, particularly at Papar, as a Kadazan.” (page 31). Rutter worked in Sabah for five years as District Officer in all five residencies and left Sabah with the onset of the First World War. This means that he started working in Sabah from 1910 and left Sabah in 1914. We can therefore safely say that the word ‘Kadazan’ was already in existence before any towns or shops were built in the Penampang district and that Kadazan politicians did not invent the word in the late fifties and early sixties. The Bobolians or the Bobohizans of Borneo were interviewed to seek better picture of the true meaning of the term "Kadazan", a Lotud Bobolian was asked what is the meaning of Kadazan or kadayan? Kadazan means "the people of the land". The Bobohizan from Penampang was also interviewed seeking the real meaning of Kadazan, The Bobohizan Dousia Moujing confirmed that the Kadazan has always been used to describe the real people of the Land; Kadazan means "the people of the land". That confirmed what Rutter (1929) had described about the existence of term Kadazan. Thus,the word "Kadazan" actually not derived from the word "kedai" (meaning "shops" in Malay). Over a hundred years, the people of Kadazans were ruled by the Brunei Sultanate; the Kadazan or Kadayan (in Lotud, Marangang, Liwan etc.)were being addressed by the Sultanate as being the "Orang Dusun" which means "the People of the Orchard" Because in Malay, Dusun means Orchard Farm. Thus administratively the Kadazans are called "Orang Dusun" by the Sultanate (Tax-Collector) but in reality the people that was called "Orang Dusun" are in fact Kadazan. An account of this fact was written by the first census made by the North Borneo Company in Sabah, 1881. Administratively all Kadazans are called Dusun as their ethnic identity. Only through the establishment of KCA (Kadazan Cultural Association) in 1960, this terminology was corrected and replaced into Kadazan. When Sabah formed Malaysia together with Sarawak, Singapore and the Peninsular Malaysia in 1963, under the newly form nation of Malaysia, administratively all "Orang Dusun" born after the Malaysia formation is called Kadazan as their ethnic origin.

There were no conflict with regards to Kadazan as the identity of the "Orang Dusun" between 1963 to 1984. But in 1985 through the KDCA (formally called KCA) the Dusun was once again being introduced after much pressures received from the various parties with one reason to divide the Kadazan and the "Orang Dusun" once again. As the division has been established and successful, the fall of the ruling government (PBS)was accomplished. PBS through the KCA then, finally coined in the new term to represent the "Orang Dusun" and "Kadazan" as Kadazandusun. Press released (Sabah Times and Daily Express) by various parties; argued that it should not be Kadazandusun but Dusunkadazan! Leaders in Singapore and the Peninsular Malaysia until today acknowledges the people as Kadazan and not Dusun. The ex- Prime Minister of Singapore addressed the ethnic group in Sabah as the Kadazans, and many leaders of Malaysia today.


Kadazan culture is heavily influenced by the farming of rice, culminating in various delicacies and alcoholic drinks prepared through differing home-brewed fermentation processes. Toomis and linutau are the main rice wine variants served and consumed in Kadazan populated areas, and are a staple of Kadazan social gatherings and ceremonies.

The most important festival of the Kadazans is the Kaamatan or harvest festival, where the spirit of the paddy is honoured after a year's harvest. This takes place in May, and the two last days of the month are public holidays throughout Sabah. During the celebration, the most celebrated event is the crowning of the 'Unduk Ngadau', meaning harvest queen in Kadazan. Young women of Kadazan or Dusun descent from each district compete for this title. The beauty pageant is held to commemorate the spirit of 'Huminodun', a mythological character of unparalleled beauty said to have given her life in exchange for a bountiful harvest for her community.

In marriages, dowries are paid to the bride's family and an elaborate negotiation is arranged between the groom and bride's families. As a traditional gesture of politeness and civility, the dowry is metaphorically laid out with match sticks on a flat surface, and representatives from each side push and pull the sticks across a boundary to denote the bargaining of the dowry. Dowries traditionally consisted of water buffaloes, pigs, sacks of rice and even urns of tapai. Modern dowry negotiations also include cash and land ownership deeds. Kadazan women from the Penampang and Dusun women from the Keningau, Ranau and Tuaran areas are widely regarded to have the most expensive dowries.

While it is traditionally customary for Kadazans to marry within a village or a neighbouring village, a downshift of xenophobia over the past few decades has eased the difficulty once associated with interracial marriage. The Kadazans have a particularly good affinity with the local Chinese, resulting in the coinage of the term Sino-Kadazan, meaning half-Kadazan and half-Chinese offspring of these unions. Due to the overwhelming Christian influence and some marriages to Muslim spouses, resulting in a mandatory conversion to Islam, still induces outrage and rejection and is known to divide fiercely traditional Kadazans. Islam has lately been embraced by a growing minority as a means to political ends considering the fact that the local Malay minority has gained political ascendance in recent years. Ruling Malay political parties have also openly been giving political and economical privileges to Kadazans who agree to convert to Islam as well as to other non-Christian Kadazans.Conspiracy has said that the Kadazan Christian trying to establish Christian government in Sabah.

The Nunuk Ragang legend

It was said that the Kadazan-Dusun people originated from a place called ‘Nunuk Ragang’, roughly located at Tampias where three rivers, Liwagu, Takashaw, and Gelibang meet to the east of Ranau and Tambunan. Nunuk is a Dusun word for ‘Bayan Tree’. Ragang comes from the word ‘Aragang’ which means red. The great height of the nunuks provide good natural shelters, with treetops estimated to be able to shelter seven Kadazan/Dusun huts (a single hut measures 12 by 20 feet).[2]


The majority of the Kadazans are Christians, mainly Roman Catholics[3] and some Protestants.[4] Islam is also practised by a growing minority.[5][6][7]

Animism was the predominant religion prior to the arrival of Roman Catholic missionaries during British North Borneo administration in 1880s. The Protestant influence is due to later British influence during the 20th century.

The Kadazan belief system centres around a single omnipotent deity called Kinoingan or Kinorohingan. Rice cultivation is the center of Kadazan life and as such, various rites and festivals are celebrated and revolve around paddy cultivation. Kaamatan is the most recognizable festival attributed to the Kadazan-Dusun. This annual festival is essentially a thanks-giving ceremony and in the olden days also serve to appease the rice spirit, the Bambaazon. Special rituals are performed before and after each harvest by a tribal priestess known as a Bobohizan.

Music and Dance

The Kadazans have also developed their own unique dance and music. Sumazau is the name of the dance between a male and female, performed by couples as well as groups of couples, which is usually accompanied by a symphony of handcrafted bronze gongs that are individually called 'tagung'. The sompoton is another musical instrument. A ceremonial ring of cloth sash is worn by both male and female. The Sumazau and gong accompaniment is typically performed during joyous ceremonies and occasions, the most common of which being wedding feasts.

The Kadazan have a musical heritage consisting of various types of tagung ensembles - ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone without any accompanying melodic instrument. They also use kulintangan ensembles - ensembles with an horizontal-type melodic instrument.[8][9]

Sumazau Music Fusion


File:Swordfish hinava.jpg
A swordfish hinava served with sandwich bread. Hinava are part of Kadazan-Dusun cuisine.

Traditional Kadazan cuisine involves mostly boiling or grilling which employs little use of oil, and with locally unique modifications and nuances as well as particular usage of locally available ingredients, particularly bamboo shoots, sago and fresh water fish. From simple appetizers of unripe mango dressed with soy sauce and chili flakes to a variety of pickled foods collectively known as noonsom, tangy and pungent flavours from souring agents or fermentation techniques is a key characteristic of traditional Kadazan cooking. One of the most well known Kadazan dishes is hinava, which is similar in concept to the South American ceviche. It is a salad made with pieces of raw fish marinated in citrus juice, ginger, onion and other ingredients like bitter gourd and grated dried bambangan seed which is similar in texture to desiccated coconut strands. This dish is sometimes served in certain Sabahan restaurants which do not otherwise have a traditional Kadazan menu. Another popular dish is pinasakan, which consists of sea or freshwater fish (usually smaller species) cooked with bambangan (a variety of mango found in Borneo) or takob-akob (a very tart dried fruit). The bambangan fruit is also eaten with meals as an appetiser. It is often pickled as noonsom and garnished with grated bambangan seed. Tuhau is a fragrant local root that is often made into a salad or is preserved with vinegar as noonsom. Wild boar or bakas, whether char grilled, stewed or even made into noonsom is very popular with the Kadazandusun community, often an essential item at weddings and major gatherings. Sweets include hinompuka, a type of gooey rice cake steamed in banana leaves and flavoured with dark palm sugar. The Kadazan people are also renowned for lihing, a sweet-tasting wine brewed from glutinous rice and natural yeast.

Contemporary Kadazan food is influenced by Chinese and Malay food as well as international trends, and often sees the use of traditional ingredients interpreted in new and novel ways. For example, bambangan is available as an ice cream flavour and chicken lihing soup or sup manuk nansak miampai lihing is popular with both Chinese and Kadazan communities alike. Lihing is also used in marinades, local variants of sambal relishes and even as a flavouring for stir-fried noodles.


Presently, the Kadazans are associated together with another similar indigenous tribe, the Dusuns and various other indigenous peoples, under the blanket term Kadazan-Dusun. This is officially recognised as the result of political machinations, specifically a resolution of the supposedly non-political 5th KCA (Kadazan Cultural Association, which was then renamed to Kadazan-Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA)) Delegates Conference held between 4 and 5 November 1989. It was decided as the best alternative approach to resolve the "Kadazan" or "Dusun" identity crisis that had crippled and impeded the growth and development of the Kadazan-Dusun multi-ethnic community socio-culturally, economically and politically - ever since Kadazan versus Dusun sentiments were politicised in the early 1960s.

Kadazans and Dusuns share the same language and culture albeit with differences in dialect. Many consider their traditional geographical influences as the major difference between the two ethnic groups. Kadazans are mainly inhabitants of the flat valley deltas, conducive to paddy field farming, while Dusuns are traditionally inhabitants of the hilly and mountainous regions common to the interior of Sabah.

Indigenous status

Being indigenous to Sabah and a part of Malaysia, Kadazans are conferred the same political, educational and economic rights as the predominant Malay population of Malaysia. The term ascribed to this is Bumiputra (from Sanskrit Bhumiputra), a Malay word, which is translated to 'Sons of the Land'.


  1. ^ Tunggolou, Richard. "The origins and meanings of the terms "Kadazan" and "Dusun".", KDCA Publications. 2 December 2004.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Assessment for Kadazans in Malaysia
  4. ^ Dr Elizabeth Koepping, Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, Edinburgh
  5. ^ Voices of the Earth
  6. ^ More Foreigners In Brunei Embrace Islam
  7. ^ Malay ultras diluted Borneo autonomy
  8. ^ Mercurio, Philip Dominguez (2006). "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines". PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang - A home for Pasikings. Retrieved 25 February 2006. 
  9. ^ 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.