Murut people

The Murut are an indigenous ethnic group, comprising 29 sub-ethnic groups inhabiting the northern inland regions of Borneo. The Murutic languages are a family of half a dozen closely related Austronesian languages. The Murut can be found mainly in Sabah, Malaysia including in Sarawak, Malaysia, Brunei, and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Murut people
A Murut man in traditional attire in Monsopiad Cultural Village, Kg. Kuai Kandazon, Penampang, Sabah.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Sabah including Labuan: 100,631 (2010)[1]
Sarawak: 9,500 (1980)[2]

Nunukan, North Kalimantan: 56 513 (2016), East Kalimantan
Murutic languages, Malaysian (those resident in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan), English, Brunei Malay (those living in Temburong district) and Indonesian (those resident in Kalimantan)
Christianity (80%), Islam (18%), Animism
Related ethnic groups
Dayak, Tidung, Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah, Melanau, Lun Bawang, Bidayuh, Penan, Punan, Tagal, Lundayeh, Orang Ulu and other Austronesian peoples


The literal translation of murut is "hill people".[3]


Percentage population of Murut by state constituencies in Sabah, according to 2020 census

A large percentage of the Murut communities are in the southwest interior of Sabah, East Malaysia, specifically the districts of Keningau, Tenom, Nabawan, and Beaufort 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), North Kalimantan (traditionally concentrated in Malinau and Nunukan), and Brunei.

The Murut population in Brunei is mainly found in the sparsely populated Temburong district, but are actually consisting of Southern Murut which is more accurately termed "Lun Bawang". They once supplied military might to the Sultans of Brunei. Their population has dwindled in recent years.[4] They are defined as one of the seven indigenous groups that are considered to be Bumiputera in Brunei. The Murut in Brunei and Sarawak (Southern Murut) is ethnically and linguistically different from Murut in Sabah (Northern Murut). In Sarawak, the confusing term "Murut" is hence replaced with the term "Lun Bawang", while this has not take place in Brunei.[5] The Northern Murut is more commonly termed "Tagol" or "Tagal" in Brunei and Sarawak.

The Murut are 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.

Customs and religion

Religions of Muruts (Malaysians only)[1]
Religion Percent
Folk religion / Other religions
No religion / Unknown

The Murut were the last of Sabah's ethnic groups to renounce headhunting. As with the Iban of Sarawak, collecting heads of enemies traditionally 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.

Murut tribeswomen at a head feast in Sarawak, Malaysia

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. Most have now converted to Christianity, with about a fifth of the population being Muslims. However, they still maintain their culture.

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 in traditional attire in Mari Mari Cultural Village, Sabah

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 a drone without any accompanying melodic instrument.[6][7]

Murut also used bamboo as a musical instrument, by using bamboo to compose songs. Some musical instrument like tangkung (similar to that of a guitar, except it has only two strings) is made from wood. Tangkung is usually played during their leisure time.


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.[8]

Sub-ethnic groups

Traditional Murut longhouse in Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia

The Murut people are divided into three linguistic groups, namely:-

Notable figures

  • Antanum – Murut warrior who fought against the British North Borneo Company but was killed while fighting with the company army in Sungai Selangit near Pensiangan
  • Gaunon Lulus – Murut man who built a railroad from Tanjung Aru to Melalap, Tenom, with Arthur Joseph West
  • Andre Anura – Malaysian athlete from Tenom, Sabah
  • Rubin Balang - former Sabah Minister.
  • Noorita Sual – Malaysian Parliament member
  • Raime Unggi – former member of the Malaysian Parliament
  • Tun Ahmad Koroh – fifth head of state of Sabah, also of partial Dusun ancestry
  • Tun Mohamad Adnan Robert – sixth head of state of Sabah
  • Tan Sri Suffian Koroh – former deputy chief minister of Sabah
  • John Daukom – Olympic sprinter[9]


  1. "2010 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia" (PDF) (in Malay and English). Department of Statistics, Malaysia. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 October 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012. p. 107
  2. William W. Bevis (1995). Borneo Log: The Struggle For Sarawak's Forests. University of Washington Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-2959-7416-8.
  3. "East-Kalimantan 48 Tribes".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. "Brunei: The Abode of Peace". Retrieved 20 April 2007.
  5. Keat Gin, Ooi (14 December 2015). Brunei – History, Islam, Society and Contemporary Issues. Routledge. ISBN 9781317659983. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  6. Mercurio, Philip Dominguez (2006). "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines". PnoyAndTheCity: A center for Kulintang – A home for Pasikings. Retrieved 25 February 2006.
  7. 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.
  8. Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "John Daukom Olympic Results". Olympics at Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 18 April 2020. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.