The Dusun
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The Dusun

Farmers and Fishermen of Sabah

Farmers and Fishermen of Sabah

Dusun is the collective name of an ethnolinguistic group in the Malaysian state of Sabah of North Borneo: they form the largest ethnic group in Sabah and include several tribes. Since 2004, Dusun has been recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an indigenous community of Borneo. Dusun people began to employ the term "Kadazan" to refer to themselves and to distinguish their culture and society from other indigenous populations in Sabah.


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Medium

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



The vast majority of Dusun live in the hills and upland valleys. In their ancient traditional setting, they used various methods of fishing. The Dusun of old traded with the coastal people by bringing their agricultural and forest produce. Others, in the inner part of the country, practised irrigated rice farming. Today, they are well integrated into Malaysian society as government servants, employees in the private sector or business owners.


Dusun settlements employing swidden cultivation have a "longhouse" type of dwelling fronted by a shared veranda and covered by a common roof. Some Dusun swidden communities have several longhouses grouped closely together. Traditional houses are built with local timber such as bamboo and acacia and a roof leaf. Houses have a wooden floor elevated on stilts so that they are ventilated and isolated from insects, animals, and flooding.


Social Structure

Society is organized on several territorially based divisions. They may include one or several mutual-aid groups whose members assist each other in heavy work.

Traditional household tasks are assigned to Dusun females. Dusun men perform the heavy labour associated with house and storehouse building. Men and women work together in most swidden rice agricultural tasks such as field repair, planting, harvesting, and weeding.


Nowadays, most of them are Christians or Muslims. A minority of Dusun is still practicing animism.


A few of the most well-known traditional food of the Dusun people are: hinava, noonsom, pinaasakan, bosou, tuhau, kinoring pork soup and rice wine chicken soup.

A few of the most well-known traditional drinks are: tapai, tumpung or segantang, lihing, montoku and bahar.

The traditional costume of Dusun is generally called the "Koubasanan costume" and is made out of black velvet fabric with various decorations such as beads, flowers, coloured buttons, golden laces and linen.


The Dusun language is part of the Northwestern Group of Austronesian languages. There are more than 30 sub-ethnic, dialect groups, each speaking a slightly different dialect of the Dusun family language.


Sumazau is a traditional dance performed by a pair of men and women dancers wearing traditional costumes and accompanied by the beats and rhythms of eight gongs.

Traditional music is usually orchestrated in the form of a band consist of musicians using musical instruments, such as the bamboo flute, sompoton, togunggak, gong, and kulintangan.

Duzun people use natural materials as resources in producing handicrafts, including the bamboo, rattan, lias, calabash, and woods.

Dusun men have traditionally practised tattooing of their necks, forearms, and shoulders with designs of deep spiritual meaning.


Harvest Festival or Pesta Kaamatan is an annual: it starts from 1 May to 31 May traditionally celebrated to give thanks to ancient God and rice spirits for the bountiful harvesting.

Ceremonies marking individual life-cycle stages or transitions are important too.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

The Dusuns are known for being hospitable, quiet, hardworking, drinkers, and opposed to violence.

Photo credits

Sabah, Boheydulang Island.

Dusun native

Dusun native

Dusun Girls in tradicional attire

Proboscis monkeys

Traditional tribal house