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Sabah Traditional Musical Instruments The music of Sabah is intimately bound up with the daily lives and cultural

traditions of the diverse ethnic cultures of Sabah. It can be found in many forms like ritual music (for birth, marriages, harvest festivals, deaths) love music, battle songs, story telling songs, among others. For example, the Kadasan Dusun Bobohizan or Bobolian (or high priestess) engages in ritual chanting to appease the spirit in times disaster like floods or droughts. Also, music and dancing are closely linked: the festive dances like the Limbai of the Bajaus and Sumazau of the Penampang Kadazans have distinctive wedding music. In fact, in most Sabahan ethnic groups, song, dance and the accompanying music are, in the main, inseperable as each element is a part of an organic whole, which permeates the lives of the natives. This is reflected in the music’s significance to festive and commemorative occasions and as a means of personal expression and entertainment. Experience, then, the intensifying power of the gong ensembles, the rhythmic tung, tung, tung harmonies of the togunggak, the healing musical balm of the suling. The following traditional musical instruments of the various Sabahan ethnic groups are divided according to the way in which they work: IDIOPHONES: Instruments made with materials which produce sounds when scraped, rubbed, hit and without further intervention of other materials. GONG ENSEMBLES

The sompogogungan accompanies the sumazau, a festive and ritual dance like the magarang but slower in tempo. The Kadazan Dusuns also play dunsai, a type of gong music, at funerals. KULINTANGAN

Is frequently included amongst coastal gong ensembles though it is also found amongst interior natives like the Labuk-Kinabatangan Kadazans and the Paitanic peoples (both from the eastern Sabah) who have come into contract with the coastal natives. These idiophones produce predominantly ritual Music: The Tatana Dusun of Kuala Penyu (Southwestern Sabah) employ kulintangan music, and sumayau dancing, as well as unaccompanied by ritual chanting in Moginum rites to welcome the spirits. The Lotud-Dusun of Tuaran (west Coast of Sabah) use gong ensembles in the slow sedate mongigol dance for the seven-day Rumaha rites which honour the spirits of sacred skulls and the five-day Mangahau rites which honour possessed jars. TOGUNGGAK (Interior Dusuns) TOGUNGGU (Penampang Kadazan dusun) & TAGUNGGAK (Muruts). In older times before gongs were traded into Sabah, the togunggak was used to accompany dancing and in procession. It was and still is made of bamboo, which flourishes in most parts of Sabah. Bamboo is a great source of raw materials for Sabah’s musical instruments.

Are the most prevalent of Sabah’s indiophones, found throughout most parts of Sabah especially amongst the Kadazan Dusuns and Muruts. The gongs are made of brass or bronze and were originally traded in from Brunei in earlier times. Usually they are thick with a broad rim. They produce a muffled sound of a deep tone. The sopogandangan from the enterior (of the Tambunan Kadazan Dusuns) accompanies the magarang, usually in commemoration of harvest festival and weddings though traditionally the magarang was associated with headhunting. The sopogandangan has more instruments (nine-eight gongs and one drum) than the sompogogungan (sevensix gongs and one drum) from coastal Penampang and used by the Kadazan Dusuns there. (This does not include the popular kulintangan).

The togunggak consists of a series of hollowed out bamboo tubes of varying sizes of the gongs. The music produced is a hollow and rhythmic tung, tung, tung sound of different pitches in each of the different sizes. The togunggak is played by a troupe of a dozen or so people in lieu of the gong ensemble.

MEMBRANOPHONES: Instruments where a membrane is stretched across a hallow body (the ‘resonator’) and then made to vibrate by rubbing/hitting. DRUMS

Though it is mainly played solo and for personal entertainment, its music can accompany dance in the absence of gong ensembles. SUNDATANG

Usually found in gong ensemble. They produce a distinctive rhythmic musical pattern, leading to the festive dances which they accompany an air of urgency or heightened sense of excitement as the case may be. Single-headed drums come mainly from the interior. For example, the tontog of the Rungus or the karatung of the Tambunan Kadazan Dusuns. Double headed drums are found in coastal areas as well as the interior, for example, the gandang of the bajau. The membranes covering the drumheads used to be made of goat or deer skin, or cowhide. CHORDOPHONES: Consist of Chord and Resonator. Vibrations are produced when the chord is scraped by a bow or plucked with fingers and amplified by a resonator (unsually a hollow compartment). TONGKUNGON

A long-necked strummed lute found amongst Dusunic peoples. It is made of jackfruit wood two or three brass strings. The sundatang of the Penampang Kadazan Dusun, the Lotud-Dusun (who call it gagayan) and the Rungus are more widely played than that of the Kadazan Dusuns of Tambunan. The Tambunan sundatang has a small body and a neck over one metre long. It can be played for personal entertainment or as a dance accompaniment (in the Tambunan magarang and in Tuaran where it is sometimes played in pairs). AEROPHONES: Instruments with a column of air within a cylinder or cone. The sound is produced when this air is vibrate by the player’s lips or nose or a single/double reed or by air passing across the top of the tube. Sabah’s aerophones are mainly played solo and for personal pleasure. SULING

Short bamboo mouth flute brown from the end with fives holes ( Tambunan ) or six holes (Penampang). The sound produced is soothing. Prevalent mainly amongst the Kadazan Dusun in Tambunan, Penampang and Tuaran. It is made from a large bamboo tube with thin strips cut in its surface to form its strings, which can be tuned with tiny pieces of wood/ cane at each end of the tongkungon. The names and number of this string correspond to the main gongs.

TURALI Bamboo Nose flute


This is common to Dusunic communities. The Tambunan Kadazan Dusuns call it turali or turahi whilst in Penampang, it is called tuahi. It is widely played for personal entertainment, except in Penampang and the central part of Tambunan where it expresses grief after a death. The story behind the origin of the turali is that once upon a time there was a man who had 7 sons and no daughters. When both parents died due to some illness, the sons were very grieved. However, as men and warriors, they could not cry. To express their great sorrow and grief for the death of their parents, they made and played the turali. BUNGKAU

Traditional this was from Kampung Tikolod, Tambunan. It is now prevalent among Dusuns and some Muruts. It is made of a double raft of eight bamboo pipes inserted into a gourd. Inside the gourd seven of the pipes have small polod palm lamellae or sodi inserted into their sides and kept in place by beeswax ofr sopinit. The eighth soundless pipe is stopped up with sopinit. The player blows and sucks air through the gourd mouthpiece to activate the sodi. The musical sound produced can be likened to a cross between the sounds from a conventional mouth organ and a bagpipe, minus the latters’ shrillness. Often it is played solo, for personal expression.

Source: Sabah Tourism Promotion Corporation age=musical_instruments

Bungkau Jew’s Harp (Uriding, Lotud-Dusuns) is widely found throughout Sabah. Made from polod palm wood. It is small and is held between the teeth. Its central lamella vibrates when the end of the instrument is hit. The sound is then resonated by the mouth to produce a wide spectrum of sounds. It is versalite as a device to attract edible lizards, in farewell and battle songs, for post rice harvesting celebrations and to imitate gong ensemble music.