Revisiting the Dusunic Boat Lutes of Sabah: Disappearing Musical Traditions


  • Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia



boat lutes, gagayan, Kadazan Dusun, Lotud, Rungus, Sabah, sundatang


The Kadazan Dusun sundatang from Tambunan, the Rungus sundatang, and the Lotud gagayan are three kinds of boat lutes from Sabah.  Each is carved from a single log of jackfruit wood, but vary structurally.  Resembling somewhat Philippine boat lutes, they differ from the sape-types of Sarawak and Kalimantan. They are played solo in non-ritual contexts.  The gagayan, however, was played in pairs (batangkung) and the Tambunan sundatang was sometimes accompanied by a hand-held gong when accompanying the slow, sedate magarang sundatang dance.  Today, there are very few musicians playing the unique Tambunan sundatang, while the Lotud gagayan has recently declined with the demise of older performers.  The Rungus sundatang is still extant and continues to be performed in many longhouses.  This paper discusses these three types of Dusunic boat lutes, their structures, performance practices and music, and suggests a possible origin for these kinds of instruments found in northern Borneo.


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Author Biography

Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan is professor of Ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities and Head of the Culture, Heritage and Arts Cluster of the Borneo Institute for Indigenous Studies, at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, where she previously held the Kadazandusun Chair (2003-2015).  She graduated BA Honours (Class I) from Monash University (1976) and PhD from the University of Queensland (1982) with theses on the music of the Huli of Papua New Guinea.  She first came to Sabah in 1977, having married a member of the Kadazan Dusun, Sabah’s largest indigenous group, in 1976.  She has conducted ethnomusicological research among many of Sabah’s cultures.  Winner of two PEREKA gold medals, her research interests include music and language, music, dance and ritual processes, organology, ethnographic mapping, the sociolinguistic review of Ethnologue® descriptions of languages in Sabah, the megalithic culture of Tambunan, and the Sabah Native Courts and customary law.  She is a Fellow of the Borneo Research Council, a member of the ICTM Study Group on Performing Arts in Southeast Asia, sits on expert committees of Jabatan Warisan Negara Malaysia, and was Adjunct Research Fellow of Anthropology in the School of Political and Social Enquiry, Monash University (2009-2010).


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How to Cite

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (2020). Revisiting the Dusunic Boat Lutes of Sabah: Disappearing Musical Traditions. Malaysian Journal of Music, 9, 115–137.