Revisiting the Dusunic Boat Lutes of Sabah: Disappearing Musical Traditions

  • Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Keywords: 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.


Download data is not yet available.


Alut, A.T. (1991). Pengunaan muzik tradisi Kadazan/Dusun Labuk dalam penyembahan ada Tuhan. [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis]. Sabah Theological Seminary, Kota Kinabalu.

Bala, B. (2005). Thalassocracy. A history of the medieval Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam. School of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Brandeis, H. (2012). Boat lutes in the Visayas and Luzon—traces of a lost tradition. Musika Jornal, 8, 2-103.

Brandeis, H. (2017). Kudyapi, a boat lute odyssey. Agong 20(6), 22-37.

Brandeis, H. (2019). Boat lutes of the Philippines. Ethnographia, 1(3), 6-72.

Daud, A. (2011). Muzik kecapi ensembel diaspora Bugis di Tawau, Sabah. [Unpublished bachelor’s thesis] University of Malaya.

Ethnologue®. (2016). Ethnologue of the world’s languages.

Gowing, P.G. (1979). Muslim Filipinos—heritage and horizon. New Day Publishers.

McKaughan, H.P. (1996). Preliminary comments on Iranun of Sabah, Malaysia and Maranao of Mindanao, Philippines. Paper presented at the Borneo Research Council Fourth Biennial International Conference, 10–15 June, Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

Matusky, P. (1986). Aspects of musical style among the Kajang, Kayan and Kenyah-Badang of the Upper Rejang River: A preliminary survey. Sarawak Museum Journal, 36 (57), 185-230.

Matusky, P., & Tan S.B. (2017). The music of Malaysia. The classical, folk and syncretic traditions (Second edition). Routledge.

Porodong, P. (2018). Rungus. In K. Marriappan & P. Porodong (Eds.), Murut & pelbagai etnik kecil lain di Sabah (pp. 109-128). Institut Terjemahan Bahasa Malaysia & Universiti Malaysia Sabah.

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (1988). Instruments and instrumental music of the Tambunan Kadazan/Dusun. Sabah Museum and Archives Journal, 1(2), 24-61.

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (2003). Alat-alat muzik dan muzik instrumental Kadazandusun Tambunan. Pejabat Kebudayaan dan Kesenian Negeri Sabah.

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (2007). From Brunei? Preliminary enquiries about Iranun gong-making and metalwork at Tempasuk, Sabah, Malaysia. In L. Billings & N. Goudswaarde (Eds.), Piakandatu ami Dr. Howard P. McKaughan (pp. 225-229 with photographs on CD). Linguistic Society of the Philippines and SIL Philippines.

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (2017). Sources, sounds and meanings of turali (noseflute) music in Dusunic cultures of Sabah. Malaysian Music Journal, 6 (2),1-28.

Regis, P. (1989). Demography. In J.G. Kitingan & M.J. Ongkili (Eds.), Sabah 25 Years Later 1963-1988 (pp. 405-450). Institute for Development Studies, Sabah.

Smith, K.J. (2011). Introduction to the Iranun of Sabah. In J.U.H. Chin & K.J. Smith (Eds.), The Iranun of Sabah (pp. 1-22). Pelanduk Publications.

Warren, J.F. (1981). The Sulu zone 1768 – 1898. The dynamics of external trade, slavery, and ethnicity in the transformation of a southeast Asian maritime state. Singapore University Press.

Warren, J.F. (2002). Iranun and Balangingi. Globalization, maritime raiding and the birth of ethnicity. New Day Publishers.

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