Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Dusun - A Pictorial Documentary

By Joseph Pirin

I'm hereby initiating a post about one of my holidays side-study, an anthropological approach towards my native ethnic history and its legacy. This is the first post concerning such specified subject, The Dusun.

In this post, I'm largely depends on a single book which I considered it to be among the earliest well-written account regarding The Dusun prior to their conversion into christianity and other major religion. The book is written by Ivor H. N. Evans, B.A. entitled "Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo" that published in 1922. In fact, this book is published 89 years ago during the period of British North Borneo Chartered Company rule, long before the outbreak of World War 2 and Independence of Sabah (North Borneo). Thus, at all means, this post is also considered to be a loosely version of book review by myself. Any futher question circulating your mind will surely be answered by reading the entire book by yourself. ;p

The front page of the book by (Evans, 1922)

Before I start this so-called pictorial documentary, it's good to give some of the biography of the author; Ivor H. N. Evans, B.A.

Ivor Hugh Norman Evans was a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Ivor Evans (1886-1957) was a British anthropologist, ethnographer and archaeologist who lived and worked in Malaya and North Borneo (now Malaysia), and became a Gypsy Lore Society member in 1927. During periods of leave in England, Evans visited Gypsy sites and families around the South-East and East Anglia, photographing the families he met. He retired to Suffolk in 1933, but decided to return to Borneo permanently in 1938. Evans was educated at Charterhouse School in Godalming (Surrey) and at Clare College, University of Cambridge. After a brief spell as a cadet in the British North Borneo Company's Service (1910-1911), he was employed as a curator in Malaya for twenty years (1912-1932), spent mostly at the Perak Museum in Taiping. He retired in 1932 and settled at Oulton Broad in Suffolk until 1938. He then returned to Borneo, where he spent the remainder of his life. Detained by the Japanese in Kuching during the war years (1942-1945), he died in Labuan on May 3, 1957. Evans has written numerous books including Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Revised edition in 19??), Studies in Religion, Folklore and Custom in British North Borneo and the Malay Peninsula (1901), Malay arts and crafts (Malayan series) (1923), Papers on the Ethnology and Archaeology of the Malay Peninsula (1927), Negrito of Malaya (1937), The Religion of the Tempasuk Dusuns of North Borneo (1953) and some others selected works and articles. A more detailed biography of him can be seen HERE.

Through the book, Evans particularly study some of the Dusun Village such as Tambatuan, Tambulion, Tempasuk, Tarantidan, Metanau, Kiau, Kaung and Bengkahak in Kota Belud, Tenghilan and Timpalang in Tuaran. Some area like Kolambai at Tempasuk and Mengkabong Water Village, a settlement of the Bajaus was also being studied and also few more places which I'm not stated here.

In my own perspective, he had contribute so much in forming a basis for future generation anthropological research especially his notes/accounts about the Dusun peoples of North Borneo. At the same point, he also had successfully giving an image of the Dusun's life in early 20th century. Of course, there was also some other authors that had done the same but in this post, I'm focusing only this person. Hehe...

Evans, I.H.N., I idolize you. Your writings, your works, your research, all of it was a treasure for the Dusun people of Sabah. This is a quote from the book which I'd remember so much;

"As I am chiefly acquainted with the second type of post, I will confine myself to trying to give some idea of the life there." (Evans, 1922)

The quote was written by Evans after he got the post of an Outstation-Officer, encouraging himself to record any kind of description of Who and What he will encounter afterward.

Note that, I'm not posting all of the picture contains in the book, only certain which I think was interesting to be shared with my fellow Sabahans. 11 pictures out of 21 that exist in the book. All the pictures & its description was picked from the book.

A Lowland Dusun with his buffalo

This ungainly loooking brute is a favourite steed, and can keep up a jog-trot for hours, when it is
not exposed to the full beat of the sun. The animal is "steered" by means of the cord attached to
the nose-ring. A saddle a with a high wooden peak is generally used in buffalo-riding.

Gumpus, The Headman of Tambatuan, with spear and Pida

He is wearing his headman's badge, received from Government, of which he is very proud. The Pida, a broad-bladed knife, or short sword, is in its origin a Sulu weapon.

A Dusun Family Party on the March

The old man has a spear in his right hand, which he uses as a walking stick, or against a pig,
or other animal he may encounter. The point of the spear is protected by a two-piece wooden sheath bound with strips of rattan cane. Note the inevitable chopping knife on the left thigh.

A Dusun Fish-Trap in the Kadamaian River

A trap of this kind is contructed at the narrow end of two long V-shaped, converging walls of
stones, built in the river bed, and having their larger opening up-stream. It consists of a long
shoot of bamboos leading to a removable, conical basket, into the fish fall.

Dusun Priestess of Tambatuan in Ceremonial Dress

Among the Dusuns, initiated by women plays a prominent part in religious rite, which they conduct in language which is not supposed to be understood by the men. The woman in the picture is holding a divination-stick in her hand.

A Dusun Man of Tambatuan in War Dress

He wears a thick coat of closely-woven fibre, which is fringed at the bottom and trimmed with cowrie shells. The round shield is made of wood, and the sword, suspended from a cowrie-covered bandolier, has a tail of human hair inserted in the pommel.

A Head-House at Kaung "Ulu", Tempasuk District

The basket which the man has removed from the little house, or hut, contains several human skulls and also some of the Orang-utan. When a man was wounded in a fight, but his head not secured, the Kaung people added an ape's skull to the basket as a substitute for the man's.

Drying padi in a Dusun Village

The round trays, ordinarily used for winnowing, contain the grain which is being dried. The old
woman sitting on the boulder has a stick beside her with which to drive away the fowls.

Dusuns of Tempasuk Village, near Kota Belud

Four typical lowland Dusuns in holiday costume. The two men in the centre, Bengali and Gimbad, are old friends of the author.

Some Dusun Musical Instruments

These instruments are ordinarily played together. They consist of a set of duicimer gongs, a drum, a flute, a nose-flute (one nostril is stopped with leaves when playing it), and two stringed
instruments of bamboo, played by women.

The Kaung "Ulu", A Typical Up-country Dusun Village of the Tempasuk District

On the left is a house in course of construction. "House-horns", found on many Dusun dwellings,
can be seen at the apex of the roof in the centre.

My Point of View:

  • Title of the book itself tells us the word "Primitive", it's sounds kind of insulting since we're in a modern world right now...But then, I think we should not be too sensitive with any of the content in the book because it was all a reality in 89 years ago during the book was written by the author. In fact, He is comes up with a more updated study of the Dusun's people in a book, The Religion of the Tempasuk Dusuns of North Borneo which is published in 1953. Note that, We're much much better and well-civilized now compared to 89 years ago.
  • Although the Bajau's, Illanun's (Iranun) and Brunei-Malay of the westcoast of North Borneo were already a Muslim by the time British North Borneo Chartered Company(BNBCC) rule the land, most of the Dusun's people were still pagan though some had already converted to either Christian or Islam.
  • Most of (Evans,1922) accounts are focusing on a Dusun Village in Kota Belud and some in Tuaran which I consider to be incomplete if we're talking about the whole Dusun's community that lived in North Borneo. We must know that he is not covered a study of the Dusun's in Ranau, Tambunan, Keningau, Kudat and some that exist in Kinabatangan plain.
  • During the time of Evans doing his study about the Dusun's in North Borneo, the Bobolian (Dusun Priestess) was still enormous in number whereby every village having a few Bobolian is common.
  • It was interesting when we gettin' to know of what we're wearing in those century back, especially the War-Dress which was arouse the interest of myself. I found that the typical War-Dress was still being displayed today in certain part of Sabah, mainly during a local festival or a visit by tourists. One may find such cloths being displayed in the well-known Monsopiad Cultural Village, Penampang.
  • The Head-house shown above is same as what it's looks like of Head-house in Sunsuron Village, my village in Tambunan prior to the construction of the concrete structure replacing the wooden head-house.
  • Some of the traditional Dusun's music instruments like Sompoton and Gong just to name some; having a long history than I thought before. Being able to survive through a rapid modernization till day was fortunate for us as the new generation.
  • The Tempasuk District which (Evans,1922) refers to might be a sub-district of Kota Belud on that time. Of course I'm not quite sure but Kota Belud is mentioned too in the same book.
  • Tempasuk District was the main study-site of (Evans,1922) which more suitable to be known as Tempasuk Region. He write a more recent updated book 31 years after this book was published, that is The Religion of the Tempasuk Dusuns of North Borneo (1953).

Although, now we live in a modern environment whereby most of the Dusun's people are well-educated, some even migrate to major town and Kota Kinabalu City and achieving top post in the State Government and even in the federal government. I would say, we should not forget our origin and our way of life in the past so that we really know who we are. Without the people of the past, we're none.

"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
(Edmund Burke, {1729-1797})

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
(George Santayana, {1863-1952})

The book contains 31 chapters in all which covered a lot of interesting notes/accounts of the peoples of Borneo, focusing on the community that lives in the westcoast of North Borneo (later known as Sabah). Lets take a look of its Table of Content;

CHAPTER I - British North Borneo: General Description, History & Government.
CHAPTER II - British North Borneo: Population & Races.
CHAPTER III - Trade & Industries.
CHAPTER IV - The Jungle.
CHAPTER V - The Tuaran & Tempasuk Districts.
CHAPTER VI - Travelling Up-country & Elsewhere.
CHAPTER VII - The Life of an Out-station Officer.

CHAPTER VIII - Race of The Tuaran & Tempasuk Districts.
CHAPTER IX - Dress & Adornment.
CHAPTER X - Houses, Domestic Affairs & Government.
CHAPTER XI - Agriculture, Fishing, Hunting & Trapping.
CHAPTER XII - Food, Narcotics & Intoxicants.
CHAPTER XIII - Courtship, Marriage & Divorce, Burial & Puberty, Customs.
CHAPTER XIV - Musical Instruments, Music & Dancing.
CHAPTER XV - Wealth, Currency, Trading, Markets.
CHAPTER XVI - Manufactures.
CHAPTER XVII - Religion & Superstitions.
CHAPTER XIX - Warfare, Head-hunting & Weapons.

CHAPTER XX - Race of The Tuaran & Tempasuk Districts.
CHAPTER XXI - Agriculture, Hunting & Fishing.
CHAPTER XXII - Dress, Domestic Affairs & Government.
CHAPTER XXIII - Food & Intoxicants.
CHAPTER XXIV - Love, Courtship & Marriage.
CHAPTER XXV - Manufactures.
CHAPTER XXVI - Cock-Fighting, Gambling & Other Amusements.
CHAPTER XXVII - Religion & Folklore.
CHAPTER XXVIII - Weapons & Warfare.
CHAPTER XXIX - Antiquities.
CHAPTER XXX - The Chinese in Borneo.
CHAPTER XXXI - Diary of a Journey to Mount Kinabalu.

A:Derivations of some Tempasuk Place-Names.
B:Measurements of "Orang Dusun".
C:The Malay Language.

The original copy of this 318 pages book is rather difficult to found nowadays. I'm sure it was out of print already unless if they do a reprint version or whatsoever. So, I guess this book which was published in 1922 was quite rare and one can only found it by chance at overseas library or achive. But, be sure to try check it on the internet as if you're lucky enough to find it. bye2...until next post.


Detailed Biography of Evans, I.H.N. (1886-1957)

Evans, I.H.N. 1922. Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo. Seeley, Service & Co. Limited.38, Great Russel Street, London, United Kingdom of Great Britain.

I. H. N. Evans's Bornean Diaries 1938-1942. (Internet Source)

University of Liverpool - Special Collections & Archives. (Internet Source)

All Pictures & Its Description quote is credited to (Evans, 1922).


  1. hai joe..bru sa membaca ni pasal documentary dusun..x sangka pula ada buku dia..hmm.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Wow! Very informative.. Good job! :)

  3. ~hehe....thank you...will be comes up with another post soon...hoho...

  4. hi joe,

    where can i get a copy of the book?


  5. if u want to find it in any bookstore...i dun think they still have stock for this book anymore...~well actually I have one of the original copy of the book... but how do you want to get it from me then??? hehe...

  6. hhmm, is it possible for you to scan it and e-mail it to me? haha.

  7. hmm...bah...i'll try....somehow...hehe..

  8. dusun ? lagi menarik kalau sa pandai cakap dusun. hehe.

    done follow u.sama-sama kita sukung blog sabahan. Ur blog ni sa mau tinguk2 lu. mau cari tempat jalan-jalan. =P

  9. Liling...u can start to learn from now...hehe...thanks, followed u too...yeah! support our sabahan blog...^^V

  10. Menarik, macam pernah baca sebelum ni.. tapi tak ingat kat mana

  11. nice blog~ proud to be dusun ^^

  12. hahahaha............jelous bha aku gini..huhuhuh, tapi memang matap la kau.heheheh

  13. wow...ktinggalan sa nie...
    pa pun kounsikou sbab share...:)

    1. hahaha....ketinggalan apa tuu?? ...bah, miagal nopo... sharing is caring^^V

  14. wah, bagus oh ni info. punya bagus kalau state gov ada provide satu website khas utk geneology ka, bahasa ka, pasal bangsa2 yg asal di sabah dulu2... keep up the good work.. good luck dlm apa pun yg sedang anda lakukan.

    1. thanks man....i agree with your opinion... but at the mean time, maybe we can just depending on individual efforts to record and re-ignite the sense of history of our culture and past...

  15. bangga dengan usaha kamu Joe..teruskan and God bless

    1. Hi Anonymous....thanks for your support...^__^

  16. TQ.. it help me a lot.. coz i'm doing my task assignment regarding about our etnik.. ;)

  17. I have to write a term paper for my anthropology class and decided to write about my own ethnic. This is helpful, btw i am studying in the States, writing this paper can somehow introduce my own ethnic at least to the professor of the class :D

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. hi there,
    i've just browsed through your website and i'd like to thank you for providing such an useful info to us readers. but what surprised me the most is when I saw my great grandpa's name, Gimbad. Well, I did hear stories passed down from his generations to another generation until my generation but i did not know that he's an old friends of the author:)
    Anyways, thanks a lot for the useful information. keep up the good work dude.

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  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. HI Joe, I am impressed with your work. U invite you to share your works and articles of Borneo's cultural heritage in the non profit North Borneo Cultural Heritage Society FB page


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