Borneo: Traditions of the Rungus Tribe

This blog is part of a series of three that focus on the people and culture in the Kudat region of Borneo, particularly the Rungus tribe. It is based on my limited experience and subject to my creative interpretation…

The majority of local people in the Kudat region of Malaysian Borneo descended and still identify themselves from the Rungus tribe. The original tribe folk settled in Borneo thousands of years ago and were apparently keen head-hunters. Since then they have developed their culture and way of life to keep up with the world, including ditching the recipes for Strogan-head-off. What is nice to see is that they are still managing to keep their culture alive and doing some of it with entrepreneurial flare.

The traditional skill of gong making by hand is still going strong at the “Sumangkap Gong Factory” which, rather than being an actual factory, is simply a whole village.

In a show of might, they made the largest gong in South East Asia (I think the Chinese have made a bigger one…typical).

As well as gongs there is another village a little further down the road which specialises in traditional bee keeping. For 5RM (about Β£1) you get to take a tour and see them smoke out some bees. Β£1 well spent…maybe…

Whilst these tourist attractions might seem a little dull it is interesting to see these village collectives working and it is satisfying know that you are directly supporting the villagers and their culture.

Back at base camp our Camp Manager Kenny arranged for more traditional experiences for us. We got treated to a show on local dance in traditional dress. I definitely don’t see this dance taking off at any night spot near you as it seemed to entirely be made up of shuffling along on your toes with some wild howling interspersed at various points. This was all done against a musical backdrop which could have easily been taken from Star Wars Cantina Band Gong Hits album due to its monotony.

Traditional Dance

The Gong Cantina Band

And, on a slow Sunday afternoon (at camp every day is slow – and nicely so!) we were taught about the traditional bead making techniques of the Rungus. Whilst the Rungus will make elaborate costume accessories, we  were provided with our own beads to make simple bracelets. Now, this isn’t usually my idea of fun, but as I said, our days are slow and enjoyment is often found in the simple beauties of life. This was no exception and there was a majestic serenity in beading which led to our first handmade travellers bracelets πŸ˜€ β™₯️🀒

Beads + More Beads = Super Fun

Kyra and Louise getting their beading on
Our travelling bracelets

It is great to see that the people are trying to keep their traditions alive and identify with their ancestors and heritage. How long it will last I don’t know but hopefully they won’t sacrifice too much of their way of life for the supposed progress of modernisation. And hopefully I’ll continue to appreciate the beauty of slow living…

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