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Dusun washing with their water buffalo, c. 1910
Dusun is the collective name of a tribe or ethnic and linguistic group in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Due to similarities in culture and language with the Kadazan ethnic group, and also because of other political initiatives, a new unified term called "Kadazan-Dusun" was created. Collectively, they form largest ethnic group Sabah. A small minority of Dusuns can also be found in Brunei where they are defined by the constitution to be one of the seven Bumiputera groups.
The ethnic group, makes up, at one time, 30% of Sabah population and
are broken down into more than 30 sub-ethnic, or dialectical groups, or
tribes each speaking a slightly different dialect of the Dusunic family
language. They are mostly mutually understandable.
Coincidentally, Dusun is the Malay
word that means "orchard" and is derived from "Orang Dusun" or "men of
the orchards" as their houses are surrounded with fruit trees, and they
normally trade with the coastal people by bringing their agricultural
produce to exchange for salt, salted fish, and other products. The
name, Dusun, was popularized by the British colonial masters who
borrowed the term from the Brunei Malays.
There is, however, confusion about the use of "Dusun" when the name,
Kadazan, was introduced as the new identity of the Dusun people in the
early 1960s. At one time there was a serious dispute between those who
want the group to be called "Kadazans" (saying that "Dusun" was
deragotary), and those who want to continue with the original "Dusun".
The pro-Dusuns argued that "Kadazan" originates from the word
"Kakadazan" (a place of many shops--"Kadai" is "shop" in Kadazan), thus
"Kadazan" can also be said to originate from Malay! Those Dusuns in the
Penampang and Papar district now prefer to be called Kadazans.
The name "Kadazandusun" was adopted by KDCA and USDA as a compromise
between those who prefer Dusun and those who prefer Kadazan. In later
years, the name "Kadazandusun-Murut", or KDM (the plural forms are
"Kadazandusun-Muruts", or KDMs) began to appear in public use. This is
a political tag meant to unite the Kadazan-Dusun and Murut ethnic
groups in Sabah.
They KDMs were for the most part animists, but most have become
Christians, and a smaller percentage, Muslim. The vast majority of
Kadazandusuns live in the hills and upland valleys and have a
reputation for peacefulness, hospitality, hard work, frugality,
drinking, and are averse to violence, although in the recent past they
did indulge in headhunting as part of their tribal wars. Now they have
very much been modernised and absorbed into the larger framework of the
Malaysian society, taking up various occupations as government
servants, and employees in the private sector, as well as becoming
business owners. Many have achieved tertiary education both locally and
overseas (in America, England, Australia and New Zealand).
In their old traditional setting they use various methods of
fishing, including using the juice of the roots of a plant they call
"tuba" to poison fish in rivers.
Kadazandusuns are known as the Latin artists of the East, being
famous in the state for love and passion for music. Their traditional
dances appear attractive and gentle full of passion for life, making
the Kadazandusun culture a popular and beautiful one, and much sought
by tourists to Sabah.
Even though Kadazandusuns are known for their peaceful nature, they
are also well known for their bravery and defiant nature towards
oppression and foreign rule. Monsopiad the legendary warrior of the
Penampang district who lived in the 1700s to 1800s took 48 heads in the
heat of battle before being overwhelmed. Warriors in the Marudu
district (the most fearsome being Kulindod), and in Tuaran fought off
attacks of enemies--Irranuns in Marudu, and Bruneians and Irranuns in
The Kadazandusuns' biggest problem now is the fact that their
percentage within the enlarged population of Sabah (now 3 million) has
been seriously reduced, and the fact that they have actually become a
 Further reading
Dusun hillmen coming down to the coast to trade, c. 1910
- L. W. W. Gudgeon (1913). British North Borneo, pp. 22 to 39. London, Adam and Charles Black.
- Monica Glyn-Jones (1953). The Dusun of the Penampang Plains, 2 vols. London.
- Hewett, Godfrey" (1923) The Dusuns of North Borneo" Proceedings of
the Royal Society of London. Series B, Containing Papers of a
Biological Character, Volume 95, Issue 666, pp. 157-163 Publication
- WILLIAMS, THOMAS RHYS. The Dusun: A North Borneo Society. NY. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1966.
Ethnic groups in Malaysia by