To introduce the Lun Bawang Community, it is worth mentioning the Association that had finally legalised the community to use this rightful nomenclature as an identity of its people or else this community may still be called “Murut” as preferred by the then Rajah Brooke and later the British Colony. “Murut” in Lun Bawang, depending on how the phrase is used, means “to massage” or “to pay dowry for one’s bride”.
The Lun Bawang Association Sarawak (LBAS) in its inception on 22.3.1977 was formed with the purpose to consolidate the cultures of the ethnic groups of Lun Bawang, Kelabit and Tagal Kolod. The constitution of LBAS defines “Lun Bawang”as to mean the Lun Bawang, Kelabit and Tagal Kolod. The consolidation was made because they all come from the same root and therefore they can be generally called the Lun Bawang Community (Hose, 1926).
The Lun Bawang Community who were formerly identified as Murut (which means ‘dregs’ or ‘rotten’– a derogatory terms championed by the Rajah Brooke, whose government wanted this community to be wiped off from the face of Borneo Island by proclaming : “Let them die …. Furthermore they are like an old shoe that has no value any more ….the country would be better off if the Muruts were allowed to die out”. (Jungle Fire, Drunk Before Dawn, A New Dawn Over Sarawak)) made up of one of the ethnic natives that occupied the Borneo Island for centuries. According to Tom Harrison (1959) and S. Runciman (1960), the Lun Bawang Community is one of the earlier settlers in the mountainous regions of central Borneo.
Today, a majority of the community still lives in Kalimantan Indonesia; 25,000 in Kalimantan, 2,000 in Sabah (prefers to be called as Lundayeh), more than 300 in Brunei (Crain 1978) and about 15,000 in the State of Sarawak (Sarawak Statistic Dept. 1980).In the State of Sarawak, they mostly live in the Limbang Division, especially in the District of Lawas.
The Brooke Regime (Government) considered the Lun Bawang Community as the worst and dangerous ethnic; the worst drunken people of Borneo, the dirtiest long house (Sarawak Gazette 1936), though the customs and traditional practices are not very much different compared to other ethnic groups in Sarawak, and that it is well accepted that the first Sultan of Brunei is a Lun Bawang from the family tree of Upai Semaring. It was because of the indifference attitude of Brooke Government ( Diseases were let to spread out) and coupled with lifestyle that was purely influenced by animism and taboos, that the population had greatly diminished from around 20,000 to 5,000 in the year 1907 and to 3,000 people in the year of 1937 (Reports of District Officers during that periods – Sarawak Gazette; Drunk Be fore Dawn). The status of the Lun Bawang became worsen that the then District Officer reported that the Lun Bawang Community “is facing extinction”.
At the time when the condition had become critical, God in His sovereign mercy performed a miracle, in that Christian Missionaries were allowed (previously forbidden by the Government in 1920s) to fully enter the Trusan valley sometimes in the 1930s to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The community as a whole repented from their ancestral beliefs and became Christians. It was the missionaries from the Borneo Evangelical Mission from Australia that was responsible in bringing about the great changes to the Lun Bawang Community which ultimately catapult the formation of the Sidang Injil Borneo (Evangelical Church of Borneo) after the Second World War.
The changes brought about by the Christian teachings had greatly surprised the Raja Charles Vyner Brooke during his visit to Lawas in the year 1940 and commended the two missionaries that paid a courtesy call to him, saying :
“I am amazed at the change in the Murut tribe (Lun Bawang). I believe you have done more good in a few years (3 years) than the Government has done in forty”
As a result of the changes, the living condition of the Lun Bawang gradually improved and lifestyle became more systematic. All their ancestral beliefs, the grip to animism and taboos which they had practiced for centuries were removed completely so much so that some customs and cultures that could still be practiced were also wiped off. The changes also include various aspects like health, education and socio-economy. These changes have indirectly helped towards the increase of its populations.
And because of the above facts, the Lun Bawang Association Sarawak was formed in order to revive the cultures and customs that can be practiced in accordance with Christian beliefs and teachings.
The Association in its effort towards promulgating the identity of the Lun Bawang Community has also called on authorities so that the community should not be loosely called as “Murut” as per championed by the Raja Brooke Regime in its governing concept of “divide and “rule”. This is because the use of such terminology is very sensitive so much so that anyone who says it out can be interpreted as to still consider the Lun Bawang as the worst, useless, and dangerous people of Borneo. It is imperative that such connotation be regarded as history and should not be further invoked or mentioned, more so that in the present government of Malaysia we have now live in harmony and respecting one another without looking at the race or ethnic. This request had been put forward to Resident of Limbang Division, Lawas District Officer, all government departments / agencies and the RTM Limbang, ref : PLBS/SUA/1/(61) dated 25 April, 1994.
The things of the past, i.e. the above negative connotation, has now indeed become a history following the recognition by the State Government of Sarawak (State Legislative Assembly on 6.5.2002 – the passing of the Interpretation (Amendment) Bill 2002, i.e. an amendment to the Interpretation Ordinance 1958) that the Lun Bawang Community is now identified as the Lun Bawang, one of the bumiputra communities (natives) of Sarawak.