Lun Bawang is not Murut

Lun Bawang is not Murut

Referring a Lun Bawang as Murut is perceived as an utter insult because, to the matter of fact, there is a dark history behind this term to them.

There are numerous studies made by anthropologies and researchers in the past of this infamous labeling of Murut to the Lun Bawang tribe. It was all based on assumptions. Even they themselves thought that this term was really confusing because none of the Lun Bawang ever claim themselves as Murut.

Assumptions Made that Relate the Labeling of Murut

1. Surud. In the 1850’s, St. John visited the Adang valley, an early settlement of the Lun Bawang which was situated between Mount Murud and Mount Batu Lawi. He assumed that the term Murut was derived from the word surud which mean mountain.

2. Murud. It is named after the Mount Murud. A place of the earliest Lun Bawang settlement in Sarawak. This is one of the closest assumption made because in the past, indigenous people in Sarawak usually refer themselves of their respective ethnic based on the name of a river or region which was occupied by them.

3. Bian Murud. Name of the leader of the Adang river. There was a possibility that other people have named the settlers who lived in the Adang region as “Lun Murud” or “Lun Bian Murud” which means “People of Murud” or “Bian Murud’s People”. If this is true, this term is only used for the Lun Bawang groups living in the Adang region.

4. Turut. According to Ermen, the term Murut was taken from the Malay lingua which means “to follow, to move, or to go”. He learns that in the past, there was a war between the Lun Bawang in the up-river which had caused them to move away from their settlement and “turut-ed” to the downstream valleys.

5. Purut. Dowry in the Lun Bawang language and the verb is murut – to pay the bride price.

6. Murut. Massage in the Lun Bawang language.

As you can see, most of the assumptions made were rather sound absurd and labeling an ethnic with human acts such as turut, purut, and murut is ridiculous.

The Dark History of the Term Murut

In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, the Lun Bawang community was described as living in an unhealthy state of lifestyle. They were hardcore burak (rice wine) drinkers, appears drunk more often than not, and the house was indescribably filthy. There was a book called Drunk Before Dawn written by Shirley Lees which describe about the Lun Bawang lifestyle.

Their filthy lifestyle caused them to be vulnerable to diseases. In 1904 and 1905, there was smallpox outbreak around the Lun Bawang regions. A plague that had significantly changed the course of the Lun Bawang history. It was recorded that the death toll had reduced two-third (approximately from 20,000 to 3,000) of the Lun Bawang population. Making it one of the largest death toll caused by viral epidemic is Sarawak.

Rajah Charles Vyner Brooke took the opportunity to completely wipeout his fierce nemesis, the Lun Bawang tribe or as referred by him, the Muruts. He refused to provide medical aid to cure them because to him, they are still dangerous.

The White Rajah used the term ‘Murut’ as mockery to the Lun Bawang that was facing extinction at that time rather than a term, according to studies, as to refer the various mountain tribes in northern Sarawak and the interior district of Sabah.

“In classic Iban lingua, murut means dregs or rotten.”

Murut Issue Today

Until today, the Murut labeling issue is not completely resolved yet.

Just recently (13th May, 2012), Dato YB Henry Sum Agong stressed that the labeling of the Lun Bawang tribe under the category of Murut ethnicity should be abolished. “I have raised this issue several time in the parliament since 1999 because it was part of our job as the community representative and as a Lun Bawang to inform this matter”, he says.

He requested that correction must be made considering the confusion that could take place if the issue was left alone. “This issue must be taken seriously by the federal government and states so that appropriate adjustment can be done”, he further stressed.

Never in the history, written or oral, the Lun Bawang ever referred themselves as Murut neither they ever accepted the labeling made. It also contradicts from the traditional identification practice of referring themselves to the name of a river or region.

It is to be made clear that the Lun Bawang of Sarawak or the Lun Dayeh of Sabah are not culturally similar or even related to the Murut (Tagal) tribe in Sabah.

Please share your point of view about the Murut labeling issue in the comment section below.

Photo Credit *edited*: Masyarakat Lun Bawang Sarawak – Meechang Tuie.

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  • Elisha Batuncang

    Comment from Rovel Tes Nus in Facebook:
    So true.. but in Brunei, the Lun Bawang there have always been called murut and still is till this day.. i have yet herd any word of them relabelling Murut to Lun Bawang..

    • Elisha Batuncang

      I’m aware of that but are the Tagals or other Sabahan mountain tribes are labeled as Murut too? I’m not familiar with the Brunei Political/Social policies, but in my opinion, it’s hard for them to relabel Murut to Lun Bawang.

      • Revol Tes Nus

        Yes, actually the Tagals and other Sabahan mountain tribes living a long the Padas river and also other areas in Sabah are called Muruts even though they are actually sub group and dont speak the same language, they say Murut just to make it easier.. Ive always introduced my self to Sabahans as Lun Bawang and ive always had to explaine the difference between the two.. Yes, i can see that it is hard for the Brunei Lun Bawang group to relabel as they have always been called Muruts since the late 1800 when the name was first introduced by Sir James Brook (then called Limbang Muruts)..

        • Elisha Batuncang

          Then in Sabah the Muruts are actually a label for a group of tribes in the mountainous area. Just like what we have in Sarawak, 3 distinct groups: Orang Ulu, Land Dayak, Sea Dayak. But one thing is that, the term Murut labelled by the White Rajah was more to labeling the Lun Bawang tribe as “dregs or rotten” instead of “the mountain tribes”.

          I’m not sure about the formation of Muruts in Sabah, but for sure, the Lun Bawang never approve or accept that they are Murut. Just like in Brunei, even though they are legally recognized as Murut, they will always represent themselves as a Lun Bawang.

          Just the same as you and I, we never accept ourselves as a Murut instead reassuring to the others that we are Lun Bawang. =)

  • Cwilter

    yeaaahh~!!’drunk before dawn’ hahaahahaa!!

  • Samuels

    Are there any similarities between the Lunbawangs and the Muruts of Sabah? maybe the labelled was made based on the British observation to both tribes similarities. Similarities or not what the “Drunk before dawn” descriptions fit both the Murut of Sabah and the Lunbawangs of Sarawak. Our past leaders failed to establish our own identity, no offence to the Murut but I both tribes are progressing now along with other Malaysian ethnics so I think it doesn’t really matters now.

    • Elisha Batuncang

      There are no cultural and lingual similarities between the Lun Bawang and Murut tribes. Even the facial features are far different.

      Identity of tribe is very important especially in this modern days where the cultures, customs, and traditions are rapidly fading away. It’s not a surprise anymore when some of the younger generations don’t even know how to speak in their own mother tongue.

  • Adang People

    I am NOT AGREE with the iterm no 3. KELABIT was the first tribe immigrate to the Adang Valley. PU’UN NGAWAL was one of the paramount leaders in Adang then his great grandson Lang@Pun Ngawal who died in Adang in 1945. None of the last generation people like the late Dtk Racha, Udan @ Sakai Balang (the grandson of Lang@Pun Ngawal), Budi Sigar n 14 others left Adang in November 1945 NEVER HEARD of that name! (Bian Murud). Please proof me wrong! Fact:”Life In The Forests Of The Far East”-My Limbang Journal By Spenser St.John in 1860.

    • Elisha Batuncang

      This is interesting. I couldn’t agree much to your argument as well because the Lun Bawang and Kelabit shared the same ancestral root. Which also means that, it’s neither the “Lun Bawang” nor “Kelabit” that had first step their foot in the Adang Valley because we’re actually 1 ethnic, Lun Tau.

      According to Spencer St. John during his visit to the Adang Valley in 1886, he stated that Bian Murud was “the most reknown leader” in Adang. By this context, it is understandable that there are few other leaders in the Adang valley as well during that period. Pu’un Ngawal was one of them. And this is when St. John made the statement by labelling the occupants of Adang Valley Lun Murud or Lun Bian Murud.

      Bian Murud was also well recognised by the Brunei Sultanate, where he was given the title O.K.K. (Orang Kaya Kaya) for his effort to help the Sultan of Brunei to make peace treaty with the Kayan from Ulu Baram.

      Even the Iban settlers in Limbang recognised him as one of the reknown leader from Adang Valley.

    • tutu keleh?

      Puun Ngawal (a KELABIT) migrated to Adang (from Pa’ Umor) following his daughter who was married to a lun bawang in Adang….tq…

      • tutu keleh?

        and Yes, Budi Sigar and Ating Labo group indeed one of the original group resides in Adang.

  • Timothy Upai

    Good piece for reading. No wonder my mom reacted in a weird way when I ask her about labelling us Murud. At least now I know. Thanks!

    • Elisha Batuncang

      You’re most welcome Timothy 😉

    • Schmuelsons

      The Lunbawangs/ Lundayeh can understand Kelabit and vice versa. The Kelabits even uses the Lunbawangs Bible (no Lunbwang need to interprete it for them). One just need to speaks and the other understands at least 90% of what is spoken differing only in terms or slang. Suchh is the closeness between the two. However you couldn’t possibly talk to a Murut of Sabah/ Sarawak (Murut-Tagal) and expect them to understand. For that one really need an interpreter.

      • Nelson Tan Ming Hau


      • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

        Lun Bawang and Kelabit are from the same ancestry. Just the matter of different clans and tribal warfare amongst the clans caused the splitting between them.

  • Cutebun

    Wow I didn’t know that Lun Bawang was labeled wrongly as Murut tribe. An eye opener indeed.

    • Elisha Batuncang

      I hope this message could further inform other Malaysian communities that this labelling was wrongly made by anthropologies when they’re doing their research. We Lun Bawang never approved this labelling.

      • Magdalene Piri

        Yes..indeed..d non-sabah/non-sarawak ppl always address me as murut. But i told them its a whole totally incredibly wrong.. I am proud to be a lun bawang… Elisha…taru’ taru’ me’ nai…mada’ d whole world dat tau nih lun luk metueh kuh awa Taman rayeh tau…good work.

    • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

      In Sarawak, the decision to replace the term ‘Murut’ to ‘Lun Bawang’ to identify this ethnic group was made unanimously by Lun Bawang community leaders,[7] and the official usage of this term is now legally binding following the passing of Interpretation Act by Sarawak’s Legislative Assembly in 2002.

  • joie

    Was just asked today regarding the term murut to describe us lun now I can give better answer when others asked.thanks Elisha.we need more info’s on our culture especialy the originality of our tribe.continue the good work. Tuhan ngeperuan nemuh…

    • Elisha Batuncang

      Thanks for the support Joie.

  • jay lizzy

    hi..I need help with some translation from lun bawang language.. “Idan te yeh nih me papu kuh lek.” anyone can tell me what that mean?

    • Gle

      Is it ‘idan te yeh nih mea papu nekuh lek?”. It’s mean “when will she/he meet me again?” If I’m not mistaken. 😀

      • Nelson Tan Ming Hau


  • Nelson Tan Ming Hau
  • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

    Trusan, the actual name is Ruab.

  • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

    There is a story about how Puru Sia got it name.

  • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

    Upai Semaring is one of the founding fathers of Bang Pedian later known as Brunei.

    • Khairunisa Abdullah

      Do go on abt bang pedian. Hi! im a bruneian of maternal lun bawang descent

      • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

        Recently, i have asked my grandmother about Bang Pedian. Actually, now it is the present Temburong. Not as a whole of Brunei.

      • Nelson Tan Ming Hau

        But, there is a story i’ve heard about that Brunei Empire was established by the Lun Bawang peoples. But, i’m not sure whether it’s true or not. Only Sultan of Brunei can answer this.