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.