Dusun - Orientation



Identification. The Dusun live in northern Borneo and speak several regional dialects of a language belonging to the Austronesian family. The Dusun name for themselves, in the Penampang regional dialect, is "Tuhun Ngaavi" (the people). Dusun commonly have recognized differences among themselves through the use of geographic designations (e.g., Tambunan, Penampang, Tempassuk, etc.) and on the basis of dominant subsistence activity in rice agriculture, employing the descriptors tuhun id ranau (people of the wet rice fields) or tuhun id sakid (people of the hill rice fields) to note a distinction between subsistence based on irrigated rice and on swidden rice cultivation. The term "Dusun" has been used by Europeans, who, in the nineteenth century, adopted the colloquial Malay language usage, orang dusun (people of the orchards) as a standard reference term. The recent ethnological literature refers to this population as "Dusun," or has grouped the culture with a larger entity, the Kalimantan nation, which includes the Kalabit, Milanau, and Murut peoples of northern Borneo. In the years following the inclusion (on 16 September 1963) of the former British colony of North Borneo into the new nation of Malaysia as the state of Sabah, the Dusun people began to employ the term "Kadazan" to refer to themselves and to distinguish their culture and society from other indigenous populations in Sabah. Today many Dusun view the name "Dusun" as a legacy of European colonial domination and as a disparaging ethnic identification that discounts their long cultural history and knowledge as a people well-adapted to a demanding local environment.

Location. The Dusun population is found in the Malaysian state of Sabah, which comprises an area of 73,710 square kilometers on the northern tip of the island of Borneo between 4° and 7° N and 115° and 119° E. Dusun communities are located along Sabah's narrow eastern and northern coastal plains and in the central mountain interior ranges and valleys, with a few communities located in the headwater areas of the Labuk and Kinabatangan rivers. Sabah's climate is marked by a high average annual temperature (27° C) and humidity, seasonal heavy rains, gusty winds, and bright sunshine. These climatic factors vary somewhat with altitude and location in Sabah. Annual rainfall in the two yearly monsoon seasons (May to October, November to April) may total between 254 and 520 centimeters, depending on local topography. There may be dry periods of two to four weeks each year when the monsoon winds change direction. Monsoon rainstorm winds sometimes blow at gale force, while heavy rainfall often brings widespread flooding, particularly in Sabah's lowlying areas. The monsoon seasons are characterized by a period of several months when days have hot, sunny, and humid mornings followed by afternoon thunderstorms.

Demography. The 1960 census of North Borneo conducted by the British colonial government reported a total population of 454,421 persons with 306,498 individuals noted as members of "indigenous tribes." The Dusun were the most numerous of the twelve indigenous groups counted in that census, totaling 145,229 persons or approximately 47 percent of the indigenous population and 32 percent of the total population. A 1980 government census notes a total Sabah population of 955,712 persons. However, the census does not provide specific figures for the twenty-eight groups listed under the heading of pribumi or "indigenous" peoples, totaling 742,042 persons. It is possible to estimate, however, that in 1980 the Dusun population comprised at least 101,000 more persons than in 1960, based on an average annual rate of growth in Sabah of approximately 4 percent. A more accurate estimate of the 1980 Dusun population, based on a higher rate of population growth (approximately 6 percent annually) would place the total Dusun population at approximately 319,750 persons, or 43 percent of the Sabah pribumi population at that time. A reasonable estimate of the Dusun population in 1989, based on a 6 percent annual rate of population increase between 1980 and 1989, would be a total of about 492,400 persons. In 1989, the Dusun were the largest ethnic group in Sabah, followed by the Chinese.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Dusun language is classified as part of the Northwestern Group of Austronesian languages and is related to languages spoken in Borneo, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Madagascar.


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