Dusun - Sociopolitical Organization



The Dusun jurisdictional hierarchy is traditionally organized at the level of the local community. In the past they have given no attention to larger sociopolitical entities such as parish, district, province, or a political state. Their communities are led by males selected through an informal, community-wide consensus, who hold formai office as "headmen" ( mohoingon ) with wide powers. This office is viewed by Dusun as nonhereditary in its succession.

Social Organization. Society is traditionally organized about several territorially based divisions that serve as a focal point for the performance of certain ritual and ceremonial activities. These territorial divisions may contain one or several mutual-aid groups whose members assist each other in heavy work (for example, house building or field clearing). Dusun society is also organized on the basis of age, sex, personal and family wealth, and the region of residence. Seniority in age, for both females and males, plays an important part in social life. Women are widely respected for their specialized craft, ritual, and ceremonial knowledge.

Political Organization. Dusun are citizens of the nation of Malaysia, a federal parliamentary democracy based on the British model. Malaysia contains thirteen states, each with an elected assembly and headed by a chief minister. In Sabah, the state assembly has forty-eight seats. The chief minister, Mr. Joseph Pairin Kitingan, a 49-year-old Dusun, is a Christian and the first Dusun to qualify as a lawyer in Malaysia. First elected to office in 1985 in an upset victory over the candidates of two Muslim-led political parties, Mr. Kitingan's political party (PBS, or Parti Bersatu Sabah—Sabah United Party) gained control of the state government by winning a majority of seats in the assembly. Following state-court challenges by members of the previous state government and their allies, Mr. Kitingan called another assembly election in 1986. During the two-month election campaign there were violent incidents that included rioting and bombings by political activists supporting the main opposition party, Bersatu Rakyat Jelata (Sabah People's Union or Berjaya). The PBS party of Mr. Kitingan increased its majority in the Sabah state assembly in the elections held in May 1986, and Mr. Kitingan continued in office as chief minister. In June 1986 the PBS party became part of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) political party, an alliance of thirteen parties that presently is the ruling party in Malaysia. Thus, the Dusun now live in a complex nation-state political setting organized significantly beyond their traditional sociopolitical concerns. A head of state with the power of constitutional oversight, a prime minister directing a national government and substantial internal security and defense forces, and a bicameral parliament—all these are distant democratic forces affecting daily Dusun life through executive and legislative decisions.

Social Control. Social control in Dusun communities is maintained largely through informal sanctions, including shame, mockery, gossip, and ridicule, with some use of shunning behavior. The Dusun have also developed more formal means of dealing at the community level with individuals accused of serious violations of the norms and mores of traditional life. Dusun have several techniques for litigating complaints against individuals. Litigation occurs in the context of a body of abstract principles that are imbued with an aura of tradition, or koubasan, which provides a moral and ethical authority that binds all persons involved in litigation to that body of abstract principles. Litigation in Dusun communities is conducted by a village leader (the mohoingon) who functions in ways that establish facts in a case and who may administer one or several tests of truth. The leader also has the power to levy various fines and several kinds of punishment against persons found guilty of violating traditional behavior. Litigation is a public process.

Conflict. Dusun traditionally have engaged in conflict between communities, with organized raiding parties of men seeking to engage in hand-to-hand combat persons, social groups, or communities believed to have caused an imbalance of personal or community fortune ( nasip tavasi ) and luck ( ki nasip ). Such armed conflict usually arose from an effort to restore the fate or luck of individuals or a community that had been made bad ( aiso nasip, talat ) through the real or supposed acts of some individual, group, or other community. The objective of combat was to secure trophies for a display that publicly symbolized a full restoration of good fortune and luck. Among such trophies were the severed heads of individuals vanquished in close combat. Head trophies were given special care, often stored in particular places, including house eaves, and formed an integral part of special rituals and ceremonies held periodically in Dusun communities to note formally that community and individual luck and fortune remained in balance. Following 1881, the Chartered Company acted vigorously, but until near the time of World War II with limited success, to suppress head-taking combat. Such conflict has not subsequently been a feature of Dusun life.


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