Kadazan Musical Instruments




These are Kadazan musical instruments some of which you may have seen.

Gongs used to make music for dancing the 'Sumazau'

  • Tagung (or Gong)
  • The tagung consist of six gongs of different sizes. However, Papar uses five gongs.

    To produce the magagung sound, the smallest gong is beaten first.

    There are three types of sounds made when beating the tagung. The sound made by way of magagung, is meant for festivities.

    The ominous sound of the tagung is called momodunsai, that is, the way the tagung are beaten during bereavements.

    It is a taboo to momodunsai during any other occasion although in a particular village in the hinterland of Penampang District it is a practice to momodunsai when visitors leave the village for home. It is believed that doing this wards off any untoward incident along the way.

    Momodunsai is done four times a day (24 hours period) while the body of a demised person still lies in state at home. The gongs are sounded at 6.00 a.m., 12.00 noon, 6.00 p.m. and 12.00 midnight. The gongs are beaten three times each time starting with a different gong.

    The sound made is a dirge. It produces a sound that is sad and at the same time, frightening (to some). (However, there is a village that beat 'dunsai' sound when visitors return home. This is to ward bad luck, so the villagers say.)

    There is a third way of beating the gongs, the batibas. This is the sound that Kadazan warriors danced to after a successful raid on another village and had brought back home the bleeding heads of their tribal rivals.

  • Sundatang
  • This is a two-string Kadazan 'guitar'. The lower string has seven frets made from little black bees' wax called "sopinut" (sopinit). The top string is free and make a sound which sounds like "tang, tang, tang" thus the name sundatang.
  • Bungkau
  • This is a Kadazan musical instrument mostly popular among the natives living in the interior of Sabah.

    It is made from the hard skin of the branch of a type of palm tree called pohod by the Kadazan people.

    The sound is made by striking one end of the bungkau with the right thumb while holding the handle with the left hand in front of the mouth.

    An interesting steam of music is produced by controlling the size of the open mouth.

  • Tongkungon
  • The tongkungon is made from a large bamboo called poing. The strings are made from small strips of the same bamboo. The sound of each bamboo string is controlled by moving the pegs at either end to the right position.

    The tongkungon is played by using the fingers of both hands while holding the instrument with both palms.

  • Sompoton
  • The sompoton is a combination of flutes bound together. Eight thin dried bamboos of different length are inserted at right angle into a hole made in a dried gourd. Only one particular type of gourd is suitable for the purpose. The bamboos are fixed firmly to the gourd using bees wax called sopinut. The sopinut also prevents air from escaping other than through the bamboos.

    The sound is made by blowing through the hole at the small end of the gourd while alternately closing and opening the ends of the inserted bamboos by the fingers of one hand. At the same time, the openings made at different intervals in the dried bamboos are closed or opened using the fingers of the other hand.

  • Other Kadazans musical instruments include:
  • Suling, another type of flute made from a dry bamboo.
  • Kungkuvak which is a flute made from a ice stalk.
  • Tobu-ih made from a large sea shell.


Kulintangan, a set of small gongs of different sizes

Are These among the Kadazan Musical Instruments?


These are not strictly Kadazan musical instruments but are often used by the Kadazan people especially during festivals or festive occasions.

  • Kulintangan which consists of a number of small gongs. Sometimes these are played in unison with magagung.
  • Gandang, a particular type of drum sometimes used together with tagung.
  • Guitar
  • Ukulele
  • Violin
  • Percussion instruments such as pianos, drums, cymbals

These "other musical instruments" are about to replace the Kadazan traditional musical instruments in terms of popularity and regularity of usage. It seems that usage of Kadazan musical instruments is lessening. These are in danger of being forgotten.

If you are a Kadazan music enthusiast, ask what you can do to encourage the continued use of Kadazan musical instruments.

Click HERE for additional information







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