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Sumazau dance
Two pairs of dancers in Kadazan clothing with their arms outstretched.
Four dancers dancing the Sumazau in pairs accompanied by a traditional musical ensemble
Native nameSumazau
EtymologySazau (dance) in the Kadazan language
GenreTraditional, folk
Instrument(s)Gongs, drum, occasionally metallophone
InventorKadazan people

The sumazau is a dance performed by the Kadazandusun from Penampang and adjacent areas in west coast Sabah. It is usually performed during Kaamatan.[1] The dance involves male and female pairs who are dressed in traditional clothing. The rhythm of the dance is set by the beat of hanging gongs. It is performed by raising both arms to shoulder height and flapping them.[2]


The clothing ensemble most associated with the sumazau is called the sinambiaka or baju sumazau (Malay),[2] which refers to traditional clothing made out of black cloth and gold braid. For women, it is accessorized with the tangkong (three rows of small brass rings attached to rattan) and himpogot, a belt of 19th century Chinese dollars. Men wear sigar, a colourful headcloth woven by the Iranun people which is obtained via trade with the Sama-Bajau.


The sumazau begins with the first movement where dancers shift their weight from foot to foot while keeping their knees bent and arms swinging on their sides in time to the music.

When a male dancer cues the other dancers, they switch to another position where the arms are outstretched and their feet are on tiptoes. Men move their arms in a gentle rolling motion while women motion their arms with their elbows bent downwards. This move imitates the departure of a bird, specifically an eagle, which would have been visible from paddy fields.[2][1]


The term sumazau can also refer to the music associated with the dance, known in Malay as rentak sumazau.[3] Otherwise, it is also called magagung (to hit a gong), the nominalized form pagagungan or magagung sumazau.


The dance is usually accompanied by a sompogogungan, a set of six to seven hanging gongs, and a gandang. The sumazau ensemble may include a kulintangan.


Six black hanging gongs with golden knobs in a room made of bamboo. In the image's right (forefront) is a certificate from the Malaysia Book of Records.
Sompogogungan that was used during a seven-day magang ceremony.

In Guunsing village, the gongs are named as such, left to right from the players' viewpoint:

  • Sanang (canang in Malay)
    1. Sasalakan
    2. Naanangong
    3. Hahambatan
  • Other
    1. Hotungong
    2. Tontoongan
    3. Tatavag

Each gong name denotes the musical part that it plays.

The gongs are classified into two types. Sanang gongs are small with thick brass walls, a single knob on a flat surface and a rim bent downwards. On the other hand, the remaining three gongs (called tawag among interior Sabah Kadazandusuns) are heavy, made of brass or bronze, have deep rims, and the front surface is raised near the center with larger knobs.


The gandang is a drum carved from a single piece of wood, with two heads made from either cowhide or goat skin. The heads are bound with cane hoops. Into the hoops, wooden tuning pegs are inserted.


Eight small silver gong-chimes arranged facing up.
A true kulintangan (as opposed to a metallophone set).

Kulintangan in the context of sumazau music may refer to a gong-chime of eight or nine small knobbed gongs or a small metallophone of nine keys (named as such since its tuning and music follows that of the former). One is more likely to find the metallophone in a sumazau ensemble.

Instrument positions[edit]

From the instrument players' viewpoint, the gandang is placed left of the sompogogungan while the kulintangan is placed in front of the sompogogungan, sometimes with the player's back facing the audience.

Playing the instruments[edit]

Sumazau music consists of a rhythmic pattern of interlocking parts. This starts with the gandang, followed by the sompogogungan, beginning with the sasalakan down to the tatavag. The kulintangan provides melodic ornamentation over the texture of the drum and gongs.

The sompogogungan is struck with sticks covered with beeswax or rubber while the kulintangan is hit with two wooden beaters. The gandang is placed in an approximately vertical position and hit on one head with a stick covered in beeswax or a hard piece of coconut frond stem.

No separate pieces exist for the music. Instead, the same rhythmic pattern is repeated continuously until the dance sequence ends.


The sumazau plays both ceremonial and celebratory roles. The sumazau is performed at certain stages in traditional ritual such as the magang after headhunting and for spirits inhabiting a bangkavan (collection of skulls), and the moginum ceremony.[4] It is also performed during Kaamatan in honour of the traditional rice spirit, besides wedding celebrations, the 40th night of a deceased person's passing[5] and other major social gatherings.

Related dances[edit]

Among the Kadazandusun of Tambunan District, there are dances similar to the sumazau called the magarang, occasionally called the mongigol, and mangalai. Sumazau is sometimes also used to refer to the sazau dance of the Kadazandusun of Papar.

In the 21st century[edit]

As more Kadazandusuns are converting to Islam, the baju sumazau has been modified by female Muslim dancers in accordance with Islamic standards of modesty.[2]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a video depicting a medical assistant officer, Norbert Andilah dancing the sumazau in a PPE suit in an effort to combat boredom and depression among quarantined patients via SOP-compliant exercise sessions went viral.[6]


In 2012, a blog called Suara Pakatan Rakyat wrote an article titled Tarian Sumazau Untuk Golongan Rendah Akhlak (Sumazau is for the Morally Weak), claiming that the dance is a cult. This issue prompted backlash from the Sabahan (particularly the Kadazandusun and Murut aka KDM) community. In response, the then-vice president of the Kadazandusun Cultural Association and Information Chief of Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah, Rayner Francis Udong clarified that "Sumazau is a KadazanDusun traditional dance in the state and has nothing to do with worship", assuming the article had conflated the sumazau with a ritual ceremony called the magavau.[7] As of September 15th 2012, the blog has retracted the article and apologized for its publication.[8]



  1. ^ a b Mu, Paul (2022-05-31). "Keeping rhythms and flavours of the harvest festival alive". New Straits Times. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  2. ^ a b c d Sharifah Darmia binti Sharif Adam (2020-11-24). "Pengaruh Budaya dalam Keharmonian Etnik di Sabah" [Cultural Influence in Sabahan Ethnic Harmony] (PDF). Persidangan Antarabangsa Sains Sosial dan Kemanusiaan. 5: 65.
  3. ^ "Lagu rentak Sumazau boleh diketengah ke persada antarabangsa" [Sumazau beat songs can be brought to international stage]. (in Malay). 2019-07-06. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  4. ^ Mohd Nur Hidayat Hasbollah Hajimin; Syamsul Azizul Marinsah; Saifulazry Mokhtar; Azmin Pullong (2022). "Migrasi Agamawan dan Impaknya terhadap Adat dan Budaya Masyarakat Islam di Sabah" [Religious Migration and its Impact on the Customs and Culture of the Muslim Community in Sabah] (PDF). Journal of Islamic, Social, Economics and Development. 7 (47): 357.
  5. ^ Rou, Seung Yoan (2005-11-30). "생전에 지은 죄 벗고 떠나는 길". 국제이해교육. 15: 51.
  6. ^ "Nyanyi, menari sumazau hiburkan pesakit Covid-19". Harian Metro. 2020-11-21. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  7. ^ "Sumazau is not a worship dance – KDCA leader". Borneo Post Online. 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  8. ^ "KDM berang dengan blog 'hina' Sumazau". Malaysiakini. 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2023-08-13.


  • Matusky, Patricia Ann; Tan, Sooi Beng (2017-04-28). The Music of Malaysia: The Classical, Folk and Syncretic Traditions (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. pp. 144–146. ISBN 9781351839655.