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Magunatip influenced by P’pines’ Tinikling?
Published on: Monday, November 23, 2015
By: Low Kok On and Suhaimi Magi
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IS Magunatip dance, which is the most popular folk dance of the Murut ethnic groups of Sabah influenced by the Tinikling dance of the Philippines? Based on the dance movements comparison, both the Magunatip and Tinikling dancers will put their feet in between the clapping bamboo poles, and in a split second to lift them up again so that their feet will not be trapped by the bamboo poles. Such similarities made some people associate the origin of the Magunatip dance with Tinikling.

As reported in “This is an East Malaysian dance that is very strongly influenced by the Philippines.” But one should not jump into conclusion on such matter without carrying out in-depth research on both dances.

To begin with, all the Murut informants residing in the districts of Keningau and Tenom when interviewed told us that Magunatip dance had been performed since their great-grandparents’ time. No informants associated the origin of their dance with outside influence.

On the other hand, the Tinikling is said to originate from the Visayan Islands, on the Island of Leyte during the Spanish colonial era (Source:http://people.

To track the origin of the Magunatip with the absence of any written records, oral sources have to be consulted. In the field research conducted recently, we were lucky enough to obtain some oral sources from the Murut elderly informants on the origin of the Magunatip dance.

First, it was told that the origin of this dance is closely related to one of the Murut’s folk games, usually played during the paddy pounding session with alu and lesung.

Here is the story: After the paddy pounding session, one of the farmers who was resting put two long sticks with one end tied to each other on the ground with the aim to trap the feet of the passer-by served as an entertainment.

Whenever someone walked pass him, he would attempt to trap the passer-by’s feet with his specially modified device. To avoid being trapped, the passer-by would quickly lift up one of his feet in response to the clapping sticks.

It eventually evolved into a new game to be played in pairs. Eventually, this folk game has evolved into a form of dance known as Magunatip to date.

Some say that farmers in the Philippines who worked in the paddy fields started the Tinikling dance, too. When the Spaniards conquered the Philippines, the natives were sent to the haciendas. The natives had to work all day to please the Spaniards.

Those who were slow on their feet would be punished. Their punishment was to stand between two bamboo poles cut from the grove. The poles were then clapped together to beat the native’s feet.

The natives evade this cruel form of punishment by jumping when the bamboo sticks were apart. Eventually, this kind of punishment has been transformed into a Tinikling dance (Source:

In the past, it was a taboo for the Magunatip dance to be performed on an ordinary day except during healing ritual ceremony. Originally, the ritual dance had its own name. As told by our Murut informants, the dance performed in the Angkalatung healing ceremony, for example, is known as Kumansip.

One of its functions is to ward off evil spirits that made people ill. In our recent field trip to Keningau and Tenom, we were fortunate to obtain a legend related to the Angkalatung healing ceremony conducted with the Kumansip dance.

The legend goes like this: There was once a local chief named Aki Kumugu who possessed magical power of seeing spirits or supernatural beings. One night, while Aki Kumugu was hunting in the woods, he came across a large house which was brightly lit and filled with noises.

He was curious and went near the house. When peeped through a small hole in the wall, he saw many sick people were lying on the floor. He realised that the occupants of the house (spiritual beings) were conducting an Angkalatung ritual for the purpose of healing sick people with the Kumansip dance.

In the ceremony, a peculiar type of dance which Aki Kumugu had never seen before was performed. Aki Kumugu noticed that the dancers were putting their feet in and out in between the clapping bamboos.

While dancing, each of the dancers was holding a small gong while beating it. Since then, he became the ritual specialist to conduct Angkalatung ritual in helping sick people in his village.

This tale can also be considered as an etiological legend which account for the origin of the modern Magunatip dance.

The dance movement by putting one’s foot in and out of the clapping bamboo poles in the Kumansip ritual dance is similar to the basic dance movement of the modern Magunatip.

This etiological legend has revealed that the Magunatip dance was rooted in the Muruts’ culture since time immemorial. Besides, it played a very important role in the healing rituals.

In the form of the ritual dance, it is believed that the clapping bamboo sounds, the act of putting one’s feet in and out of the clapping bamboo, and with the special ritual verses from the ritual specialist will ward off evil spirits. As told by the informants, the Angkalatung ritual, for example, is no longer performed by the Muruts nowadays.

Logically speaking, if the Filipinos were the ones who introduced the Tinikling dance to Sabah, then the natives who resided along the east coast of Sabah would picked up the dance first rather than the Muruts whose forefathers resided in the interior of Sabah since the distant past.

In terms of the origin, first, it is clear that the Magunatip dance has its origin tale associated with a popular Murut folk game for entertainment purposes whilst the Tinikling origin’s tale was associated with a form of punishment during the Spanish colonial era.

Next, they are oral sources linked the origin of the modern Magunatip to the healing ritual ceremonies in the past but oral sources did not associate the original Tinikling with any ancient healing ritual. Finally, there are many differences to be found between the Magunatip and the Tiniklig performance.

Based on this initial comparison, we may conclude that the Magunatip dance is none other than the original dance which belonged to the Muruts of Sabah without any outside influence.

Associate Professor Dr Low is the Borneo Heritage Research Unit Head of UMS. Suhaimi Magi is currently pursuing his masters’ degree research on the Magunatip dance.


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