A Brief Profile: The Kelabit of the Kelabit Highlands

Poline Bala
Faculty of Social Sciences Universiti Malaysia Sarawak -UNIMAS
94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia
(photos Roger Harris)

Introduction: Location and Homeland
The Kelabit at approximately 5000 people, are one of the smallest ethnic groups in the state of Sarawak.  Historically, they are a highland community that inhabit the Kelabit Highlands, a highland plateau with an altitude approximately 1000 meters above sea level and situated above the furthest reaches of the navigable rivers of Baram and Limbang Districts of Northeastern Sarawak.  Currently there are about 1800 people living in the highlands while most of them now live outside the highlands. They moved out mostly to get further education and to get jobs that suit their qualifications in towns and cities like Miri, Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Kuala Lumpur and other places overseas.  Many are involved in a range of pofessional occupations. 
The Kelabit in the highands, like many other indigenous communities in Sarawak live in longhouses, although recently many families built single houses scattered around in the villages. Today, there are 16 villages in the area, which include Pa’Umur, Pa’ Ukat, Pa’ Lungan, (located along the Depbur basin), Long Dano, Pa Dalih, Ramudu (located along Kelapang basin), and Pa Ramapuh Benah, Pa Ramapuh Dita, Pa Derung, Ulung Palang Dita, Ulung Palang Benah, Padang Pasir, Kampung Baru, Arur Layun, Bario Asal and Arur Dalan, in the Merariu river basin. There are 4 other Kelabit settlements located further down the tributaries of the Baram River: Long Peluan, Long Seridan, Long Lellang and Long Napir.
Language and Name

The Kelabit speak their own language, which is called  “Kelabit ". Today, many have learned to speak English and Malay languages. Unfortunately, this has affected the usage of Kelabit language very badly. It is decreasingly used particularly by the younger generations. The Kelabit did not have a written form of their language until education was introduced on the highlands about 40 years ago. A recent effort was taken to document the language in a dictionary, partly to preserve the language.

Basically, a Kelabit name has two parts: the given name and the father’s name. Some common male Kelabit names are Lian, Agan, Giak and Apui. Some common female names are Supang, Sigang, Rinai, Dayang and Ruran.  A common Kelabit name would be Supang (given name) Lian (father’s name).

The Kelabit practice an elaborate and fascinating teknonymic system, thus distinguishing them from the other tribes in Sarawak. This practice requires new parents and new grandparents to change their names completely and permanently, making their old names redundant. These new sets of names have to be announced to the community at the Irau Mekaa Ngadan (Changing Name Ceremony).

According to the practice, the child’s parents and grandparents will invite the whole community for the irau or feast, which is held at the tawa’ or open gallery of the longhouse.  Some times up to 20 pigs, a buffalo or a cow are/is slaughtered for the occasion. Rice and drinks are prepared in abundance for the guests. While the women usually prepare the rice and drinks, the meat is prepared and cooked by the men in the community. The rice is mashed and wrapped in huge leaves call daun isip, which are distributed to the guests at the feast.

The guests normally arrive in their best outfit for this special occasion. The women adorned themselves with their colourful bao or beads. Beads, like jars are highly valued amongst the Kelabit, and have great significance to the wealth status of a person in the community.  The Kelabit value different kinds of beads and used them (the beads) for various purposes. For example, the well known bao alai, a shiny yellow long oval venitian glass, is used as bane or necklace, while the bao rawir, normally come in length of 15-25 mm and are composed of very fine, smooth opaque pale dusty orange glass, are commonly used for the peta or bead cap. The bao bata madi and bata agan are especially used for the beret or belt. The former are tiny glass beads with slight green and blue shade over it, whereas the later are the blue glass beads with white plain inside the beads.  However, the alai are the top valued beads among the Kelabit. Most are plain yellow (unpatterned) and some others are patterned with rose buds and golden dust and are known as the alai barit. The old alai (alai maun) used to cost about RM200-250 a piece. Most of these beads are heirloom, which are passed down from the older generation to the new generation. Hence, they are very valuable and highly treasured by the Kelabit.

And also, under this unique system, the couple address each other and are addressed by members of the community with their parenthood titles, which are determined by the sex of their first child.  A father of a boy will be addressed as Tamabu, literally means “father of a boy”, while the mother will be addressed as Sinabu, meaning, “mother of a boy”.  Meanwhile, if the first child was a girl, the father will be addressed as Temamu, which means, “father of a girl” and the mother as Sinamu, meaning, “mother of a girl”. They carry these titles until their first grandchild is born, where they have to take up new titles, also depending on the sex of their first grandchild. If the first grandchild is a boy, both the grandparents are addresses as Tepuabu, meaning, the “grandfather/grandmother of a boy”, and they are addressed as Tepuamu, which means the “grandfather/grandmother of a girl” if the grandchild is a girl. 

For an example, when Supang, a baby girl was born to Pasang and Lalleng, the former was immediately addressed as Temamu Pasang and the later as Sinamu Lalleng.  Under the system, the couple also had to change their names, by taking up new names, and discarding their old names. These new names are publicly announced and affirmed at the irau mekaa ngadan. At the irau, Temamu Pasang adopted Balang Siwa as his new name and Sinamu Lalleng, Sinah Balang Siwa. 

Supang’s grandparents also needed to change their names, which usually began or ended with Tepun or Pun, short terms for Tehtepuh, which means “grandmother or grandfather of”.  Their names also will be announced publicly at the irau mekaa ngadan. Tamah Saging, Supang’s grandfather, adopted the name Tepun Bawang, while her grandmother, Sinah Saging, took up the name Pun Midang Aren. 


Over a century ago, the Kelabit were involved in head hunting raids, not so much for ritual purposes but as a means to prove one’s courage and bravery, and to get even with an enemy. Thus, a person who succeeded in head hunting exploits was hailed as a hero and looked upon as a role model. Stories of successful exploits are narrated in various forms of oral stories. One of these heroes is Agan Tadun. His fame and achievement are recounted in legends, myths and traditional songs.

One popular myth among the Kelabit is that all human kind were originally from the highlands until a big flood flooded the whole earth. Many people had to build rafts to survive and were brought to the coastal areas by the water. However, some had build big and heavy rafts, and therefore were stranded on the highlands. And, that is why and how the Kelabit remained on the highlands to this day.


Most Kelabit are fervent Christians since a Spiritual Revival broke out amongst them in 1973, causing the whole tribe to embrace Christianity. As a consequence, they have abandoned most of their traditional beliefs which they felt have been a burden to them. They believed that Christianity has brought them freedom from the old religion.

Formerly, the Kelabit had to rely on bird and bird augury and dreams as guidance before beginning an important journey or starting the agriculture cycle. Certain rituals and practices were observed before commencing any undertakings. Sometimes these rituals required them to abandon a field that had been cleared for farming or leave their ripened rice to rot.

Major Holidays

Two major holidays for the Kelabit are Christmas and Easter. They celebrate both occasions as a community, and not merely as a family affairs. Opening one’s home to visitors is one of the main features of Christmas. Visitors are served with variety of cakes and cookies, and drinks. Besides that, longhouse communities get together for a meal either on Christmas Eve or Christmas lunch, or both, after Christmas services.

Easter celebration lasts for 4 days at least. The whole community will get together at the Central church to worship and fellowship together. Special speakers are invited to give sermons. It is an occasion most people look forward to attending.


Rites of Passage

About 30 years ago a midwife or an experienced older woman normally delivered an infant. A child then was required to go through different stages of ceremonies or rites at the irau ngelua anak. It was held primarily to initiate and bless a child and to publicly affirm the parenthood and grandparenthood of the child’s parents and grandparents. One of the most important elements of the occasion was the burak or rice wine, which was served lavishly through out the feast. The burak was prepared well in advance and in abundance, and was kept in belanai or jars. This irau involved 5 different rites/ceremonies: ngelua anak or the initiation of the child, ngutek or skull spearing ceremony, ngebpar/nganuk anak or dressing up the child rite, nuwat anak or Blessing the child rite and nui ulung or Rising of the Pole Ceremony. 

The nuwat anak or invocation of blessing ceremony was performed on the first night of the feast. It was the act of invoking and pronouncing blessing on the child involved. Two older men or women, depending whether the child was a boy or a girl performed the rite.  They were preferably people who have been successful in their endeavors. The child was usually seated on the lap of one of them. Meanwhile the other facing the child placed some items into the hands of the child would pronounce the blessings. These items were a small sharpening knife, a carving knife, an uwat or awl and a deren leaf for a boy, and a tiny hoe, a wooded ladle and an uwat or awl for a girl.

The other ceremony was the ngebpar anak, which is also known as the nganuk anak ceremony. It means to dress someone up.  While the rite was performed outside the longhouse for the boys, it was performed within the longhouse for the girls. An old man would put a new ebpar or loincloth around the boy’s waist, while an older lady would tie a new tekip or sarong around the girl’s waist.

The ngutek or head spearing rite was conducted if the child was a boy. The boy was asked to spear a skull placed/submerged in the river. The spear was placed in the boy’s hand and was guided to spear the skull, accompanied by a war cry or nekit by the older man who conducted the rite. The primary purpose for the rite was to encourage the boy to be a good hunter.

Meanwhile, the nui ulung or raising of the pole ceremony was performed. The ceremony symbolised the raising of the child and his status in later life. It also marked the prestige status of the family. This ceremony involved the erecting either of a tree or the longest bamboo obtainable, or both. However, it was only the well-to-do (upper class) family who could afford to erect the former. For others, the bamboo pole was acceptable. The ulung or pole was gaily decorated with a small gong, young ilad or palm leaves and kelulung or wood shavings.

The ngelua anak or blood smearing rite was performed almost towards the end of the feast. The rite involved the slaughtering of one pig or a few pigs to examine its/their liver/livers and gall bladder/gall bladders. This was done to discover the fate and fortune of the child concerned. The pigs were tied up and hang on poles and were slaughtered by slashing its head and beheaded with a single stroke of the cleaver. The child was then carried back and forth twice under the dripping blood for a blood shower, while the other people smeared themselves with the blood.  One of the reasons for this rite was to ask for protection and long life for the child and family. 

As a teenager, a child is trained by her or his parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncle to do chores. While, a girl is trained by her mother, grandmother and aunts about cooking, washing, and working on the field, a boy is trained by his father, grandfather and uncles how to hunt, fish, collect firewood and build huts or houses.

The birth of the first child amongst the Kelabit signifies a transition in an individual’s life. The Irau Mekaa Ngadan (Name Changing Ceremony) which is held to affirm one's transition to parenthood and grandparenthood marks this transition. The new parents and grandparents are required to take up new parenthood and grandparenthood names to mark their new status.  These new names are chosen and announced at the Irau Mekaa Ngadan which involve the whole community. Guests at the ceremony are served with a big feast by the hosts (new parents and grandparents).

Today, a death amongst the Kelabit is often followed by a lot of mourning and weeping. Relatives and friends come from all over to pay their last respect. A dead person is normally buried within twenty-four hours. It was quite different about 40 years ago, when the Kelabit observed the irau ate/ burak ate or the death feast. It was a feast that was held at secondary burial, usually after a year a person has passed away. Similar to the irau ngelua anak, burak or rice wine was served generously during this week-long feast. One important aspect of this feast was the bones of the dead person being sent to the cemetery for the secondary burial. Prior to this, the dead body was kept in a coffin or a jar, which was left in a small hut, erected outside the house or was laid at one corner of the family’s home. It was kept in that position for a year, and was only sent to the cemetery during the death feast.  (However, it is important to note here that both irau, the irau burak lua and irau burak ate, are now discarded since the Kelabit embrace Christianity).


Interpersonal relations

A hospitable and friendly person is highly respected and valued by the Kelabit. It is considered rude not to offer hospitality to any visitors at the longhouse. The members of the community are expected to at least greet one another. In fact, in the past, greeting practices amongst the Kelabit were elaborate and very thorough. There was a different kind of greeting for different occasion. For example, a formal greeting was normally used when a guest or stranger arrived at the longhouse.

Villager: When did you come? (Tunge idan teh metaluh?) 
Guest:  Just came. (Tunge kinih)
  To whom are they going? (Ngen I’ih deh nangei)
Villager: How do you do? (Kapah muyuh?)
Guest:  They are fine. (Doo tidah)
Villager: Who came with you? (I’ih teh ruyung metaluh)
Guest:  Here, only all of us. (Nih teh kamih nih na’ah)
  Do the children bath? (Ken diu teh anak adi’ dih?)
Villager: The flu never leaves them (Buro used dih ngedah)
  Or they are no better. (Edteh nuk doo ngedah)

However, today everybody is expected to greet one another by shaking hands and asking simple questions like “Where are you going?” “Where are you from?” “Who came with you?” and “How are you”? A person who doesn’t greet others particularly elderly people is considered rude, unfriendly and to a certain extent bad mannered.  It is considered improper to wear shoes or slippers in the house. Helping the host or hostess with cooking or cleaning up is most welcomed. Taking gifts when visiting a friend or relative is highly favored. 

Living conditions

The Kelabit, like many other ethnic groups in the island of Borneo live in longhouses. The longhouses are always kept clean. This is encouraged by constant inspections by the health officers. All the longhouses have tap water and some long houses have generators to give light in the night while the others have to depend on kerosene lamps or candles. In order to be safe to drink, the tap water needs to be boiled.

Most Kelabit in the highlands are free from common diseases that can be found elsewhere in the tropical interior. Their constant involvement in vigorous work on the farm keeps most of them physically fit. The consistent supply of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish keeps them healthy. They buy or barter these goods from each other.

A government clinic with a hospital assistant is stationed on the highlands. The villagers have a constant supply of medication except for major or serious illnesses and accidents. In these cases, the patient is sent down by aircraft to the nearest town for better medication.
Family life

Family life is highly valued amongst the Kelabit. The family is not only a social unit, but also an economic one. A large family consists of 6 to 12 children. Often the grandparents will live with the family, and sometimes other members of the extended family live with the family as well. Consequently, there are cases where a family consists of 12 to 15 members.  However, this has changed over the years as many children have migrated to urban areas.

The husband is considered to be the head of the household. He is responsible for making political or leadership decisions for the family. This involves being the spokesman for the family. If any members of the family have problems, e.g. misunderstandings with other members of the community, the father is responsible for making peace. The wife, however, makes most of the economic decisions. She decides when to start the farming each year. While the husband is responsible for bringing back meat and fish for the family meals, it is her job to collect vegetables and mushrooms for the meals. Their children are trained from a young age to help carry out these tasks. A son will help his father and a daughter is expected to help her mother.

Not many families rear animals as pets. Some rear cats to keep pests away, and some rear dogs for hunting. Poultry like chicken and ducks are reared for their meat and eggs. Water buffalo are reared to prepare the fields for farming and also to carry heavy loads.

Traditionally, the Kelabit wore very simple clothing. A man used to wear a loin cloth and a jacket made from tree bark. A woman used to wear a knee length skirt and adorned herself with bead necklaces and a bead cap. However, the western style of dressing is now very common among the Kelabit. 

The Kelabit always have a supply of fresh meat and vegetable from the jungle or garden.. They collect wild vegetables from the jungle and hunt or fish for their protein. Besides that, each family has farms for growing their own rice, not only for domestic consumption, but also for sale. Poultry like chicken and ducks are reared for domestic consumption. 

The Kelabit also produced their own salt called the Kelabit or Bario salt. This salt is obtained by evaporating salty water from salt springs, which are found in the highlands. The salty water is boiled until all the water is evaporated, leaving the salt at the bottom of the “kawang” (big cooking utensil). The remaining water is completely dripped from the salt before it was put in bamboo pipes to be burnt in the fire. This is to harden the salt, which is later wrapped in big leaves to be kept in dry and safe places. The salt is used in cooking and also to preserve meat.

Traditionally the Kelabit used clay pots, made locally by women, to cook or to prepare their food. However, today most of their kitchen utensils are obtained from urban areas, for instance spoons, forks, plates, and metal cooking pots. 

Labo Belatuh (Smoked Meat) is a traditional Kelabit food. Meat, particularly wild boar and venison, is salted and smoked over an open fire. The meat will later be boiled and pounded into small strips, and eaten with rice.


The first school in the highlands was opened in 1946 by Tom Harrison, a former British soldier who lived with the Kelabit for 2 years after the Second World War.  There were only 46 students in the school when it first started.  A few other schools were opened later on to cater for the needs of the Kelabit who were coming to see the importance of formal education.  Both sons and daughters were encouraged to go to school.  Some students had to walk 5 to 7 days through the thick rain forest to get to the nearest school.  Access to further education is one of the main reasons why many young people have migrated into urban areas. There are two schools in Bario, the Bario Primary School (Standard 1 to Standard 6) and Lower Secondary School (Form 1 to Form 3). 

The literacy rate amongst the Kelabit is quite high, particularly amongst the younger generation. Many of them have at least obtained a Malaysian Education Certificate or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). Of  5000 Kelabit, about 150 have obtained university degrees locally and from abroad. Many others have attended professional courses and are working with governmental and private sectors across the country. In other words, the Kelabit, considering the difficult terrain of the highlands, and having to leave home as soon as they go to school, have been very successful in their quest for formal education. Many have had to leave their home at the age of 6 or 7 to attend boarding school.

Kelabit parents have played a crucial role in promoting formal education for their children. They saw schools and education as the means to improve their children’s future and social condition. As a result, many highly educated Kelabit would attribute their success to the encouragement of their parents. 

Cultural Heritage
Even though the Kelabit have gone through a rapid social and economic change within the very short span of 50 years, they have managed to maintain certain aspects of their culture which are still unique, particularly their music and dance. A traditional musical instrument is the sape’, a plucked lute instrument.It is carved from tree trunk in an elongated rectangular shape with a homogenous neck extending from one end of the body.  Formerly, its three or four strings were made from finely split rattan, but today they are made of wire strings.  The Kelabit also play the pagang (tube zither), which is made from a length of bamboo tube closed at both ends by its natural bamboo nodes. The strings are finely cut strips from the surface of the bamboo tube itself, which are still attached to the tube at either end.  The Kelabit use the sape and pagang music to dance their lovely hornbill and warrior dances, long dances and single dances. The hornbill dance is performed in imitation of the hornbill bird. Hornbill birds are beautiful, shy and very gracious. Many natives in Sarawak adore them, so try to imitate their movements.

The Kelabit, like many other indigenous people in the Borneo Island, do not have a written language. So most of their oral stories, which include legends, myths and other folklore, were passed down orally. However, recently the local people have taken efforts to record this invaluable knowledge. 

One other important element to the Kelabit cultural heritage is the Irau Mekaa Ngadan/Irau Naru Ngadan. Many young Kelabit strongly adhere to the practice. It is held both as an act of gratitude and thanksgiving to God for providing a married couple with children. Every year, many young Kelabit parents, whether they are from the town or currently living in the highlands, carry out the ceremony.


Most Kelabit in the highlands are rice cultivators. Their permanent wet rice cultivation has distinguished them from the other natives in Sarawak, except for the Lun Bawang. They cultivate the famous Bario rice, which is well known for its sweet aroma and pleasant taste. Besides cultivating rice, they also grow citrus fruits for domestic consumption. Unlike those who remain in the highlands, the Kelabit in the urban areas are involved in a different range of professions and occupations.

Unlike many other rice cultivating communities in Sarawak, the Kelabit as well as the Lun Bawang of Ba Kelalan cultivate both wet and dry rice. It is the former that distinguishes them. They plant a variety of rice, but are most famous for the fine, fragrant and long grain rice, which is commonly known as Bario Rice.  The Bario Rice is especially cultivated in the wet rice fields. The fields are usually manually prepared even though today buffalo are increasingly used to prepare the fields for planting. The buffalo are left to roam the fields immediately after the harvesting season; helping to keep away the weeds, provide natural manure for the field and to churn the soil for planting. Besides being used for farming, buffalo are sold for cash, given as payment for labour and as dowry payment when inter marrying with the nearby Lun Bawang. Ownership of buffalo also signifies the wealth status of a person in the community. 
Rice from the fields are special to the Kelabit. In fact, their daily economic and social activities revolve around its elaborate way of cultivation. Most of their economic and social activities within the village are determined by the rice planting cycle, a cycle consists of 8 stages and involves 9 months of the calendar year. Every year the cycle starts in the month of June with the lamidik activity. At this stage the weeds and rice stalks in the fields are cut and gathered (nebalu’) into tebalu’ or small bundles, which are left in the fields until they are almost rotten. These tebalu’ are later removed (ngenak tebalu) onto the ebpeng or bunds. This is done simultaneously with ngeppu pade or soaking of selected rice grain for seedlings. This is followed by ngutat pade or scattering of seedlings into the seedling fields a few weeks later. As soon as the seedlings are tall enough, they are transplanted into the fields (nibu pade). The seedlings are then left unattended until when the rice are almost ripe when muro activity, which is to keep away rice-devouring birds such as the sparrows, is vigorously done. One common devices used to meet the purpose is by constructing akang or scarecrow in the fields. The muro activity is followed by the last and most important stage in the cycle, the ranih or harvesting season in January – February. The ranih season is welcomed joyously by the Kelabit. It is a season to witness the full display of the community’s economic and social networks. 

Since the Kelabit in the highlands spend most of their time and effort with rice cultivation activities, other economic activities such as hunting, fishing, gardening, mat and baskets weaving, etc. are performed only when they are free from activities in their rice fields. And also most of their social activities like church fellowships and irau or feasts are closely connected with their farming activities. These fellowships and feasts are usually conducted when they are less occupied with rice cultivation.


Most Kelabit’s traditional games and sports are slowly being abandoned by the younger generation. They have pick up new games like basketball, volleyball and soccerl. In the past, children usually spent most of their time swimming in the river, or playing in the shrubs surrounding the longhouses. Unfortunately, today most of these games are abandoned.  Soccer as a sport has becoming very popular amongst the Kelabit. Most Kelabit young men and boys are enthralled with the game.


Since the highlands is quite isolated in the interior of Sarawak, theater and movies were unknown until late 1980s.Installation of generators in most Kelabit longhouses has enabled them to watch movies on television and video.

Some families do have parabolic dishes, which make it possible for them to receive television channels from all over the world. Occasionally, they get together in the night to sing, dance and talked, after working hard in the rice field in the day. Various dances are danced to the sape music. Besides that, the women occasionally get together to sing Christian songs or some traditional songs. These occasions are always joyous and delightful.

Folk art, crafts, and hobbies

The Kelabit make many handicraft items, many of which are for everyday use. Most of these items, however, are made with little ornamentation and no carving. Nonetheless, many of them are beautifully made, with great skill.

Bamboo and rattan are the two common materials used to make their crafts. Rattan is easily obtained from the primary forest, and the bamboo is acquired from the secondary forest, i.e., from areas which have at some time in the past been used for agriculture. Many cooking utensils, tools in the kitchen, basket for storage and carrying, fish traps and rice winnowing trays are some items which are made of these materials, sometimes from a mixture of the two.  Besides that, the Kelabit use other materials like grass, bark or other plant materials to make mats, brooms, sun hats, knife sheaths, and rain capes. Nylon cord and thread are sometimes used together with the other materials.

Social Problems

One of the acute social problems faced by the Kelabit in the highlands is the increasing and rapid migration of younger generation into the urban areas. This inevitable trend has left the old people to tend the rice fields. In order to overcome the shortage of labor to work in the rice fields, the Kelabit are getting laborers from their neighboring communities. Most of these laborers, however, are paid with remittances that flow from younger generation to old people in the highlands. In other words, the Kelabit diasporas support their families in the highlands and provide funds for up-keeping the farms.

Even though the isolation of the Kelabit Highlands did not deter many of them from obtaining further education in the urban areas, except with the airstrip, the Kelabit Highlands still is without proper communication and links with the outside world.  Therefore, it is difficult to obtain information via television, radio, telephone or even newspapers in the highlands.

The rapid economic progress in Sarawak has benefited the Kelabit in many ways. However, the increasing demand for agricultural land development has put the Kelabit in a dilemma. They have to decide whether to give up their land for large-scale land development, or to maintain their traditional farming system. 



  1. Amster, Mathew. 1998. Community, Ethnicity, and Modes of Association Among the Kelabit of Sarawak, East Malaysia. Ph.D Dissertation. Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University.
  2. Bala, Poline. 1999. Permanent Boundary Lines in the Kelabit Highlands of Central borneo: A Colonial Legacy. M.A. Thesis. Faculty of Graduate Study, Cornell University.
  3. Harrisson, Tom. 1954. “Outside Influence on the Upland Culture of Kelabits of North Central Borneo.” Sarawak Museum Journal 6:104-120.
  4. Harrisson, Tom. 1959.World Within: A Borneo Story. Singapore: Oxford University Press. 
  5. Hobson, Sarah. 1982.  Two Way Ticket. In association with Yorkshire Television and UNICEF. London: Macdonald & Co. and Publishers.
  6. Janowski, Monica Hughes. 1991.“ The Making of Earthenware Cooking Pots in the Kelabit Highlands”, in Chin, Lucas and Valerie Mashman. Sarawak Cultural Legacy: A living tradition. Society Atelier Sarawak, P.O.Box 66, 93700 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
  7. Saging, Robert Lian and Lucy Bulan. 1989.”SKelabit Ethnography (A Brief Report)” Sarawak Museum Journal Vol.XI (No.6). Page 89-118.
  8. Talla, Yahya.1979. The Kelabits of the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak. Provisional Research Report. No.9, Pulau Pinang, Social Anthrosection School of Comparative Social Sciences, University Sains Malaysia. 


  1. Ate – literally means “death”
  2. Alai ma’un – the old alai
  3. Bane – beads stringed for necklaces
  4. Bao alai – a shiny yellow long oval venitian glass bead. While most are plain yellow (unpatterned), some are patterned, known as the alai barit, with rose buds and gold dust. Highly priced and top valued beads by the Kelabit.
  5. Bao Bata’ Agan – blue glass beads with plain white inside of it.
  6. Bao Bata’ Madi’ – tiny glass beads with slight green and blue shade over it.
  7. Bao Rawir – literally means long beads. They come in length of 15 – 25 mm are composed of very fine, smooth opaque pale dusty orange-glass.
  8. Burak – rice wine from fermented rice
  9. Burak Ate/lua ate – a death feast, which was held at the secondary burial. Generous amount of burak pade or rice wine was prepared for the week – long feast.
  10. Daun isip – huge leaves used as food wrappers.
  11. Irau - feast where everybody in the community are invited
  12. Irau Lua/Burak Lua - the old version of naming ceremony which was held to initiate and pronounce blessing upon a child. Burak or rice wine and some rites were very prominent at this feast.
  13. Irau naru/mekaa ngadan – the current version of the burak lua ceremony in which many of the old rites and the drinking of burak are discarded. Most importantly, it is an act of thanksgiving to God for the children born to a couple. During the occasion the couple publicly announce the parenthood and grandparenthood names taken up by the new parents and grandparents. Close relatives or childless couples might also take up new names after consulting the family concerned
  14. Nekit – a war cry normally done by men.
  15. Ngebpar anak – also known as nganuk ceremony, which means to dress someone up. A new ebpar or loin cloth for a boy and tekip or sarong for a girl was tied around the child’s waist for the first time to signify that the child now has begun to live as an individual.
  16. Ngelua anak – a rite slaughtering a pig or few pigs to examine the liver/livers in order to determine what it had to say about the fate and fortune of the child concerned and also to smear the child with the blood.
  17. Ngutek ceremony – one of the rites performed at the burak lua. The child (boy) concerned was asked to spear a skull in the river so that the child would grow to be a successful hunter.
  18. Nui Ulung – a ceremony at the burak lua where either a tree or the longest bamboo obtainable or both, were erected outside the longhouse as a monument to mark the occasion. It symbolised the raising of the child and his status in later life as well as to mark the prestige of the host family.
  19. Nuwat anak – the act of pronouncing blessing upon a child. Items such as a small sharpening stone, a carving knife, an awl and a “deren” leaf were placed one after another onto the child’s palm, if the child was a boy, and a tiny hoe, a wooden ladle and the awl, if it was a girl. The child was exhorted to be good, brave, hardworking, well mannered and to follow the examples of the men and women who invoke the blessings.
  20. Pun – short term for Tepun meaning grandfather/grandmother or grandparents of a child/children.
  21. Sinabu – “mother of a boy”. Title used to address a woman if her first child is a boy.
  22. Sinamu – “mother of a girl”. Title used to address a woman if her first child is a girl.
  23. Tamabu – “father of a boy”. Title used to address a man if his first child is a boy.
  24. Temamu – “father of a girl”. Title used to address a man if his first child is a girl.
  25. Tepuabu – “grandfather/grandmother of”. Used to address a grandfather or grandmother if his/her first grandchild is a boy.
  26. Tepuamu – “grandfather/grandmother of”. Used to address a grandfather or grandmother if his/her first grandchild is a girl.
  27. Ulung – a tree or bamboo pole erected outside the longhouse at the burak lua ceremony.