Kelabit’s Heritages

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.