This paper presents the main findings from the Fundamental Research Grant project The Ethnographic and Cultural Mapping of Sabah, Malaysia. Part 1: Tambunan District that has been carried out from 2007 to 2010 by the Kadazandusun Chair, UMS, together with researchers from UKM, the GIS Laboratory of the School of Social Sciences at UMS, and members of the Kadazan Dusun community of Tambunan in the interior of Sabah. (1) Interviews were conducted with village headmen and PengerusiJKKK from around 80 major villages in the District, as well as Judges of the Native Court and other community leaders. Data were collected on village profiles, history, infrastructure, socioeconomic activities, human development, intangible cultural heritage, material culture, and social systems. This is believed to be the first detailed ethnographic mapping project conducted over a whole District in Malaysia.
In 1969, George Appell, President of the Borneo Research Council, expressed the need for an Ethnographic Map of the peoples of Sabah (Appell 1969). During the era of the USNO government, anthropologists and other researchers from outside of Sabah were denied visas, so this was not achieved.
Later in 1977, the Malaysia Branch of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, or SIL (now known as SIL International), signed an MoU with the State Government of Sabah (by then, during the Berjaya Party era) to undertake in-depth linguistic research on the multitude of languages, especially indigenous ones, and to produce literacy materials, publish folktales, dictionaries, trilingual phrase books and other materials in these languages, as well as to publish scholarly academic work in linguistics on Sabah. In addition to the multitude of materials produced by the organization over the years on most of Sabah's 50 or so ethnolinguistic groups, many of which were published by the Sabah Museum as well as cultural associations, SIL also undertook surveys of Sabah languages and published maps of individual language locations in a survey report, as well as larger maps showing the overall distribution of languages throughout the state (King and King 1984, reprinted 1997; SIL 1984, 1988). SIL is currently updating its survey of coastal languages, and documenting their distribution in GIS format.
In 1990, the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka published the huge Statistical Analyses of Cultures in Southeast Asia and Oceania, which contains many regional maps and charts of cultural information for major culture areas in southeast Asia and Oceania (Obayashi et al. 1990). Since the maps cover such wide regional areas, the cultural information contained therein is somewhat limited. Nevertheless, this publication is a landmark in mapping regional cultural data.
The Department of Statistics, Malaysia, has reproduced the 1991 Census in GIS format for all of Sabah. Information about the distribution of ethnic groups (according to the census classification which is often very generalized) is mapped by census blocks throughout the state.
Michael Leigh has published a similar project in Sarawak based on historical, that is, pre-1976 and pre-GIS data. The Population of Sarawak: baseline mapping of rural ethnic distribution prior to the New Economic Policy shows maps of each district together with lists of village names, headmen, village populations and ethnic groups (Leigh 2000).
In spite of the range of research and materials exemplified in the above, it was felt that there still exists a need for detailed ethnographic mapping of cultural data for each district and ethnic group in Sabah. The project The Ethnographic and Cultural Mapping of Sabah, Malaysia. Part 1: Tambunan District is the first step. Funded by a Fundamental Research Grant from the Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia, through the Centre of Research and Innovation at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), the project has involved the collection of a huge amount of raw data, and the establishment of a digital database. …