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This study documents the production of tree bark handicrafts by the Dusun Tindal ethnic group of the Kota Belud District in Sabah. It aims to introduce the heritage of art-based tree bark handicrafts or kobog as developed by Tindal craftsmen over many generations using materials derived from natural sources. Its production processes and the forms and functions of the artifacts produced are compatible with the daily activities of the Dusun Tindal. Hence, this study seeks to record how the production of kobog craft fits within Dusun Tindal culture.


This study is part of a larger qualitative study of Dusun Tindal material culture. It involved interviews, observation and documentation of craft making in various locations among the Dusun Tindal. In-depth interviews were conducted with individual expert craft makers and craft activists, while focus group interviews were carried out among small groups of village people and craft promoters. Interview sessions were voice recorded and transcribed. The researchers also directly observed, documented and filmed the traditional processes of handicraft production, and photographed the designs and ornamentation of Dusun Tindal cultural objects. Direct observation in the field also gave researchers the opportunity to see the use of cultural objects and handicrafts in the daily life of the Dusun Tindal. It is hoped that this study will contribute to our knowledge of the traditional material culture of Borneo peoples.

The Dusun Tindal

The Dusun Tindal speak a dialect of the Kadazan Dusun language and inhabit much of the administrative district of Kota Belud, which is also home to Iranun and West Coast Bajau communities near the coast, and Dusun Tobilung further inland to the north whose language differs from Kadazan Dusun. The Dusun Tindal also live in the Tenghilan Sub-District of Tuaran District. Kota Belud District spans an area of 1385.6 square kilometers stretching from the foothills of Mount Kinabalu to the west coast. The distance from Kota Belud to Kota Kinabalu is 77 kilometers. It is bordered by three other aministrative districts: Kota Marudu to the north, Ranau to the east, and Tuaran to the southeast.

Currently, the population of Kota Belud District is 91,272, of which the Dusun Tindal are predominant with a total of 38,097 people, followed by the Bajau at 31,506 ( The term tindal means 'hilly area' and conveys the idea of people who moved from near water, such as a river or the sea, to higher ground. Like other Dusunic peoples, the Dusun Tindal are a classless society with bilateral kinship and gender balance. They were traditionally farmers cultivating wet rice on the plains and dry rice in hilly areas. The people live in villages, which in olden days were composed of two or three longhouses.

The Dusun Tindal retain many of their old customs. These are closely related to human life, the environment and traditional cosmology and are well preserved by customary practitioners. The village head, for example, plays an important role in continuing traditions through ceremonies such as marriage and the practice of adat or customary law. Although most of the younger generation has embraced Christianity, and some are Muslims, the people still adhere to many of their traditional practices, and, in terms of culture and lifestyle, the Dusun Tindal share much in common with other Dusunic societies in Sabah

Like other Dusunic peoples, the Dusun Tindal have a rich material culture. They use their artistic skills and knowledge of the environment to produce a multitude of objects and implements of daily use, as well as elaborate costumes and personal adornment for ceremonial occasions. They are renowned for their craftsmanship and utilization of varied natural materials, notably bark, rattan, bamboo and wood. Objects such as baskets, many of which are made by men, are some of the products made from bamboo, rattan, coconut fronds, and bark that are used in daily activities for transporting and storing agricultural products and other items.

Dusun Tindal Handicraft

Traditional societies in Sabah developed their material culture over millennia for shelter, protection, and for various other functional uses in people's daily lives (Ismail 2011: 70). The craftsmanship of heritage crafts demonstrates the nature of local knowledge maintained in the collective memory and practices of a community through the creation of designs and motifs. Design concepts are seen particularly in Dusun Tindal woven crafts. The wide range of handicraft items produced reflects the functions and uses of these objects. Crafts produced include home furnishings, household utensils, farming and hunting implements, as well as objects for ritual and religious ceremonies.

The Dusun Tindal produce four main types of crafts: embroidery, weaving (including traditional basketry, needle weaving and textile weaving from banana or pineapple fibres), tree bark handicrafts, and kuron pottery making [Figure 1, (i) to (iv)]. The richness of natural resources surrounding the places where the people live has led to the creation of these crafts. Natural resources such as bamboo, plants and trees, rattan and clay are used by the Dusun Tindal to produce these crafts. Kobog, the focus of this paper is the only heritage craft sourced from tree bark that Dusun Tindal craftsmen produce. Dusun Tindal living in Kota Belud refer to this craft as kobog or lamba [Figure 1 (iii)].

Bark cloth, known as kobog, is a craft made from the bark of a tree called timbagan (Artocarpus tamaran). The timbagan bark is thick and easily separated from the tree trunk. Hence, it is suitable to be processed into kobog. The name kobog derives from the word bobog (to smash) and refers to the tree bark after it has been processed, as shown in Figure 2.

The Production Process of Kobog

Kobog production requires a lot of effort and time. Production takes place during the dry season. This is to prevent the bark or kobog from becoming moldy, black and smelly. Kobog production requires a lot of sunlight to dry the bark thoroughly. Therefore, a craftsman is very concerned about the weather during the processing of kobog.

Kobog is usually produced by men because its processing requires a lot of strength to chop the wood, separate the bark from the trunk, and to pound the bark until it becomes thin. The process usually takes one day, while the drying requires about a month depending on weather conditions. The process of producing kobog requires a high level of skill and patience, especially when separating the bark. Tree bark splits easily when it is not evenly separated. In addition, the process of momobog (pounding) the bark must be done carefully so as to achieve an evenly flat effect. Also, the timbagan tree has abundant sap or latex that can stain the hands and is very difficult to remove. The following lists the main stages in the production of kobog [Figure 3 (i) to (v)].

1. A timbagan tree, whether it grows wild in the forest or has been planted near the house, is cut down and cut into two sections each around 4 to 5 feet long. Typically, the length of each section is enough to produce a piece of cloth or lamba.

2. After cutting the tree into sections, the timbagan bark is separated from the trunk which is then discarded. The bark that have been separated from trunk is then repeatedly pounded until it becomes thin. The time required for momobog or pounding depends on the strength of the craftman.

3. Next, the timbagan bark is washed with water to remove any latex. If the latex is not removed, the bark cloth will have a blackish color.

4. The bark is then pounded again for several minutes (depending on the craftman). In some cases, the process of pounding and washing is repeated until the craftman is satisfied with the thinness and cleanliness of his bark.

5. Lastly, the timbagan bark is cleaned and dried before it is formed into a piece of cloth. In drying the bark, too much sunlight (midday) or strong sunlight should be avoided. Exposure to too much sunlight results in a poor quality of bark cloth.

Materials and Implements for producing Kobog

Kobog production requires materials and implements that have been used for generations. These are designed to facilitate the work and achievie high quality results. The creation of these essential implements is also based on local knowledge inherited over many generations. The main materials and implements used in the production of kobog include the timbagan tree, its bark and water, and the implements the agansip, sonsogon, bobobog and dangol (machete):

1. Timbagan or taniran tree - the main materials to be used.

2. Agansip - A tool made of bamboo to separate the bark from the tree trunk.

3. Sonsogon - Another kind of tool also used to separate the bark from the tree trunk and to pound the bark until it becomes thin.

4. Bobobog--Another kind of wooden mallet, used to pound the bark.

5. Dangol--A machete used for cutting and chopping the timbagan tree.

6. A container of water for cleaning the tree bark.

Functions and Uses of Kobog

The Dusun Tindal produce several handicraft products made of kobog. These include items for daily use such as men's traditional vests or lamba, and more contemporary pieces like bags, hats, decorated coin purses, and key pouches [Figure 5 (i) to (iv)].


The bark cloth or kobog produced by the Dusun Tindal reflects the community's pride in their material cultural heritage. Various traditional and contemporary handicrafts made from bark cloth have significant functions in the daily activities of the people. Although the process of crafting bark cloth is quite difficult and requires a long period of time, there is a need for the youngwe generations to learn it and thereby maintain a part of their heritage. The Dusun Tindal peoples are still actively producing and using traditional craft materials because of their diverse and relevant functions.


Ismail Ibrahim

2011 Warisan Motif dan Corak Murut. Kota Kinabalu: Uni versiti Malaysia Sabah.

Ismail Ibrahim & Jane Wong, eds.

2002 Warisan Seni Etnik Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Kota Belud District.


Sigim Binti Dalani (Age 73), Dusun Tindal craft maker of basket weaving. Kampung Bukid, Interview on May 1, 2016.

Ludin bin Lakasan, (Age 58), Kampung Tuguson, Kota Belud, Handicraft Maker. Interview on September 4, 2016.

Luyah Sepaking, (Age 65), Kampung Tambatuon Kota Belud, Former Craft Staff from Kota Belud Handicraft Branch, Kraftangan Malaysia. Interview on June 24, 2017.

Salbiah Kindoyop, Junior Kimwah, Normadiah Nassir

Borneo Heritage Research Unit Universiti Malaysia Sabah Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
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Author:Kindoyop, Salbiah; Kimwah, Jr.; Nassir, Normadiah
Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Jan 1, 2017

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