Sources, Sounds and Meanings of Turali (Noseflute) Music in Dusunic Cultures of Sabah


  • Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan Borneo Heritage Research Unit, and Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage Universiti Malaysia Sabah



aerophones, Dusunic cultures, flute, Sabah, transformation, turali noseflute


The turali noseflute (also known as turahi among some of the Kadazan Dusun of Tambunan) is traditionally played solo as a form of personal entertainment and expression among most of the indigenous Dusunic societies of Sabah, the east Malaysian state of Northern Borneo. This instrument has the same basic structure and performance technique in all Dusunic communities where it is played, but can vary in length. In most cases, as among the Lotud Dusun and some of the Kadazan Dusun, its music expresses happiness and imitates the melodies of traditional songs. Among the Rungus, it can also be played by a novice priestess (bobolizan) to help her memorise the melodies of ritual chants (rinait) when practising alone outside of the ritual context. Its soft sound is also considered soothing when played at night in the longhouse. For the Kadazan Dusun in the central part of Tambunan District, however, turali music expresses melancholy and usually copies patterns in the stylised crying of female mourners during a wake. It is not played during mourning, but months or years later to express sorrow for a deceased relative. Drawing upon more than thirty-five years of research by the author, this article compares and contrasts different examples of turali music, discussing the sources, sounds and meanings of the music, and showing the transformation of vocal motifs and emotive patterns into melodies played with the instrument. These motifs and patterns may vary and transform over time, based on the personal artistry of the turali player whose cultural aesthetics are shaped by her or his individual improvisatory skills yet rooted in the tradition.


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How to Cite

Pugh-Kitingan, J. (2017). Sources, Sounds and Meanings of Turali (Noseflute) Music in Dusunic Cultures of Sabah. Malaysian Journal of Music, 6(2), 1–28.