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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kadazans in Malaysia

View Group Chronology

Malaysia Facts
Area:    329,750 sq. km.
Capital:    Kuala Lumpur
Total Population:    20,933,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Kadazans appear to have two of the factors that increase the likelihood of protest in the future: territorial concentration in the Malaysian state of Sabah and generally high levels of group organization and cohesion. The Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) and the United Pasokmomogun Kadazan-Dusun Organization (UPKO), both Kadazan political parties, are components of the ruling coalition in the Malaysian parliament, the Barisan Nasional, which generally has sought to promote economic development in the resource-rich region of Sabah to help bring it in line with the rest of the country.


Analytic Summary

The Kadazans are concentrated on northern Borneo in the Malaysian state of Sabah (GROUPCON = 3), where they constitute approximately 18 percent of the population. They are approximately 2 percent of the Malaysian population. There has been no significant group migration across the country but there have been notable immigrations of other communal groups to the tribal region.

The term Kadazan was previously used to refer to members of Sabah's largest aboriginal group, the Dusuns, but its contemporary usage also includes several other tribal groups. As an indigenous group, the Kadans quality for the bumiputera ("princes of the soil") policy that provides special economic privileges to indigenous communities. However, the Malay population is privileged over other indigenous groups, including the Kadazans, who are labeled "bumiputera minority."

Group members speak multiple languages, including the official language of Bahasa Malaysia (LANG = 1), and they practice different social customs as compared to the country's dominant Malay community (CUSTOM = 1). Additionally, most Kadazans are Catholics or animists whereas the Malays are Muslims (BELIEF = 2).

The Kadazans have resided in Sabah since prior to the 1800s. The regions of Sabah and Sarawak were British protectorates until they were incorporated in the Malaysian federation in 1963, reportedly to offset the inclusion of Chinese-majority Singapore. Historically, the region was part of the Sulu Sultanate, which is a part of the Philippines. This historic status has periodically led the Philippines to press territorial claims to Sabah which has increased interstate tensions.

The UPKO governed Sabah from 1963 to 1967. For the next almost 20 years a Malay-dominated party ruled the region. It was during this period that Sabah experienced numerous influxes of Muslims from the neighboring countries of Indonesia and the Philippines. Some 500,000 entered the area in the late 1980s which boosted Muslim influence in the Christian region. More than half of the new entrants were Moros who were fleeing the ongoing Muslim Moro rebellion in the southern Philippines. In the mid-1980s, the PBS came to power. It sought to implement widespread reforms to address the political and economic status of the tribals and the continuing migrations of Muslims into the region.

Group members face demographic stresses which are due to environmental damage in the region, primarily logging which has rendered the water in rivers unsafe for consumption along with increasing the incidence of flooding. Further, there are greater pressures on the availability of land due to the presence of some 500,000 immigrants from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Kadazans are generally underrepresented in the political arena as a result of historical neglect, though the group has managed to maintain regular parliamentary representation on account of PBS and UPKO membership in the ruling coalition (POLDIS06 = 2). In 1970, the government instituted the New Economic Policy (NEP) which sought to redress the disadvantages of indigenous communities (bumiputera) through the provision of subsidies to indigenous-owned businesses, job quotas and requirements that non-Chinese personnel be included in large new ventures. In reality, however, any benefits reserved for the country's bumiputera have largely benefited the dominant Malay population rather than the bumiputera minority groups (ECDIS06 = 2).

Group interests are solely represented by conventional political parties and associations such as the PBS and the UPKO. The majority of Kadazans support group organizations. These divisions have not erupted in any intragroup violence. There has also not been any violence between the Kadazans and other minority groups in Sabah.

Kadazan political activism, in the form of protest activities, first emerged in the early 1960s. While there were few political actions throughout the 1970s and 1980s, recent years have seen some signs of political mobilization (PROT60X = 2; PROT99 = 1), though no protests were reported between 2000 and 2006 (PROT00-06 = 0). The tribals have not engaged in any rebellion in pursuit of their goals.



Chin, James. 1994. "The Sabah State Election of 1994." Asian Survey. 34:10.

Department of Statistics Malaysia. 2000 Population and Housing Census., accessed 6/14/2007.

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006