Bajau Samah Ethnic’s Tradition of “Betitik” Endures Across Time in Sabah

Bajau Samah Ethnic’s Tradition of “Betitik” Endures Across Time in Sabah

TUARAN: The tradition of “betitik,” a heritage of traditional music played at ceremonies, especially weddings, remains fresh across generations among the Bajau Samah ethnic group and is also appreciated by other communities in the state.

The “betitik” tradition, performed in villages or towns, has been preserved for generations and is even showcased annually, including the Sabah State-Level Betitik Competition held last month, as a result of efforts by the Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, who is also the President of the Cultural Center of the Bajau Samah Community of Sabah (PRBSS), the state government, and related parties.

Musical instruments typically used in the “betitik” tradition include drums, gongs, “bebandil” (a kind of tray), and “kulintangan” (similar to gamelan), played together to create a harmonious rhythm symbolizing unity and agreement.

State Assemblyman for Pantai Dalit Datuk Jasnih Daya, from the Bajau Samah ethnic group, explained that the “betitik” tradition was originally played to inform villagers of upcoming ceremonies at a particular house and was typically performed a month or a week before the event.

“In modern times, we can easily inform people using phones, social media, invitation cards, and so on, but in the past, it was through word of mouth, and the ‘betitik’ spread the invitation to attend the ceremony. Besides weddings, it is also played at feasts, engagements, and circumcision ceremonies.

“I have personal memories of ‘betitik’ from my childhood when my house was always the center for ‘betitik.’ My family often hosted weddings, sometimes two or three times a year, and we always played ‘betitik’,” he told Bernama.

Jasnih noted that what makes the “betitik” tradition interesting is the variety of rhythms and songs, with fast or slow tempos, tailored to suit the celebration, in addition to the skills of the musicians themselves.

“There are also differences based on the area we live in. For example, I’m from Tuaran, and the rhythms and songs of our ‘betitik’ are different from those of our friends from Putatan or Kota Belud. Since childhood, we’ve been exposed to ‘betitik,’ so we know the origin of our ‘betitik’ rhythms and songs,” he said.

He expressed gratitude that the “betitik” tradition is now recognized and popular among young generations of Bajau Samah and is also appreciated by other ethnic groups in Sabah, such as Kadazan, Dusun, Rungus, and Malay, as it plays a vital role in ensuring the tradition endures across time.

Harun Kamaruddin, the manager of the Gema Bertingkah group, which won the Sabah State-Level Betitik Competition on February 27, said the group trained for nearly a month to participate in the competition.

The group consists mostly of teenagers and young adults in their early twenties, who are also Harun’s grandchildren and their friends from Putatan, whom Harun has been teaching the “betitik” tradition since they were seven years old.

Interestingly, Harun, 66, originally from Negeri Sembilan, fell in love with Bajau Samah’s music and rhythms after serving in Sabah in 1980 and meeting his wife from the Bajau Samah ethnic group.
“In Negeri Sembilan, I was active in the Seri Minang Negeri Sembilan group, which has similarities with ‘betitik,’ so the transition was relatively easy. During my wedding, I tried to showcase my grandchildren so that young people could see that ‘betitik’ is also played by their generation,” he said.

Based on his experience, Harun emphasized that “betitik” is a tradition that should be passed down and preserved by all Malaysians as a cultural heritage for future generations, not limited to the Bajau Samah or Sabah people alone.

Muhamad Nabil Mohamat, 34, a “kulintangan” player from the D Derumpun group in Petagas, said he did not receive formal training to play the “betitik” musical instrument, especially the “kulintangan,” but learned by watching previous generations play it before practicing.

“Since I was a child, I have been interested in watching the older generations play this musical instrument, including my grandmother playing the kulintangan while I sat beside her watching. When I was a teenager, I recorded the music they played, and then I practiced playing the music I heard.

“My late mother once gave me money to buy a set of kulintangan, and I received strong support from my family to continue this ‘betitik’ tradition until today,” he said, named the best kulintangan player at the Sabah State-Level Betitik Competition.

He hopes that the “betitik” tradition can be developed as one of Sabah’s tourism attractions as well as Malaysia’s, and he expresses gratitude to the efforts made by Hajiji and the state government to ensure the preservation of Bajau Samah’s traditions, including “betitik.”

Bernama reporter from Sandakan, Nur Adika Bujang, 46, also from the Bajau Samah ethnic group, shared many fond memories from her childhood, such as knocking on oil drums, locally known as ‘jerikin’ or jerrycans in English, to the rhythm of “betitik” music being played.

“The sound of drums being knocked would match the rhythm of ‘jerikin,’ and we would knock on the oil drums until they were completely dented, and even the elderly would let us play the kulintangan even though we were not skilled. The uniqueness of the kulintangan is that, no matter how it is struck, it still produces rhythm,” she said, hoping that “betitik” remains fresh and is inherited by people from all over Malaysia.


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