Tangkong, timeless accessory of Kadazan Dusun costumes

tangkong of Kadazan Dusun people
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This thing can be more expensive than some LV bags and diamond rings. It is Tangkong, the hip belt worn by Kadazandusun females in their traditional costumes (Kadazan and Dusun are the largest indigenous group in Sabah). Usually Tangkong is in a set of 3. Each belt consists of about 84 to 98 brass rings and one shell disk strung together by rattan.

Unduk Ngadau wearing Tangkong
Normally the price of a jewelry such as gold and gem is measured by its weight and clarity. However, the value of Tangkong increases as it ages. Tangkong can cost thousands if it’s an antique passed down for many generations and looks really oxidized, as if the less shiny it is, the higher its worth. It’s always kept as heirloom because of its sentimental value, so it’s hard to find an old Tangkong even if you have money. I saw one which was for sale for RM8,000 (≈US$2,400) last week!

Tangkong and Himpogot
Pic: Tangkong is also worn together with a set of maximum three Himpogot, the “silver coin” belt, as a display of personal wealth. Himpogot belt is about RM150 each.

tangkong of Kadazan girls
Eating Kangkong (water spinach) is for the poor. Wearing Tangkong is a sign of wealth.

Kadazan Penampang ladies in traditional costume
Pic: the typical way how Tangkong is worn in traditional Kadazan Penampang costume. The brass rings are not polished to let the rust shows its age. Tangkong is probably an accessory unique to Kadazandusun culture because I never see it in other Borneo tribes.

Tangkong worn in different Sabah ethnic costumes
Pic: Tangkong is also an important part of traditional costumes of Dusun from Ranau, Tambunan, Pitas, Kota Marudu, etc. Unduk Ngadau (Miss Harvest Festival) always wears the best collection for beauty pageant.

Tangkong the hip belt
Tangkong is quite heavy, normal girls will feel tired if they have 3 to 5 Kg extra weight on their hip for long hours, so you may not see them wearing Tangkong in casual occasions. During grand celebrations and wedding, Tangkong is almost a must for a classic beauty look.

Dusun girls wearing Tangkong
I don’t know why Tangkong can make Kadazandusun girls look more elegant, probably it gives a subtle hint on feminine curve, or it makes them move slower (and gracefully). 🙂

Tangkong for sale
Now let’s play a guessing game. Just now I mentioned I saw a Tangkong with selling price of RM8,000. Can you spot which one it is (see photo above)? Don’t scroll down for answer right away ok.

new tangkong
Did you guess the silver one? No, it’s the cheapest, only RM650 (still a lot of cash though), may be made of iron.

Tangkong made of alloy
The golden one? Nope. It’s RM850, factory made with alloy material.

antique tangkong
Here you go. This old Tangkong is worth RM8,000 (for a set of three). Quite surprising right because of its dull appearance? As I said, aged Tangkong is more expensive. It belongs to Stanis from Inobong, whom I met in Kaamatan celebration (Harvest Festival) in KDCA. Please e-mail me for his mobile phone number if you are interested in buying Tangkong from him.

close up of tangkong
Pic: If you look closely at this antique Tangkong, no two brass rings look the same, because they were all individually made by hand. Unlike “manufactured” Tangkong today, all brass rings look the same, and it is only half the weight of a traditional Tangkong.

red rattan string of tangkong
FYI, if the rattan of Tangkong is red color, the wearer is a single, black if she is married.

You also can buy Tangkong at Tamu (weekly open-air native market) in Sabah, or you can rent it from Sabah Cultural Board (Lembaga Kebudayaan Sabah). The rental fee is about RM105 per belt (a set of 3 is RM315 in total then). Nowadays, new Tangkong is no longer made in traditional way. If you own any old Tangkong from your great grandmother, please take good care of it, as it is irreplaceable and a priceless gift.

Please feel free to share your Tangkong photo in comment section below. ^_^

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo