Pesta Kaamatan- From Ethnicity to Nationalism

7c960-dsc_0241The month of May, is the busiest and exuberant month for the indigenous of Sabah in Malaysia, Borneo. In this joyous month, 32 tribes with more than 80 dialects will join together to celebrate this meaningful occasion. Pesta Kaamatan generally means “Harvest Festival”. It is intricately connected with rice cultivation and with a cycle of life. Rice is Sabah’s golden crop, it is the grain of life and Pesta Kaamatan marks the end of the planting cycle. It is intimately related to the ethnicity ranging from culture, social strata and mostly of all religion. If you want a glimpse of Sabah’s origin and nativity, and at the same time capture the true spirit of the mystical “Land below the Wind” this is the time   to visit us!


A Short History of Pesta Kaamatan 
The life of the people in Borneo, essentially that of  hunters, subsistence rice farmers and wild fruits collectors. The livelihood which involve everyone from youngest to the eldest, man and woman was a hard one. Preparing rice fields, collecting firewoods, weeding, prepare seedlings, planting, watching out for crops to harvesting ripe crops involved back-breaking process. But it wasn’t just the labor intensive nature that caused such veneration for the crops; a natural disaster such as flood, drought, and herbicides has become the main obstacle, not enough rice meant famine. Over decades of years rice cultivation superstitious and taboo sprung up, no one thanks God for rice more gratefully then the humble farmers.
The Mengavau Ceremony 
“Mengavau” literally means to recover what one has lost, by whatever means, it is a thanksgiving ritual, led by a female religious priest called “Bobohizan”. When the Bobohizan cuts the first shoot of ripe paddy grains to mark the beginning of the harvesting time, a long beckoning prayer is recited to invite “Bambaazon” to return home to the household rice barns to rest until the time comes for selecting the grains to be sown anew.

Nowadays, such festival is open to all, merry making feast take place and “The natives” celebrate them in more of a joyous way. “Tapai”, which is a forms of rice wine were served in a small bamboo cups or a big ceramic jar. When one salutes with the word “Aramaiti”, it means “cheers” to the festive. As the non-stop “Tapai” pouring goes, the spirit of sharing, forgiving and fellowship is practiced, the harmonious mingling and interactions of the Kaamatan celebrations welcome everyone from all walks of life,from various colours, creed and cultural tradition. The continuous beats of gongs and Sumazau dance to the joyous rhythm continue for days. “Sumazau is the traditional kadazanDusun that every generations of the origins have learned to live. 

Unduk Ngadau 
The climax of the event was a very popular beauty contest. The “Unduk Ngadau”.This event has always been at the core of kaamatan since it started as a state wide festival. Its origin lies in the legendary folklore of a traditional farmer who sacrificed his daughter “Huminodun” and made her body into essential crops for the benefit of the people in Sabah. This mythical motif was exploited to become a popular component of Kaamatan festival. The winner of the beauty contest represents “Huminodun”. The contest starts from the beginning of the month respectively held at each district. The winner of each district beauty contest will represent their town to compete in the main community hall, Hongkod in Kota Kinabalu during the state level Kaamatan festival on May 30th and 31st.  

Harvest Festival – From Ethnicity to Nationalism
Nowadays, we do not solely rely on rice cultivation nor we have such plentiful land where we can plant rice but we celebrate Kaamatan every year to embrace our tradition. In the capital of Sabah, kota Kinabalu city, everybody works in government offices or private company and so on, it varies so much. However in the individual context, people from all walks of life come together and interact with one another in order to nurture and strengthen friendship (silatul-rahim), which was established among us without distinguishing between ethnic group and religion. Be it difference in skin colour, culture, language and even religion,the community of Sabah has never deviated from the “1 Malaysia” concept.     



Tan Sri Pairin Kitingan- The Huguan Siou of kadazanDusun community celebrating 
Harvest Festival with Chief Minister of Sabah,   Datuk Seri Panglima  Musa Aman

By Melissa Lim

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