By Joel Conolly B, Bachelor of Education (TESL)
In a multi-cultural society country of Malaysia, one would not imagine that such a word exists in the vast portfolio of festivals celebrated in the nation. However, in the Far East of Malaysia lies Sabah, one of the fourteen states that is unlike any other in the country where Malaysia's highest peak, Mount Kinabalu resides and few of the oldest plateau in the world, Maliau Basin is found. It is in Sabah that we can find their most unique and highly captivating festivals in Malaysia known as Pesta Kaamatan.
The origin of the celebration dates back several hundred generations ago and has been passed down from hand in hand generations to generations from word of the mouth.
A long time ago, there was a quiet village where Kinorohingan (God) and his wife Suminundu lived and had a daughter named Huminodun. One day, the village was struck by terrible drought which severely impacted their harvest. Kinorohingan asked the Bobolian's (shaman) for help. The Bobolian found that in order to save the village from the starvation a dyer sacrifice has to be made.
Upon hearing this, Huminodun offered herself to be sacrificed in order to save the village. At first, Kinorohingan and Sumindu were heartbroken by the request but in the end found themselves with no choice but to cave in under her insistence. With great grief, they sacrificed their beloved daughter and buried her accordingly.
It is said that Huminodun's body has produced a variety of plant seeds that became the main food for us today. One of the seeds of the plant is rice which introduces the beliefs that rice has spirit called "Bambarayon".
From this incident the Kadazandusun people started the Kaamatan Festival (Harvest Festival) as we celebrate this day. This kind of celebration is hoping for a better future. The ceremony of honouring the spirit of the paddy, Bambarayon, is the rice that had been harvested and had been safely put into the tawai (Rice) container. In addition, the celebration of the Kaamatan Festival also reminds us of the respect and honour of the Kadazandusun people of their Creator, Kinorohingan, who was able to sacrifice his beloved daughter, Huminodun to save his people from starvation.
Today, Pesta Kaamatan (Harvest Festival) is celebrated on the 30th and 31st of May.
It is a festival loaded with a variety of cultural events. Among the many celebrations held were the Sumazau dance performances and competitions. The unique dance with the accompaniment of the gongs is played with both hands raised to the level of the shoulder and fluttered like a bird's wings, according to the rhythm they play.
This is also where men and women of all ages engage themselves in a game of Mipulos (arm wrestling) and Migayat Lukug (Tug of War) or competing with others in Sugandoi, a singing competition. You might also want to take the opportunity during the festival to feast on sumptuous grub and rare delicacies or walk around to see hand crafted showcases which you can actually purchase.
Ambuyat (Top), Hinava (Above), Traditional Sabah Handicraft (below and bottom).
Unduk Ngadau Winner, Francisca (middle) with Annette Rebecca dan Letica Casianus. Photo credit - Astro AWANI
Image credit: Borneo Eco Tours
Out of all these events, what everyone is anticipating the most is the Unduk Ngadau. Unduk Ngadau derives from the word ‘Runduk Tadau’ meaning ‘the girl crowned by sunlight.’ This beauty pageant is a tribute to Huminodun, who was sacrificed by her father so the people could have a plentiful harvest. Unduk Ngadau goes beyond than just a pretty face; it is to represent Huminodun and the sacrifices she has given for the Kadazan-Dusun community.
Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan is a beauty pageant competition and one of the most popular and unique cultural events in Sabah. Early elections are held in every district in Sabah and the winners of the district level would accordingly represent their respective district for the highlight of Unduk Ngadau
The Unduk Ngadau summit are held at the Hongkod Koisan Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) to find a winner of the Unduk Ngadau in Sabah. Beginning in 1995, Sabahans living in Peninsular Malaysia were allowed to take part in the state competition in the Klang Valley. The first winner from the Klang Valley was Daphne Iking who won the title in 2003 and subsequently Francisca Ester Nain was the winner for the 2019 Unduk Ngadau.
The gracious winner of the Kaadau Kaamatan District is tasked with representing the state of Sabah. This is where the girl needs to introduce Kadazan-Dusun traditions and showcase her traditional clothes, promote interesting places in Sabah and introduce Sabah's culture and traditions to the world and the international community.
Bonus photos: Faces of Sabahans in City University