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Malaysia Festivals ~ Pesta Kaamatan

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~ Pesta Kaamatan ~
Festival Date:  30 &31 MAY 2012

In May, the people of Sabah celebrate their harvest season. Though mainly a festival of the Kadazandusun,which makes up one third of the total population of the state, it is celebrated by every Sabahan.

Harvest Festival

They give thanks to the gods and spirits for blessings and a good paddy harvest, asking for guidance; they dance and eat and drink amidst much merrymaking! During this harvest festival, the Pesta Ka'amatan, known locally as “Tadau Ka’amatan”, Sabah natives wear their traditional costumes and enjoy a carnival-like atmosphere, which usually stretches from dawn to dawn. Tapai’, as their homemade rice wine is called, is freely served during the festivities.

Although many young native Sabahans have been assimilated into urban settings, living and working in the cities and towns, they return to their ancestral longhouses and villages to join in the annual celebrations of their traditionally agricultural societies.

The origins of Ka'amatan, which means "after harvest", can be traced back to the animistic beliefs of the Kadazandusun. The Kadazans believe in the worship of ancient gods and in the existence of the five main spirits – Kinoingan (Almighty God and Creator), Rusad (Spirit of all living things other than Man), Koududuvo (Spirit of the Living), Tombivo (ghostly Spirit of the Dead) and Rogon (evil Spirit).

According to popular belief, the spirit of the padi plant is said to be part of the Kinoingan commonly known as the Bambaazon, who is revered as the overall creator, an omnipotent source of life and existence. Thus the spirit of Bambaazon is revered in the rice plant, the rice grain and the cooked rice. To the Kadazandusun, paddy is not only their staple food - it is also a sacred plant, a living symbol of Kinoingan's love for his people. Many believe that “without rice, there is no life”.

Rituals performed during Ka'amatan are conducted by the much-respected Bobohizan or Bobolian, who are High Priests and Priestesses. There are several major components that make up Ka'amatan. There is the home coming of the Bambaazon, which is an integral part of the festival, thus ensure an abundant harvest if it is invited to dwell in the best ears of paddy, which have been selected for the next planting season.

Next, there is the Magavau ceremony, where the Bobohizan are given the onerous duty of searching, salvaging and recovering Bambaazon which have inadvertently been lost, stolen or led astray - by pests and predators, natural phenomena such as floods and droughts, careless harvesters, and the like - reciting a long summoning prayer in the beginning of the harvest to cajole and persuade the Bambaazon to return to the rice barns.

Then, there is the Unduk Ngadau, a traditional beauty contest, in which, of course, the fairest in the land will participate, and a Ka'amatan Queen will be selected. This is however no ordinary beauty contest, as it apparently owes its origins to the legend or story of the Kadazandusun's genesis, and their creator, Kinoingan's sacrifice of his only daughter Huminodun, for the love of his people. One of the many variant legends relates the following -


One day, Kinoingan started a farm, but after ploughing he realised that he had no seeds to plant. So he set off in search of some seeds with his valuable brass gong which he carried everywhere on his shoulder. On his way, he met birds and animals, and asked them if they had any seeds, to which they replied that they did not have any yet, having just been created by him. Even though Kinoingan knew that they had none, he nevertheless purposely asked this question to make them all realise that they would have to work hard for their livelihood.

Because there were no seeds in the world then, Kinoingan in the end resourced to sacrificing his only, beautiful and obedient daughter so that all his people would have seeds to grow food they needed. Her head gave rise to coconuts, her flesh became rice padi, her blood (the most precious part) red rice, her fingers ginger, her teeth maize, her knees yams and other parts of her body many more edible plants.

When the padi began to ripen, Kinoingan's wife, Suminundu was requested to first pick a little of it, thresh it, fry it, mix it with coconut flesh and its water and share it with her people and pets. Later, when the harvest came and Suminundu cut the stems of the padi with her sickle the voice of her daughter was suddenly heard requesting her to be careful.

When the time came for Kinoingan and his wife Suminundu to ascend to the heavens Kinoingan informed his wife that they had yet to perform some ceremonies, including a great feast for all the people he had created. For it was the request of Huminodun that it be done to "bestow their love and respect to her for the inheritance of the people of this world". But first he wrote down the customs of each country to guide the people. For those who could not read, he taught priestesses prayers for festive days and for curing sicknesses.

But when the time for the feast came, Kinoingan was not happy. He felt a deep paternal longing for Huminodun and thought that she would surely be leading the feast if she were to be alive. Sadly, he played a tune with his bamboo flute and called his daughter's name.

Miraculously, Huminodun came out of a big jar that was used to hold the remains of the threshed padi. Her return to life added untold joy to the festivities. When the feast was over, Kinoingan, his wife and his daughter disappeared in the heavens, bidding farewell to their guests.

Besides the solemn rituals and ceremonies that form the main function of Ka'amatan, a variety of other activities are held in the villages as well as on a state level including traditional sports such as buffalo races, blow pipe competitions traditional dances and arm, knuckle and finger wrestling.

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