~ Pesta Kaamatan ~
Festival Date: 30 &31 MAY
In May, the people of
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
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
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”.
performed during Ka'amatan are conducted by the much-respected Bobohizan
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
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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