Kaamatan – Window to a Timeless World


Harvest festival for the land below the wind.

It was an eventful month of May as the summer air carried a distinctive flavor to the little big state of Sabah , Malaysia . It surpasses even that of the Earth’s trees, the ocean’s salt or the city’s heat; it’s the combined aroma of sweaty t-shirts, barbequed meat, various mix of beer and other liquid stuff. What else could it be? Okay, I could be more precise, but that oven-heated mixture of chaos and fun would only mean one thing for the state of Sabah , Kaamatan season.

Those who were there to experience the festival first hand a few months back would know of this. But there’s more to it than just being Oktoberfest in Sabah, it is the celebration for the hard working men and women who worked the paddy fields, had a good rice harvest and chilling out after an exhausting season; preparing to do it all over again.

Tadau Kaamatan , meaning “harvest festival” in the native Kadazandusun language, is a state-wide occasion where people of various descent of Sabah come together to celebrate for days in a row.

Pesta Kaamatan on the 30th and 31st of May is one of Malaysia ‘s many festivals, a major one for the people of Sabah . It is a celebration deeply rooted in the Kadazandusun community’s heritage and tradition which actually starts from the first day of May. It is a process, involving a series of rituals that many of today’s generation are oblivious to, myself included not so long ago.

A Captivating Origin

Way back then, the Kadazandusun people were practitioners of a religion or belief system now known as Momolianism . It is believed that rice was given by Kinoingan , the Almighty Creator who gave up his only daughter Huminodun so that his people would have food. Huminodun then manifested into Bambaazon , the spirit that embodies rice and all of its form. Thereafter, ceremonies like the Megavau , led by the Bobohizan or high-priests are conducted to please the spirit, give thanks and ensure a good harvest year after year.

Snapping back to modern times, ceremonies like these aren’t practiced as much on the calendar today as it was back in the olden days. But for the sake of its unique culture, some of these traditional rituals are still being performed during Kaamatan.

As a kid, I have been brought up strictly through the teachings of Christianity and never even touched the surface of the complexities and intricate nature of the Kadazandusun lineage. Being half Kadazan myself, I can admit that the essence in such a tradition is slowly being chiseled away with time and each time it takes a little piece of history from us that will never be found again. But not all is lost, traces of the old can always be found in the new, like the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant hosted every year during Kaamatan, featuring beauties from around the state. This was once and is still hosted to commemorate Huminodun and her ever so captivating beauty.

The Tadau Kaamatan is a window into a timeless world, reminding us all how lucky we are living in a nation with such cultural depth and diversity. Even more so that Tadau Kaamatan is celebrated by people from all walks of life, religion and race, and that’s not just a line from our 1Malaysia campaign.

Beyond the traditional stuff, what is it about Tadau Kaamatan that attracts people? Some might say it’s an excuse to party all night with friends, others cite the immaculate beauties at the pageant, still some credit it to the food, drinks, sights and sounds of everyone having a good time as well as that elderly guy on the karaoke. For what it’s worth, it may be a mixture of everything. But for me personally, it’s an excuse to return home and being somewhere familiar again. Sure there may be other reasons but this I know for certain, it is something you’ll still be talking about the day after, and day after day.

To truly understand the purpose behind the celebration, you’d need an open mind and an open heart. It’ll help to capture the culture and belief systems of the Kadazandusun tribe in the right perspectives.