Borneo Native Fest rolls out early Kaamatan, Gawai events at KL's Central Market


An artwork from Sabah-based woodcut collective Pangrok Sulap, which celebrates the Kaamatan harvest festival. Pangrok Sulap will be presenting a woodcut workshop series at the Borneo Native Festival at Central Market in KL this weekend. Photo: Pangrok Sulap

What is the "piruruhon" technique? Are you familiar with Sarawak’s ngajat dances? Did you know about British/American filmmakers Martin and Osa Johnson Film Archive with 1930s footage from Borneo? How about learning woodcut printmaking from Sabah-based art collective Pangrok Sulap?

The inaugural Borneo Native Festival (BNF), which takes place at KL's Central Market on May 20-22, presents three-days of cultural exhibitions, artisanal crafts, music, food demonstrations, dance competitions, talks, workshops, and film screenings by talents from Sabah and Sarawak in conjunction with Kaamatan and Gawai.

The BNF’s hybrid programme will take on a mainly on-site format at Central Market. Not to worry if you cannot make it. Online activities include Krafkita, a virtual craft campaign and Kamek Bah Ni, a virtual programme that aims to educate viewers about Bornean culture. These will be posted on TikTok.

Organised by non-profit organisation Sukaseni, the BNF is supported by the Tourism, Arts and Culture ministry (MOTAC) with the Sabah Creative Economy and Innovation Centre as its strategic partner.

What can people expect at Central Market?

The community driven BNF event combines art, dance, music, film, and craft workshops while also building awareness surrounding Borneo’s cultural heritage.

“We rarely see a festival of this scale to represent Borneo, especially in the Klang Valley. I thought it was time to have an event that is fully about the people of Sabah and Sarawak and our culture. It’s time that our dance or music performances are seen beyond just opening and closing acts in official ceremonies,” says festival director Rafie Syazwan Arpandi, a Sabah-born arts advocate with Bajau-Suluk heritage.

The BNF’s line-up includes over 70 vendors, 20 performers, five cultural organisations, 15 government agencies and 20 craft makers, artisans, dancers and historians.

Some of the featured artistes in BNF’s programme include Miss Universe Malaysia Francisca Luhong, songstress Nikki Palikat, Persatuan Ngajat Asal Iban, Dansa Fusion and Meruked, a Sarawakian traditional/ contemporary band.

“As the festival director, my focus is two-fold. Firstly, content. It needed to be as exciting, tantalising and knowledgeable as it can be. If not, nobody would come. That is why our programming is diverse.

“Secondly, the collaborations. From government agencies to the vendors, artisans and performers involved in the festival, it’s a ‘family’ effort to have this ‘open house’,” offers the KL-based Rafie.

Festival highlights include a rungus piruruhon beading workshop by Orang Asal craft store Gerai OA, Borneo's traditional pageantry costume display by Borneo Republic, and BNF Talk, where a panel of Bornean speakers share their life stories and experiences and answer how they bring relevance to their culture in their industry.

Archival film footage from the Martin and Osa Johnson will also be a part of the programme.

The BNF is already off to an encouraging start, with a host of enquiries received to be part of the next festival.

“This is very good. We have the demand and we have the response. I’m definitely planning to make the festival an annual thing. With or without funding, I will try to make it happen,” concludes Rafie.

On the Malaysian calendar, Hari Gawai falls on June 1 and the Kaamatan Harvest Festival happens on May 30.

More info here.

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