Harvest festival a unifying factor

Among the Kaamatan activities is a Sumazau dance performance. — Photos: Bernama

The month-long Kaamatan celebration is observed by 35 ethnic groups and 217 sub-ethnic groups in Sabah.

Each Sabahan ethnic group has its own harvest festival, with Kaamatan having first been observed by the Kadazandusun.

However, according to Dusun elder Erbi Ganang from Ranau, the festival has come to be celebrated by all Sabahans.

“For the Kadazandusun, the story of Kaamatan started with a great drought that caused famine and serious diseases.

“It is said that this situation deeply moved their deity Kinoingan, his wife Suminundu and their daughter Huminodun.

“Unable to bear seeing their people’s suffering, Huminodun decided to sacrifice herself to end the disaster.

“Kinoingan and his wife were reluctant but Huminodun was determined to help her people.

“After Huminodun sacrificed herself, her body was buried.

“From the ground where she was laid to rest, padi started to grow, becoming a source of food that ended the famine,” related Erbi.

According to this hunter and seller of forest produce, the Kadazandusun community went on to mark the rice harvesting season to honour Huminodun.

The Kaamatan celebration was held at the KDCA Unity Hall.The Kaamatan celebration was held at the KDCA Unity Hall.

Erbi said the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant held during Kaamatan shared this symbolism.

“Over time, people from other Sabahan ethnic groups inhabited the same areas as the Kadazandusun and harvested their produce together.

“Even though each ethnic group has its own legends, we celebrate Kaamatan together,” he told Bernama.

He added that the word Kaamatan means “harvesting”.

There are also other legends related to harvest festivals.

Kudat Rungus craftswoman Limna Doradong told of the legend of a childless couple who helped a stray dog that came to their home.

“Feeling sorry for the animal, the couple took care of it and in return, the dog brought rice, corn, watermelon and cucumber seeds for them to grow.

“The couple planted the seeds and when they saw how these bore a good harvest, they shared the seeds with their community.

“They then celebrated the harvest by observing the Magahau festival.

“Over time, the Rungus shared the seeds with other ethnic groups,” related Limna.

She said over the years, the Rungus began to consider the Kaamatan as part of their own Magahau festival, which is also celebrated in May.

“The origins of our stories may be different but the ending is the same – enjoying our harvests together,” she added.

Kaamatan grew into an event for unity after it was officially recognised in 1960, thanks to state leaders such as the late Tun Mohammad Fuad Stephens, who was Sabah’s first chief minister.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s speech at the closing of Kaamatan last year emphasised that the harvest festival should be celebrated by all Malaysians as a unifying tool.

He had stated, “My presence here symbolises that any festival celebrated in the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak is a shared celebration that must be respected.”

Two of the Unduk Ngadau contestants in Kota Kinabalu. The pageant has contestants from diverse communities in Sabah.Two of the Unduk Ngadau contestants in Kota Kinabalu. The pageant has contestants from diverse communities in Sabah.

This message underscores the importance of unity and mutual respect among Malaysians, regardless of their cultural and regional differences.Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor said that regardless of Kaamatan’s origins and the beliefs of each ethnic group, “the lesson learned is for us all to strive harder together to achieve the same goals”.

He said this year’s theme is “Kaamatan Beyond Food Security”.

Hajiji agrees that Kaamatan promotes social cohesion nationwide.

Sabah Kaamatan Festival organising chairman Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, who is also Sabah Deputy Chief Minister 1, said the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) had organised celebrations in Labuan, Sarawak, Klang Valley, Johor, Melaka, Putrajaya and Penang.

Kitingan, who is KDCA deputy president, said Kaamatan has become a national festival that he hopes will be celebrated and spark economic cooperation.

“The uniqueness of our cultural heritage attracts global interest, thereby driving the development of Sabah’s tourism sector,” he added.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah academic Assoc Prof Dr Romzi Ationg said migration and intermarriages led to Kaamatan being observed across different ethnicities.

He said the migration of Sabahans also saw the introduction of their traditions to other communities.

“In recent times, we have seen Kaamatan evolve into a nationwide celebration like Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year and Deepavali.

“It is hoped that Kaamatan will continue to be a catalyst for unity,” said Romzi.

The Kaamatan celebrations at the KDCA Hongkod Koisaan (Unity) Hall was officiated by Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sabah Tun Juhar Mahiruddin.

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Sabah , Kaamatan festival , unity , heritage


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