Sabah’s Kaamatan bazaar making strong comeback after two-year absence


One of the stalls selling barbecued chicken.

KOTA KINABALU: For some two weeks towards the end of May every year, the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) in Penampang near here feels like the centre of the world in Sabah.

Many people from every corner of the state visit the KDCA grounds to watch the finals of the state-level Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant, which is the culmination of the month-long Kaamatan harvest festival on May 30 and 31.

But most visitors make a beeline for the ever-popular Kaamatan bazaar, which is held in the KDCA parking area, to revel in the festive celebration starting on May 20.

After a two-year hiatus caused by Covid-19, the highly anticipated food, drinks and music carnival is back and looks to be stronger than ever this year, with thousands thronging the bazaar.

Joe Fung believes the strong comeback was fuelled by the long absence of the Kaamatan bazaar.

"People have been feeling somewhat empty because we were not able to properly celebrate Kaamatan like we used to previously.

"So this is kind of a payback for those lost two years," he said, with a laugh.

In all honesty, the Kaamatan bazaar is, simply put, just like any other food and drinks fair.

But Nelson Labangka said there was something special about it that no other carnivals in the country had.

"People from all walks of life including locals and foreigners come for the Kaamatan bazaar because they want to witness for themselves Sabah’s rich culture and heritage.

"Secondly, people are amazed with the harmony in Sabah. We have stalls selling halal and non-halal foodstuffs side by side and no one has a problem with that.

"Yes, everyone wants to enjoy their food and drink but I think what is most unique about the bazaar is the feeling of camaraderie between the people in Sabah - you can’t make that up," said the public relations worker.

Canopies line up the parking lot, selling various food items such as barbecued chicken wings, grilled lamb and roasted pork as well as traditional native delicacies like the hinava (raw fish marinated in lime juice) and the butod, or live sago worms.

And of course, visitors can help wash their food down with an array of juices as well as a selection of stronger drinks to choose from, either the usual beers or local brews.

In the background, there will be music blaring, with different stall operators playing either catchy Kadazan Dusun Murut Rungus (KDMR) songs or the more contemporary modern numbers, adding more to the festive Kaamatan atmosphere.

There are also traditional performances and dances held in the various cultural houses in the KDCA compound.

Joe summed it up what the Kaamatan bazaar meant for the people in Sabah.

"Besides celebrating a bountiful harvest, Kaamatan is also a celebration of the state’s social diversity and this bazaar is the manifestation of that.

"And judging from the crowd volume, the Kaamatan bazaar has not lost its touch, not even a little bit.”

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