Kaamatan is Sabah’s harvest festival and the most important cultural event in the state. It is celebrated annually on the 30th and 31st of May by the Kadazan-Dusun and other related ethnic groups to honour the successful harvest.
According to legend, their god, Kinoingan, sacrificed his only daughter, Huminodun, by cutting her into pieces and spread them across the paddy field, which produced a fruitful harvest that saved the people from famine. Her spirit is passed into every single grain of rice, which is called the Bambaazon (rice spirit); hence, the celebration of Kaamatan in Sabah is to honour and thank Bambaazon.
To officially start the two-day celebration of Kaamatan, a group of elderly bobohizan (a high priestess, ritual specialist and spirit medium in Kadazan-Dusun pagan rites), will perform ancient rituals.
The festival is celebrated with a lot of fun and merriment, as well as activities such as traditional games and a traditional folk dance called Sumazau, which is often performed during the harvest festival. Other fun-filled games that will be held include mipulos (arm wrestling), migayat lukug (tug of war) and Sugandoi, a singing competition.
During the celebration, Sabahans will also visit their family and friends, and enjoy various traditional foods together. Besides that, various exhibitions and activities will also take place at the Kadazandusun Cultural Association Sabah (KDCA) located in Penampang.
This is also the time to sample various ethnic foods and delicacies, such as hinava (fermented fish), bambangan (a kind of pickled fruit with yellow flesh similar to mango), wild mango, and kampung-style steamed fish. You can also try their homemade rice wine, known as tapai. And if you’re brave enough, you might also want to take the opportunity to try the Sago Grub or Sago Worm.
The Kaamatan festival will end with the highly anticipated Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant, which serves as a tribute to Huminodun to honour her sacrifices. The winner will be announced on 31 May. Local Sabahan women from around the state will participate in this pageant in the hope of being crowned Unduk Ngadau, which is a prestigious title.
Kaamatan is the best time to visit Sabah, especially if it’s your first time visiting the state, as the festival is loaded with many cultural events, activities and local foods.