Kaamatan Harvest Festival in Sabah

Kaamatan Harvest Festival in Sabah

Kaamatan Harvest Festival in Sabah is the biggest single holiday which is state wide and celebrated throughout North Borneo for a full month. The end of May marks the final days of the festival where it will be held at the KDCA (Kadazandusun Cultural Association) or Hongkod Koisaan center in Penampang. Thousands of locals and tourist will head here for the closing ceremony and also the finals of the Unduk Ngadau 2011 Harvest Beauty Queen Contest.

At the KDCA grounds, there will be an exciting and totally different atmosphere where locals will be seen with song and dance while visit to the many ethnic homes offer guests a tasting of local foods and playing the traditional games here. All sorts of stalls line a section of the grounds with demonstrations of agriculture and ethnic handcraft. Souvenirs locally made are sold and abundance of food and drink stalls are readily available for the hungry. Be prepared to have a unique experience for the Kaamatan Festival here which is on the 30th and 31st of May.

KDCA in Penampang Sabah
KDCA in Penampang, Sabah

While the KDCA is located about 15-20 minutes from Kota Kinabalu town, this will be the main area where everything will be happening over the last two days of May. Many of the ethnic cultures from around Sabah will be here showcasing their traditions, food and culture. There are a number of original ethnic houses located throughout the premises here and each are fully decorated by the individual tribe. Performers in each home entertain visitors with song and dance while some offer the local food and rice wine called Tapai or Lihing.

Bobohizan priestess and her family

The Kadazan Priestess called Bobohizan is one of the most important people of the Kaamatan Festival. She will determine the official harvest festival date and officiate it. As this ceremony goes back hundreds of years, the involvement of a Bobolian is crucial to the ceremony here. At the KDCA, you will have a chance to see the priestess in person while her direct descendants will be around here. As she is a very respected and serious person, please do not approach her and ask her for a photograph.

Some of the ritual items used by the Bobohizan for the Kaamatan

Even pets are dressed for the occasion

If you are planning on visiting the KDCA for the end of the Kaamatan Festival, I suggest you go early to witness this. The many 'Open Homes' will be an interesting visit while overall, it could take up to half a day here or even a full day if you want to witness the Harvest Queen Finals inside the main building. Overall, it is an experience to remember if you do visit this place. One of my highlights here was the stunning and intricate costumes of the various Borneo people. Every home I visited showed me something different and unique. See for yourself in the pictures. Below, are pictures taken by me during the Kaamatan 2010 Festival in Sabah.

A local ethnic lady in full traditional costume

Cloth weaving demonstration

 A cow decorated with all sorts of local fruits

A common scarecrow which are found in the fields on display here
Walai Tindal - A very small ethnic group from the Kota Belud district in Sabah

 Display of local handicraft and tools used for harvesting

A local headman in traditional costume
The main grounds at the KDCA. Games and contests are also held here.

A dancer in interesting headgear

 An ethnic lady poses with a Tagung (gong)
 A traditional headgear on display. Very intricately done.

Couple in full traditional attire

Tasting the local Tapai or Lihing (Rice Wine)

People trying out the various brews of Tapai and Lihing

I have to say that attending last years Kaamatan 2010 was an eye opener for me in learning more about the Sabahan ethnic cultures. As this is the biggest festival, it is also one of the best places to see the many different tribes in just one area. I love the fact that they were all in full traditional costume while most of them had the local dance and also featuring some of the specialty dishes that the tribes cook.

While some showcase the local Rice Wine called Tapai and also a more potent brew called Lihing, many of the adults are seen moving around the homes testing the drinks out. Long straws are inserted into jars where everyone takes a sip as they walk pass. Apparently the festival starts early in the mornings and end very late at night. I was told that the party gets to be very merry once the sun goes down. Children are seen having a merry time while adults are catching up with old friends in this merry occasion. Competitions are also held while by noon, most of the visitors head into the main hall to see the harvest beauty pageant.

Traditional performances inside the main hall before the Unduk Ngadau Pageant

Check out the grand prize! 

Unduk Ngadau 2011 Finals in Sabah

For more articles on Sabah, I have over 50 articles on the Land Below the Wind. 

More information;
Organiser : Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA)
Venue : Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA), Penampang
Contact Person : Dr. Benedict Topin
Telephone : +60 88 713696
Fax : +60 88 713350
Email Contact : bovis@asia.com
Dates: 30th and 31st May 

Please Take Note: During the festival, the entire state of Sabah will be on Public Holiday. That means on the 30th and 31st which is a Monday and Tuesday, it will be a very long holiday over there. Almost everything will be closed so be prepared.

Finally, a note of thanks goes out to Sabah Tourism for making my trip possible. I spent a good two days here to fully experience what the festival is all about and learned a lot from these amazing people. As for this year, I took a pass on visiting again so maybe next year, I will make another visit to catch the 2012 Kaamatan Harvest Festival in Sabah.