Harvest Festival '08 @ Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

From 30th to 31st May, I was in Kota Kinabalu to witness the much celebrated festival of harvest called ‘Tadau Ka’amatan’. It was a cultural baptism of unique dances, exotic foods, wicked rice wines and quaint games during 3 days and 2 nights in the heart Sabah’s capital, Kota Kinabalu, where the ‘Harvest Festival’ or the ‘Tadau Ka’amatan’ was celebrated as gloriously as any major festivals we come to revere. When you are in Borneo, no major festivals come close to the ‘Tadau Ka’amatan’. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, & even the Merdeka celebrations all pale in comparison to the significance and distinctiveness of this festival of harvest, whereby Sabahans celebrate the ‘Harvest Festival’ or sometimes called the ‘Kadazan Harvest Festival’ (simply because the Kadazans forms the biggest indigenous tribe group in Borneo), to collectively worship the ancient Gods.

Interestingly, as told by a local friend of mine in Kota Kinabalu, the Gods consist of 5 main spirits: the ‘Rogon’ or the spirit of all things evil, the ‘Koududuvo’ or the spirit of the living, then there is the ghostly spirit which is called the ‘Tombivo’, the ‘Rusad’ that represent the spirit of all living things and the focal of it all is the ‘Kinoingan’ which symbolizes the God of Creation and the Almighty.

So what role does these Gods have play in the festival of harvest? Well, the story that I heard on the street (ha, macam sound so local like dat) is that the God of Creation, the ‘Kinoingan’ is the revered overall creator and all-supreme life source for all things living. As most native Sabahans consider rice as the main staple of food, certain sacredness and spirituality is attached to it as they believe that food, in particular rice, is blessed to them by the ‘Kinoingan’. Now the most interesting part is this: the ‘Kinoingan’ always believed He being the all-almighty Creator, His people should never be left to suffer of any lack in the most basic need, which is food. However, then came a time when food was indeed scarce due to severe drought. As an act of ultimate benevolence to His people, He sacrificed his only pure and holy daughter, ‘Huminodun’ to the fields where rice grew (forgoing an offspring, especially one that is pure, is considered the ultimate sacrifice). Magnificently, his act of kindness yielded results and from the body of ‘Huminodun’ out grew rice of great abundance, thus the people were left to hunger no more. This act of absolute kindness was ultimately worshiped, and even to this day, His people repay the deed by performing various acts of ceremonies to honor ‘Kinoingan’, hence the ‘Harvest Festival’ (but others believe that Sabahans pay homage to the Rice Spirit called the ‘Bambazon’ as an act of gratitude for their annual bountiful harvest. Whichever the actual story may be, its all for a good cause lah).

So it is during this festival that Sabahans don their proudest costumes and enjoy a carnival of dances, food, and worship while mingling with folks from all walks of life, be it the local or foreign. Celebrations are held in virtually all villages and districts throughout Sabah, but to bring the festivities closer to the hearts of the general public, an annual ceremony is held at Hongkod Koisaan or KDCA Penanpang (a non-political association of nearly 30 indigenous ethnic communities of Sabah), and this is where my soul was exposed to the melting pot of various tribes and their cultures. It was a congregation of traditions, merry-making and feasting of the most unique food accompanied by rice wine (and lots of Tiger beer, a sign of modernization creeping in?) throughout the event. Traditional-styled huts where erected all over the giant premises of the KDCA, and within each of these huts lay a showcase of each of the tribes. Photos of past glories were pastured all across the walls, offerings of tribal delicacies rested welcomingly on tables and friendly indigenous folks greeted the guests with multi-colored costumes and affectionate hospitality. Hut after hut I went, and more and more exceptional traditions lay before my eyes, and I absorbed them with feverish interest. It was a baptism of culture, and what a baptism it was. The skies threw rain at the numerous guests (probably a test of some kind?) but everyone stood firm, not budging from their place with gleaming smiles remaining on their faces. From this reaction to the rain you know that the Festival is indeed in full glorious swing…

I heard from my local friend that every year the ceremony had a theme. Last year, it was what my friend described it as “cute”. I guess they had many adorable children wearing traditional costumes hopping all over the place? Well, we were trying to guess what this year’s theme was, and my bet was on ladies. To be more precise, pretty ladies. Not the sassy and seductively-dressed ones, but I mean pretty in their own distinctive way. See for yourself:

Isn't she lovely? Looks Chinese abit...

Ahhh, this ones looks for exotic doesn't she? Ain't she lovely...

Time for me to get up close and personal with one of them ~~~

This time I got two by my side. Hey, I'm just absorbing the culture that's on offer!!!

Back to the theme of the event, my friend rubbished my opinion of pretty ladies of the theme for this year and said that it was instead a parade of beautiful hats. I pish-poshed his suggestion and went along with pretty girls theme. I mean, what’s wrong with pretty girls? I was happily snapping away with my camera, and then my friend suggested that if pretty tribal girls (sounds so sexy doesn’t it???) are my cup tea, we should head off to the main hall where the ‘Unduk Ngadau’ was held. What is the ‘Unduk Ngadau’ you ask? Well, paraphrasing the modern world, it is basically a beauty pageant. Usually it is the highlight or simply the most popular event during the Harvest Festival, it is a pageant to identify the darling of the Festival, to find the crowning brilliance in beauty and brains, and to find the Queen of the Harvest Festival. Even contestants from Peninsular Malaysia are allowed to participate (which I think is wrong!! It just spoils the unique flavor of the pageant!!!). As a reward for being crowned the Queen of Traditions (which is what I like to call them. Okla, they are actually the Ratu Ka’amatan), the grand winner are given a cash prize and hampers, but the most rewarding of all is that they are given a scholarship to complete a diploma locally. Not bad eh? I should have participated when I was about to enter college. Oh wait that’s just wrong…

Other attractions litter the compound of the KDCA, such as a stage erected for various performances of dances, music and the like. Stalls selling souvenirs, refreshments and paraphernalia scour the rest of the area, filling up valuable space to the brim. At one glance and you would think that the vicinity of the KDCA is endless with a sea of people bustling all over like ants over a sugar jar. It was a massive event, and the support for it was just as enormous.

It was nearing the end of daylight and yet I’ve not seen all that was on offer. The stalls were calling it a day and the festivities were slowly loosing its haste. I too, was to call it a day and I duly departed the compound with a bag full of memories and a gem of a contented feeling. The bus back was full, it was shoulder to shoulder with people and the air was stale with hues of smoke and perspired humidness. But it did not matter, for all that is worth, I absorbed it all and will become a priceless speck in my mind as an experience that will be cherish for some time to come.

Buuuuuuuuut, the festivities did not end. No no no, The ceremonies will not cease and as promised, it did continue well into the night. At the ‘Padang Merdeka’ in the heart of the Kota Kinabalu town, an ‘open house’ for the general public was vibrating with celebration. The ‘house’ in mention was in fact an entire field the size of many football fields. The scene was very welcoming, hence we pierced the gathered crowd to see what was on offer. And it did not disappoint, with rows after rows of generous food was put forward for anyone to taste its delicacy and uniqueness. Lines of people queued up to accept this offer, from curious foreigners (like me, I think I’m considered one haha) to the celebrating locals (hey free food!!).

Symbolic huts were erected to house the many playing bands that lashed out their traditional music and dance, which added much delight and tribal vibe to the atmosphere. But the main attraction was at the center of the field, where an enormous stage was built to give way for performances of tribal plays, music and dance that is fit for a king. A ‘king’ was indeed in attendance as our dear Prime Minister, Pak Lah was revering in the atmosphere and celebrations, and with him his entourage of VIPs. Entertaining the royalties was performances that are truly mesmerizing, as no words can really put justice to the feeling. As such, it is best to see it for yourself:

Video to be Up-loaded Later...Sorry Folks!!!

Showpieces of this sort gyrated the audiences until midnight, from traditional performers to more current singers (such as folks from ‘Akademi Fantasia’) showcased their culture and ability to flawless excellence. As the hordes of gathered people slowly vanished from the field and back to where they came, I too snaked away from arena with no regrets whatsoever. Two huge events in one day was a lot to absorb in one day, but I absorbed it with feverish contentment. I’m starting to like Kota Kinabalu very, very much indeed…

For a little bit more photos from these events, you can click here!!!

Back In KL from 20th June to 22nd June...

Just a short shout-out to anyone that is bothered about it: I'll be back in KL for a vey VERY short break from the 20th June until......22nd June. Yup, told you its short. Hopefully to see all you KL peeps in time. Catch y'all then!!!

Arrival KL: Friday, 20th June.
Depart KL: Sunday, 22nd June.

So I'm expecting my B'day prezzies from ALL OF YOU!!! BE PREPARED OR FACE THE CONSEQUENCES!!!! ROOOOAAARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

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