Kaamatan - When Sabahans Harvest The Love!

31 May 2014


That means “Hi!” in the native Kadazan language. A lot of non-Sabahans may not even know that the main races in Sabah, who are the natives of this land, are actually the Kadazandusuns.
Photo credits: www.flyingdusun.com
As such, one of our main, and arguably most vibrant festivals is celebrated every 30 & 31st May: Kaamatan, or the Harvest Festival. Being a public holiday here in Sabah, everyone celebrates somehow or other, whether by visiting friends’ open houses, joining the crowds on the street, or most popularly, spending the day at KDCA (Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association) in Penampang.
KDCA, photo credits www.borneoreflections.blogspot.com
Kaamatan is actually a month-long celebration, with events such as beauty pageants, singing competitions, bazaars, and more happening all over the state. The KDCA grounds, which house all the different types of ethnic homes and longhouses, become the biggest celebration venue, and it’s honestly the best, and most diverse, place to be in Kota Kinabalu during that time!
Sumazau dance
Photo credit www.killjols.blogspot.com
You get to participate in traditional dances (like the sumazau or mangunatip), Sabahan songs are sung via karaoke (Tinggi-Tinggi Gunung Kinabalu anybody?), traditional music is played with all different musical instruments (sompoton and kulintangan), and the atmosphere is like no other! Of course, local handicrafts are up for sale, and tapai (rice wine) is never too hard to find *wink*
Sumandak playing the sompoton in a paddy field
Photo credits www.bennyliew.com
An age-old tradition - and one of the most coveted titles in Sabah - the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant is held in every district, until the winners of each district come together at KDCA to compete for the finals, where the fairest of them all will be crowned Unduk Ngadau of the year. Another word you should know when coming to Sabah: Sumandak! This is what we call all the pretty Sabahan girls (kinda like the local version of leng lui).
Some of the finalists in this year's Unduk Ngadau
Photo credits: Jeffie Jeff (the go-to MUA & costume designer for UNK!)
Sugandoi, a singing competition in which participants must sing a Kadazan, Dusun, or Murut song, is a platform not only to celebrate unity, but to also keep the native languages alive, and discover local talents.
A contestant singing his heart out at Sugandoi Kaamatan 2014
Photo credits: Augustine Jumat
Kaamatan is definitely one of my favourite festivals, as every Sabahan, regardless of race, religion, age or gender all come together as one to just celebrate being.. well.. Sabahan! In fact, the only time I realized this was when I was looking back at old photographs and found this: 
A lady at one of the culture booths during Kaamatan, wearing the traditional Kadazan outfit, and a tudung/hijab! I guess we are all just so used to being in sync with each other that we never really notice these small differences between us; it becomes second nature to respect each other first and foremost as human beings.
Some of the various traditional costumes found in Sabah, found on these cute dolls from www.1nita.my!
Another reason I love Kaamatan is because every single district has their own twist on the traditional costume – and they’re all so beautiful! Ranging from simple to intricate designs, the costumes are mostly made out of black velvet with gold trimming, and accessorized with heavy coin belts. You get to see each one on display, and worn, in the different houses in KDCA.
2 nights before Kaamatan this year

The Kadazan people are some of the most friendly people you will ever meet, and though still very much in touch with their traditions, they know how to par-tay! The festivities start early in the morning on the 30th, and often don’t really end until late into the 31st. Traditional food such as hinava, tuhau, sinalau bakas and more are prepared the old school way, and enjoyed by all as you can’t find these many of these dishes commercially!
Tapai, served in large jars and shared with long bamboo straws.
Photo credit 
Tapai plays a big role in the Kaamatan celebrations, and is also brewed at home, to be passed around in a large jar with long straws to be shared by guests. More commercial brews are also aplenty, with the ‘war cry’ of Aramaitii! being heard throughout the night, and day! Aramaitii is the local version of ‘cheers’, or ‘yam seng’, and is shouted with gusto amidst happy groups of friends (and strangers!).  Basically, Kaamatan is the biggest get-together you can have, as whole kampungs gather in one dewan/area to eat, drink and be merry!
Part of the crowd at KDCA during Kaamatan
Photo credits nabilanajwa.blogspot.com
Petronas, long known for their heart-warming TV commercials, have actually produced a special webfilm that will give West Malaysians and anyone else who has never experienced Kaamatan, or Sarawak’s Hari Gawai, a deeper insight into the world of the modern yet still traditional East Malaysia. The episodes were filmed in the interior kampungs, to capture the purity of the festivals; but don’t be fooled! Kota Kinabalu and Kuching are the bustling cities of Sabah and Sarawak, creating the uniqueness of harmony between the old and the new within the two states.
Screenshot from one of the Petronas episodes
So if you ever plan to visit Sabah (and trust me, you should!), the end of May is definitely the best time to really experience the culture and the warmth of its people. Tickets can be a bit pricier than usual, and sold out flights are common, so do plan ahead!

For now though, I’d like to wish all my Sabahan friends,
Kotobian Tadau Tagazo Do Kaamatan!

Til next time,
Calista xx


  1. Eee I missed two kamaatans in a row already!

    1. Haha.. Next year you MUST be in town! I heard they're trying to bring back the more cultural element, so should be good! =D

  2. Thanks Calista :) i remember drinking all that tapai in like 3 minutes...

  3. Oh yah, it's http://blog.malaysia-asia.my :) If you got time to correct the link and thanks. I missed Kaamatan again this year.