5 Cultural Things to Experience During the Harvest Festival in Sabah

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5 Cultural Things to Experience During the Harvest Festival in Sabah

Ladies from the Kadazan Papar of Sabah Borneo in traditional costume during Harvest Festival

Come Wednesday, 30 May, some tribes in Sarawak and Sabah will be celebrating the annual Harvest Festival. If you happen to be in Sabah, don’t miss the vibrant Tadau Kaamatan celebration, one of Sabah’s yearly attractions.

The occasion has a rather interesting backstory, as believed by the Kadazan-Dusun people: once upon a time, people suffered a great famine. Kinoingan, their God, decided to sacrifice his daughter named Huminodun, whose flesh was cut into pieces and sown over the land. Rice plants then began to grow thanks to her sacrifice.

There are six stages of rituals observed during the festival (in the Kadazan-Dusun community): the Kumogos Ceremony, the Kumotob Ceremony, the Posisip Ceremony, the Poiib Ceremony, the Magavau Ceremony, and finally, the Humabot Ceremony.

The Humabot Ceremony is the final stage of observing the festival. Unlike the previous five rituals, this ritual is all about having fun and socialising. It’s often celebrated widely and publicly at a village, district, and state levels on the 30th and 31st of May annually.

You can check out events pages like Sabah Tourism if you’re interested in witnessing the joyous occasion. The Kadazan-Dusuns of Penampang-Papar district often hold these ceremonies, so head over to Penampang.

Each tribe has its own different rituals observed. Some tribes, like the Lotud Dusun, has eight ceremonies to observe during the Harvest Festival. Depending on which area you go to, the celebration may differ from one another.

For those interested to know what happens during the Humabot Ceremony, there are five cultural things you can experience if you’re lucky enough to join one.

Check out 5 cultural things to experience during the Harvest Festival in Sabah:

1. Witness the crowning of a Harvest Festival Queen

Based on a legend, Unduk Ngadau or the Harvest Festival Queen appeared seven days after the great sacrifice. She’s believed to be the reincarnation of Huminodun.

Fast forward to modern days, the chosen maiden during the crowning of Unduk Ngadau must bear resemblance to the revered Huminodun and be virtuous.

To be crowned the Harvest Festival Queen, a woman must also meet the following requirements: be 18 years old and above, single, is of the Kadazan-Dusun descent, and be fluent in her mother tongue.

Each district will organise their own early selection. The winner will represent her district and compete in the finals.

In essence, the Unduk Ngadau is responsible as an ambassador representing the state on a global platform by promoting the culture and traditions of Kadazan-Dusun.

Also read: 6 Buddhist Temples to Visit on Wesak Day in Malaysia

2. Watch graceful traditional dances

The Kadasan-Dusuns have a traditional folk dance called sumazau, which is inspired by eagle flying patterns witnessed by farmers in the field during harvest season.

Comprising of male and female dancers, the way they move their arms is similar to the movement of a flying bird, and each dancer must not be too close to each other. The graceful dance is often accompanied by the sound of gongs of various sizes.

Sometimes, the dancers would even encourage spectators to join in. This is the perfect time for you to learn a traditional dance.

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3. Join the tapai-making competition (or try the rice wine)

Such special occasions won’t be complete without tapai, a traditional rice wine. Tapai plays such a prominent role in the Harvest Festival that a rice wine-making competition is normally held as part of the festivity. The winner is selected based on the potentness in achieving the ideal bittersweet taste of rice wine.

The saying of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ couldn’t be apter in this situation. If you can’t participate in the competition, you can always try drinking the rice wine made fresh on the spot.

Also read:  6 Fun and Cheap(ish) Things to Do in Putrajaya and Cyberjaya

4. Savour exotic local delicacies

Foodies would love the exotic local delicacies served during the festival. Try unique dishes like butod (sago grub), bambangan (a seasonal wild mango fruit), or hinava (raw fish marinated in lime and citrus, pictured) for an ultimate gastronomic experience.

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5. Participate in talent-based activities

Once your stomach is full, it’s time to enjoy other entertaining activities such as Sugandoi (singing contest), gong competition, traditional sports tournament, and handicrafts display.

Sugandoi is the much-anticipated event. For district level contests, winners can expect cash prizes between RM800 to RM6,000, certificate of participation, and trophies.

Also read: Let’s Go! 5 Best Road Trips from Kuala Lumpur

Other fun things to do in Sabah

The majestic Mount Kinabalu. Image source: kennethr / Pixabay

Wondering what other things to do while you’re in Sabah? We recommend you to visit these interesting places during your weekend holiday:

    • See exotic animals at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park – Explore the zoo which houses tigers, monkeys, pygmy elephants and other animals within a vast jungle and go through the walking trail.
    • Go hiking at Mount Kinabalu – The world famous Mount Kinabalu offers a majestic view from the top if you’re up for some adventure.
    • Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – Passionate about saving animals? Find out how you can help the orphaned apes here.
    • Explore the dark world at Gomantong Caves – The mysterious cave hides bats, orangutans, and other creatures worth exploring.
  • Bathe at the Poring Hot Spring – Have a relaxing bath at the outdoor pools of natural, mineral-rich hot spring waters.

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