Kadazan Custom and Tradition

Sacks of Rice. Photo by P.Dampian

Kadazan custom and tradition developed from the animistic belief of their ancestors, the head-taking rituals of the past and their agricultural background as rice farmers.

Custom is described as:

Some define tradition as:

    "The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation."

Custom refers to the usual manner of doing or acting whereas tradition is a belief, custom or principle passed on from generation to generation. This means that custom can become a tradition if it continues to have acceptance among members of the group.

Some of Kadazan Custom and Tradition
It was (is) customary for Kadazans to give "peace offerings" for any hurt or injury caused by one person to another. The peace offering is called "Sogit" which is something given to the injured party. The sogit given is either a pig, or a chicken, and a certain amount of money depending on the seriousness of the offense.

In the past a sogit could take the form of a buffalo especially when a man had brought shame to a family by having a close proximity with a female member of that family or something worse.

It was also a custom for Kadazans to greet each other whenever they meet or to announce their presence whenever they passed by someone's house. This custom seemed to have developed in the past to escape being speared to death by a neighbor for being mistaken as an enemy. This could have been the direct result of the head-hunting days of their ancestors.

These practices of giving peace offerings are disappearing fast. Kadazan village life is not what it used to be.

A good example of Kadazan tradition is the harvest festival celebration which, in turn, came into being as the result of their rice farming background steeped in animistic belief. The animistic rituals of Kadazan forebears include giving thanks to the rice spirit "Bambaazon" after the end of the rice harvesting season.

The lyrics of one of Catholic Bishop Cornelius Piong's songs state that the Kadazan rice spirit "Bambaazon' is actually God Himself. This is an approach adopted by Kadazan Christians to make sense of the Kadazan people's belief that a spirit looks after the livelihood of the Kadazan farmers by giving them abundant rice harvest each passing year.

Harvest Festivals Perpetuate Kadazan Custom and Tradition

The Kadazan people are afraid that they will lose their identity if they no longer practice the custom and tradition of their forefathers.

The last bastion, it seems, for perpetuating the Kadazan custom and tradition, is the Sabah Level Harvest Festival celebration and all the mini-harvest festivals held each year throughout Sabah.

However, even this harvest festival celebration is coming under threat by groups other than Kadazans who celebrate their own harvest festivals each year and during occasions that have nothing to do with the spirit of holding the Kadazan harvest festival.

Are the Kadazans going to keep quiet about this?

And what happens when Kadazans no longer plant rice, that is, they cease being rice farmers? The basis and reason for celebrating the Harvest Festival are gone.

Harvest Festival, namely, the Kaamatan, introduces Kadazan identity to the world. Even if they ceased to be rice farmers, it tells the world part of the life story of the Kadazan people. There is acceptable reason for ceasing to celebrate the Kaamatan.

Contamination of Kadazan Custom and Tradition
If you look close enough, there are many things that had been added to the custom and tradition of the Kadazan people. These are alien to their cultural practices.

Ientify these alien practices and stop perpetuating them.

Where do the Kadazans go from Here?
Kadazans may have to do some long and hard thinking how to stop the erosion of their Kadazan identity. You cannot return to the past to redo things or undo what needs undoing. But, it is never too late to put things right for the future.

It does not mean that differences in belief and ideology, among others, must hinder Kadazans from coming to a common agreement, or to compromise in certain matters for the sake of their people. Anything in Kadazan custom and tradition that weakens unity needs revisiting and rectification. Compromise should not happen at the expense of loss of personal integrity.

There is no other option if Kadazans love their people enough and want future generations of Kadazans to say proudly that they belong to the Kadazan race.

Build bridges and better relationships
Stop the rot in its track. Come to terms with one another. Build bridges, not walls. Appreciate and value what is good in others and make up for others' weaknesses.

As a KADAZAN, strive for the rights and the progress of your own people while not denying people of other races their place in this land of Sabah.

It is noted, however, that developments over the past several years seem to undermine the real meaning of the harvest festival celebration. If left unchecked, it can destroy part of the Kadazan identity.

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