The Kadazan Harvest Festival

Mount Kinabalu or Akinabalu
Siung, bamboo conical hat

The Kadazan Harvest Festival, celebrated in the month of May is an occasion for rejoicing and merry-making among the Kadazan people. However, thousands from other racial groups also attend and enjoy themselves during these harvest festivals whether held at the "Hongkod Koisaan" or in Kadazan villages around Sabah, Malaysia.

The "Hongkod Koisaan" building is situated at Penampang being the centre of the cultural activities of the Kadazan people. It is not far from the Capital, Kota Kinabalu.

According to Wikipedia,

    "A Harvest Festival is an annual celebration which occurs around the time of the main harvest of a given region."

The problem with this definition becomes clear in cases where harvesting time may have changed or occurs twice a year.

Significance of the Kadazan Harvest Festival
The Kadazan harvest festival -

1 is celebrated throughout the month of May each year. It culminates in the grand Harvest Festival Celebration on the 30th and 31st of May at the Hongkod Koisaan. This is a meeting of all the Kadazan cultural groups from around Sabah and one or two groups from Peninsular Malaysia representing the Kadazandusuns who are working or studying there.

Every festival has significance. It is the same with the Kadazan harvest festival or Pesta Kaamatan.

2 developed from custom and tradition that revolved around rice farming.

The Kadazan harvest festival is held for the following reasons:

  • To give thanks to the spirit of the rice they call "Bambaazon" for the abundant rice harvest the previous year.
  • To identify the Kadazans as rice growers and with the land.
  • To showcase their uniqueness as a people.
  • To strengthen understanding and unity among the Kadazan people.

Important Events Every 30th and 31st May
Some of the events on the first day of the celebration reflect the purpose why the Kadazan Harvest Festival, "The Pesta Kaamatan" is held in the first place. The abundance reaped from tilling the land is shown for everyone to see. Kadazan traditional sports are held such as buffalo racing, bamboo stilt race (manampanau), arm wrestling, and so on. There are gong beating and sumazau dancing competition, the best tapai wine competition, and Sugandoi singing competition.

Meanwhile, everyone has the opportunity to taste the Kadazan rice wines, Tapai and Hiing, and alcohol, Talak.

On the second day of this popular celebration, the various racial groupings in Sabah, Malaysia have the opportunity to present their unique culture and tradition as they take the stage one group after the other. This is an important public relations role played by the Kadazan Harvest Festival Celebration in helping to mold a harmonious relationship between the various races in Sabah.

The events on the second and last day of the celebration culminate in the selection and crowning of the Harvest Festival Queen or "Unduk Ngadau" for the year.

The significance of this part of the Harvest Festival has been refined in recent years whereby the selection criteria for the Unduk Ngadau are made to relate to the virtues and values of "Huminodun" the legendary and only daughter of the Kadazan Kinoingan called Hinokizan.

The Kaamatan celebration has fallen victim to businesses and various other groups who make use of the occasion for economic gains or for political mileage. They also hold 'unduk ngadau' pageants.

It was recently decided (May 2015) that only groups that have affiliation with KDCA events can call their beauty queens 'Unduk Ngadau.' Others need to use 'Miss Harvest Festival' since their beauty queens have no connection with Huminodun.

Click HERE to view a Kaamatan Harevest Festival celebration featuring an Unduk Ngadau contest (Video by andog1961)

Still, as someone to whom the connection to the "Huminodun" virtues is new, you may not see the connection of the beauty pageant to harvest festival celebrations.

Proponents or supporters of the "Unduk Ngadau" pageant, argue that this is to honor "Huminodun" the beautiful daughter of the Kadazan's "Kinoingan" or God. According to the story, the beautiful Huminodun sacrificed herself whereby the different parts of her body became the Kadazan people's various sources of food. She died so that the Kadazans (and all other human beings) will live. This indicates characteristics that are valued more than physical beauty.

Detractors or those who do not support the beauty pageant put forward the argument that it cheapens Kadazan girls and women.

It is understood (said) that the first Harvest Festival did not feature a beauty pageant. It is not very clear when the first harvest festival beauty contest was held. Now, the selection and crowning of the Harvest Festival Queen seems to have become the main attraction of Harvest Festivals.

Which side of the divide does your opinion fall?

Harvest Festival Celebrations Before and After the Month of May
Some villages organize their own harvest festival celebration after the month of May. There are not many occasions where villages celebrate the festival before May.

Villages compete with each other in organizing harvest festival celebrations. Even very small villages hold it. Some villages combine in holding the celebration. Others refuse to cooperate. There are various reasons for this, some good, some not so good.

The Kadazan Harvest Festival Celebration Enhances Kadazan Identity

Kadazans had started celebrating harvest festivals some six decades ago, that is, since the 1950s. This is to identify the Kadazan people with their rice farming background.

As rice farmers, the Kadazan people came to believe that rice ("Paai" or "Parai") was "osundu", that is, have miraculous quality since its origin is Huminodun. Rice is their staple food since time immemorial. They came to believe that a certain spirit called "Bambaazon" is present in every grain of rice.

This identification of the Kadazan people with rice farming is weakening by the day as their villages slowly become part of urban community life. Rice fields are fast disappearing. Concrete jungles are taking their place. It is impacting on the unique identity of the Kadazans.

If this trend continues, Kadazans will become city and town dwellers. What significance will harvest festival celebrations play in their life? This is a question which is not easy to answer.

The answers to the question regarding the future of the Kadazan harvest festival will need much thought which requires exposition under a specific title.


  1. "Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival is a unique celebration of Kadazandusun society. It's a celebration to honour the Rice Spirit - Bambaazon or Bambarayon and giving thanks for yet another bountiful year." - Sabah Tourism Board
  2. "The Kadazan Ka’amatan Festival is perhaps the most indigenous and grandest Festival in Sabah." - Flyingdusun (Herman)

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