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Kaamatan Special

The Rituals of Tadau Kaamatan ( Harvest Festival )

One of the main and permanent fixture of the annual Sabah Fest is the Tadau Kaamatan or Harvest Festival celebrations at the end of May. The most easily-recognizable features of this celebration is the general merry-making, cultural performances, traditional sports, and of course, the Unduk Ngadau ( Harvest Festival Queen ) pageant.

The Tadau Kaamatan however has its antecedents in religious beliefs and traditional rituals of the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun people which are directly connected to rice planting and harvesting. If one is to delve deeper into the observance of this festival, one must understand the several rituals involved and their significance.

The Kadazan-Dusuns believe that in the days of yore the people suffered a great famine. Their God ( Kinoingan ) took pity upon them, and sacrificed his daughter, Huminodun, by cutting her into small pieces. Her flesh was sown over the land and from these sprang the first rice plants. Thus the Kadazan-Dusun community believes that the transfigured sacrifice of Huminodun is embodied as the spirit of rice known as Bambazon / Bambarayon. The Kaamatan ( Harvest ) Festival is therefore celebrated to fulfill the five major purposes :

  • Home-coming of Bambazon to the Tangkob ( Large rice storage container )

  • To restore Bambazon which was lost during careless harvesting and processing of rice through the Magavau ritual ceremony

  • To feed the Bambazon with special food (rice wine, fermented rice ( tandut ), eggs, salt and feathers of a slaughtered chicken

  • Friendship and merry-making feast.

The festival is observed in 6 rituals stages :

1. The Kumogos Ceremony

Before a harvest begins, a Bobohizan / Bobolian ( ritual specialist ) will select and tie-up 7 stalks of the best rice from a plot of rice field. These stakes of rice will only be harvested after the particular plot of field has been completely harvested. The 7 stalks of rice will then be scattered all over the rice field. This gesture is to inform the other spirits who may be present among the rice field not to make any disturbance when the harvesting work is to commenced and each of them will be given something after the harvest.

2. The Kumotob Ceremony

From the area which has not yet been harvested to the Bobohizan/Bobolian will select 7 stalks of the best rice. The selected stalks are then tied up together and placed in a tadang ( a type of basket for keeping rice ). The rest of the rice in the field are then harvested and the rice are turned into seed for future planting season.


3. The Posisip Ceremony

The Bobohizan/Bobolian goes to a rice hut together with the 7 stalks of rice which is tied up and placed in the tadang. While reciting chants she takes out the bundle of rice stalks and insert them in a bamboo pole kept in the tangkob. The recital of the chants is to call the spirit of the rice to stay in the rice hut until the next planting season, i.e. when the rice spirits are called to the rice field again.

4. The Poiib Ceremony

In the rice hut the Bobohizan / Bobolian carefully pours the rice into the tangkob. This process is repeated for a number of times until all the rice has poured into the tangkob. The Bobohizan/Bobolian then recite chants appealing to the rice spirits to keep watch over the rice stored in the tangkob.

5. The Magavau Ceremony

This is the most important ceremony in the sequence of events of the harvest festival. This focuses in the restoration of Bambazon / Bambarayon as well as offering food to Bambazon / Bambarayon. In the olden days, the Magavau ritual is performed in the padi field on the night of the first full moon after the harvest. Nowadays, this ritual is carried out in the house of the owner of the field.

6. The Humabot Ceremony

This is the final stage of the observation of the harvest festival and is in the form of merry-making and entertainment. This ceremony is now celebrated at village, district and state levels annually ( 30 - 31 May ). A variety of entertainment and activities in the form of dances and traditional sports are held and the climax of the event is the selection of the Unduk Ngadau ( Harvest Festival Queen ). The Unduk Ngadau symbolizes Huminodun, the sacrificed daughter of Kinoingan.

The rituals described above are typical of the Kadazan-Dusun of the Penampang-Papar area. Other dusunic groups, the murutic groups of the interior and the paitanic groups in the east have different rice harvest rituals. For example, the Lotud Dusun have a series of eight ceremonies - Mansalud, Monuras, Tumakau, Matang, Mongoi Rumali, Mogimpuun, Sumondod and Monumbui. The essence of this ceremony however is the same, that is of thanksgiving for a plentiful harvest.

Source: Sabah Museum



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