Kaamatan festival: Unifying celebration embraced by all Malaysians

It has evolved into a multicultural extravaganza, symbolising unity and cultural exchange.

19 May 2024 09:00pm
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Bernama FILE PIX
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Bernama FILE PIX

LABUAN - The Kaamatan Festival, once a cherished tradition exclusive to indigenous communities in Sabah, has undergone a remarkable transformation, emerging as a celebration embraced by people of all ethnicities across Malaysia.

Traditionally observed as a harvest festival (Pesta Menuai) by Sabah's indigenous Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, and Rungus peoples, Kaamatan has evolved into a multicultural extravaganza, symbolising unity and cultural exchange.

Historically, the Kaamatan Festival held deep significance for Sabah's indigenous communities, serving as a time to express gratitude for bountiful harvests and to reaffirm cultural ties.

University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) senior lecturer Dr Romzi Ationg said as societal dynamics shifted with mixed marriages and increased migration, the festival's reach expanded beyond ethnic boundaries, drawing participation from Malaysians of diverse backgrounds.

The Harvest Festival, celebrated annually on May 30th and 31st, known as Pesta Ka’amatan in Sabah and Labuan, has become synonymous with unity and inclusivity.

Dr Romzi said across the country, communities join in the festivities, marking the occasion with vibrant performances, traditional rituals, and culinary delights.

"Besides the beauty pageant of Unduk Ngadau which has been held for more than 60 years and it has become the soul of the Kaamatan festival, one of the highlights of the Kaamatan celebration is the Sugandoi singing competition, which has gained popularity not only in Sabah and Labuan but also in other parts of Malaysia, including in Johor and Putrajaya.

"This competition, once exclusive to indigenous groups, now attracts participants (at least one parent of Sabah's indigenous heritage belongs to the Kadazan, Dusun, Murut, or Rungus ethnic groups) from all walks of life, reflecting the festival's universal appeal.

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"In recent years, we've witnessed a remarkable shift in the way Kaamatan is celebrated...what was once a niche event has blossomed into a nationwide celebration, akin to Hari Raya, Christmas, and Chinese New Year, uniting Malaysians of all races," he said.

Dr Romzi is said as Sabah's indigenous communities continue to migrate to various parts of the country, efforts to preserve and promote the Kaamatan Festival has intensified.

He said in less densely populated areas with significant indigenous populations, Kaamatan celebrations are held to uphold cultural traditions and foster community bonds.

"As preparations for this year's festivities, organisers are hopeful that Kaamatan would continue to serve as a beacon of unity and diversity, showcasing the rich tapestry of Malaysian culture for generations to come," he said. - BERNAMA