Kaamatan, A Celebration of Culture

1_stb_newswav May

Ask a Sabahan what they would likely be doing on the 31st of May? Majority will tell you that they will be anticipating the crowning of the harvest queen title, better known as ‘Unduk Ngadau’.

Undoubtedly, one of the main highlights of every Kaamatan is the Unduk Ngadau. At the height of the celebration, attendees and supporters converge all day long at the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association Sabah (KDCA) Centre in Penampang, while others can watch the event’s live broadcast through the local channel, including social media.

To put this into context, Pesta Kaamatan (Harvest Festival) is a major Sabah festival celebrated annually. It is also acknowledged as a national festival. Kaamatan is not just another merry-making celebration for the Kadazandusun natives to celebrate the bountiful harvest but also a sacred heritage belief with spiritual values, customary rules and traditions, and observances of the multi-ethnic Kadazandusuns.


However, it should be noted that the Kaamatan celebration in Sabah has evolved and includes interfaith respect. Christians have observed Holy Mass in conjunction with Kaamatan. Chinese rituals and traditions are notably practiced in Kuala Penyu and Brunei Malay celebration in Kimanis. A testament to the unity in diversity of cultures and beliefs, presence in the land below the wind.

Kadazandusun people continue to honour and respect the elders and last generation of Bobolian, who are the spiritual specialists and believed to be the bridge linking the divine connection between humans and earth.

Legend has it that creator Kinoingan and his wife Sumundu were blessed with their son, Ponompulan and daughter Ponompuan. Until Ponompulan rebelled and corrupted the mind and heart of mankind. He and his followers were banished and cast with a suffering curse. The worst famine happened, and Ponompuan, with her pure compassion, decided to be made sacrifice for the Kadazandusun people’s salvation.

Kinoingan sacrificed his only daughter Ponompuan as Huminodun. Her remains were used as seeds that were planted and grew into crops, providing food resources for the world. Her blood became red rice, and her sacred spirit is what the natives identify as Bambarayon.


Every year, Bambarayon is appeased with the ‘Magavau ceremony’ performance to rejuvenate, renew, and ensure a bountiful harvest for the years to come.

Thus, the Kaamatan Festival is to thank Kinoingan for Bambarayon and to commemorate Huminodun’s selfless act of love for the people.

Every Kaamatan, natives come together from various districts across the state, donning their respective traditional costumes, singing, dancing, cheering as well as participating in traditional sports.

It is worth seeing the colourful diversity of Sabah’s more than 50 ethnics and sub-ethnics get together, establishing new and old friendships in the spirit of celebrating the harvest festival.


There are also many stalls around the cultural centres selling handcrafted items, food and beverages, including traditional cuisines. Traditional houses are set and attractively decorated, adding attractions to the event.

Ultimately, the Unduk Ngadau or ‘Harvest Queen’ segment will be the most awaited. It symbolizes the legend of Huminodun. Professional judges from various fields of expertise are in hot seats to select the deserving lady worthy to be crowned as Unduk Ngadau for the year. She must possess the qualities of Huminodun – grace, kind, cultured, intelligence and beauty. The best virtues to resemble the glorified Huminodun.


The contestants are dressed in beautiful, colourful, intricate and attractive costumes unique to their individual heritage. They will parade around and be challenged with multiple series of questions and answers. The Unduk Ngadau is a challenging feat as the Unduk Ngadau will symbolize, represent and advocate the attributes of Huminodun for the people of Kadazandusuns.

Hence why, the people of Kadazandusuns in Sabah are invested in their cultural beliefs. It is the underlying tradition and belief passed down from one generation to the next that plays a significant role in uniting people and their appreciation for life.

Certainly plan your time to visit Sabah during May, a month-long celebration of the harvest festival and do not miss out on the finale on the 30th & 31st of the month annually. This extravagant event is open to all and will introduce you to a plethora of cultural immersions that centred around the Kadazandusuns, natives of Sabah.

Check out www.sabahtourism.com for updates of the Kaamatan Festival near you.

Last reviewed: April 25, 2024

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