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Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor launches the state-level Kaamatan celebration at Hongkod Koisaan. — Screengrab from YouTube
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor launches the state-level Kaamatan celebration at Hongkod Koisaan. — Screengrab from YouTube

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KOTA KINABALU, May 31 — There was none of the usual boisterous merriment this year from gong-beatings, Kadazandusun songs blaring from speakers and the rhythmic sound of the lansaran — a traditional trampoline — at the Kadazandusun Cultural Association (KDCA) fondly known as Hongkod Koisaan.

This time of the year is usually the highlight for the Kadazandusun and Murut community, as well as many Sabahans, as the month-long Kaamatan or Harvest Festival culminates in a two-day joyfest of merrymaking.

But with the pandemic and strict restrictions in place, the festival has had to scale down to its cultural and spiritual core. The main event went on and was live-streamed, with speeches from leaders and performances held under strict standard operating procedures (SOP).

The magavau ceremony, the essence of the Kaamatan festival, an annual thanksgiving ritual to honour the rice spirits and thank them for the bountiful harvest, was carried out by the high priestesses or Bobohizans as usual, but with the addition of face shields and gloves. — Screengrab from YouTube
The magavau ceremony, the essence of the Kaamatan festival, an annual thanksgiving ritual to honour the rice spirits and thank them for the bountiful harvest, was carried out by the high priestesses or Bobohizans as usual, but with the addition of face shields and gloves. — Screengrab from YouTube

The magavau ceremony, the essence of the Kaamatan festival, an annual thanksgiving ritual to honour the rice spirits and thank them for the bountiful harvest, was carried out by the high priestesses or Bobohizans as usual, but with the addition of face shields and gloves, while traditional dancers kept social distance at all times.

Kadazandusun and Murut families marked the occasion through low-key family gatherings, cooking up traditional food like pinasakan and hinava, and posing in their traditional costumes for family portraits which were later posted on social media.

Two important aspects of the Kaamatan that is being continued is the singing competition, or Sugandoi, and arguably the popular highlight, the crowning of the Unduk Ngadau, the beauty and cultural pageant queen, both via live stream.

Both have been receiving popular response with many tuning in to watch the annual affair of young beauties in traditional gear from all the districts competing to be crowned the Unduk Ngadau.

The Unduk Ngadau is held to honour the legend of Huminodun, a local princess, who, according to legend, was sacrificed during a drought to save the community from hunger.

The main event went on and was live-streamed, with speeches from leaders and performances held under strict standard operating procedures (SOP). — Screengrab from YouTube
The main event went on and was live-streamed, with speeches from leaders and performances held under strict standard operating procedures (SOP). — Screengrab from YouTube

Speaking at the launch of the state-level Kaamatan celebration at Hongkod Koisaan, KDCA via online streaming here Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor said that the pandemic had changed the way Kaamatan or harvest festival was celebrated but it remains an important platform to galvanise unity and cooperation among all Sabahans regardless of race, religion or cultures.

“We are thankful that we are still able to celebrate the occasion although on a moderate scale. Many people are taking advantage of this time to spend it with family and loved ones and I hope that we can still continue to be vigilant and abide by the SOPs to beat this pandemic,” he said.

The Huguan Siou or paramount leader of the Kadazandusun Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan was also present at the main event and paid tribute to all the organisers of the event as well as frontliners sacrificing and risking their lives in ensuring the people of the state remained safe from the pandemic.


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