You already have several reasons to visit Sabah, Malaysia very soon. Dagdagan pa natin? Here’s another one: Sabah’s Paddy Harvest Festival, Kaamatan, is much like the Pinoy fiestas we love — but this time, in a place where there’s still much to discover!
We’ve gushed about Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s beaches and nature parks, and its hearty seafood. This travel bucket list that shows the best things to do in Sabah will easily convince you to fill your itinerary, too. For Filipinos looking to book a trip to Malaysia in May, the sooner the better because Kaamatan festivities are in full swing till the end of the month.
You’re in luck, traveller. Makisaya sa Sabah before the month ends!
AirAsia’s MNL-BKI-MNL routes resume on 27 May 2022. Ready, set, book those flights!
The Kaamatan Festival will surely make your Kota Kinabalu trip even more worthwhile! But just in case you need them, here are more reasons to experience Sabah’s month-long Paddy Harvest Festival when you can.
Kaamatan only happens once a year
What exactly is Kaamatan? It’s Sabah’s Paddy Harvest Festival, which shines the spotlight on rituals, ancient religions, and celebrations dedicated to the region’s paddy harvesting season. It happens yearly, during the month of May, and culminates in a grand celebration at the end of the month.
Kaamatan pays homage to the culture and traditions of the Kadazandusuns — one of the largest indigenous groups of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Through the Paddy Harvest Festival, the Kadazandusuns are able to connect with their gods and the spirits that rule their agricultural pursuits. For example, Kamataan pays tribute to a spirit named Bambarayon, who perpetually lives in every harvest made in paddy farming.
In many ways, the Kaamatan Festival is a spiritual gathering that allows participants to acknowledge the blessings of the harvest season. They do so by cooking their best fare, performing rituals, dances, and songs, retelling legends and age-old stories, and welcoming visitors like you into their celebration.
The festival is where you can meet new friends!
While the Kadazandusuns are known to be warm and welcoming all year round, they are mighty proud of their Kaamatan Festival. This is good news for tourists looking to make new friends when they journey to Sabah. During Kaamatan, the locale gets together to celebrate the season and perform different activities within the premises of a community hall.
Fun fact: In Kadazan (the Kadazandusuns’ native language), the term ‘Kaamatan’ was taken from the root word, ‘“omot,’” which means harvest. The festival honours Huminodun or Ponompuan, a goddess who was once sacrificed to save mortals from famine. According to legends, Ponompuan’s sacrifice is the very reason why Kadazandusuns never went hungry again — their lands forever fertile.
You’ll get to sample unique Sabahan dishes
With fertile lands come mouthwatering delights that wandering foodies will absolutely love. As we said, locals make Kamataan the perfect excuse to party all May, all day. This means good food and drinks shared with wonderful company, locals and foreigners alike.
Why not travel to Sabah around this time to sample authentic Sabahan specialities like hinava (raw fish salad similar to our local kinilaw), butod (juicy, protein-rich sago worms or grub), and soko (bamboo shoots)? You can also drop by popular restaurants such as My Native Sabah and Borneo Spice (formerly Borneo Spice Momogun), for a nice sit-down meal that’s sure to give you a taste of Sabah’s best eats.
Did we mention unique Sabahan drinks?
Of course, no Sabahan bash is complete without boozy drinks. Get a buzz the traditional way and make a toast with sweet lihing (rice wine). Experience drinking from your very own tumpung, a handcrafted bottle specially made for alcoholic drinks. Traditionally, tumpung is made from bamboo to contain rice wine for individual consumption. Nowadays, many opt for plastic cups, but wouldn’t it be nice to experience drinking from your very own tumpung?
Sabah locals have this expression, “Aramaiti,” which basically means to go our merry way drinking together until our faces get red. Sounds like a good time, especially for Pinoys who can hold their drink well.
There’s a beauty pageant that crowns a ‘Harvest Queen’
If there’s one major event that Filipinos bond over every year, it’s Miss Universe. The whole world knows that the Philippines is pageant-crazy. If you find yourself in Sabah in May, don’t miss the chance to watch locals crown their new Unduk Ngadau (Harvest Queen).
Last year’s Harvest Queen pageant brought together 79 beauties who represented their respective state constituencies. Over 5,000 people annually come to watch this pageant live; the crowd’s energy is bound to have you cheering the contestants on as well!
You can try playing traditional games
The Kaamatan Festival not only lets you witness the best of Sabah’s talent by way of song and dance; it shows you that locals also have their game on. And by that, we mean their traditional games. Think of it as their version of the Olympics or SEA Games, but for traditional competitions such as momolositik (sling shot) and sumpit (blowpipe). If you’re lucky, you can also give it a go. It’ll surely remind you of some of the childhood games you played back home.
Being a spectator’s just as fun, too, so no worries if you’d rather watch the pros compete against each other. There will be some pretty exciting traditional sports to watch out for: buffalo race, tug of war, bamboo pole race, to name a few.
A festival is the best cultural immersion you can experience
They say the best trips are often those spent doing what the locals do. When you’ve gone where the locals go, eat what they eat, and live the way they do, you’ll want to immerse yourself in their culture as well. If you’re truly out to do this when you explore the world, level up your travel experience by taking part in a festival. Sabah presents the perfect opportunity to do just that with its month-long Kaamatan.
Should you miss it, there’s always next year. Or you could drop by Mari-Mari Cultural Village for a cultural immersion experience that happens all year round. So, sino isasama mo sa Sabah? Make it more memorable by going during the harvest season — super saya maki-fiesta, promise!
Brought to you by Sabah Tourism.