PENAMPANG: The state-level Kaamatan 2011 has received thumbs up from regular visitors following a noticeable improvement of facilities at the Hongkod Koisaan, the permanent hosting site for the annual cultural extravaganza.
Kaamatan, the harvest festival of Sabah’s biggest ethnic group – the Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM), is traditionally celebrated as a way of showing gratitude for a bountiful harvest of padi or rice.
Today, however, the Kaamatan festival is more of a celebration of culture and tradition, part of a continuous effort to preserve the colourful identity of an ethnic, and highly recognized as a tool for promoting inter-racial understanding.
And this year’s festival, according to visitor Shamsul Adzrin, is as grand as ever, only more joyous and festive with more people from all background coming to join the celebration.
“It’s more happening this year, that’s the vibe you get. You can see a number of new and upgraded structures, and more importantly there are more people and everyone is excited and happy,” said the 40-year-old from Johor.
Shamsul said he almost never missed coming to Hongkod Koisaan every Kaamatan since residing in Sabah 16 years ago, and noticed that the organizing of the event had continued to show gradual improvements over the years.
“I think this year’s improvement is quite noticeable. It is a job well done for the Kadazan Dusun Murut Cultural Association (KDCA),” he said, as unending flow of visitors continued to arrive despite the simmering hot midday temperature.
Over the years, local residents and tourists have been flocking to Hongkod Koisaan (which means the Unity Hall in the Kadazan language), for the state-level Kaamatan festival closing ceremony held every May 30 and 31.
However, this year, the organizer, KDCA, decided to go for a major revamping, offering visitors a refreshing change, both with the itinerary and facilities.
The renewal literally started at the doorstep, with visitors being greeted by the ‘KDCA Cultural Village’ arch which led them to a hanging bridge with a man-made pond underneath.
After crossing the bridge, there is a new open stage on the left, and just further up, a handicraft outlet awaits those interested in bringing home souvenirs. It would be hard not to notice the new cafe next to it.
Also, some of the traditional houses now sport a new look, apart from the new and better landscaping within the KDCA compound.
The reason for the major upgrading, apart from preparing for the closing ceremony, was to make the newly established KDCA Cultural Village a tourism destination that will be a centre for year-round economic activities for the local community.
Apart from physical infrastructures, the main highlight of the festival – the Unduk Ngadau or Kaamatan beauty pageant, also saw a slight change.
Unlike in previous years, the beauty queen contest was held for two days this time around.
For a first-time visitor, 27-year-old Azaruddin, the Kaamatan festival offered an extraordinary cultural experience.
“It’s a very interesting event, no where else can you find it but here. What a wonderful opportunity to get close up to the culture, the dance, the costumes, and of course the locals themselves. It’s simply a feast, the colourful and diversified culture of the ethnics here is nothing but extraordinary,” said the avid photographer from Pahang.
Another visitor, Rozana Abdul Rahman, who is also on her first trip to Sabah, said the Kaamatan experience at Hongkod Koisaan was an eye opener, of how rich and broad the Malaysian culture is.
Visiting all the traditional houses and sampling traditional foods excites the 36-year-old from Pulau Pinang who with her friend travelled all the way from the northern part of the country just for the festival.
“First of all, the people here are very warm and welcoming, and then the state is so beautiful. We are here for one week and it is not enough. And for the Kaamatan itself, it is an opportunity to see and learn new things. We’ll definitely come back,” she said.