KOTA KINABALU — Photos of several women dressed in a long, loose robe-like variation of the traditional Kadazandusun black-and-gold costume, but with their arms and heads all covered up have lit a fire in Sabah amid the month-long Kaamatan festival celebration.
Believed to be taken during a “Kaamatan Islamik” programme in Papar over the weekend, the photos have since drawn censure from Sabahans of all creeds who are keen to separate culture from religion.
In this case, Kaamatan, the Kadazandusun harvest festival, is largely rooted in the beliefs of the indigenous people who are giving thanks to their gods for a bountiful harvest.
“In Sabah, Kaamatan is a celebration for the Dusun and Kadazan people, and there should be no religious element. What if later on there is a Christian Kaamatan, a Buddhist Kaamatan, and so on?” Japiril Suhaimin voiced his concern to Malay Mail Online today.
The Muslim of Dusun ethnicity said his community has always celebrated Kaamatan in a big way, and people from all religions join in the celebrations.
“Kaamatan in Sabah has united its people and we don’t want our harmony to be destroyed because of it,” he added.
Although not listed on the photographed banner of the event, Sabahans with social media accounts believe this alternative Kadazandusun harvest festival is organised by an Islamic non-governmental organisation, the Hidayah Centre Foundation in Sabah (HCF Sabah), under Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia.
This is because HCF Sabah on its Facebook page has a post advertising the event to “celebrate the harvest festival the Islamic way” with a worship of the rice spirits through a thanksgiving prayer in Dusun and Arabic, a “Momogun Muslim” beauty queen contest, community sports, ethnic prayers and ethnic islamic fashion show.
The post also seeks donations to help develop Islam in Sabah. More similar “Kaamatan Islamik” programmes are scheduled to be held in several more districts statewide, with the next one calendared for this Saturday in Keningau, followed by Ranau the day after, Kudat on May 16 and culminating in a two-day finale in Kundasang from May 20.
Japiril who is Sabah Progressive Party deputy president said that the approach to celebrating the festival can be done differently according to the community’s own beliefs.
In Ranau, where the Dusun community is equally divided between Muslims and Christians, everyone has celebrated the harvest festival together without any issues, he said.
Sabah Bersih 2.0 chairman Beverly Joeman said that Sabahans were not against Muslims celebrating Kaamatan but were more worried about the intention in inserting another religion’s take on it.
“The crux of Kaamatan is to give thanks to Bambazon, Kinoingan, and to Huminodun who sacrificed herself to restore land fertility that her people will not die of famine and starvation,” she told Malay Mail Online.
In Kadazandusun culture, Bambazon refers to the rice spirits, Kinoingan their God, and Huminodun is his daughter.
“Kaamatan uses many paganistic rituals — why is the ‘Kaamatan Islamik’ trying to change the very core of Kaamatan, replacing the Magavau with a doa kesyukuran in Arabic and Dusun? Then what is left of Kaamatan? Is the word ‘Kaamatan Islamik’ itself not an oxymoron?
“Please do not rape our culture, our adat and the essence of being an Orang Asal and try and make it into some sorry state of “celebration” your way,” she said.
Facebook users of all religious persuasions have also criticised the organisers for making the much loved celebration take on a religious slant.
Kaamatan in Sabah has been celebrated for decades in Sabah and is currently recognised as a month-long celebration that culminates on May 30 and 31 which is a gazetted state public holiday.
Each town and district has their own events but most will congregate at the Kadazan dusun Cultural Association building in Penampang for the annual Unduk Ngadau, or Harvest Festival beauty queen pageant.
During the two-day extravaganza, a host of events from traditional rituals, to games, food, and general merry-making including the consumption of local rice wine ensues.
Politicians from all divides and members of the public meet and partake in the celebration.
The traditional rituals are rooted from their pagans beliefs, and while the adat (culture) may be slowly disappearing as modern Kadazandusuns have embraced other religions such as Islam and Christianity, many still find a balance between retaining their inherited cultural identity and their new faith.