The Anthropological Profile of the Kadazandusuns of Borneo: The Kaamatan Rituals
Allan G Dumbong
One of the main and permanent fixture in the Sabah Calendar is the Tadau Kaamatan or Harvest Festival celebrations for the whole month of May. The most easily-recognizable features of this celebration is the large crowds, general merry-making, cultural performances, traditional sports, and of course, the Unduk Ngadau ( Harvest Festival Queen ) pageant. Lately, it has also helped the State of Sabah to promote its cultural tourism, which have attracted tourists from all over the world.
The Tadau Kaamatan is celebrated by no accident as it has its anthropological roots, reflecting the worldview, religious beliefs and traditional rituals of the indigenous Kadazandusun people, particulalry in relation to the rice planting and harvesting. If one is to analyse deeper into the observance of this festival, one must understand the several rituals involved and their significance.
It started with a myth. The Kadazandusuns believe that in the days of yore the people suffered a great famine. Their God ( Kinoingan ) took pity upon them, and sacrificed his daughter, Huminundun (literally means "the sacrificing one"), by cutting her into small pieces. Her flesh was sown over the land and from these sprang the first rice plants. Thus the Kadazandusun community believes that the transfigured sacrifice of Huminundun is embodied as the spirit of rice known as Bambazon / Bambarayon. The Kaamatan ( Harvest ) Festival is therefore celebrated to fulfill the five major purposes :
(i) Home-coming of Bambazon to the Tangkob Parai ( Large rice storage container )
(ii) To restore Bambazon (the spirit of the rice) which was taken for granted during careless harvesting and processing of rice through the Magahau ritual ceremony
(iii) To feed the Bambazon with special food (rice wine, fermented rice ( tandut ), eggs, salt and feathers of a slaughtered chicken
(iv) Friendship and merry-making feast.
The Kaamatan Festival is observed through six (6) rituals stages :
1. The "Kumogos" Ceremony
Before a harvest begins, a Bobohizan / Bobolian ( ritual shaman ) will select and tie-up 7 stalks of the best rice from a plot of rice field. These stakes of rice will only be harvested after the particular plot of field has been completely harvested. The 7 stalks of rice will then be scattered all over the rice field. This gesture is to inform the other spirits who may be present among the rice field not to make any disturbance when the harvesting work is to commenced and each of them will be given something after the harvest.
2. The "Kumotob" Ceremony
From the area which has not yet been harvested to the Bobohizan/Bobolian will select 7 stalks of the best rice. The selected stalks are then tied up together and placed in a tadang ( a type of basket for keeping rice ). The rest of the rice in the field are then harvested and the rice are turned into seed for future planting season.
3. The "Posisip" Ceremony
The Bobohizan/Bobolian goes to a rice hut together with the 7 stalks of rice which is tied up and placed in the tadang. While reciting chants she takes out the bundle of rice stalks and insert them in a bamboo pole kept in the tangkob. The recital of the chants is to call the spirit of the rice to stay in the rice hut until the next planting season, i.e. when the rice spirits are called to the rice field again.
4. The "Popoihib" Ceremony
In the rice hut the Bobohizan / Bobolian carefully pours the rice into the tangkob. This process is repeated for a number of times until all the rice has poured into the tangkob. The Bobohizan/Bobolian then recite chants appealing to the rice spirits to keep watch over the rice stored in the tangkob.
5. The "Magahau" Ceremony
This is the most important ceremony in the sequence of events of the harvest festival. This focuses in the restoration of Bambazon / Bambarayon as well as offering food to Bambazon / Bambarayon. In the olden days, the Magahau ritual is performed in the padi field on the night of the first full moon after the harvest. Nowadays, this ritual is carried out in the house of the owner of the field.
6. The "Humabot" Ceremony
This is the final stage of the observation of the harvest festival and is in the form of merry-making and entertainment as part of the thanksgiving ceremony. This ceremony is now celebrated at village, district and state levels annually. In fact, it has been gazzetted by the State Government of Sabah that the Kaamatan Festival is a public holiday, and fixed on30th and 31st of May. A variety of entertainment and activities in the form of dances (like Sumazau, Mongigol, Magunatip etc) and traditional sports (like mamarampanau, migayat lukug, mipulos, momolositik, migusa karabau etc) are held. There is a Sugandoi Competition, whereby those have singing talent would have the opportunity to compete for the "Sugandoi Star". The climax of the event is the selection of the Unduk Ngadau ( Harvest Festival Queen ) from a number of Kadazandusun girls who present their beauties, ersonalities, intellectualism, cultural awareness and their respective highly decorated traditional costumes. The Unduk Ngadau symbolizes a "Kinomulok", the most beautiful, kind, hardworking, outstanding and idolised Kadazandusun girl.
The rituals described above are typical of the Kadazandusun of the "Tangara" Penampang-Papar area. Other Dusunic groups, the Murutic groups of the interior and the Paitanic groups in the east have slightly different rice harvest rituals. For example, the Lotud Dusun have a series of eight ceremonies - "Mansalud", "Monuras", "Tumakau", "Matang", "Mongoi Rumali", "Mogimpuun", "Sumondod" and "Monumbui". The essence of this ceremony however is the same, that is of thanksgiving for a plentiful harvest.