Things you don’t know about Harvest Festival

Posted on May 15 2018

There is a special day to be celebrated nearing the end of May every year, one that many of us take for granted: Harvest Festival.

This festival is observed in the states of Sabah and Labuan, Malaysia. It is held annually on 30th and 31st of May, and is better known as Pesta Kaamatan. As rice is a staple food in these regions, successful rice cultivation is very important. Pesta Kaamatan indicates an end to the planting cycle and the time for harvest.

During this festival, many farmers and their families take the opportunity to show their utmost respect and gratitude to higher beings and deities. They give thanks to gods and spirits for a successful harvest, for providing them with a great reap. They also pray that the deities will continue to bless them with a fruitful harvest the following year.

The Legend

There is a legend from Sabah about a brave goddess called Huminodun. As a punishment for the corruption and sins in mankind, the Almighty Creator, Kinoingan, sent the land seven plagues. The last one of the plagues was drought, a disaster so severe that caused great famine and suffering to the people. Huminodun, the only daughter of Kinoingan begged for her fathers mercy to forgive mankind, and agreed to sacrifice herself in order to ensure that the people will not starve. After her body parts were buried in the soil, rice began to grow. It is believed that rice embodies the spirit of Huminodun, and so it is considered a sacred food. Red rice was seen as the most sacred, being an item created from her very flesh.


Pesta Kaamatan is held to thank Kinoingan for his forgiveness and the successful harvest that ensued. On this day, people reach out and forgive each other, attempting to restore and strengthen peace and harmony. They play gongs, sing and dance to ancient rhythmic music. People also commemorate and idolise Huminodun for her beauty and sacrifice. They hold a beauty pageant called Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan, otherwise known as Harvest Beauty Queen, to remember Huminoduns perfection. This beauty pageant is also held on 31 May ever year.

People also celebrate the Harvest Festival by conducting different ceremonies, such as Magavau. It is significant in that it invites the Rice Spirit to be present in the ceremony. The belief is that without its presence, celebrations cannot proceed. Traditionally, this ceremony is held in the paddy fields during the very first full moon after harvesting. A male warrior would chant prayers while leading a group of villagers to march through the fields. They would offer food of the finest quality to the Rice Spirit; chicken meat, eggs, tobacco and the best rice wine. These days, this ceremony is enacted indoors instead.

Over the years, some rituals and general practices of the Harvest Festival have been on the decline or forgotten. Thankfully, there are multiple attempts to try and keep the traditions going. Celebrations still involve the Magavau, Sugandoi (a karaoke contest) and Unduk Ngadau in order for the festival to be complete.

Most importantly, to many people, the Harvest Festival is celebrated at a deeper and more spiritual level. It is a time to seek forgiveness from friends, to reconnect with others and to strengthen friendships, a rare lesson that was learned from an age-old legend.

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