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Harvest Festival

Harvest Festival 2018 and 2019

The Harvest Festival celebrated in Sabah and Labuan on the 30th and 31st of May every year is widely known as Pesta Ka’amatan.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
201830 MayWedHarvest FestivalLabuan & Sabah
31 MayThuHarvest Festival HolidayLabuan & Sabah
201930 MayThuHarvest FestivalLabuan & Sabah
31 MayFriHarvest Festival HolidayLabuan & Sabah

This festival is closely connected to rice cultivation as rice is the main crop in Sabah. Pesta Ka’amatan marks the end of the planting cycle; hence, a time for harvest.

Farmers and families take this opportunity to give thanks to the spirits and gods for providing them with a fruitful reap and pray that the gods will bless them with bountiful harvest the following year.

In short, Pesta Ka’amatan is a localized thanksgiving celebration. While Thanksgiving is celebrated over roasted turkey in America, the Sabahans celebrate this occasion over rice wine which is locally known as tapai.

Besides being the main source of food, rice is considered sacred as it is believed that that is where the spirit of Huminodun embodies. Huminodun was the only daughter of Kinoingan, the Almighty Creator, who was sacrificed by her own father to ensure that his people will not starve during the long season of drought. Her body parts were buried all over the ground and out of the soil grew paddy (rice). Ever since, people honor Kinoingan’s sacrificial deed by conducting various ceremonies like Magavau and Humabot during this festival.

The Magavau ceremony – a customary practice to invite the Rice Spirit, is one of the most important ceremonies observed for the festival. Without the presence of the Rice Spirit, the celebrations cannot proceed. Traditionally, the Magavau ceremony is conducted in the paddy fields on the first full moon after the harvest.

A group of villagers, led by a male warrior would chant prayers as they march slowly through the fields offering food of the finest quality – best chicken meat, eggs, tobacco and premium rice wine. Nowadays, this ceremony is only enacted indoors before the celebrations officially begin.

With the declining practice of animism, some rituals of the Ka’amatan have been forgotten; however, some are still being observed. Nevertheless, the celebration would be incomplete if the Sugandoi (a karaoke contest) and Unduk Ngadau (a beauty pageant) is absent. To many, in a deeper sense, the Harvest Festival is a time to seek forgiveness from friends and an opportunity to strengthen friendships.