The Pesta Kaamatan or Tadau Kaamatan is celebrated annually in Sabah to thank the spirit of the rice.
Most native Sabahans consider rice to be more than just a staple diet. There is a certain sacredness attached to it, for it is food given to them by Kinoingan, the Almighty Creator so that his people should never want for food.
He sacrificed His only daughter Huminodun and from her body parts, padi (rice) grew. This was Kinoingan’s ultimate act of benevolence and to this day, His people repay the deed by conducting various ceremonies to honour Bambaazon, the spirit of Huminodun as embodied in rice.
The most well-known of these is Pesta Kaamatan or Harvest Festival which begins on the first of May and celebrated throughout Sabah. Of major importance to this thanksgiving ceremony is the Magavau – a ritual to invite Bambaazon to the Pesta and is conducted only by the Bobohizan or high priestess. Festivities cannot proceed without the presence of Bambaazon and it is through Magavau that the Rice Spirit is invoked.
In the past, Magavau was conducted in the padi fields on the first full moon night after the harvest. A party of Bobohizan led by the foremost senior, would weave a slow procession through the fields chanting prayers to Bambaazon. A male warrior would walk ahead of this group waving a sword in the air, to ward off any evil that might try to disrupt the ritual. The food offered must be of the best quality. When the spirits come, only the Bobohizan will be able to feel their presence. The spirits will find, neatly laid out for them on banana leaves, the choicest chicken meat, eggs, betel leaves and pinang (areca nut), tobacco and kirai (“rollie”). The finest tapai or rice wine is offered to the spirits.
A second offering arranged in a winnowing tray is placed on a specially built bamboo platform. This is for the spirits to bring back to the spirit world to feed those creatures that would otherwise feed off the padi. Pesta Kaamatan around the state culminates in the state level celebrations on May 30 and 31 every year with Magavau being enacted indoors before the celebrations begin.
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