The Kaamatan cultural meanings and purposes

The word Kaamatan is derived from the root word tomot, a Kadazandusun term for “harvest”. In the context of this article, Kaamatan refers to the paddy-harvesting period, which involves a series of traditional rituals culminating finally to the Magavau and commemorative Moginakan Kaamatan (Harvest) Festival, in honor oh Huminodun, the sacrificed Ponompuan — Daughter of Kinoingan (God).

Why Kaamatan and not Kokotuan?

In the long drawn debate whether to use Kaamatan or Kokotuan to name the Festival, the KDCA resolved to use Kaamatan because Kokotuan is more widely understood and accepted as related to harvesting young vegetables’ shoots using the thumb and the first finger only without help of any other implements such as harvesting knives like sickles (linggaman). So you can use the term mogkotu for plucking vegetables’ shoots such as lombiding, bungor, pakis, tuntuh mundok, tunduk sangop, tunduk kasou, tunduk tawadak etc...

For ripe paddy ears however, it is difficult to use bare fingers to harvest so much of them without the use of sickles (linggaman or bonuts), and more people refer to this aided harvesting with implements as mongomot. Hence the term for the paddy related harvest festival has been appropriately termed as the Kaamatan Festival.

The Kaamatan Festival is an annual event in the cultural life of the Kadazandusuns of Sabah since time immemorial. In its deepest sense, the Kaamatan Festival manifest the relationships of the Creator Gods and their creations, intra and inter creator beings, and intra and inter creations’ relationships. It is about Kinoingan’s (God’s) love; the beauty of His creations; the emergence of sin and the curse of hell, and the conception of sacrificial love for the realization of salvation. It embodies the principal acts of invocation of divinities, appeasing, purification and restoration, socio-spiritual re-union, sharing of harvests/blessings and thanksgiving to the Source of All. It is part of a complex wholesome Momolian religious system centered on the paddy rites of passage and the life cycle of Bambarayon – the in-dwelling spirit of paddy.

Invocation and appeasing is done in respect of Bambarayon, Deities, Divinities and Spirits, who may have been hurt by human wrongful acts.

Purification is performed in respect of human and spiritual needs for forgiveness followed by resolutions to make themselves worthy of the gifts of life from God.

Restoration in necessary to ensure the health and wellbeing of Bambarayon, Sunduan (human spirit) and other spiritual beings.

Re-union is realised in respect of the re-intergration of the seven-in-one spirit of Huminodun in Bambarayon (paddy spirit) as well in respect of human needs to be integrated in body, mind and spirit within the concept of the seven-in-one divinity in humanity, as well as re-union of Bambarayon with human Sunduan.

Finally, recitals, songs of praise and thanksgiving (Sugandoi) is observed as befitting for all creations to express their gratitude and appreciation for the gifts of life (through Huminodun) and all life supportive system on earth that their Creator lovingly and generously gave them. The Kaamatan Festival is thus celebrated to commemorate the “Greatest Love of all”, in that: “the Creator Couple (Kinoingan & Sumundu) so loved the Kadayans and their world that they sacrificed their only Daughter Ponompuan (Huminodun) in order to save them from annihilation due to severe drought and famine due to sinfulness and Godlessness.”

This Kaamatan Feast is symbolized by the sharing of the new harvest (made manifest from the sacrificed body of Huminodun) by all divine, human and spiritual members of the mystical divine-human Kadayan family often referred to by Bobolians as “Tangaanak do Bambarayon” which means “Children of Bambarayons”.

Today, the Kaamatan festival has become one of the major national festivals of Malaysia. Unfortunately, the essence, true meanings and purposes of the Kaamatan festival in the context of its original celebrants’ (the Kadazandusuns) culture and belief system have continued to elude the thousands of celebrants each year. More than ever before, the Kaamatan festival is in need of re-orientation in its presentation to the global society so that it is properly understood, appreciated, and respected in its historical origin, cultural and spiritual significance, and contextual perspectives. It must be realized that the Kaamatan festival as it is celebrated today is only a portion of the holistic Kadazandusun traditional Momolian religion, and culture, which is by no means lesser than the rest of the world’s cultures.

To the younger generation of the Kadazandusuns, who may be experiencing various degrees of cultural dilemma, alienation and values disorientation in the light of rapid social change, may this article help them to regain back their cultural consciousness and realize in time that they have much to value and be proud of in the wealth of their unique natural and cultural heritage. Most importantly, may this book help rectify the wrong notions, negative biases and the tendencies of those who are unfamiliar with Momolianism to regard it as wholly wrong and/or given to evil in all aspects which have led many to have condemned Momolianism as Animism, Paganism or Kafir. It is the author’s view that it is not only wise but necessary for modern religions to cultivate a more respectful openness towards understanding traditional religions, for they too share some of the fundamental universal values and truth that cannot be monopolized by any individual or single religion if world peace and harmony is our shared mission on this temporary fragile planet wherein we happen to co-exist for a while.

Why the new religions are readily acceptable to the indigenous peoples of Sabah is perhaps due in part to the already existing shared fundamental concepts and values within both the traditional and the modern religious belief system. Hence syncretism of the new and the old religions have become common phenomenon in the practice of modern religions today and should not be viewed as all-negatives, because; 'Within the realism of our religious pluralism, any religion which fails to open itself to others in the spirit of harmonious inter-religious dialogue and cooperation will eventually fall into narrow-minded ghettoism and intolerant fanatism which may eventually destroy other religions, and in itself become as cancerous cell in relation to the whole organism of which it is a parasite'.