Kaamatan/Gawai Is The Most Happening Annual Event in East Malaysia - Here's Why


From Chinese New Year to Hari Raya, we Malaysians love to celebrate the rich diversity of our beautiful nation! So it comes to no surprise that on the shores of East Malaysia, Harvest Festival (known respectively as Kaamatan and Gawai to Sabahans and Sarawakians) is one of the most celebrated events of the year. Get hyped with these 5 compelling reasons why Kaamatan/Gawai is the most happening annual celebration in East Malaysia:


1. Fascinating Cultural Traditions 



In Sabah, Kaamatan is a Kadazan-Dusun term for "harvest" and is celebrated for the whole month of May. The celebration stems from a legend where Kinoingan, a God, sacrificed his daughter, Huminodun, over a paddy field to save his people from a great famine. Various cultural activities occur throughout the season, but the most fascinating tradition would be the Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant where a maiden is crowned queen to commemorate the spirit of Huminodun! 


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Traditional Dayak Iban Welcoming The dancers leads the guests to the downstream entrance of the longhouse, once they arrive at the traditional stair that was carved from one piece of ironwood all the guests are blessed by one of the elders using a chicken in a practice called "Biau" so that before they enter the longhouse they leave behind everything bad and enter it in a pure state, after that the leader of the group of guests then throw away the contents of a traditional dish called "pedara' piring udah" to ward off bad spirits so the spirits do not disturb their activities, before finally coming into the longhouse all the guest"ngemuai", they spill a bit of rice wine to the ground while praying, after that is done the guest drinks a glass of rice wine and proceed into the longhouse. Once they are in the longhouse the dancers perform their traditional dance moving forward towards the middle of the longhouse where the guest sit in front of the "Tuai Rumah" (leader of the longhouse) "bilik" (chamber/room) and sit down with the Tuai Rumah and everyone at the longhouse welcomes them, talk with them, eat with them, and drink rice wine with them. #sungaiutik #dayakiban #kapuashulu #kalimantanbarat #indonesia #dayak #dayakborneo #salambudaya #dayakculture #kalbar #sobatwisata #anakdayak #sukudayak #gawai #borneo #benuaborneo #budayadayak #kalbarinfo #ruangdayak #tawakborneo #pesonakalimantan #pesonakalbar #explorekalimantan #pesonaborneo #pesonaindahborneo #dayaknusantara

A post shared by Kynan Tegar (@kynantegar) on Oct 9, 2019 at 6:19pm PDT


Meanwhile in Sarawak, Gawai Dayak used to be a more religious celebration for the Dayak tribes. The tribe would give thanks to their god known as "Petara" after every harvest and before starting rice cultivation for the next season. Today, the Gawai festival is one that celebrates unity, aspiration, and hope by many different ethnic groups such as Iban, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Kelabit, and Murut.  


2. Mouth-watering Cuisine 

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#EatLikeALocal : A full-blown authentic #Kadazan meal that will karate-chop your tastebuds & bring a smile to your face; Fried & raw sago worms, salted egg, fried wild ginger, salted fish cooked in white pepper, '#Tuhau' or pickled wild ginger (traditional Kadazan appetizer), '#Bambangan', also an appetizer made from Wild Mango and last but not least is the #Hinava, a traditional raw fish salad that completes the meal with a jolt of tangy freshness. Front & centre is the 'Linopot', rice cooked in yam and snuggled up in Daun Simpuh, a leaf from the 'Dillenia Suffruticosa' plant. What's the best/most memorable thing you've eaten in #Sabah? Tell us! || 📷 by @foodpsabah

A post shared by Amazing Borneo Sabah & Sarawak (@amazingborneo) on Aug 15, 2016 at 2:24am PDT



In Sabah, you can enjoy a feast of local delicacies like hinava (raw fish marinated in lime and citrus), bambangan (a seasonal wild mango fruit), butod (sago grub), and more! Wild boar or bakas is also very popular with the Kadazandusun community, and often an essential item at local Kaamatan bazaars. Sweets include hinompuka, a type of gooey rice cake steamed in banana leaves and flavoured with dark palm sugar. No surprise there, considering the harvest festival is all about rice! 



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Ayam pansuh or Manuk pansuh is a dish well known in Borneo (the states Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia). It is famous among the Iban and Bidayuh tribe and is usually prepared during special occasions such as the Gawai Dayak (a thanksgiving festival marking a bountiful harvest). It is prepared by cooking chicken meat in a bamboo, filled with water (which will later be the soup), seasonings and covered with tapioca leaves from the cassava plant (later can be eaten together with the cooked chicken). Ayam pansuh atau Manuk pansuh adalah hidangan yang terkenal di negeri Sabah dan Sarawak di Malaysia). Ia terkenal di kalangan suku kaum Iban dan Bidayuh dan biasanya disediakan semasa majlis-majlis khas seperti Gawai Dayak (perayaan kesyukuran menandakan ketibaan musim menuai). Ia disediakan dengan memasak daging ayam di dalam buluh, dipenuhi dengan air dan ditutupi dengan daun ubi kayu yang akan dimakan bersama dengan ayam yang dimasak. #ayampansoh #localdelicacy #sasetfacts #makanantempatan #faktasaset

A post shared by SASET (@sasetpahang) on Aug 19, 2017 at 7:04pm PDT


In Sarawak, traditional treats are prepared from glutinous rice flour mixed with sugar, such as sarang semut (ant nest cake), cuwan (molded cake), kui sepit (twisted cake), and penganan iri (a discus-shaped cake).On Gawai eve, glutinous rice is roasted in bamboo known as ngelulun pulut, along with a multitude of traditional dishes such as pansoh manok, chicken and lemongrass cooked in a bamboo log over an open fire! We’re already drooling at the thought of how deliciously smoked this chicken will be thanks to this cooking method. 


3. The dancing is lit! 



Trust us, when East Malaysians start dancing, the parties are only just getting started. In Sabah, the Sumazau is the must-do traditional folk dance of the Kadazan Dusun. The dance is inspired by eagle flying patterns witnessed by farmers in the field during harvest season. 



Meanwhile, Magunatip, also known as the Bamboo Dance, gets faster and faster as the dance goes on, leaving both the audience and dancers out of breath! We dare you to give it a try! 




In Sarawak, the traditional dance Ngajat is performed during the Gawai celebration.The male dancers wear large feathers as part of their headgear, hold an ornate and long shield in their hand with chains, beads and a loincloth called the ‘cawat’. The female dancers have an elaborate headdress, chains, beads and a ‘dress’ that reaches to below their knees with intricate weaving. It is an elegant dance to behold, even as an audience member! 


4. Did we mention alcohol? 



For alcoholic drinkers, the harvest festival is also a great opportunity to sample local rice wines to expand your palate! In Sabah, rice wine is usually made from glutinous rice fermented over time in a clay jar. Rice wine here is known as  lihing, hiing (certain Dusun languages), kinomol, segantang, kinarung, kinopi, linahas, and even tapai. Each type differs slightly based on their ingredients and fermentation times!

Language Tip: In Sabah, the word Aramaiti is used synonymously with the word cheers before taking your drink! 




In Sarawak, drinking tuak, the locally brewed rice wine, is a tradition during the festival! It is brewed at least one month before the Gawai Dayak and brewed from glutinous rice mixed with homemade yeast. It is offered as a welcome drink to any guest who visits their longhouse. 


5. The best part? Friendly locals who’ll treat you like one of the family! 


With more than 100 tribes and dialects spoken, it is no wonder that the population of Sabah and Sarawak is considered colourfully diverse. As a result of this diversity, Sabahans and Sarawakians are always open to welcoming new members to their ‘family’ with open arms, and are considered some of the warmest people you’ll ever meet! 


While travel might not be available to most of us right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it doesn’t hurt to dream! Make a mental note to celebrate Kaamatan or Gawai in East Malaysia on your travel bucket list in the future. You can even take it a step further by signing up to Mayflower.com.my and making use of our travel wallet for future travels! Sabah and Sarawak await you with open arms! 


Meanwhile, don’t forget to continue social distancing and stay safe everyone! 


In light of the current circumstances, Mayflower Holidays recognise that our customers may have difficulty in reaching us through our customer support helpline. We strongly urge customers with non-immediate concerns to contact us via email at cs@mayflower-group.com or through our contact form if you have any concerns or issues. Meanwhile, we would like to remind everyone to stay safe during this period. See you again soon!