1994 was the year when The Regatta Lepa Semporna officially introduced as an annual State event, paying homage to the Lepa; a traditional single-mast sailing boat of the Bajau of Semporna. In 2003 Regatta Lepa was officially added in the calendar ‘Malaysia Water Festival’ and now it represents as one of a annual event in Malaysia.A flotilla of colourful boats dot the Celebes Sea as they compete for the title of ‘Most Beautiful Lepa’.
The celebration continues with various cultural performances, the Lepa Beauty Pageant, cultural performances, fireworks display as well as traditional and contemporary sports and games. In Sabah East Coast Bajau community dialect, Lepa means “boat”. The Lepa boat is a cultural legacy inherited by Bajau people from many generations ago. The existence of Lepa is believed to originate from the fishing community who live in Bum Bum Island and used by the native people along the coast of Semporna.
Semporna celebrates the annual Water Festival of Regatta Lepa in April. Lepa boat has been a significant part of the Sabah Bajau fishermen since immemorial time. The Regatta Lepa is an occasion to show-off all the beautifully built Lepa. The annual event’s highlight is a competition to choose the most dazzling lepa. Colorful adorned lepa(s) grace the waterfront, decked with the smiling faces of dancers and musicians. For the Bajau people, Lepa Boats are multi utility.The boat serves as a fishing vessel and as a mean of transportation. It is also utilized for wedding venues and cultural performances. The unique lifestyle and festival is a cultural legacy inherited by many generations.
This sleepy town comes to life as the colorful sails take to the sea to compete for the prize of the most beautiful lepa. This is judged based on its decoration, local ethnic music and dances performed on board, sambulayang (sails) and tipas-tipas (small flags). Regatta Lepa is an annual gathering of the most skillful fishing boat builders in Sabah. The Bajau in Semporna have their yearly festival for remembering their old heritage. In this festival the Bajaus from different village and different island will meet. During the festive meeting they select the best Lepa boat of the year. During the 2 to 3 days. the Bajau’s show their Lepa‘s with the different style’s and color. In each Lepa is a group of musicians and a couple of dancer. The flotilla of colorful banners ridden Lepa will make a round in front of the VIP’s and the judge’s stage. The judges will give a point for their performance related to beautiful Lepa’s and the best dancer’s.
The activities of Regatta Lepa-lepa celebration were in two areas; the traditional event showcasing the beautiful Lepa-lepa boats around the water front and exhibitions events at the town padang (field), where mini-village comprising of traditional huts were on display. At night, visitors will be entertained by both local and national singers, dancers and musicians. The Bajau seafarers’ proud maritime heritage came alive recently in this annual festival of Regatta Lepa, featuring their boats, the Lepa with participants dancing at the helm of their boats, decorated in full color.
The event attracted thousands each year.The highlight of Lepa event is to choose the most dazzling Lepa from the beautifully, colorfully adorned boats which are lined up at the waterfront. On the decks are smiling dancers and musicians dressed in equally colorful traditional attires. Other attractions in Regatta Lepa includes sea sports such as rowboat, sailing and kelleh-kelleh (small dugout boat) competitions, Lepa tug of war, and duck catching competition. There will also be a colorful cultural night performance.
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Facts about Semporna
Semporna is located at the tip of Semporna Peninsula around Lahad Datu Bay (also known as Darvel Bay), and is visited by tourists as a base for scuba diving or snorkelling trips to Pulau Sipadan (Sipadan Island). The majority of the population is Bajau, many of whom live in sprawling stilt villages over the water on the outskirts of town. Thousands of Bajau Laut (also known as Sea Gypsies or Pala’u) people live on the sea around Semporna. They are one of the few nomadic sea borne peoples of the world, and spend most of their lives on boats, finding a livelihood from the coral reefs in the area. For some Bajau Laut people, the only time that their bodies spend a long time on land is when they are buried after death.
How to get to Semporna from Tawau and Kota Kinabalu
If your point of departure is Tawau, the journey time from Tawau airport to Semporna by taxi is around 75min or by public transport around 2 hours. It is usually possible to find local minivans at the airport but these will take you to Tawau town first and you will then need to catch another van from there to Semporna.
If your departure point in Sabah is Kota Kinabalu, You can either fly or catch a bus from Kota Kinabalu. Buses leave daily for Semporna at 7:30AM & 7:30PM from the Kota Kinabalu Bus terminal. It takes about 10 hours to reach Semporna by bus and costs approximately RM75 . Flying to Tawau can be done either by using the Malaysia Airlines or Air Asia services.
Alternatively, click HERE for detail information on how to get to Semporna. This link will give you a comprehensive information regarding Semporna itself.