Unduk Ngadau Pesta Kaamatan: The Legend


Unduk Ngadau is about getting back to roots. The roots of the Kadazandusun. It is about The Spirit Of Rice and understanding why and how Kinoingan and Suminundu sacrificed their only daughter, Ponompuan . She is later known as Huminodun, the transformed sacrifice and her spirit (Rusod) now lives in every plant. Huminodun’s rusod in paddy is regarded as Sunduan in status and is fondly called Bambarayon by Bobolians to denote the highest hierarchical position of this plant in the eyes of all Kadazan Dusuns. (KDCA.December 7, 2004).

Honestly, that was the hardest introduction that I had to think of. The names were initially hard for me to re type let alone the pronunciation. Yes, I am a Kadazandusun but the title of being that does not mean that I know every single thing about my own tradition. Unduk Ngadau finale will be held on May 31, 2016 and I want to take this opportunity to learn more about my culture and by doing so, I can share all the information to those seeking for it.

The Legend Of Unduk Ngadau

According to KDCA  (December 7, 2004), a very long time ago, the staple food of Kinoingan and his people was a type of grain called “Huvong”. One day, there was no huvong left to plant, nor other grains left for food. Kinoingan was so worried and felt very sorry for his people sufferings. It was said that Kinoingan sacrificed Huminodun, the only child to Kinoingan and Suminundu. She was the most beautiful maiden in her time, truly anyone who gaze at her lovely countenance would be transfixed and fall in love with her. She was also kind hearted and blessed with wisdom beyond her years.

Huminodun was willing to be a sacrifice and be an offering to the great earth so that there will be seeds once again for planting and there will be food for the people. Kinoingan was deeply saddened, but seeing that there was nothing else he could do to dissuade her, Kinoingan went ahead and cleared the land for planting. Through his supernatural powers, he was able to clear such a large area over many hills without any difficulty. When the time came for planting, Huminodun was brought to the cleared plot. As she was leaving, one cold hear the pitiful wails of great sadness from Suminundu, her mother. It was not at all easy for Huminodun to leave her mother and likewise her mother letting her only child go.

The young men who had fallen in love with Huminodun could not let her go either. Indeed, they too cried and begged her to change her mid. However, there was nothing anyone could do, Huminodun had decided that her father’s people came before her. When she arrived at the cleared plot, she turned to her father and said: “Father, you will see that my body will give rise to all sorts of edible plants for the people. My flesh will give rise to rice; my head, the coconut; my bones, tapioca; my toes, ginger; my teeth, maize; my knees, yams and others parts of my body to a variety of edible plants. This way never again will our people grow hungry to the point of dying.”

“However,” Huminodun continued, “Do follow these instructions of mine for it will guarantee us a bountiful harvest. When you have strewn parts of my body all over this clearings, do not come and see me for seven days and seven nights. When the padi has ripened, and it is time for harvest, do not start the harvest without doing this; take seven stalks of rice (padi) and tie them to one end of a spliced bamboo stick and them, plant this stick at the centre of the rice (padi) field. Only after this may you begin your harvesting activities.”

She added, “Later, place this bamboo stick with the seven rice (padi) stalks in the rice (padi) storage container (tangkob) when you bring it home after the harvest. For your first day harvest, do keep them in a big jar (kakanan). And, Father, do not give away your first year’s harvest because the grains may become bad. You can only give away your harvest to others in the second year.” (That is why to this day, the Kadazandusun people do not give away their first years harvest.)

Kinoingan agreed to follow all her instructions. So it was that when Kinoingan sacrificed Huminodun, the whole world turned dark and there was awesome thunder and lightning. That year, the people had never seen such a harvest. It was plentiful. Kinoingan had done as Huminodun instructed He also kept away the first day’s harvest in the kakanan and harvested the first seven stalks of rice from the rice plot. The seven stalks of rice represented Bambaazon, the spirit of the padi or rice.

As for the rice in the jar, the kakanan, on the seventh day a beautiful maiden miraculously stood up out of the big jar. She was referred to as UNDUK NGADAU, the spirit of Huminodun. It was said that this Unduk Ngadau was the one who instructed the first Bobohizan or Kadazan Dusun priestess in her prayers.

Therefore to this day, the Kadazan Dusun people have included the Unduk Ngadau Pageant as a grand part of their Kaamatan Festivalsor PESTA KAAMATAN. It is a manifestation to the deep sense of respect and admiration that the Kadazan Dusun people have for the legendary Huminodun. It is a sacred title ascribed to Huminodun, to her absolute obedience to Kinoingan, so much so as to be a willing sacrifice for the sake of the father’s creation. “Unduk Ngadau” then is commemorative term in praise of Huminodun’s eternal youth and the total beauty of her heart, mind and body.

The term “Unduk ” or “Runduk” literally means the shoot of a plant, which, in it most tangible description, signifies youth and progressiveness. Likewise, in its literal meaning, “Ngadau” or “Tadau” means the sun, which connotes the total beauty of the heart, mind and body of an ideal Kadazan Dusun woman. In essence therefore the “Unduk Ngadau” is a processional event of selecting from among the Kadazan Dusun beauties, one who would resemble the ascribed personality of “Huminodun”.

What Is Pesta Kaamatan?

Pesta Kaamatan (Harvest Festival)is when the Kadazandusuns give thanks to the gods and spirits for blessings and a good paddy harvest, asking for guidance; they dance and eat and drink amidst much merrymaking! During this harvest festival, the Pesta Ka’amatan, known locally as “Tadau Ka’amatan”, Sabah natives wear their traditional costumes and enjoy a carnival-like atmosphere, which usually stretches from dawn to dawn. Tapai’, as their homemade rice wine is called, is freely served during the festivities.

The origins of Ka’amatan, which means “after harvest”, can be traced back to the animistic beliefs of the Kadazandusun. The Kadazans believe in the worship of ancient gods and in the existence of the five main spirits –Kinoingan (Almighty God and Creator), Rusad (Spirit of all living things other than Man), Koududuvo (Spirit of the Living), Tombivo (ghostly Spirit of the Dead) and Rogon (evil Spirit).

The spirit of the padi plant is said to be part of the Kinoingan commonly known as the Bambaazon, who is revered as the overall creator, an omnipotent source of life and existence. The spirit of Bambaazon is revered in the rice plant, the rice grain and the cooked rice. To the Kadazandusun, paddy is not only their staple food – it is also a sacred plant, a living symbol of Kinoingan’s love for his people. Many believe that “without rice, there is no life”.

Rituals performed during Ka’amatan are conducted by the much-respected Bobohizan or Bobolian, who are High Priests and Priestesses. There are several major components that make up Ka’amatan. There is the home coming of the Bambaazon, which is an integral part of the festival, thus ensure an abundant harvest if it is invited to dwell in the best ears of paddy, which have been selected for the next planting season.

Next, there is the Magavau ceremony, where the Bobohizan are given the onerous duty of searching, salvaging and recovering Bambaazon which have inadvertently been lost, stolen or led astray – by pests and predators, natural phenomena such as floods and droughts, careless harvesters, and the like – reciting a long summoning prayer in the beginning of the harvest to cajole and persuade theBambaazon to return to the rice barns.

Afterwards there is the Unduk Ngadau, a traditional beauty contest, in which, of course, the fairest in the land will participate, and a Ka’amatan Queen will be selected. This is however no ordinary beauty contest, as it apparently owes its origins to the legend or story of the Kadazandusun’s genesis, and their creator, Kinoingan’s sacrifice of his only daughter Huminodun, for the love of his people.


Pesta Kaamatan is the bigger thing. The Unduk Ngadau is one of the highlight. However, people will always anticipate the winner of Unduk Ngadau and sometimes there are people who tend to forget that the Unduk Ngadau is actually just a part of Pesta Kaamatan. The saddest thing or shall I say the scariest thing is, the winner might not resemble Huminodun. Unduk Ngadau is about the Spirit Of Rice, the ability to sacrifice for others, the willingness to surrender to the community needs and being a super brave woman. In this modern era, it will be up to the winner(s) to decide how they should resemble Huminodun without being asked to do so. It ain’t a straight forward beauty pageant.

I did read some articles, blogs and journals to enable me to understand better about Unduk Ngadau and Pesta Kaamatan. I shared the information here and give links to the sources in the references section. On the next entry, I will be sharing the team members (curiostraveller.com) thoughts  about the current situation of being an Unduk Ngadau. We are hoping to see more Huminodun(s)  in the years to come. We ain’t looking for the Asia Next Top Model. As the content coordinator, I am actually planning to do some interviews with some great people, including past winners and perhaps someone from KDCA. I want to have a broader views and listen to their opinions regarding Unduk Ngadau. I hope they will accept my invitation. Fingers crossed.



Daily Express (April 26, 2011). Kaamaatan More than just Unduk Ngadau. Retrieved on 19 April 2016 from http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsID=77802

Daily Express (June 3, 2012) . Unduk Ngadau gone too commercial? Retrieved on April 20, 2016 from http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/read.cfm?NewsID=910

Daily Express (May 16,2015). KDCA Wants to patent ‘Unduk Ngadau. Retrieved on April 19 from http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsID=99794

Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA).December 7, 2004. Who Is Huminodun?  Retrieved on April 19, 2016 from http://kdca.org.my/archives/138

Low Kok On and Lee Yok Fee (July 2012). Investigating the relationship between Kadazandusun beliefs about Paddy Spirits, Riddling in Harvest Time and Paddy Related Sundait. Retrieved on April 20, 2016 from   http://journalarticle.ukm.my/5963/1/e.pdf

Palikat, Nicholas. 1988. The Legend of Hay and Rice. In Ignatia Olim Marsh (ed.). Tales and Traditions from Sabah: 67-68. Kota Kinabalu: The Sabah Society

Pesta Kaamatan. Retrieved on 20 April 2016 from http://go2travelmalaysia.com/tour_malaysia/psta_kamatan.htm

Reid, Anthony. 1997. Endangered Identity: Kadazan or Dusun in Sabah. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies Vol. 28, Mac: 120-136. National University of Singapore.

Sabah Museum. 1993. Rice Power and Its Magic: A Brief Introduction to the Culture of Rice in Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Department of Sabah Museum.

The Star Online (June 4,2015). Aspiring Teacher is Harvest Queen. Retrieved on 20 April 2016 from http://www.thestar.com.my/metro/community/2015/06/04/aspiring-teacher-is-harvest-queen-yong-wants-to-promote-sabahs-diverse-cultures-to-the-world/

Topin, Benedict. 1996. Sharing on Kadazandusun Culture. Penampang: Sabah State Library, Penampang Branch.