Sabah is a land rich in culturally diverse groups spread across the state. It has over thirty different ethnic races and more than eighty local dialects. Though the tribes in Sabah share homely and harmonious relationships among them, these tribes still maintain an utterly diverse culture, art, tradition and festivals. The tourists are sure to find these festivals enlightening and heartening.
Pesta Kelapa (Coconut Festival)
Coconut has its importance in every coastal city around the world. And Sabah is no exception. Coconut trees are harvested on a large scale in Kudat, where more than 5,000 hectares are covered for these plantations. The festival is celebrated to recognise and appreciate the significant contribution of coconut.
The staple diet of most Sabahan people, rice, is a gift from their God - Kinoingan, who sacrificed his daughter - Huminodun, and from whose body parts padi (rice) grew. On this day, people honour the commitment shown by their God by conducting various ceremonies to pay tribute to Bambaazon, the spirit of Kinoingan daughter's Huminodun. During the Pesta Kaamatan festival, which takes place on May 1st, the Magavau ritual is conducted to invite the spirit of Bambaazon to the Pesta. This ritual is performed only by the high priestess as without the spirit of Bambaazon; the festival cannot go on further.
Regatta Lepa is an annual event that pays homage to the 'lepa', a traditional sailing boat of the Bajau Semporna. The festival has been celebrated with enthusiasm in Semporna, with decorated boats being sailed in the Celebes Sea for the "Most Beautiful Lepa" contest. Other contests are also held like rowboat, sailing, kelleh-kelleh, tug of war, etc.
Pesta Rumbia (Sago Festival)
Pesta Rumbia is celebrated in Kuala Penyu, a little town far away from Kota Kinabalu. Rumbia or sago (name of a palm tree) forms an indispensable part of the daily diet of the Bisayas and Kadazan communities. They reside in the region of Kuala Penyu, where it is grown.
Pesta Jagung (Corn Festival)
Pesta Jagung is a 2-day celebration filled with corn-related activities such as corn industry exhibitions, corn competitions, traditional sports, which may or may not involve corn. The event's highlights are the Maize Beauty Queen Pageant held on the second day, featuring local beauties decorated with corn-derived jewellery.
Tamu Besar Kota Belud
Every year in October, the festival of Tamu Besar is held where farmers, fishers and traders come together in an open-air market to sell their produce. All communities dress up in their traditional costumes and display distinctive traditions, say the riding skills of the Bajau community. Dance, music, ceremonies, fun and fare are all in plenty.
Chinese New Year
Sabah is home to the Chinese community who settled here as traders while dealing with the local Malayans. Every year, the Chinese celebrate their new year by lighting up the streets, decorating their homes with lanterns, arranging cultural programmes in city halls and setting up stalls to sell goodies and Chinese delicacies.
Sabah being a multicultural state, about 30 ethnic groups come together to celebrate the Sabah festival in the month of April-May. Various cultural programmes are held with each community depicting the highlights of their traditions. Stalls are set up, where rare handicrafts and wood carvings from various tribes are sold. A wide variety of the cultural heritage of Sabah can be seen at this festival.
Sabah Dragon Boat Race
The race is held every year in June at the Likas Bay, with international teams participating in the competition. Longboats decorated with dragon heads and other streamers sail through the Bay, and the paddlers are rooted by thumping of drums and cheering from the crowd.
Mt. Kinabalu International Climbathon
Mt. Kinabalu's peak point is the aim for every hiker who participates in this competition held every October. The hike is about 12 miles long and tests every participant's physical as well as mental fitness.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan month and the beginning of the Islamic New Year by praying at mosques and arranging small get-togethers at friends and relatives places.
Diwali / Deepawali
Diwali or Festival of Lights is a Hindu festival celebrated in October/November to honour the victory of God over evil. People celebrate this victory by lighting small lamps and hanging lanterns in front of their homes. 'Rangolis' are drawn, and sweets are distributed among friends and family.
Malaysia celebrates Christmas with much pomp and fare. Christmas trees are decorated with small ornaments, and prayers are arranged at Midnight Mass. Streets, homes, hotels and all public places are lighted up during this festival which ends with a bang as the New Year sets in on January 1st.