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Pesta Kelapa

Coconut has its own importance in every coastal city around the world. And Sabah is no exception. Coconut trees are harvested on large scale in the area of Kudat where more than 5,000 hectares are covered for the purpose of these plantations. This festival highlights the importance of this tropical fruit in the socio-economic structure of Kudat people. As the World Coconut Day on September 2nd also falls on the same day, a variety of activities are arranged to commemorate the festival, like coconut shoe race, squeezing coconut milk competition, handicrafts displays, fashion show, etc.

Pesta Kaamatan

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 a 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 Semporna

This festival is celebrated by the Bajau community of Sabah’s east coast region of Semporna, from 20th - 22nd April. The people of this fishing community have been celebrating this event in honour of their tradition of building beautiful boats called “lepa”. The method of building boats, which are made from red wood, have been handed over from generation to generation. The festival which started in 1994 has been celebrated with much pomp in Semporna, with decorated boats, being sailed to the sea for the contest of the most beautiful “lepa”. Other contests are also held like, rowboat, sailing, kelleh-kelleh, tug of war, etc.

Pesta Rumbia

On 9th and 10th July, Pesta Rumbia is celebrated in the town of Kuala Penyu, a little far away from the town of Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah. Rumbia or sago forms a indispensable part of the daily diet of the Bisayas and Kadazan community who reside in the region of Kuala Penyu, where it is grown. Each and every part of the sago plant is used and nothing is disposed off. The leaves are used to make roofs, mats, baskets, etc. All theses uses, handicrafts, sago delicacies are demonstrated at a kiosk at Kampung Kasugira.

Pesta Jagung

A maize festival is held on 5th and 6th November, in the region of Kota Marudu, situated nearby Kota Kinabalu. Maize or jagung is an important crop for the economic survival of the Kadazandusun community in Kota Marudu. So the people celebrate this festival to highlight its importance in their lives by arranging various competitions such as jagung cooking and planting competitions, cultural shows and the Jagung Fashion Queen.

Tamu Besar Kota Belud

Kota Belud, an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu is famous in Malaysia for its cultural diversity. The Muslim Bajau community exists peacefully with other tribes like the Kadazandusun and the Irranun. This peaceful co-existence has led to development of a rich, artistic heritage of Kota Belud which is being passed on through generations. In this picturesque place of Sabah, every year on 29th and 30th October, the festival of Tamu Besar is held where all the farmers, fishermen and traders get together to form an open air market to sell their produce to the visitors. All the communities will 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 and it is one of the major attractions in Sabah.

Kiulu 4M Challenge (K4MC)

The town of Kiulu located about 40 kms away from Kota Kinabalu, and it is here where the 4M Challenge takes place in the month of November. The Challenge consists of 4 traditional Kadazandusun sports that are managkus (running), mamangkar (bamboo rafting), manampatau (swimming with bamboo) and mamarampanau (walking with bamboo stilts). Along with being a sports contest to test mental and physical fitness, the K4MC is also thoughtful about preservation and protection of nature, especially Kiulu River. The main purpose of this challenge is to promote eco-tourism, traditional sports and environmental consciousness among people.

Chinese New Year

Sabah also is home to the Chinese community who settled here as traders when dealing with the local Malayans. Every year in the month of January, 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.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Dcubillas

Sabah Festival

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 own traditions. Stalls are set up, where rare handicrafts and wood carvings from various tribes are sold. A rich variety in the cultural heritage of Sabah can be seen at this festival.

Sabah Dragon Boat Race

The race is held every year in the month of 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.

Kinabalu International Climbathon

Mt. Kinabalu’s peak point is the aim for every hiker who takes part in this competition held every year in October. Held for over 20 years, 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 Islamic New Year, by praying at mosques and arranging small get togethers at friend and relatives places.

Diwali / Deepawali

Diwali or Festival of Lights is a Hindu festival celebrated during the month of 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 on 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 1.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Malene Thyssen