If you are planning a trip to Sabah in the near future, you are probably wondering about this so you can make the most of your trip. There are two most probable answers.
One is during the dry season which is from May to September so you can spend a lot of time outdoors and easily explore all the attractions in the area, and the other is during one of the six largest vibrant cultural festival in Sabah, so you can have a uniquely enriching cultural experience.
1. Regatta Lepa Semporna (Semporna, 3rd week of April)
The Bajau community is one of the four main ethnic groups in Sabah and they can be found mainly in the town of Semporna, where they have their houses built over the water and retain fishing as their main way of living.
Each year, they celebrate this unique lifestyle with the Regatta Lepa Semporna which is highlighted by presence of beautiful, traditional boats made of redwood and adorned with colorful sails and flags.
All competing for the prestige of being the finest ‘lepa’ of the year. The winning boat is chosen based on its appearance, as well as the cultural performances aboard it.
Aside from the contest for the best ‘lepa’, there are also boat races, boat tug of wars (one boat for each party which strives to row in the opposite direction), swimming competitions for children and a duck catching competition.
The festivities continue into the night, when the boats are all lit and more cultural dances are held.
2. Pesta Kaamatan (all of Sabah, May 1 to 31)
In Sabah, there is a legend that goes that Kinoingan, the Creator, sent seven plagues to punish mankind for their corrupt ways, the last one of which was drought, which caused famine throughout the land.
Hungry, the people begged Kinoingan for forgiveness and his daughter, Ponumpuan, also called Huminodin, took pity on them that she agreed to become a sacrifice for them.
Thus, her body parts became the seeds in the rice fields, ending the famine, and her soul became the spirit of the paddy, called Bambaazon.
Every year, the people of Sabah commemorate this sacrifice by conducting various ceremonies, particularly the Magavau Ritual which is performed on the first day of the festival by the High Priestess to invoke Bambaazon.
There are also many cultural performances held throughout the month, and the offerings of food and rice wine to the spirits.
3. Pesta Rumbia (Kualu Penyu, 2nd week of July)
Rumbia is the Sabahan term for sago, which is a starch extracted from tropical palm stems most commonly seen in the form of pearls that are used in drinks and desserts, particularly puddings.
For the Bisayan and Kadazan people living in Kualu Penyu, however, sago is part of the daily diet, and is rolled into balls or made into pancakes. Even the other parts of the sago tree, which grows abundantly in the area, are used, as well, to make roofs for houses, baskets and mats.
The annual Pesta Rumbia celebrates this tradition and gives visitors the chance to sample various sago delicacies or even learn to make them.
4. Pesta Kelapa (Kudat, 2nd week of September)
This annual celebration in Kudat is perhaps the most fun in Sabah, marked with various competitions that all have something to do with coconuts, which are known locally as kelapa and grown extensively in the area.
Visitors are welcome to participate in the competitions and partake in local dishes made with coconut or simply delight in drinking from a freshly picked coconut in the shade, while watching the locals strut around in clothes made from the different parts of coconut trees or perform cultural dances.
5. Tamu Besar Kota Belud (Kota Belud, last week of October)
Kota Belud is known as the ‘Land of Cowboys of the East’ and it is easy to see why when you come to the annual Tamu Besar, which is highlighted by a parade featuring elaborately dressed ponies.
There are also various competitions to showcase the skills of the ponies and their riders. In addition, a buffalo rodeo show is held, which is similar to the rodeos held in the western parts of the US, but with a buffalo instead of a horse.
There is also a large open-air market where one can buy local produce and crafts for a fair price.
6. Pesta Jagung (Kota Marudu, middle of November)
Pesta Jagung translates to maize festival which is only a fitting celebration since corn is an important part of living in Kota Marudu, a small town located just a short distance from Kota Kinabalu.
There are competitions held here about cooking and planting corn, as well as cultural performances and a fashion show.
Come to Sabah and experience all these vibrant cultural celebrations for yourself!