KOTA KINABALU: For some two weeks towards the end of May every year, Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) members get the feeling that Penampang is the centre of the world.

People from every corner of the state visit the KDCA grounds near here to watch the finals of the state-level Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant, which is the culmination of the month-long Kaamatan harvest festival.

But most visitors make a beeline for the ever-popular Kaamatan bazaar, which is held in the KDCA parking area, to revel in the festive atmosphere which this year began on May 20.

After a two-year hiatus because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the highly anticipated food, drinks and music carnival is back and looks to be stronger than ever this year, with thousands thronging the bazaar.

Joe Fung said he believes the strong comeback was fuelled by its long absence.

“People have been feeling somewhat empty because we were not able to properly celebrate Kaamatan like we used to. So this is kind of a payback for those lost two years,” he said with a laugh.

On the surface, the Kaamatan bazaar may look like any other food and drinks fair.

Thousands thronging the KDCA grounds in Penampang to enjoy the offerings of the Kaamatan bazaar. — BernamaThousands thronging the KDCA grounds in Penampang to enjoy the offerings of the Kaamatan bazaar. — Bernama

But Nelson Labangka said there is something special about it that is not found in other carnivals in the country.

“People from all walks of life including locals and foreigners come for the Kaamatan bazaar because they want to witness Sabah’s rich culture and heritage.

“Secondly, people are amazed by the harmony in Sabah. We have stalls selling halal and non-halal food side by side, and no one has a problem with that.

“Yes, everyone wants to enjoy their food and drink, but I think what is most unique about the bazaar is the feeling of camaraderie between the people in Sabah – you can’t make that up,” said the public relations worker.

Canopies cover the parking lot, selling various food items such as barbecued chicken wings, grilled lamb, and roasted pork as well as traditional native delicacies like hinava (raw fish marinated in lime juice) and butod (live sago worms).

Music blares in the background, with different stall operators playing either catchy Kadazan Dusun Murut Rungus songs or more contemporary numbers.

“Judging from the crowd, the Kaamatan bazaar has not lost its touch,” added Fung.