Sabah, Malaysian Borneo » Entertainment » Festivals

Chinese New Year
Beginning of February
Sabah is home to a significant Chinese population who settled here as traders while dealing with the local Malayans. Every year in the month of January-February, the Chinese celebrate their New Year by lighting up the streets, decorating their homes with lanterns, arranging cultural programs in city halls, and setting up stalls to sell goodies and Chinese delicacies.

Regatta Lepa
End of April
This festival is celebrated with much pomp by the Bajau community of Sabah's east coast region of Semporna. People of this fishing community have been celebrating this event in honour of their tradition of building "lepa", a traditional single-mast sailing boat. The method of building these boats made from red wood has been handed over from generation to generation. During this festival, which started in 1994, decorated boats sail the seas to win the crown of the most beautiful "lepa". Other contests like kelleh-kelleh, tug of war, Lepa Beauty Pageant, cultural performances, and fireworks display are held in celebration of the festival.

Sabah Festival
Sabah is a multicultural state that hosts 30 different ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own individual language, traditions, arts and crafts, and way of living. Every year the Sabah Fest brings these groups together to celebrate Sabah's cultural diversity and unique heritage. Various cultural programs are held with each community depicting the highlights of their own traditions. Stalls are set up where rare handicrafts and woodcarvings from various tribes are sold. A rich variety of Sabah's cultures and genres can be seen at this festival.

Pesta Kaamatan
Rice is the staple diet of most Sabahn people and for them this crop is a gift from their God - Kinoingan. Legends say, Kinoingan sacrificed his only, beautiful daughter 'Huminodun' and sowed her body parts as seeds, which later grew to padi (rice). To this day, the people honour the commitment shown by their God in the form of a festival by conducting various ceremonies as a tribute to Bambaazon, the spirit of Kinoingan's daughter 'Huminodun'. During the Pesta Kaamatan festival, which takes place during first week of May, 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.

Pesta Kelapa (Coconut Festival)
End of June
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 social-economic structure of the Kudat people. As World Coconut Day 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.

Sabah Dragon Boat Race ( Visit Site )
Mid June
Sabah Dragon Boat Race is held every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, at the Likas Bay. During the race, Dragon Boats and other streamers make their way across the River Milo to the rhythm of pounding drums and cheering from the crowd. Spectators are not only treated to the exciting dragon race but also delicious local fare at the stalls set up along the Likas Bay.

Pesta Rumbia
Beginning of July
This event is celebrated in the town of Kuala Penyu, situated a little far away from the town of Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah. Rumbia or sago forms an indispensable part of the daily diet of the Bisayas and Kadazan community who reside in the region of Kuala Penyu and the surrounding districts of Beaufort and Papar. 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.

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 together at friend and relative's places. The traditional way of inviting families and friends is by hosting an 'Open House'. Women don customary baju kurung/ baju kebaya and men wear baju melayu to celebrate the festive month. Guests are treated to delicious festive food including beef rending as well as Raya cookies and cakes.

Kinabalu International Climbathon
Mid October
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.

Pesta Jagung (Corn Festival)
Beginning of November
The Pesta Jagung or maize festival is held in the district of Kota Marudu at the start of November. Maize or jagung is an important crop for the economic survival of the Kadazandusun community in Kota Marudu. Therefore, 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, Maize Lantern and Cultural Parade, and the Jagung Fashion Queen.

Diwali / Deepawali
Beginning of November
Diwali or Festival of Lights is a Hindu festival celebrated during the month of Oct-Nov to honour the victory of good over evil. People celebrate this victory by lighting small earthen lamps, decorating their houses with rangolis and hanging lanterns in front of their homes. Friends and family are called over to celebrate the festival and to bow down before God for attainment of wealth, knowledge, peace and fame.

Tamu Besar Kota Belud
End of November
Kota Belud, located on an hour's drive from Kota Kinabalu, is famous in Malaysia for its cultural diversity. The peaceful co-existence of Muslim Bajau community with other tribes like the Kadazandusun and the Irranun has led to development of a rich, artistic heritage of Kota Belud, unique to the region. Every year, Tamu Besar, the biggest traditional open-air market is held in Sabah, where all the farmers, anglers and traders get together to sell their produce to the consumers. All the communities dress up in the traditional costumes and display their distinctive traditions such as the riding skills of the Bajau community. Buffalo parade, Horsemen Tug of War and the Buffalo race with Sack of Paddy are some of the major attractions of the festival.

Kiulu 4M Challenge
Beginning of December
The town of Kiulu located about 40km away from Kota Kinabalu is the venue for the 4M Challenge. 4M, which stands for four traditional Kadazandusun sports starting with 'M', comprise of managkus (running), mamangkar (bamboo rafting), manampatau (swimming with bamboo) and mamarampanau (walking with bamboo stilts). The K4MC sports contest, which tests mental and physical fitness, 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.

Christmas in Malaysia is similar to those celebrated throughout many other parts of the world. Malays rejoice the birth of Christ by decorating Christmas trees with small ornaments, offering midnight services and prayers, and hosting various activities at resorts and hotels. Streets, homes, hotels and public places are lighted up during this festival, which ends with a bang as the New Year sets in.