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Ignorance or hidden agenda?
Published on: Sunday, May 21, 2017

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
PHOTOS of people covered head to toe in black celebrating Kaamatan “Islamik” in Papar on May 6, 2017 raised eyebrows and anger among the Kadazandusun community.

Abrahamic religion has now encroached into a festival celebrated by Kadazandusun.

From Facebook postings, it is believed that the alternative Kadazandusun harvest festival held in Papar was organised by Islamic organizations and the same will be held in Keningau, Ranau, and Kundasang

Harvest Festivals are not unique to Sabah. It is celebrated all over the world by different ethnicities to gives thanks to the gods for a bountiful harvest and asking for more blessings in the years forward.

In Sabah, it’s a two-day public holiday and foreign visitors and people from all walks of life look forward to the celebrations and organized activities in various districts.

Kaamatan is deeply rooted in pagan-animistic or polytheistic beliefs and rituals.

The Sabah deputy chief minister as well Huguan Siou Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan Pairin in his 2016 Kaamatan speech reminded the people what Kaamatan was supposed to signify. “This is a celebration close to the hearts of all the natives as according to legends, our people suffered from a famine and the situation only changed when Huminodun sacrificed herself.” According to legend, from the daughter of Kinoingan (God) and Suminondu’s body, crops of food sprouted to enable mankind to survive in a famine. Bev Joeman, Bersih 2.0 Vice-Chair explained that the idea of Kaamatan is to give thanks to “Bambazon”, “Kinoingan”, and to “Huminodun” who sacrificed herself to restore land fertility that her people will not die of famine and starvation. In Kadazandusun culture, Bambazon refers to the rice spirits, Kinoingan their God, and Huminodun his daughter.

Pairin in response to the controversy said that Kaamatan is a cultural festival and has nothing to do with religion.

Either the organisers are completely ignorant of the noble intentions of Kaamatan, or they have a deliberate agenda to completely change Kaamatan into something completely different. Pairin said Kaamatan is about celebrating unity and emphasised this year’s theme “Kaamatan Foundation of Unity” which clearly aims to unite Malaysians regardless of backgrounds.

Pairin’s state cabinet colleague, Sabah Tourism Minister Masidi Manjun had a conciliatory take on this sensitive issue. He said that the festival organisers’ intentions were “honourable” as they were reminding Muslim converts of their roots and not to forsake their ethnic culture just because they have converted to the Islamic faith.”

However, Masidi said he did raise his concern over the use of the word “Islamik” as it may create a wrong impression that the celebration is non-inclusive of others who are non-Muslim.

The organisers has since apologised for adding the word “Islamik” to Kaamatan.

Nicholas Sylvester, who chairs the Islamic organisation admitted that it was quite unnecessary for the word ‘Islamik to be there. He said the event was now officially known as “Kaamatan Harmoni” to reflect the organisers’ true intention of getting Sabahans of all religious beliefs to celebrate together, minus the food and drink forbidden to Muslims. “What we meant was, we want to celebrate it within our religious guidelines.”

Muslim brothers have been asking me why would a Muslim group want to organise something which is based on pagan-animistic beliefs and rituals, call it their own, and celebrate according to certain religious guidelines?

Surely, they can be reminded of their roots or where they came from before their Muslim conversion in many ways.

Perhaps organising a simple doa selamat would suffice.

Celebrating Kaamatan in this case seems contradictory to the belief of one and only god in Islam.

It seems inconsistent that a Muslim group insists to celebrate a pagan culture and beliefs their own way.

People have asked, by celebrating Kaamatan in the Islamic way, are Muslims also giving thanks to Bambazon (rice spirits} and another Kinoingan (God)? Pointedly, are they celebrating pagan beliefs?

It seems more and more Muslims in Sabah are confused with reality due to negative influence and interpretations.

Example, forbidding Muslims to wish Christians Merry Christmas. I do not wish to dwell on this sensitive matter as it is not in my realm, and I leave it to the people in religion to debate and answer.

The organisers of Kaamatan “Islamik” cannot run away from the fact that Kaamatan is deeply rooted in pagan-animalistic beliefs and culture. Furthermore, Paganism or polytheistic is a form of religion.

Celebrating Kaamatan within religious guidelines by way of dressing, minus food and drinks forbidden to Islam is already a religious imposition on a non-religious celebration. Pairin has correctly pointed out that the way Kaamatan is celebrated today does not hold any religious significance. With one exception perhaps, if you call out the Bobohizans, the shamans of the Kadazandusun community to carry out ceremonial blessing.

Drinking or eating non-halal food has never been an issue until now. For many years, Muslims and non-Muslims participate in Kaamatan celebration without bringing religion into view. Kaamatan “Islamik” has now crossed the boundary of neutrality and sensibility.

In contrast our native friends in Sarawak who celebrate “Gawai” around the same time do not seem to be afflicted by Islamisation of Gawai. I wonder why only in Sabah? Has external political influence crept into Kadazandusun cultural celebrations with a deliberate agenda?

We have to acknowledge that religion has in fact penetrated politics and the fabrics of ethnic culture in Malaysia and it is a worrying trend. People tend to do things with haste, without thinking of the implications and how it will affect the long established cultural practices of others in the community. We have always taken for granted, and with pride, East Malaysian racial and religious tolerance but in truth the landscape is slowly being changed by people who have their own agenda. Religion is now by being used by certain groups to influence people to conform to a certain regiment. Sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie for the fear of waking up a sleeping tiger.

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