It must be more a fest and less ‘pasar malam’
Published on: Sunday, June 02, 2019
By: Avtar Singh
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What is the Harvest Festival celebrations to you as a Sabahan? 

A festival celebrated exclusively by our Kadazan Dusun Murut brothers and sisters, or a festival that is celebrated by all Sabahans? Is it an inclusive or exclusive festival? 

Let’s put aside the popular beauty contest and focus on the aspect that involves the experience tourists and visitors to the yearly Harvest Festival are exposed to as this important festival is supposed to showcase our culture, our traditions and our society as a whole to the world. It is the most important festival to truly understand why Sabah is a melting pot of so many different ethnics. 

Every year I visit the site and I am disappointed. Maybe I am used to a different experience and a different organization of things but having visited festivals in Germany and New Zealand, they all have one thing in common: they always organize their festivals with the comfort and experience they want patron’s visiting the site of the festival to enjoy and to ensure, above all, it is an experience you will share and talk about when you leave. And you go away with fond memories and an understanding of what it makes the Kadazan Dusun Murut heritage so fascinating. 

Professional organization’s that organize these festivals always ensure there are proper parking places and ease of public transportation to their venues. They ensure there are sufficient number of toilets to cater for the number of people expected to visit these sites. There are CCTV cameras in place for security purposes and there are on site management staff walking around the venue in direct communication with the lead organizing team to problem solve issues that happen there and then. You also see visible security staff who are friendly and helpful.

It’s all very professional and very well organized.

It doesn’t of course help when we have a heatwave one minute and then thunder storms thereafter and you are sweating like a goat but there are some things you can’t escape in Borneo when you go to a festival. But aside from the wonderful food on offer by some very good caterers and chef’s, and some aspects of the cultural and traditions of various ethnic groups in Sabah, there isn’t really much to see or do at the venue.

A friend of mine compared the Harvest Festival celebrations in Kota Kinabalu to the October Fest in Germany. I had to stop him before he could finish his sentence because the October Fest should not be used as a benchmark of comparison as both events have different intentions and end goals.

The original October fest in Germany was introduced to celebrate the wedding of monarch’s. It was only in 1811 that someone suggested they use the festival to promote Bavarian agriculture though the founding of this festival was never meant to celebrate agriculture the way the Harvest Festival in Sabah is celebrated after a rice harvest.

The whole purpose of the October fest is different from our own Harvest Festival if you look at the history and culture and traditions of what my expectations are of the Harvest Festival and how we show case it to visitors and tourists visiting the venue to discover more about our culture and our traditions.

Is our Harvest Festival a pork and beer festival or is this a cultural experience? I get the impression we are trying very hard to replicate the October Fest and this is why  our event organizers have maybe lost some direction in how they are doing things. The most important aspects of the experience you should have are being neglected and ignored and this maybe needs to be corrected. 

The fact is that a lot of locals are shunning the function itself because of what they feel and see to be a lack of respect for the actual cultural experience of what visitors should be exposed to. The cultural aspects and traditional aspects are there, but by enlarge, this has become a drinking festival with rampant under aged drinking and a typical “pasar malam” like atmosphere instead and the poor organization of the event ground.

Good constructive criticism, in this instance is, I think necessary. And if we do not make an effort to improve the event and to showcase a professionally organized event that has a greater emphasis on culture and traditions rather than beer and pork, then something is wrong with the direction we as a society in Sabah are taking.

We can do better than this.

Have a happy harvest festival celebration and please do not drink and drive.  

 Note: The author loves his pork but isn’t a beer drinker sadly.


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