Mythological character, beauty of Unduk Ngadau
Published on: Sunday, June 09, 2019
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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Thousands, packed like sardines, watched the State Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan (Harvest Queen) finals at the Hongkod Koisaan Kadazandusun Cultural Centre May 31. 

It reflects the Kadazandusun community’s intense interest on the climax of the annual State Kaamatan (Harvest Festival) celebration.

But have they mistaken it as a mere beauty contest and miss the epic lesson from a mythological character, Huminodun, who took a community’s despair seriously and literally sacrificed herself to turn a disastrous famine into a joyous celebration of bountiful harvest?

In a nutshell, that is inspiration behind Sabah’s famous Harvest Festival capped with a Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan in honour of Huminodun.  


The Top Three: Francisca Esther Nain (centre) – Unduk Ngadau 2019, Annette Rebecca Januin (left) – 1st runner-up and Letica Casianus Bansin – 2nd runner-up. 


The inspiration behind Unduk Ngadau

Yes, the utter beauty of legendary Huminodun is the inspiration behind the selection of a beautiful Unduk Nagdau year in and year out.

Those who really know the legend of Huminodun, beauty was not the first cause, she became a shining beauty only well after her ultimate sacrifice.

So, read on how that supernatural transformation happened.  

Of course, probably nobody would believe the story of Huminodun as true.

But everybody also knows they don’t always need true stories to teach great character.    

For example, the Chinese goddess of Kuan Yin which many devotees turn to in moments of despair is one of hundreds of shen hua (myth, fable, fairy tale).   


Oral tradition written down 

Most would know that the Kadazandusuns don’t have a written history. 

While Joanna Kitingan was the Director of Sabah Museum years ago, she wrote down in a booklet the origins of this legend around Huminodun transmitted orally down to this generation via the “rinait” or chanting rites of the bobohizans of Penampang.   

Last Friday (June 7), Joanna presented this writer and Daily Express Editor-in-Chief James Sarda her limited edition of a booklet entitled “Kaamatan 101 – An Introduction to the History and Culture of Harvest Festival in The Land Below the Wind”.


Extolling character beauty  

From this booklet, it is clear that Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan or Harvest Queen is intended to extol the character beauty of Huminodun who was willing to totally give up self to solve a very serious community crisis.

One might argue that the legend is primarily intended to extol taking responsibility seriously rather than beauty.

So, this is the Legend about Rice.

Remember, this is part of the Kadazandusun mythology not meant to be expounded as facts but one that has shaped an entire cultural heritage.  


Crowded in the food stall area as well. 


The origins of it all 

Under the Origin of Rice (Kadazan Penampang), Joanna writes: 

“The legend is common creation story of the Kadazan of Penampang and elsewhere. It tells that rice came from the flesh and blood of Huminodun – daughter of the principal deities Kinoingan and his wife Suminundu.”

Don’t laugh at this because the ancient Chinese also had Panku or Pangu – a mythological god of creation.

Similarly, Suminundu or wife of Kinoingan was deemed the mythological deity who created humans.  


A fairy tale which inspired a famous culture

What happened was Kinoingan and Suminundu also had a son who was first sent to earth but this son behaved badly, did disgraceful things, often drunk and got into all kinds of conflicts with people resulting in a great famine and people were dying of hunger.

Since she created human, Suminundu felt responsible to feed the starving and she decided that there was only one way – sacrifice her own flesh and blood daughter Huminodun who willingly accepted the ultimate. 

Keep in mind this is a myth.

As she was sacrificed, her body parts became a diversity of foods; the head became coconuts, her flesh and blood became rice, her fingers bananas, her teeth and hair became corn, her toes ginger, her skeletons sugar canes, her heart down through the intestines fruits of all types , her ears all types of vegetables of all kinds and by the time she breathed her last, her soul became the rice spirit bambarayon which resides in the rice plant.

All these happened while Kinoingan was out and on return to the house, he noticed all the greenery but Huminodun was missing. 

Alarmed, he asked wife Suminundu what happened and upon learning the sad truth, he grieved and mourned the death of Huminodun. 


From sorrow to joy  

Desperate and angry, Kioningan went beserk and started to slash down the young rice plants and all of a sudden, he heard a voice from the rice stalks: “Father, father, why are you hurting me so much? I died to provide food for the people and yet you still want to hurt me some more.”

So actually it is quite a moving story.

At this point, Kinoingan threw away his knife and fell to the ground, crying non-stop.

Then he heard his daughter Huminodun’s voice comforting him: “Do not cry, father, you will see me again if you do what I ask you to do.” 

The key instruction was to take good care of the rice field.

But, specifically, she said: “When the rice has ripened, select seven of the tallest stalks and tie them together, cut them and bring them to the house after harvesting. One stalk each must be placed inside seven jars and the jar tops must be covered with tarap leaves. 

“When you hear a knocking against the wall of the jar, it is a signal to open it,” Huminodun said after which her voice disappeared.


Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan 2019 winner Francisca Esther Nain (left) with previous year winner Hosiani Keewon @ James Jaimis who epitomise the great character and utter beauty of Huminodun.


The day Huminodun came back as an utter beauty

Kinoingan did everything as daughter Huminodun instructed. One day, Kinoingan heard knocking inside the seven jars. 

He and his wife Suminundu opened all of them. Lo and behold, seven beautiful maidens stood out from the jars whose beauty resembled the sun at its brightest. 

One of the seven was their starring daughter Huminodun. 

This part of the mythological story is acted out at the Untuk Ngadau Kaamatan every year when the last round of judging involves seven finalists.  


The epitome of character and beauty 

One of the last seven would be judged the title winner and this year fell on Kota Belud hailed Fransisca Esther Nain who represented Karambunai District.

In 2018, the title winner was Tambunan hailed Hosiani Keewon @ Hosiani James Jaimis.

This is the character of characters, the starring beauty and most outstanding of them all whom Unduk Ngadau epitomise.

Besides beauty, the Unduk Ngadau epitomises the transcendent character attributes of Huminodun whose willingness to suffer ultimate personal pain and loss eventually brought widespread wellbeing and happiness to the community at large.


The reason behind a joyous harvest 

What followed in the mythological story was great rejoicing at the stunning family reunion. A thanksgiving feast (which the Harvest Festival enacts) was given to Humonodun and the first magavau ceremony was held. 

One can see it is not possible to understand what they are doing at the State level Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan if people don’t know details of the mythological story behind Huminodun.

People will conclude superficially that it is yet another beauty contest which it is not really but then what’s wrong with beauty. 

Isn’t that serious attention to problems what elected leaders are supposed to do rather than the all too common self-service. But going back to the mythological story, what followed was great rejoicing at the family reunion.

A thanksgiving feast was given to the daughter Huminodun and that is the essence of the Harvest festival.

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