Pageant slip-up a sour start for Kaamatan

Thousands of people come to Sabah to make merry, eat and hang out with friends during Kaamatan. Over the years, what started out as a traditional festival has turned into something like a Coachella event. FILE PIC

TO Sabah folk, today is the culmination of the month-long Harvest Festival, or Kaamatan.

May 31 is synonymous with a visit to Kadazandusun Cultural Association’s (KDCA’s) Hongkod Koisaan building in Penampang, and some even consider attendance to be compulsory, with social media creating a “fear of missing out” syndrome, especially among youth.

I went to the stalls there, which opened as early as 10 days before the annual event today — the crowning of the Unduk Ngadau, or beauty queen.

A relative lamented last weekend that it had already become unbearable to visit as crowds were huge and traffic — both on the road as well as along the stalls — was barely moving.

Thousands of people come here to make merry, eat and hang out with friends, and over the years, what started out as a traditional festival has turned into something like a Coachella event.

That is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, as this festival, highly publicised by the state Tourism Board as well as travel agencies, has attracted international and domestic tourists. Tourism receipts are among the highest during this month.

In fact, the event has become so well known that ridesharing service Uber has come on board, offering free rides to the location yesterday and today.

This year’s celebration, however, has taken on a little bit of a sour note, thanks to a drunk emcee who hosted the Banggi Unduk Ngadau pageant on May 21 and announced the wrong winner during the district-level competition. Drinking alcoholic beverages, including the traditional
lihing and talak, is common during the month-long festival, but the hosts or emcees for Kaamatan celebrations have normally kept it professional.

The Banggi incident begged a recollection of other famous mistakes, such as host Steve Harvey announcing the wrong Miss Universe in 2015, as well as the Oscars flub in February for the Best Picture category. But, while these incidents were addressed immediately, what made matters worse was that the district coordinator did not rectify the mistake until the winners’ list became viral and the real winner sought justification two days later.

The state-level Unduk Ngadau committee said this was a first “mishap”, and blamed the district-level committee for not settling the matter earlier. As both the crowned contestant and the actual winner turned up for registration last weekend for the state-level finals here, and no immediate solution was in sight, the committee deemed that the only logical action was to not have representation from Banggi this year.

Both parties are now dissatisfied as they felt an injustice had been done, seeing as how they both spent money and time to prepare for the pageant, and thus took measures to make sure the responsible parties “be held accountable”.

The crowned Banggi Unduk Ngadau wants her dignity restored and, via her lawyer, is seeking a clarification letter from the organisers as there had been no official statement on the matter. Meanwhile, the actual winner took it a step further by lodging a police report over the error and the lack of action taken to rectify the mistake.

While it was something that would haunt both ladies, who may or may not be open to enter any more beauty pageants in future, it should also serve as a lesson to Unduk Ngadau organisers, be it at district or state level.

Perhaps next time they should screen hosts before pageants, even those at the district level, as these are official events, the winners of which will represent the district at the state-level finals during an important holiday celebration attended by Sabah — and sometimes, national — VVIPs and leaders.


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