Every May, when the paddy fields turn golden, the Kadazandusun people – one of Borneo’s indigenous ethnic groups – celebrate their biggest cultural event, which is the Harvest Festival, or Kaamatan. The highlight of this event is a beauty pageant called Unduk Ngadau, which roughly translates to ‘communicating with God to ask for blessings of sunlight’ or ‘the girl crowned by sunlight.’ The reason this whole pageant is held is to commemorate the spirit of Huminodun, The Transformed Sacrifice.
Growing up, the legend of Huminodun was a story my grandparents told my cousins and I. It’s a story that I hold near and dear to my heart, as it makes up a large part of my culture. It’s also a story that not many people who aren’t from Sabah – the Malaysian state occupying the northern part of Borneo – know about.
In the beginning, there was nothing but Kinoingan and Sumundu. Kinoingan is the God of the Kadazandusuns, and it is believed that He resides at the top of Mount Kinabalu, which is the tallest mountain in Sabah. Together, Kinoingan and Sumundu created the universe, and everything within it. They had two children – a boy, Ponompulan, and a girl, Ponompuan. They resided in the Heavens, where all was well.
As time went on, Ponompulan rebelled against his father, and he turned the humans against Kinoingan. Being the son of a divine being, he, too, had powers, and created a Kingdom opposing his father’s. This outraged Kinoingan, and he enacted the Taru, which means ‘The Great Judgement.’ He banished his son from the Heavens and all who followed him to Kolungkud, which essentially means Hell. Kinoingan also decreed that humans would live in a place between the Heavens and Hell, referring to it as Winorun, the Earth.
There was a time after that where people started to forget about Kinoingan’s existence. So, he sent out The Seven Scourges on Earth, the final one being a famine. The people on Earth realized that they have sinned, and turned to Kinoingan to ask for his forgiveness. Ponompuan pleaded with her father to forgive the people of the world, and Kinoingan revealed to her that He had a plan to redeem the dying world. It was Kinoingan’s wish that Huminodun would be sacrificed, as a symbol of the greatest love of all. Ponompuan agreed to be sacrificed willingly. At the hands of Sumundu, Huminodun was sacrificed so that the people could have food. Her body parts became transformed into the food resources of the world, and her spirit became the Bambarayon spirit, which is the spirit of the rice, the staple food. Because of Huminodun’s sacrifice, the famine had ended in great abundance and harvest.
Huminodun is believed to be the Goddess of fertility and prosperity, and her legacy lives on through bedtime stories and the famed Unduk Ngadau. The winner of the beauty pageant is regarded as the earthly symbol of Huminodun, and has to uphold and exhibit integrity and kindness, in honor of Huminodun’s act of sacrificial love.
Of course, this version of the legend is the one I grew up hearing. I’m pretty sure other people have grown up hearing different variations of the story, but Humindon’s sacrifice remains constant throughout every version.