Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Unduk Ngadau beauty pageant: Huminodun’s legacy

Contestants for the Unduk Ngadau 2006 (click pic to enlarge).
Photos Copyright © 2006 New Sabah Times.


Few of the hundreds of tourists who come to visit the state during the month of May would have expected the throngs of beautiful Sabahan women, clad in clothing that resemble large pieces of beautifully complex jewellery. Pure black velvet adorned with intricate golden trim, exquisite beading, sparkling sequins and other stunning details comprise the gorgeous traditional costumes attributed to the contestants of the state’s largest annual cultural beauty pageant, the Unduk Ngadau.

The Unduk Ngadau is held initially on district levels, culling beauties from the farthest reaches of Sabah, and, to an extent, beyond, as representatives from the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan are also accepted. The winners of the district-level competitions then push through to the state level of the Unduk Ngadau, where they compete with the most intelligent and most attractive young women found throughout the state.

This year sees 45 young beauties vying for the much coveted position of Unduk Ngadau (loosely translated as the “Zenith of the Sun”), for an opportunity to stand as the year’s current earthly embodiment of the great Huminodun. This is the legend behind Kaamatan.

As the myth goes, a divine couple Kinoingan and Suminundu had a child, and it was a strong, beautiful girl that they named Huminodun. She grew up to be courageous, spirited, intelligent, and ultimately the perfect example of what a young woman should be. One day, it so happened that the crops were not growing very well in the fields of Sabah, and the people were starving. Kinoingan and Suminundu sadly decided to offer their daughter as a sacrifice, to save their people. Huminodun selflessly agreed to die for the sake of her community. When she died, seeds of all varieties seen in Sabah today, particularly rice, emitted from her body, giving the people of the state a new source of food and a chance at survival.

While the Unduk Ngadau does not count human sacrifice as one of its categories for picking the victor, it does look for certain qualities in its contestants, traits that round the young women out as leaders and excellent examples of their communities. Beauty, grace, courage, confidence and spiritual strength are all key to selecting the bearer of the Unduk Ngadau crown.

Last year’s queen, Madelyne Nandu of Penampang, only had wonderful things to say about her tenure as reigning Unduk Ngadau 2005. Her life, she says, was filled with visits for charitable causes (the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Children’s Ward, for example), her attendance at several important occasions such as openings and launches and of course requests for her presence at various events of Kadazandusun cultural significance. This is definitive proof of the fact that the competition is not simply about beauty or looks: it is an important phase in the life of the queen, a constant exercise in humility, compassion and having just a little bit of fun.

This year’s Bongawan representative, 19-year-old Berlinda Mailin, adds on to the aspect of personal improvement by pitching in just some of the things she has learned on her way through the district round: “The competition has had a great impact on my life. The experience is amazing. It’s the first time I’ve joined, but I’ve already learned so much about the language and the culture.” She also touts the competition as an excellent tourism resource, and believes that it should be mined for all its tourist-attracting potential. “The Unduk Ngadau is what makes Kaamatan so special. It makes the festival so interesting: all the colours, costumes, all the beautiful girls. Without the Unduk Ngadau, there is no Kaamatan,” she states strongly with all the fervour of a political candidate.

It is comforting to know, however, that the girls also participate in the competition for reasons more metaphysical. “I believe in the spirit of Huminodun,” says Tambunan’s Saldivilla Wences, a 24-year-old flight attendant for Saudi Arabian Airlines. “It actually motivates me to try my best to be beautiful, to be successful. I’m very inspired by the legend.”

The Unduk Ngadau is not simply a glorified show, where girls are prettied up and pampered before being sent out on an endless parade of flowers, where the lady with the loveliest locks and sunniest smile wins. It is a living, breathing entity, a hallmark of Kadazandusun culture and tradition. It represents the strength of the community, and its willingness to believe in the lasting power of legend.

Saldivilla Wences put it best when asked about her reasons for joining the competition. “We don’t come to win. We come to respect the spirit of Huminodun. We are inspired and challenged to live up to her great standards. We come to remember her for rescuing us from starvation. There is no point in coming only to win. If there is no belief in her spirit, then there is no Kaamatan."

Courtesy of New Sabah Times

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