Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Borneo, land without border


The fifth edition of Borneo Hornbill Festival was held last week and the fatigue has gradually subsided.  My focus is now on Spirits of the Harvest scheduled on 31st August and Malaysia Zero Hour on 15th September 2013. After that is vacation time in London and Paris.  We shall see whether it is a well deserved one.

Looking back at the recently concluded Borneo Hornbill Festival, and I must say, this excludes the controversy surrounding both pageant and dance competition, I realize that the word Borneo has grown larger than life.

Borneo Hornbill Festival was initially called Hornbill Festival in 2008 and it was executed as a showcase of dance from Sarawak, minus the competition.  The year after that saw our first Kumang and Keling 2009 and Hornbill Festival took a break.

After gaining experience in both dance showcase and ethnic pageant, Warisan Sarawak revived Hornbill Festival in 2010 with the main features of Ethnic Pageant and Ethnic Dance Competition.  It came to our attention that there was another Hornbill Festival happening in Nagaland province of India and the organizers actually emailed us for a possible collaboration and to remind us that they have been organizing Hornbill Festival longer than we have.  Therefore, we decided that a rebranding was necessary and Borneo Hornbill Festival fit the bill.

In 2011, Borneo Hornbill Festival improved its performance as a second year stint and brought in talents from all over Sarawak.  By then we already had Dance troupes coming from Sabah, Labuan and a few teams from Malaya, consisting of mainly Borneo students.

Carrying the name Borneo certainly warrants inclusivity, at least for the Malaysian part.  There was already participation from Sabah in our ethnic dance competition and demand for a Sabah segment of our ethnic pageant was difficult to be ignored.  With considerable objections from a portion of the committee members, we launched a Sabah Ethnic Pageant called Runduk Tadau 2012.  It has the same meaning as Unduk Ngadau in another Sabah dialect.  There was also objections from the Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association but we maneuvered the obstacles amicably and made everyone understand that our motive was not to compete with KDCA but to be more inclusive in our activities and promote a better understanding of cultures among people from Sarawak and Sabah.

With Runduk Tadau happening on Friday and Kumang Keling happening on Saturday, we managed to run both pageants separately.  We had judges from KDCA helping out in the Runduk Tadau event and appreciated the learning experience with them.  The dance competition happened on Sunday.  By then we were glad that we took the initiative because Borneo Hornbill Festival represents Borneo, not just Sarawak.  We also told our fans that we plan to expand our reach to include Kalimantan and Brunei in the years to come, as soon as we are comfortable with the Malaysian side of it all.

As 2013 approaches, we were faced with obstacles concerning the limitations of calling our pageant Kumang and Keling and Runduk Tadau.  A rebranding was necessary for two purposes.  To reduce the implications of restrictions due to the specific title of Kumang/Keling/Runduk Tadau and also to allocate more space for the participants to explore all possible options in terms of ethnic costumes and themes.

By rebranding the titles as Miss/Mr. Sarawak Ethnic and Miss/Mr. Sabah Ethnic, the participants are no longer bound by the narrow scope of representing Kumang, Keling or Unduk Ngadau.  They are officially competing to earn the titles of ambassadors for Borneo culture.  The winners are not only judged from their ethnic costumes but also their justification for wearing them, knowledge about culture and their communication skills in conveying their thoughts and ideas.

Due to time constraint and the need to allow the judges spend more time with the participants, we have decided to conduct a closed interview for both Sarawak and Sabah pageants in 2013.  This was made possible by a one day closed judging session between the judges and all pageant participants on Friday.  We had judges from Sabah and Sarawak origin who have good knowledge and experience with both cultures. With Friday fully booked, it meant that the finale was to include both Sabah and Sarawak.  This proved to be a challenge in terms of timing and we had to make sure that the choreography was not only fast paced but it has to be executed like clockwork as well.

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