The combination of jiggling and rattling of shimmy belts resounded in the air as the pews of the Church were filled with the vibrant and diverse colours of our East Malaysian and Indonesian brethren. The Church of Holy Redeemer, Klang, embraces the unique harvest festival, as well as the Kagape ceremony, showcasing the rich East Malaysian culture within the Catholic faith.
From dumplings at Chinese New Near to ketupats at Raya and biryani at Deepavali to roasted turkeys at Christmas, we Malaysians definitely revel in our multicultural traditions and food. However, we tend to overlook the lesser known celebrations such as the Pesta Kaamatan celebrated in Sabah and Gawai Dayak celebrated in Sarawak. These are the harvest festivals celebrated annually Kadazan-Dusun and Murut communities in Sabah and the Dayak communities in Sarawak. Interestingly, it is a time to give thanks to Bambaazon, the Kinoingan (Supreme God), for a bountiful harvest and to pray for continued blessings. Traditionally, the celebrations involve a series of rituals followed by cultural performances to foster unity and strengthen cultural ties while keeping preserving the cultural heritage. Adding on, we also celebrate the Panen festival – an Indonesian harvest festival unique to certain regions in Indonesia was also celebrated.
East Malaysian culture in the Catholic Mass
The celebration began with the ceremonial Ibanese dance, the Ngajat – a dance traditionally known to welcome warriors home from battle but in modern times to welcome guests to the longhouse. Here it was to mark the start of the liturgical mass and to welcome the Entrance Processional to the Altar. Although,, the Ngajat dance is not a regular part of the Liturgical Celebration, it was incorporated with special permission being a cultural celebration and was carefully integrated into the Mass to ensure that the reverence and worship to the Blessed Sacrament is maintained. Throughout the Mass, sacred hymns were sung in Malay and other dialects such as Kadazan-Dusun and Bidayuh.
Once the Mass had ended, the congregation present were welcomed to partake in the Kagape ceremony. This was the star highlight of the day as Kagape, which means “feasting together” refers to coming together to join in a sacred meal as an expression of gratitude to God – a symbol of unity and community. During the Kagape, it is the traditional dishes and delicacies of East Malaysia that takes centerstage and introduces people to the tantalising aromas and flavors to tease your sensory experiences.
Overall, this unique celebration is a testament to Malaysia’s colourful multicultural heritage and its union with the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia in fostering communitarian relationships while preserving beauty and heritage of our East Malaysian indigenous brethren.