KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s state-level Unduk Ngadau or Harvest Queen competition – the highlight of the month-long Kaamatan festival – is going digital for the first time ever in its almost 60-year history.
The pageant, which was cancelled last year along with all Kaamatan-related activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has been resurrected for the electronic screen.
However, not all are happy about the competition’s shift to the virtual, with issues such as the existence of a voting paywall and a reduced number of contestants drawing the ire of many online.
The public now needs to pay 50 sen to vote each time for their favourite Unduk Ngadau to make it to the shortlisted 21 to compete in the state level, as opposed to the voting being free in previous years.
Online voting, which is from 2.30pm on May 22 until noon on May 25, also makes up 60% of the judging criteria.
This voting paywall has many people upset, giving birth to a petition to stop the “pay-to-vote” concept.
Orang Kampung, who started the petition, said that the basis of the Unduk Ngadau pageant came from the legend of Huminodun who, according to native legend, sacrificed herself to save mankind from famine.
“This pay to vote method is not what the spirit of Kaamatan is about, especially during this pandemic where people have lost their income,” said the petitioner.
“I hope the organisers will not turn this event into an easy money-making platform,” he said.
Many on social media have also criticised the paywall, saying that the whole purpose of the Unduk Ngadau is lost if the organisers insist on people paying to vote.
This year’s pageant will also see the number of beauty contestants at the state level shrink drastically. The number of contestants varies every year but generally averages above 40, with 2019 seeing one of the highest numbers of participants at 64.
This year, only 21 beauties will make it to the state level.
This did not sit well with many of the contestants who have discreetly voiced their dissatisfaction, claiming it is unfair.
Those at risk of missing out from the state-level competition said that it was not right that they had worked so hard and invested so much to get past the district-level of the pageant, only to be eliminated without a chance to compete on the grand stage for the Unduk Ngadau crown.
Organising chairperson Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, however, has defended the paywall and smaller scale of the pageant, explaining that although this year’s Kaamatan and Unduk Ngadau is held online, it has incurred higher costs.
“It involves more technical work, manpower and digital equipment.
“More time is spent for shooting among other matters as well, and hence more money is spent,” said Dr Jeffrey, who is also the state Deputy Chief Minister.