SEMPORNA, The Regatta Lepa, an annual Bajau sea festival, plays an important role in preserving the community's heritage, especially through its three heritage icons that add vibrancy to the festival, which has been celebrated here since 1962.

Semporna Customs and Culture head Panghulu Zainal Jalaludin said the icons are the building and decoration of the lepa, which are traditional boats; the performance of igal, a traditional dance by the lepa queen; and the sambulayang, a type of colourful traditional flag symbolising the identity of the Bajau community.

"I was the Regatta Lepa floor manager for seven years. Our regatta is not the same as in other places. Here it is not about just water sports. It is the three icons that make it unique," he told Bernama.

He said the dance includes ‘igal tabawan’, ‘igal limbayan’, and ‘igal panangsang’ where the lepa queen will demonstrate the igal skills accompanied by musical instruments such as ‘kulintangan’ and the gong.

He said there are two types of sambulayang, with three and five trailing sails, to add colour to the 28th edition of the three-day festival this year, which started yesterday.

In addition to the three icons, the Regatta Lepa also has a lineup of numerous water sports such as kayaking, boat tug-of-war, and traditional decoration of lepa contests with more than 180 lepa, and includes participants from the Philippines and Indonesia.

There are also land-based activities, including the Ratu Lepa contest, which is now known as Budjang Manis, and a lepa lantern procession.

The festival was first held as “Tamu Besar Semporna” from 1962 to 1965 and was later resumed under the name Regatta Lepa in 1995 as a brainchild of the then Sabah Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Sakaran Dandai, who was a native of Semporna.

Semporna District ‘Orang Kaya Kaya’ chief Abdul Majid Palah hoped that the Bajau community’s culture could be preserved for posterity and be inherited by future generations.

“Our culture is being introduced to the whole world as it is in Sabah’s tourism calendar. In fact, I hope its uniqueness can attract more local and foreign visitors to this district to continue benefiting Sabah and Malaysia as a whole,” he said.

The villagers of Kampung Senallang Tampakan Pihakan expressed hope that Regatta Lepa can be held regularly and be scheduled in April every year.

"We hope that outsiders can celebrate the Regatta Lepa with us here in Semporna, and witness the sambulayang raised as a symbol of the Bajau tribe’s culture," he said.

Semporna Adat chief Mohd Yakin Jalling agreed with the villagers of Kampung Senallang Tampakan Pihakan and hoped that the Regatta Lepa could be celebrated at the national level.

Meanwhile, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, in a statement on this year's Regatta Lepa, said the state government is committed to ensuring Sabah’s cultural treasures are sustained and preserved.

"These treasures have been passed down for generations, so we want to ensure they do not die out. They are also a catalyst for tourism based on art, culture, and heritage. Therefore the Regatta Lepa is one of the programmes to promote Sabah as a world-class tourism and cultural destination," he said.

Hajiji also wanted the relevant parties at the state and federal, ethnic association and non-governmental organisation levels to take responsibility for maintaining the treasures by organising more effective cultural development programmes.

Source: BERNAMA News Agency