Success hasn’t come easily for Saiful Azwan Sundian, the newly-crowned Mr Kaamatan.
by Stanley P, Carrybeans
I left office earlier than usual that Friday afternoon, having been assigned to interview Saiful in Suria Sabah. As I drove, I imagined what I thought a Mr Kaamatan would be — I had only seen Saiful in pictures where he was all smiles after winning the coveted title. My initial thoughts were that he must be very charismatic, having won the competition. Saiful turned out to be a charming personality, alright, but not in the ways I had imagined.
Saiful competed in and won Buvazoi Tavantang 2018, a lesser known but up-and-coming Kaamatan competition here in Sabah. Whenever we speak of Kaamatan, the first thing that comes to mind is usually Unduk Ngadau, the annual beauty pageant for women held throughout May in Sabah. What people may not know is that there’s a male equivalent of Unduk Ngadau called Buvazoi Tavantang.
Buvazoi Tavantang (which roughly translates to ‘handsome men’ in local dialects) is also known as Mr Kaamatan and it is usually held in June, after the Unduk Ngadau competition. If you’re not familiar with the competition, it’s not your fault. Mr Kaamatan only started a decade ago in 2008. It certainly cannot compete with Unduk Ngadau’s almost 60 years worth of history.
However, from what I’ve been hearing, Mr Kaamatan organisers are certainly working hard to place the competition on the same standing as Unduk Ngadau, and for good reason too!
Some time back, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr Kaamatan 2017, Isaiah Dicky Jerry. Talking to him, I could immediately see why Isaiah had taken the crown. He was confident, eloquent and charismatic — he could easily sweep anyone off their feet. And so those were the qualities I would expect from a person holding the Mr Kaamatan title. But Saiful surprised me with an altogether different and unique charm.
Mohd Saiful Azwan bin Sundian, a Kota Marudu native, seemed disoriented when he arrived at Breeze Cafe in Suria Sabah. I couldn’t blame him; he had to drive from Kota Marudu to Kota Kinabalu. He started off straight after work for this interview, making the 170 km journey from the northern part of the Land Below the Wind.
Throughout the interview, I was a bit taken aback by his steady and calm demeanour — it was not what I anticipated. He was soft-spoken, picking his words carefully as he answered the questions put forward. It was clear that his strengths lay in his humility and gracious manner, traits that were apparent during the final competition.
When Saiful won Mr Kaamatan 2018, even the camera caught his firm resolve and solid character. Amidst his show of confidence and masculinity on stage, I could see his determination to win and uphold the status and culture of the Kadazan Dusun Murut (KDM) community.
This year was actually Saiful’s first time joining Buvazoi Tavantang. He knew of the competition through a Whatsapp message and registered to join in the competition afterwards. During the audition, he met Geo Allen, a Mr Kaamatan 2016 contestant who was impressed by him and subsequently became his manager/mentor. But that was only the start of Saiful’s journey to the finals.
“When I first entered the competition for DBKK, I trained in KK. Since I live in Kota Marudu, I had to drive back and forth from Kota Marudu to KK every weekday just for the practice session,” Saiful shared. He actually first joined the competition in DBKK, where he placed as the second runner-up. Following that, he joined the Mr Kaamatan competition in Klang Valley, clinched the title and qualified for the final competition last month.
Saiful is of Dusun Kimaragang heritage, but wore a traditional Murut costume during the competition. Part of the reason for his costume choice is that it proved a challenge to get a traditional Dusun Kimaragang costume. So his team went with the Murut costume, embodying the warrior spirit and strength. Despite that show of toughness, he did shed a tear or two when he was announced the winner.
“At that time I was so touched. I remembered the people who had helped me–there were so many people that I forgot to mention each name. I also remembered all the time and money I had to sacrifice for the competition.”
Saiful, by trade, is a teacher at SK Pekan Kota Marudu. From what he told me, being a teacher wasn’t a career he had planned for when he was younger. But the blood of an educator must’ve been with him since birth because both of his parents are teachers. And that spirit of wanting to empower people through education and setting a good example for everyone clearly shows when Saiful speaks.
“I want to be an icon to the youths–to be brave in taking on challenges and showing excellent character. I will try to rally up my fans to uphold the KDM culture,” he said, adding that he wants to make the culture cool again among the young people.
Needless to say, Saiful takes his responsibility as a Mr Kaamatan winner very seriously. “Before winning the competition, I didn’t really pay much attention to how I presented myself in public. But after the win, I feel the need to show a good example to everyone,” he said.
That vein of quiet resolve that runs in his entire journey, however, doesn’t spare him from teasing since he won. He received his fair share of playful teasing and banter among friends and family after the competition, but it was all in good fun.
“I wasn’t treated very differently after winning the competition. But people at school do poke fun at me a bit, saying ‘Mr Kaamatan, Mr Kaamatan’ whenever they see me.”
Watching the replay of the final competition, it’s easy to see Saiful’s inner strength. I’m sure he was nervous, but it wasn’t apparent when he was on stage in front of the crowd. He chose a particularly hard question during the final round of the competition, one about why sexual harassment among men wasn’t getting enough public attention. He answered the question without the slightest hesitation, a true testament to his confidence and eloquence.
When asked to give tips for other young hopefuls wanting to join the Mr Kaamatan competition, he gave two: have a clear objective and be thoroughly prepared.
“If you are qualified and think that you can win the whole competition, then join Mr Kaamatan. Don’t join the competition if you’re not serious–it will only show that you don’t have a clear objective in joining the competition. When you have a clear goal of winning, you will try your best. But if you only want to be in just for the experience, you will not show determination.
“Besides that, preparation is important. Don’t come to the competition without being prepared, especially in terms of knowing your culture. You should at least learn to speak a bit of your mother tongue and know your traditions. Don’t come for the audition unprepared because the judges want to see passion, not your desire to become popular.”
Many often assume the Mr Kaamatan competition was merely formed as an afterthought. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Similar to Unduk Ngadau, Mr Kaamatan aims to strengthen the unity of the KDM community and preserve our cultural heritage. Contestants are expected to know their culture and traditions, while also showing qualities of an exemplary role model for Sabahans. In all honesty, I closed the interview fully persuaded that Saiful is a true winner, having all it takes to be a shining example in the KDM community.
It is undeniable that Saiful possesses dashing looks, but there’s a depth that goes beyond the exterior. He showed that the road to success is not easy but if you keep at it, you will find success. Saiful is also passionate to prove that our culture is truly ‘cool’ and that we should try our best to uphold our heritage. With his gracious speech, humility of heart and firm resolve, he is indeed Mr Kaamatan.
So to Saiful, congratulations for winning this year’s Buvazoi Tavantang! We wish you all the best in carrying out your duties as Mr Kaamatan 2018, and hope all you have envisioned for Sabah will become reality.
Rags-to-riches tales don’t only exist in Hollywood movies–it’s also a true story for one Sabahan.