Why did this Kadazan ethnic identity, fragile and innovative as it was, become the basis for the colony's infant politicization, despite the preference of its British mentors for multi-racial political parties? The reasons are very similar to those which underlay the formation of the racially exclusive Malay party, UMNO, in Malaya in 1946, in somewhat similar conditions. The Malays of Malaya then, and the Kadazans of Sabah in 1961, believed that they were the underdogs in educational and economic terms, certain to be manipulated or absorbed in any multi-racial arrangement by the dominant Chinese and Muslims respectively. On the other hand the Kadazans also believed, like the Malays in Malaya, that they were entitled to political primacy by their greater numbers and greater claim to indigeneity, and would achieve it if they could act in a united fashion. The first years of political activity in Sabah appeared to support these hopes.
On the one hand Donald Stephens became the first Chief Minister, and led the colony's entry into Malaysia in 1963, with Muslim and Chinese leaders playing supporting roles. On the other, some of the key symbols of Kadazan national identity began to gain acceptance among the various communities. A harvest festival (Kaamatan) centring around rituals honouring the rice spirit had been accepted by the colonial government as a three- day holiday for KDs in 1956, at the suggestion of the Annual Native Chiefs' Conference. Stephens championed this as a fair equivalent of Chinese New Year and Muslim Idulfitri, and it was accepted into the calendar of state-wide holidays in 1960. The Kaamatan quickly became a popular institutionalization of Kadazan cultural pride, with dance, song, speech and sporting competition always climaxed by a beauty contest dedicated to the beautiful maiden Huminodun of the KD origin myth, the sacrifice of whose life gave birth to rice and the other essentials of KD agriculture. The term Kadazan was widely accepted by the educated elite, and there was little challenge even to the written form established in Fr Antonissen's dictionary. A Kadazan Cultural Association was formed in 1963, devoted to recording, maintaining and standardizing Kadazan language, songs, dances and traditions. It also took over from an older youth association the organization of the annual harvest festival.
Part One: The Invention of Kadazans
Endangered Identity: Kadazan or Dusun in Sabah --- Anthony Reid