In pictures: Regatta Lepa, Semporna, Borneo

AT the end of April each year, the small town of Semporna in the far east of Sabah (Malaysia) comes to life with boats, parades, lanterns, music and dance for their annual regatta.

The themed boat parade at the Regatta Lepa.

The Regatta Lepa, now in its 19th year, is a colourful local festival in which many of the traditions of the region are celebrated, most particularly the lepa, a single-mast sailing boat of the Bajaus of Semporna. The regatta is also an excellent extension for those that have visited nearby islands for diving or snorkelling – a fantastic way to see a bit of local culture as well as the corals.

A young girl in local costume.

Most of the excitement takes place on the Saturday of the carnival (this year April 21st) but in the preceding days market stalls are put up all around the town selling anything from local foods to hats, jewellery and clothing. There are also specialty stalls encouraging coral conservation, better fishing practices, a children’s drawing competition from WWF, and some of the famed woodwork skills of lepa boats.

Carved wooden boats.

On the Saturday the boat competition begins in earnest with individual and team events held on the waters in front of the Seascape Hotel.

Men's canoe competition.

Some of these are tug of war competitions using the legs only, in another competitors climb a pole and try to push the other off, others are single kayak or group canoe events.

Another hotly contested event right up until the line.

The regatta of the boats then begins with the wooden hulls fully decked out with colourful flags and regalia with dancing women and men gonging drums and other local instruments.

The boat parade.

In the afternoon and evening the action moves to the town field with a lantern parade and the boats lit with fairy lights and various cultural performances and very dramatic fireworks that seem impossibly close to town.

The night time cultural performances at the town field.

Local tourism ventures also put together some free tours in the area including the town, local trekking and mangrove trips.

Happy lepa to all of Semporna.

Dance performers at the closing ceremony of Regatta Lepa.

All photos taken by Joanne Lane,