Gawai Dayak Celebration!

| June 3, 2012

Gawai Day Celebration! – Gawai or Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated in Sarawak and West Kalimantan on 1 June every year. It is both a religious and social occasion. The word Gawai means a ritual or festival whereas Dayak is a collective name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak which are the Iban, also known as Sea Dayak and the Bidayuh people, also known as Land Dayak. Thus, Gawai Dayak literally means “Dayak Festival”. Dayak would visit their friends and relatives on this day. Such visit is more commonly known as “ngabang” in the Iban language.

The mode of celebration varies from place to place. Preparation starts early. Tuak (rice wine) is brewed (at least one month before the celebration) and traditional delicacies like penganan (cakes from rice flour, sugar and coconut milk) are prepared. As the big day approaches, everyone will be busy with general cleaning and preparing food and cakes. On Gawai Eve, glutinous rice is steamed in bamboo (ngelulun pulut). In the longhouse, new mats will be laid out on the ruai (an open gallery which runs through the entire length of the longhouse). The walls of most bilik (rooms) and the ruai are decorated with Pua Kumbu (traditional blankets). A visit to clean the graveyard is also conducted and offerings offered to the dead. After the visit it is important to bathe before entering the longhouse to ward off bad luck.

At midnight, the longhouse Chief (tuai rumah) or Festival Chief will lead everyone to drink the Ai Pengayu (normally tuak for long life) and at the same time wish each other “gayu-guru, gerai-nyamai” (long life, health and prosperity). Some will dance to the traditional music played, others will sing the pantun (poems). In urban areas, Dayaks will organise gatherings at community centres or restaurants to celebrate the evening.

Other activities that may follow the next few days include: cock-fighting matches, and blowpipe and ngajat competitions. On this day, 1 June, homes of the Dayaks are opened to visitors and guests. Traditionally, when guests arrive at a longhouse, they are given the ai tiki as a welcome. From time to time, guests are served tuak. This would be called nyibur temuai which literally means “watering of guests”.

Christian Dayaks normally attend a church mass service to thank God for the good harvest. Gawai Dayak celebrations may last for several days. It is also during this time of year that many Dayak weddings take place, as it is one of the rare occasions when all the members of the community return home to their ancestral longhouse.

Credit: Google Images

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Category: East Asia, Featured

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