Gawai Dayak is an annual festival celebrated in Sarawak, celebrated first on the 1st of June 1965. The festival includes colourful rituals, traditional music, cock fighting, feasting, games and so much more. Interested? Read on!
1. Gawai marks the end of the harvest
It takes about 4-5 months to grow a grain of rice, and though we don’t often think about the importance of rice, the Gawai festival celebrates the amount of time and hard work put into getting even just a grain. It also represents unity, aspiration, and hope and celebrating by many ethnic groups such as the Iban, Bidayuh, Kenyah, Kelabit, and Murut.
If you don’t know what Tuak is, it’s basically locally brewed rice wine, and it’s also probably a really important tradition during the festival. The mixture is brewed from glutinous rice mixed with ragi (a homemade yeast and enzyme mixture) at least a month before the Gawai Dayak. During the festival, it is offered as a welcome drink to any guest who visits their longhouse.
3. Special food and drinks are prepared for the festival
It’s not a festival without food, right? Some traditional treats prepared are such as the sarang semut, cuwan, kui sepit, penganan iri and so many more. On the eve of Gawai, the ngelulun pulut is also made, which is glutinous rice roasts in bamboo. Other more savoury dishes also include pansoh manok, and the delicious chicken and lemongrass cooked in a bamboo log over an open fire.
And yes that’s Anthony Bourdain!
4. Ngajat is performed during the celebration
If you don’t know what the Ngajat is, here you go:
Male dancers will wear large feathers as part of their headgear, hold an ornate and long shield in their hand with chains, beads and a loincloth called the ‘cawat’, and the female dancers will put on an elaborate headdress, chains, beads and a ‘dress’ that reaches to below their knees with intricate weaving.
5. The Kumang & Keling Gawai
This is a beauty pageant held to choose the festival’s king and queen. Nowadays, the pageant is done with grand pride with many different categories from different Dayak race ranging from Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and more. The judges will choose the winner based on their personality, academic achievements and physical appearances.
6. The party doesn’t start till someone beats the gong
Such as when midnight strikes, a gong ia beaten to call the celebrants to attention. The Festival Chief will then lead everyone to drink the Ai Pengayu (normally Tuak for long life), and at the same time wish each other “gayu-guru, gerai-nyamai” which means ‘long life, health and prosperity’. The celebration will then become more casual and less formal with many dancing to the traditional music played, whilst others will sing poems a.k.a pantuns. In more urban areas, Dayaks will organise gatherings at community centres or restaurants to celebrate the evening.
7. Other random things also happen during the next few days…
This includes cock-fighting matches (which I personally disagree with), and also blowpipe and ngajat competitions.
Header image source: Spektakel