Introduction of Gawai Dayak
One of the main festivals in Sarawak is Gawai Dayak. We normally mentioned as Gawai. Gawai is celebrated with enthusiasm across Sarawak both in towns and countryside. It is a celebration of the aboriginal people such as Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, and Murut which tribes once wander Sarawak. For them, the celebration of Gawai is to show thankfulness to the Gods. Although sheered in headhunting custom of the past, the only head removed these days during Gawai Dayak belongs to a chicken endowed to tribute a flourishing rice harvest. Apart from a touristy exhibition of native culture for travelers, Gawai Dayak is partied with genuine joy and zeal. In this happy occasion, weddings take place, singing and toasts fill the air, and families are brings back together after being estranged all year.
History of Gawai Dayak
The traditions celebrated during Gawai Dayak are ancient, but the holiday is not included. The Gawai Dayak festival is first took place in 1965 after quite a few years of rehabilitated cultural pride within the demoralized Dayak society.
At first, the colonial government refused to create a public holiday in celebration of the Dayak in Sarawak. They were afraid that other minority would make analogous demands. On the contrary, the government announced 1st of June as “Sarawak Day”. Finally, once Sarawak gained independence, the holiday was formally changed to Gawai Dayak. Hence, the first Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated on 1st June 1965.
How to Celebrate Gawai Dayak?
After months of hard work, the crop is finally obtaining a great amount of harvest. It is celebrates in the month of June since the planting season will only begin in September.
The festival starts off on the evening of May 31 with traditional music and Muai Antu Rua. It is a ceremony aimed at keeping the spirit of greed from destroying the celebration. During Muai Antu Rua two men drag a basket walks along the longhouse; families in each room throw clothing and household items into the basket. The basket is later dumped on the floor as a “sacrifice” to keep away interference from evil spirits.
During sunset, the festival chief sacrifices a chicken or pig to indicate thanks for a good harvest and to ask the same for next year’s rice harvest. After the sacrifice ritual, it comes to the dinner. It is usually served with bamboo-steamed rice and sweet cakes made from coconut milk. Before the midnight, a procession known as the Ngalu Petara passes by seven times to greet the gracious spirit gods to the festival.
At midnight, the festival chief holds a toast with tuak, which means locally-brewed rice wine. This is for long life purpose. The festival turns into a casual free-for-all following the toast with dancing, singing, and drinking. Tuak is a fermented rice wine served during Gawai festival. When you arrive in any longhouse during the fiesta, the residents will offer you tuak as a welcoming drink. It used to offend the resident if visitors refuse the offering but now the crowd is more sensible. It shows impolite if the visitors reject the drink (tuak).
The most famous dance performed during Gawai Dayak is Ngajat Dance. The Ngajat dance is usually performed by the ladies and men in traditional costume. This dance is a very simple, rhythmic, swaggering shuffle danced with the arms held up, and requiring little dexterity or vigor on the part of the dancer.
Calendar of 2011
The next Gawai will fall on 1st June 2011.