TODAY is June 1st and it is the first day of the Gawai Dayak. Celebrated every June 1st to June 2nd by the Dayak community in Sarawak, the festival is similar to the Kaamatan festival which is celebrated every May 30th to May 31st by the Kadazandusun Murut community in Sabah. Many Malaysians, especially in Peninsular Malaysia may not know this but, Dayak is a collective name for the tribes of Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Murut and more. The Gawai Dayak festival is both a religious and social celebration. It is a form of thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest and marks the preparation for a new farming season and life in general.
Celebration of Unity
The Gawai Dayak festival is a symbol of unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayak community and is an integral part of the Dayak social life today. It was only formally gazetted as a public holiday at the state level in 1964 in place of Sarawak Day. Initially, the colonial government refused to declare it as a public holiday for the Dayak people because they were afraid that other minority groups would make similar demands. After two years, Sarawak gained independence from Britain and formed Malaysia and now, Malaysians never fail to observe Gawai Day. It has become a celebration of Sarawak’s rich cultural heritage and a tourist attraction for the Land of the Hornbills.
Gawai Dayak 101
Preparations for the festival begin with the brewing of tuak (rice wine). On the evening of May 31st, a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua (to cast away the spirit of greediness) is initiated to stop bad luck during the celebration. Around 6 pm, the offering ceremony known as miring will take place in the longhouse ruai or common place where the feast chief would give thanks to the gods for the good harvest, to ask for guidance, blessings and long life as he sacrifices a cockerel. At the stroke of midnight, everyone will drink Ai Pengayu (tuak for long life) and there will be eating, singing and dancing known as the ngajat. The longhouse never sleeps until the next day. In the morning, they will visit family and friends, known as ngabang.
Today, let us enchant ourselves with the rich cultural heritage of our brethren in Sarawak and Sabah.
Selamat Ari Gawai. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai.
Kotobian Tadau Tagazo Do Kaamatan.
Let us #SaySomethingNice and celebrate Gawai Dayak festival.