Tracing the roots of harvest festival


  • Metro News
  • Friday, 01 Jun 2018

Christine Lyana teaching her nieces (from left) how to cook bamboo chicken at Kampung Semaba in Kuching. Cooked with tapioca leaves, turmeric and ginger, bamboo chicken is a traditional delicacy served during the Gawai Dayak festival. — filepic

KUCHING: “Happy Gawai Dayak Gayu Guru, Lantang Senang Nguan Menua” which means “Happy Gawai Day, wishing you health and prosperity” is the usual salutation exchanged among the Dayak community today.

This grand celebration is an integral part of a majority of the Dayak community in Sarawak comprising the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu (including the Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Murut and Lun Bawang).

Generally celebrated to mark the end of harvesting, Hari Gawai or Gawai Dayak has become a symbol of unity during which open houses or “Ngabang Gawai” are held, bringing people of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

Tun Jugah Foundation senior researcher Janang Ensiring said Gawai Dayak had been celebrated by several minority groups in Sarawak since the mid-1950s.

Until 1962, the British colonial government had refused to recognise Gawai Dayak for fear that other minority groups would also make a similar demand.

“The colonial government gradually made a compromise to declare June 1 as 'Sarawak Day' which was to include all Sarawakians.

“Following the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Gawai Dayak was officially gazetted on Sept 25, 1964, and people of all ethnic groups celebrated the festival together for the first time on June 1, 1965,” he said.

Janang said Gawai Dayak has become a symbol of unity, aspiration and hope, as well as an important social event for the Dayak community.

“It is a day when those who work in the cities, other states or overseas return home to be together for a family reunion.”

He said Gawai Dayak was also a day to show gratitude for the bountiful harvest.

“The day marks the beginning of a new farming season and time to make new plans to generate more income and to put in more enthusiasm in moving forward for those still in school, in search of a job or planning on a business venture.

“This is also the time to showcase the uniqueness of the Dayak community through their traditional clothes, food and drinks, rituals and cultural performances,” he said.

Janang said that those who still observe old traditions and beliefs, they would normally perform rituals such as making offerings to the gods and ancestral spirits, in seeking divine help for good health, longevity and prosperity.

“Christian Dayaks will celebrate Gawai with prayer sessions with family members in their homes or churches.”

In Sarawak, the joy and enthusiasm of Gawai Day is usually felt in the central part of the state as young Sarawakians would flock to the wharf to board express boats to return to their villages scattered along the Batang Rajang River, the longest river in the country, for the family reunion.

The highlight of this year's Gawai Day celebration will be the state-level Gawai Dayak parade at the Kuching Waterfront on June 23, which will see 100 contingents from various Dayak ethnic groups taking part in a 1.5km-long colourful procession. The last state-level parade was held in 1994.

Organising committee chairman Datuk Seri Stephen Rundi Utom said this was the best time to visit.

“Kuching has been declared ‘City of Unity' and visitors will be able to see how people of various races, religions and cultures live in peace and harmony,” he said. — Bernama

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