SIBU: A spectacular fireworks display and colourful cultural extravaganza thrilled tens of thousands of people at the national-level Gawai Dayak Open House at the Town Square here last night.
Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin and Permaisuri Nur Zahirah graced this biggest-ever harvest festival.
Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Abang Muhammad Sallahuddin, and Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Paduka Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir joined in the grand finale of the festival.
The festival is celebrated by some 800,000 Dayaks, comprising mostly the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu in the state.
Some 200 foreign journalists and TV crew members as well as travel agents and tour operators were fascinated by the uniqueness and richness of the Dayak culture.
Dayak warriors and maidens in traditional costumes danced to the beat of the gongs and drums on stage to entertain the enthusiastic crowd.
A traditional longhouse normally found in the interior was specially put up, and it was an eye opener for many foreign guests and town folks.
The crowd, many of them coming from other parts of the state by air, land or river, had the rare opportunity to sample local delicacies served at some 30 culinary stations set up around the scenic town square.
The open house, promoted as a major tourism event, kicked off in late afternoon with stage entertainment.
Several leading artistes from the peninsula belted out favourite numbers for their fans.
The evening climaxed with a fireworks display, and the crowd cheered as the sky of this vibrant town along the Rejang River, the country's longest, was lit up.
Abdul Kadir, in his speech, said although the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu make up less than 8% of the country's population, the official Gawai Dawak national celebration was one clear indication that no ethnic group should feel small and isolated.
Instead, he said, they should feel proud because they were part of the big Malaysian family which was united, tolerant and helpful.
Abdul Kadir said Malaysians wanted to show to the world that despite the different racial and religious background, they lived in harmony and celebrated each other's festivals.