Gawai Dayak

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Gawai Dayak
Iban girls.jpg
Iban maidens dressed in full costume during Gawai festival in Debak, Betong region, Sarawak
Official name Gawai Dayak
Also called Ari Gawai (Iban people), Andu Gawai (Bidayuh)
Observed by Sarawak, West Kalimantan
Type Religious, social, traditional ethnic festival
Celebrations Gawai Dayak
Begins 31 May
Ends 1 June
Date 1 June
Next time 1 June 2016 (2016-06-01)
Frequency annual

Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated by the Dayaks in Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is officially recognized as a public holiday in Sarawak and is celebrated annually on the 31st May and 1st June. It is both a religious and a social occasion.

The idea for Gawai Dayak started way back in 1957 in a radio forum held by Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang, a radio programme organiser. This generated a lot of interest among the Dayak community. Up till 1962, the British colonial government refused to recognise the Dayak Day, but instead called it the Sarawak Day which was meant to be celebrated by all Sarawakians as a national day regardless of tribes.

The first Gawai was hosted by Datuk Michael Buma, a Betong native, at his house at Siol Kandis, Kuching on 1 June 1963, before it was officially gazetted[1] on 25 September 1964 as a public holiday in place of Sarawak Day after the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

It was first celebrated on 1 June 1965 and became a symbol of unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayak community. Today, it is an integral part of the Dayak social life. It is a thanksgiving day marking a bountiful harvest and a time to plan for the new farming season or other endeavours ahead.


Gawai Dayak literally means "Dayak Festival". In the Iban language, the word Gawai means festival. The Dayak is a collective name for the indigenous ethnic peoples of Sarawak and neighbouring Indonesian Kalimantan and the interior of Borneo. The Dayak people are mostly Iban (previously known as the Sea Dayak). In the past, there have also been Bidayuh people known as Land Dayak and Orang Ulu people. This last group included the Kayans, Kenyahs and Lun Bawangs. There are over 200 riverine and hill-dwelling ethnic subgroups of people. Each have their own dialect, customs, laws, territory and culture. However, some common distinguishing traits are readily identifiable. Dayak languages are categorised as part of the Austronesian languages in Asia. The Dayaks were animist and paganistic in belief. However, many have converted to Christianity in recent times. Estimates for the Dayak population range from 2 to 4 million.


Dayak visit their friends and relatives on the festival (gawai) day. Such visits are known as ngabang in the Iban language. Those too far away to visit would receive greeting cards or gawai greetings via radio broadcasts. Formal invitees are welcomed by a procession of members of the host longhouse, (ngalu pengabang).


The mode of celebrations vary from place to place and preparations begin early. When a longhouse agrees to host a the festival, they may need to plant extra paddy and organise labour ("bedurok"), to ensure enough food for the feast. Rice may be purchased from the towns if the festival is in a place where paddy farming is absent of insufficient.

Rice wine,(tuak), is the traditional drink of Dayaks. It is brewed at least one month before the festival. The drink is brewed using the glutinous rice from a recent harvest mixed with home-made yeast in which it ferments. Traditionally, tuak was made with rice milk only but is now cut with sugar and water in a process called ciping. A stronger alcoholic beverage made by the Ibans is "langkau" (called arak tonok" (burnt spirit) by the bidayuhs. This drink is made by distilling tuak over a fire.

The longhouse is cleaned, repaired and repainted by co-operation among the longhouse dwellers (gotong-royong in Malay). The longhouse is constructed as a unique place of living and worship. Its main post (tiang pemun) an the designated start point of all building materials ("pun ramu") must remain intact.[2] Timber and wooden materials for repairs are obtained from nearby reserve forests ("pulau galau, pulau ban") or purchased in towns.

The inside walls of the longhouse are decorated with "ukir" murals portraying tree and wild animal motifs. Men with decorating skills make split bamboo designs. The Orang Ulu are famous for their colourful paintings of the tree of life on their house walls and their house posts are elaborately carved. Some men will have traditional tattoos on their bodies to signify their adventures and experiences with land and marine life motifs in time for the gawai.[3]

Highly decorated shields may be made and displayed near the family room door. Heirloom jars and old human skulls obtained during headhunting raids, if still kept, are cleaned and displayed. Deer horns may be secured on the longhouse posts in order to hang highly decorated swords and other household items.

A "pantar" (long chair) may be built along the upper area of the ruai gallery, particularly in traditional long houses to provide seating. The seat is raised and the tanju verandah wall used as the back rest. Therefore, the festival day is sometimes called "ari mantar". Contemporary furniture like tables and chairs may be bought for comfort. Electric fans or even air-conditioners may be purchased if electricity supply has reached the longhouse. Old wooden longhouse ("rumah kayu") may be replaced with concrete and bricks to build it into a terraced longhouse ("rumah batu") either single or double storey if income and finances permit and all the family agrees to do so.

Just before the festival day, traditional cake delicacies are prepared from glutinous rice flour mixed with sugar. The cakes include sarang semut (ant nest cake), cuwan (molded cake) and kui sepit (twisted cake). The cakes can last well whilst kept inside a jar because they are deep-fried until hardened and quite brittle when eaten. Penganan iri (a discus-shaped cake) are made just prior to the festival day because they do not keep well. This is because the cake is lifted from the hot frying oil while not fully hardened and still containing moisture. The sugar used can be the brown nipah sugar or cane sugar.

As the festival day approaches, everyone will be busy with general tidying up, grave visiting, paddy drying and milling, collecting and preparing food and final house decoration, where necessary.

A visit to clean the graveyard is conducted and offerings made to the dead before the actual festival. After the visit, it is important to bathe before entering the longhouse to ward off bad luck.

Before milling the paddy, it needs to be sufficiently dry to make the grains stronger by getting off of any moisture and not broken while milling. In the old days, traditional tools like rice miller, rice mortar and winnowing basket are used to turn the paddy into rice. This process is quite lengthy and time-consuming, therefore done in groups. Nowadays, modern rice milling machines are available. Those who do not plant rice now will buy rice from towns if they can afford to do so.

Before the Gawai eve, the longhouse folks may organise a hunting or fishing trip if forest is still available in the rural areas to get wild meats and fish from rivers or even seas if nearby. Both can be preserved with salt in a jar or smoked over the firewood platform above the cooking earth in the kitchen, in waiting for the coming feast. Now, poultry may be bought from towns.

Any wild animal parts like the horn, teeth and claws, and bird horns and feathers will be used to decorate and repair their traditional costumes for the coming big feasts.

Celebration on first day of Gawai Dayak[edit]

On the Gawai Eve, people will take sago, aping, sawit or coconut palm shoots which are mostly for making soup with meats and collect other vegetables like the wild miding fern, fiddlehead fern, bamboo shoots, tapioca leaves and Dayak round brinjals from nearby jungles, farms or gardens early in the morning.

Upon their return, some poultry and chickens will be slaughtered for the festival. Some of their meats will be cooked in middle-aged thin-wall bamboo logs to make the traditional dish called "pansoh" or "lulun" in the Iban language. The meats will be first mixed with traditional herbs like lemon grass, ginger, bungkang leaves and salt to taste before putting them into the bamboo logs.

The remaining meats will be preserved in salt if too much to be cooked at once or straight away cooked, either fried or souped in mixture with palm shoots. Some of the meats especially the animal heads will be roasted over the open fire for consumption right away while still hot with some tuak served. Traditional cooking is made over open fire from wood as fuel and the cooking implements are made from small tree logs.

Some glutinous rice is cooked in bamboo logs to get the special aroma from the bamboo and thus delicious to be served with the meat cooked in a bamboo log. Normal rice will be cooked using pots at the kitchen with fire made from wood. The fire wood will give the cooked rice a distinctive aroma. Some Dayaks especially Orang Ulu may wrap up rice in the "long" green leaves before steaming it inside a pot to get a special aroma. Nowadays, rice is cooked using a gas stock or rice cooker with several pandan leaves put in to give a delicious smell. Therefore, nowadays Dayaks may have both types of the cooking facility with the modern one inside the kitchen while the traditional one just outside the kitchen to let the smoke out of the family room.

Meanwhile, in the longhouse, highly decorated mats will be laid out on the gallery which runs through the entire length of the longhouse for guests to sit on. There are various types of Dayaks' traditional hand-woven mats which are used for seating guests, These are the reed mat woven with colourful designs, "lampit" rattan mat, "bidai" tree bark mat and "peradani" mat. The walls of most family rooms and gallery are decorated with traditional blankets like the woven Pua Kumbu or tied cloth ("kain kebat") which are made with unique Dayak designs. The women are very much keen to showcase their hard labour of mat-making and hand-weaving during the festival. Even some wonderful traditional baskets can be seen during the gawai.

Celebration on first night of Gawai Dayak[edit]

The celebration starts on the evening of 31 May.

In most Iban longhouses, it starts with a ceremony to cast away the spirit of greed (Muai Antu Rua), signifying the non-interference of the spirit of bad luck in the celebration. Two children or men each dragging a winnowing basket (chapan) will pass each family's room. Every family will throw some unwanted article into the basket. The unwanted articles will be tossed to the ground from the end of the longhouse for the spirit of bad luck.

Around 6 pm or as the sun sets, a ritual offering ceremony (miring or bedara) will take place at every family room, one after another in turn. Before the ceremony, ritual music called gendang rayah is performed. Old ceramic plates, tabak (big brass chalice) or containers made of split bamboo skins (called kelingkang) will be used to put on the offerings to deities.

The Iban Dayaks believe in seven deities whose names are Sengalang Burong (the god of war which is represented by the brahminy kite in this world), Biku Bunsu Petara (the great priest second in command), Menjaya Manang (the first shaman and god of medicine), Sempulang Gana with Semerugah (the god of agrriculture and land), Selampadai (as the god of creation and procreativity), Ini Inee/Andan as the god of justice and Anda Mara as the god of wealth.[4] In addition, Iban Dayaks will call upon the legendary and mythical people of Panggau Libau and Gelong, and some good helpful spirits or ghosts to the feast.

The number of offering sets to be prepared may include at least nine sets which are at the four corners of the family room, one each at the kitchen, the rice containing jar, the gallery, the tanju and the farm. Other highly prized possessions such as precious old jars and modern items like rice milling engine, boat engine and car may be also be given offerings for continuous usability and safety of use. Any pengaroh (charm) will be brought out for this offering session to ensure its continuous effectiveness and to avoid madness to the owner. Even nowadays, wallets will be placed among the offering to increase its tuah or fortune of the owners.

Each offering set for festivals normally contains seven traditional items, namely: the cigarette nipah leaves and tobacco, betel nut and sireh leaves, glutinous rice in hand-woven leave container (senupat), rice cake (tumpi), sungki (glutinous rice cooked in buwan leaves), glutinuos rice cooked in bamboo logs (asi pulut lulun), penganan iri (cake of glutinous rice flour mixed with nipah sugar), ant nest cake and moulded cake, poprice (made from glutinous paddy grains heated in a wok or pot), hard-boiled chicken eggs and last but not the least, the tuak rice wine poured over or contained in a small bamboo cup.

After all the offering sets are completed, the Feast Chief thanks the gods for the good harvest, and asks for guidance, blessings and long life as he waves a cockerel over the offerings ("bebiau"). The cockerel will then be sacrificed by slicing its neck and its wing feathers are pulled out and brushed onto its bleeding neck after which each feather is placed as sacrifice ("genselan") onto each of the offering sets. The offerings are now placed onto their respective designated locations.[5]

Once the offering ceremony is done, dinner for the family is served at the gallery which is contributed by every family in the longhouse. This dinner is called "makai di ruai" (meal at gallery) or makai rami" (festival meal). All the best traditional foods, delicacies and drinks that have been prepared so far are showcased for this family dinner reunion. Relatives and friends are invited to join in this get together dinner.

Just before midnight, a spirit-welcoming procession (called Ngalu Petara in Iban) up and down the gallery seven times is performed. During this procession, a beauty pageant to choose the festival's queen and king (Kumang and Keling Gawai) is sometimes conducted based on completeness of traditional costume and of course a bit of beauty and handsomeness.

Meanwhile, foods and drinks including traditional cakes and delicacies are continued to be served either at the gallery or within the family room and ready for consumption by anyone based on the open house concept. It is time to show generosity and friendliness to all!

Just before the merrymaking starts, an advising session called "begeliga" by the chief and elders will be held with all those present in the longhouse to remind everybody to keep order, peace and harmony in general and to maintain the happy occasion and festive mood. Heavy fines (ukom) will be imposed on those who break the customary "adat" and festive ground rules such as quarrelling and fighting. Anyone got drunk and looking for a fight or breaking up household items may be caught and tied down onto the floor until recovery.

At midnight, the gong is beaten to call the celebrants to attention. The longhouse Chief (tuai rumah) or Festival Chief will lead everyone to drink the longevity drink (Ai Pengayu in Iban) to mark the ending of the current year and the coming of the new year! This drink is normally the newly made tuak from the bountiful harvest. The chief will say aloud a short prayer (sampi) before everybody drinks the longevity water after which the longhouse dwellers wish each other "Longevity, Wellness and Wealth while living on this world".

In Iban, the famous line of festival greeting of "Gayu Guru, Gerai Nyamai, Senang Lantang Nguan Menua" is repeatedly wished to each other. Apologies for any past mistakes or quarrels may be made to forgive and forget to maintain harmony and peace within the community. Where a bard is available, he may be asked to recite a short chant called "timang ai pengayu" to bless the longevity water before the chief says the short prayer.

A Dayak man performing the Tarian Ngajat (Ngajat Dance), a dance popular among the Dayak Iban people of Sarawak, Malaysia.

The celebration now turns merrier and less formal with some festival programs organised. Among others, a tree of life called "ranyai" in Iban will be set up at the gallery for celebration purposes and to showcase the traditional ngajat dance, sword dance (bepencha) or self-defence martial art (bekuntau) and other merry making activities around the tree according to the sound of traditional music played.

One main activity is called badigir (Lining up) of those present or guests, perhaps according to their social ranking status. These men are offered by ladies in costumes a bowl (jalong) of tuak rice wine, possibly encouraged with a pantun song sung by one of the ladies and some food delicacies (tabas). The winner would be awarded a coconut which symbolizes a trophy head skull. There may be several line-ups such for senior men, youth, women or ladies. Another event is for a group of youth to finish drinking tuak rice wine from a medium-sized jar called "kebok" and in return they are requested to donate some amount of money as a toke of appreciation.

There are many variations of the traditional ngajat dance which basically revolve around the male dance and female dance which consist of graceful and precise movements of the body, hands and feet with occasional shouts of battle cry. The famous and interesting themes are called "ngajat lesong" (rice mortar dance) and warrior dance for men while ngajat pua kumbu (ritual cloth dance) for women.

A ngajat dance contest may be held during this time at the ranyai tree of life. There are various types of ngajat traditional dance which are performed by ladies and gentlemen as mentioned above. The Iban male traditional dance is meant to show strength and bravery and may imitate the movements of a hornbill which is regarded as the king of worldly birds by the Iban Dayaks. Beside ganjat, the Iban men may perform bekuntau (self=defence martial art) and bepencha (sword dance). The Iban female dance involves more graceful movements of their body, hands and feet.

The ngajat dance is accompanied by a traditional musical set which is made of an engkerumong set (percussion), tawak (big gong), bebendai (small gong) and bedup (drum) which are each played by an individual. The Orang Ulu music is played using the sape. Nowadays, the traditional musics and native songs have been recorded so can be played easily.

Another important activity is singing traditional poems for entertainment purposes like pantun, ramban, jawang, sanggai and pelandai[6] while merry-making (bebungah or bebuti) and offering drinks to guests or other persons. Important guests may be asked to break up a coconut as a game (uti) to symbolise the great occasion by Sengalang Burong (the god of war) during the Iban timang incantation which is called "ngelanpang" (chopping off the head skull to present various kinds of beneficial seeds to humankind).

For Bidayuh Dayaks, their traditional dances comprises tolak bala (danger repealing) dance performed before the harvesting season to ask for blessing and to protect the community from danger, totokng dance that is performed during the harvest festival to welcome the paddy soul and guests, langi julang ritual dance which is performed at the closing of the harvest festival to thank gods for bestowing good health and rich harvest and the eagle-warrior fight dance to win over a girl as a wife which is usually performed after the harvest season as a form of entertainment for guests of the longhouse with the outstretched hands of the dancers imitate the movements of the eagles as they flap their wings in flight and then they attack each other with the eagle eventually fell unconscious so leaving the warrior as the winner.

Orang Ulu will play their musical instrument called "sape" to accompany their "datun lansan" dance. Nowadays, other ethnic groups also may dance in tune to sape musics.

Other activities that may follow on or extend to the next few days include (blowpipe) sumpit contest, traditional game contest, cockfighting matches (nyabong), mini sports and fun games.

The Dayaks love to rear chickens for food and cockerels for cockfighting which is part of their ritual festivals and their favourite past time. They have recognised many types of the cockerel feathers based on similarities with other birds and fishes, and intimate knowledge to read the luck and fate of the cockerels based on the scales on their feet.[7]

The blowpipe is a very long straight cylindrical tube (about 3 metres) made of a hard wood with a circular hole drilled through its middle centreline and its arrow tip is poisoned to kill animals and birds while hunting after being hit.

Other traditional game competitions include the tuak drinking, arm-wrestling (bibat lengan), small log pulling (betarit lampong), rope pulling (tarit tali) and foot-banging (bapatis) contests.

Mini sports may be organised on the ground during the day e.g. football, sepak takraw (rattan kickball) and futsal which is popular nowadays among the youth. Fun games are organised for adults and children such as egg-rolling, plate passing according to the taboh music, running in gunny sacks and balloon blowing.

Of course, nowadays karaoke and joget dance becomes one of the favourite activities to celebrate the gawai.

Celebration on second day of Gawai Dayak[edit]

On the first day of June, homes of the Dayaks are opened to visitors and guests. This practice is called "ngabang" in Iban. Open house may also be organised by Dayak associations or non-government organisations several days afterwards until the end of June where the gawai will be closed a ngiling bidai (mat rolling up) ceremony. It is time to showcase their traditional foods and drinks, cultural performances, ritual ceremonies and the Dayak hospitality in general.

Normally during gawai, ladies and gentlemen wear their traditional colourful costumes called "ngepan" in Iban, especially for welcoming guests, before changing to modern clothes. The traditional attire set of Iban gentlemen include a loincloth (sirat or cawat), animal skin protective coat (gagong), headgear with peacock and hornbill feathers (lelanjang), chains over the neck (marik), silver armlets and anklelets along with a shield, sword and spear. However, Dayaks now wear modern clothing and traditional costumes are not easily obtainable.

Of course, the body of gentlemen may already be decorated with tribal tattoos (kalingai or pantang in Iban) which signify their life experience and journey. Nowadays, temporary tattoos can be made onto the body just for the celebrations except specific signatures like the frog design on the front of the man's neck and tegulun design on the backs of the hand, which both indicate someone had successfully chopped off human heads during headhunting or killed enemy during military combats in modern days. However, some designs are based on marine life which are meant for protection and rescue of the wearers if they are in danger or if their boats capsize or sink in the rivers or seas while travelling elsewhere in search of fortune and better life.

The traditional costume set of Iban ladies consists of a hand-woven cloth (kain betating) worn around the waist, rattan and brass ring high corset around the upper body, selampai (long piece of scalp) worn over the shoulders, a woven bead chain over the neck and shoulders called marik empang, decorated high-comb (sugu tinggi) over the hair lump (called sanggul), silver belt (lampit), armlet, anklet and orb fruit purse. The other Dayak tribes would showcase their own traditional costumes during the festival. In the past, it is customary for Dayak ladies to show off their bare breasts as a sign of beauty to all guests during festivals but this is no longer practised.

For Bidayuh Dayaks, Dayung Boris are the maidens of the Gawai Festival, dressed in traditional dresses. Their traditional community building is called the “baruk” which is a roundhouse that rises about five feet off the ground. This serves as the granary and the meeting house for the settlement’s community. Longhouses were typical in the olden days, similar to that of the Ibans but many now live in separate houses in a village style.

The traditional costumes will show more or less the economic status of the wearers as not all can make or afford the woven clothes and silvers. Hand weaving is a highly skilled job and only a few ladies will eventually become accomplished master weavers. Certain designs used in the weaving are sacred and the woven cloths are only used for ritual festivals. The social ranking of Iban ladies will be determined after her death during their Gawai Antu where the traditional customary law called the widow fee (adat tebalu in Iban)[8] will be paid in her honour and accomplishments in life.

Therefore, weaving is the top skill for ladies to master while the men master the art of agriculture especially rice farming and later on planting of economic crops, and headhunting when it was still practised. In addition, the men are encouraged to go on journeys in search of better life and fortune e.g. wild rubber tapping in the past and working offshore nowadays. The men are also expected to learn skills for hunting, fishing and honey taking from high tapang trees. The social ranking for Iban men are determined during taking their widower fee during the Gawai Antu.

Tuak is widely consumed during Gawai festival and Christmas Day.

Traditionally, when guests just enter or arrive at a longhouse, the reception ladies will quickly line up to form two rows on the left and right hand sides of the ladder and the door to welcome, shake hands nowadays and offer the guests tuak while the guests pass in between them. These are called the welcoming drink (ai tiki) followed by the thirst-quenching drink (ai aus). This guest reception occasion is called "nyambut pengabang" in Iban.

From time to time, the guests while seated are served several more rounds of tuak as the washing drink (ai basu), profit drink (ai untong) and respect drink (ai basa). This activity to show hospitality is called the watering of guests or "nyibur temuai" in Iban. Non-alcoholic drinks and non-pork foods are also served to respect certain guests according to their religion, health conditions or simply personal preference.

During conversations, it is very common among Dayaks to trace their family ties using genealogy (tusut in Iban) for which a tusut drink may be offered. Before ngajat dancing or nowadays karaoke singing, a drink of tuak is also offered. Before making any speeches, a glass of tuak is given to the speakers to encourage and motivate them. One type of a special speech called jaku ansah (sharpening speech) is recited before the guests of honour stand up to speak.

For formal invitations, the guests of honour will be received with a "miring" offering ceremony at the ground nearby the longhouse. Upon approcahing the longhouse's ladder, the key guest is offered to open a fort (called "muka kuta" in Iban) which is signified by slashing using a sword a bamboo fence set up crossing the path towards the longhouse after a recital of special speech by a talented poet. This is followed by an animal-spearing occasion (mancak in Iban) at the foot of the longhouse ladder before stepping up into the longhouse.

Then a guest procession (ngalu pengabang) along the longhouse gallery ensues at least one round before the guest and company are seated at the gallery of the headman, the inviting feast chief or any designated family. This procession is led by a group of traditional ngajat dancers (normally a man and few ladies) who are followed by the important persons with the entourage and finally the traditional musician crew.

After one round procession, the guests are seated at and around the gallery of the headman or the feast chief. After that, a guest prayer (biau pengabang) is recited by a talented speaker like the headman or the lemambang bard while swaying and holding a chicken over the heads of guests. Once recital is completed, several rounds of drinks (nyibur temuai) are offered again to guests while a simple offering is prepared by selected guests. Then some speeches and formality may follow. Modern furniture complete with a modern public announcement system may be available on this special occasion.

Before the guests are offered foods, a special speech (called "muka kujuk" in Iban) to open the traditional cloth covering over food containers is recited. In the past, guests are seated in lines and served foods in plates by the inviting persons to evenly distribute and ensure everyone got foods but nowadays, self-service or buffet style is practised.

Next, a set of specially made ground rules of conduct for the festival is announced to all guests and the longhouse own dwellers by the headman or the feast chief before merry-making starts. This is called "begeliga" in Iban. It normally contains rules of discipline and reminders along with heavy fines for making disturbance, trouble, quarrelling or fighting among those present.

After the formality has passed, all guests will be invited to visit any of the families in the longhouse, usually one after another following the stronger invitations or family connections and skipping a few family rooms where necessary. A short longhouse may consist of ten to thirty family rooms in a row while moderately long ones can reach between above thirty to fifty family rooms and the really long ones can be between above fifty to one hundred family rooms. The really long ones can be split into several terraced houses with one headman in charge.

Another merry-making activity here is called bantil (persuaded drinking) of men by ladies to ensure guests are well-served with drinks to overcome their shyness. It is common to reject several first offers of food and drinks among the guests while it is a custom to offer food and drinks to guests several times as a sign of hospitality and respect to fellow others. The ladies may sing the traditional poem called pantun to request and entice the men to drink a large amount of drinks such as tuak contained is a big bowl or jalong.

In another hospitality game called uti by the Ibans, some very important persons (VIPs) may be offered to cut open a coconut placed on a ceramic plate using a blunt knife without touching the coconut or breaking the plate. Successful attempt is rewarded with plenty of tuak drinks and tabas food. A coconut is usually used to check on the conditions of someone's heart and fate where a white coconut flesh is a good indication but a black one would be a bad one.

Celebration of ritual festivals around Gawai Dayak[edit]

Gawai Dayak celebrations may last for around a month or so, which can be very busy several days before and after 1 June. It is during this time of year that many Dayak weddings (Melah Pinang[9] or Gawai Lelabi) take place, as it is one of the rare occasions when all the members of the community return home to their ancestral longhouse.

Some longhouses and individual Dayaks will take this opportunity to hold one or several of the traditional original festivals. Within the same longhouse, there can be several types of festival going on, depending on the needs of the individual Dayak families.

Most Iban will hold minor rites called bedara which can be bedara mata (unripe offering) inside the family bilek room and bedara mansau (ripe offering) at the family ruai gallery. Berunsur (Cleansing) is held at the family tanju verandah.

The next intermediate ritual festivals called gawa and thus often celebrated are the Sandau Ari (Mid-Day Festival), Tresang Mansau (Red Bamboo Pole) and Gawai Kalingkang which is the early stage of Bird or Proper Festival celebration.[10]

In the Saribas and Skrang region, the Iban Dayaks living here can choose one of the following traditional feasts to hold: Gawai Bumai (Farm-related Festivals) such as Gawai Batu (Whetstone Festival) to sharpen their knives and axes for jungle clearing of the next rice farming cycle or Gawai Benih (Paddy Seed Festival) to pray for bountiful harvests,[11] Gawai Burong (Bird Festival) especially in the old days to honour the god of war and his entourage.[12] and Gawai Antu (Festival of the Dead) for any dead family members,.[13][14]

In the Baleh region, the Iban can decide to celebrate Gawai Baintu-intu (Wellness-related Festival), Gawai Bumai (Farming Festival), Gawai Amat (Proper Festival) to request for divine supernatural assistance[15]) and Gawai Ngelumbung (Tomb Building Festival). Some may decide to stage a Gawai Mimpi (Dream Festival) when told by spirits in their dreams while sleeping. Some Iban will sleep covered by the pua kumbu blanket while sleeping to seek certain dreams.

Fortune-related festivals include Gawai Tuah (Fortune Festival) to seek and welcome luck in Gawai Ngiga Tuah (Fortune-Seeking Festival) and Gawai Namaka Tuah (Fortune-Welcome Festival) and Gawai Tajau (Jar Festival)[16] to welcome recently obtained precious ceramic jars.

For any newly completed longhouses, a Main House Post Banging Festival (Gawai Mangkong Tiang)[17] is celebrated upon migrating into the new home as a house warming party and to ritually request for good health, long life and prosperity for its inhabitants from gods.

Some Ibans may decide to hold Gawai Sakit (Sickness Healing Festival)[18] for those who seek divine magical healing by a deity during the Gawai Dayak season when rice is plenty and a bit of money is available and after preceding traditional ceremonies called "belian" by manang shamans, "sugi sakit" and "renong sakit" by lemambang bards have failed to produce any positive results.

During any of these festivals, it is vital to serve at least sufficient foods and drinks to please the invited deity with his entourage and all guests to seek generous bestowment and to avoid any embarrassment. Therefore, those guests who come do chip in their respective contributions to the feast chief as they deem fit and necessary, which is on a voluntary basis.

Each of these festivals have their own processes and procedures although the basic outline may be similar to each other. Some more important feasts like Bird Festival will be held earlier than other festivals within the same longhouse to avoid the spoil of the rice wine by a certain spirit known as "Indai Bilai" during the Festival for the Dead. The Gawai Antu or Ngelumbong which is for the dead will be normally held after the ritual festivals and the Gawai Dayak itself which are meant for the living.

For most of these traditional festivals, a sacred invocation incantations called pengap or timang[19] is recited by an appointed group of one leading bard supported by several assistants for the whole night till morning to formally invite a certain deity with his entourage to come to the feast and most importantly, to bring along with them assistance, charms and medicines. These items are believed to facilitate easier and luckier livings of Dayaks during their main endeavours like headhunting in the past which is now prohibited and rightly replaced by adventures and employment-seeking sojourns domestically or overseas, rice farming, planting of economic crops, education for the youth, career building and even trading business ventures.

Christian Dayaks will replace the traditional offering ceremony with a prayer session within his family room. They normally attend a church mass service led by their prayer leader called "tuai sembiang". They may celebrate the various festivals in the Christian way to meet their traditional and customary obligations by offering prayers to their almighty God. In fact, the Gawai Dayak celebration is generic in nature and meant to mark the festive season for all Dayaks regardless of their tribes and geographical locations. This celebration signifies their common identity!

The gawai celebrations are most likely led and coordinated by the longhouse chief or a selected representative who is usually assisted by the village's development and security committee.

Celebration of Pre-Gawai Dayak[edit]

In urban areas, Dayaks will organise pre-gawai gatherings at community centres or restaurants to celebrate the evening just like in the longhouses. Nowadays, a pre-gawai celebration in the form of pre-gawai dinners is common before those Dayaks going home for the actual gawai celebration with their family in the longhouse or village. These gatherings are nrmally organized by Dayak associations. It is considered a time for family cum community reunion once a year. A ngajat dancing and karaoke session may be made available while singing and joget-dancing to the Dayak modern native songs.

Closing of Gawai Dayak[edit]

The ending of Gawai Dayak takes place around one month from 1 June which is towards the end of June. The closing ceremony is signified by symbolically rolling back a miring-ceremony mat called bidai by each family within the longhouse. It is popularly known as "Ngiling Bidai" among the Iban Dayaks.

After all the celebrations and festival are completed, the Dayak people return to their normal life while those who work in towns and elsewhere will go back to their jobs to continue life as usual until the next coming festive season.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Anggat S. The Iban Longhouse Gnmawar blog about Iban cultural heritage
  3. ^ Anggat A. Basic Iban Design.
  4. ^ Raja Durong by Benedict Sandin
  5. ^ Celebrating Borneo's Harvest Festivals – Words and photos from Nazreen Tajul Arif and Virtual Malaysia – The Official e-Tourism Portal for The Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia [1]
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bulu Manok Iban: Bujang Sugi and Rukun Sabong by William Duncan
  8. ^ Iban Adat and Augury by Benedict Sandin & Prof. Clifford Sather
  9. ^ Melah Pinang by Alli Majang
  10. ^ Iban Adat and Augury by Benedict Sandin & Prof. Clifford Sather
  11. ^ Gawai Batu by Benedict Sandin
  12. ^ Gawai Burong by Benedict Sandin
  13. ^ Gawai Antu by Benedict Sandin
  14. ^ GAWAI ANTU (Iban Feast of the Departed) by Henry Grijih
  15. ^ Timang Gawai Amat: A study of Timang Incantation of Iban Baleh by JJ Masing
  17. ^ Gawai Pangkong Tiang by Benedict Sandin
  18. ^ Gawai Sakit oleh Benedict Sandin
  19. ^

External links[edit]