One of Sarawak’s biggest and most important festivals,Gawai Dayak is a celebration that marks the end of the rice harvesting season. Gawai means festival while Dayak is a collective name for the ethnic groups of Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu communities. Both a religious and social festival, Gawai Dayak is officially celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of June yearly.
The festival is also a thanksgiving celebration before the new farming season begins, and the time to make amends and have family reunions, besides paying respects to the elders and visiting friends and relatives.
Preparations for the festival include the brewing of tuak (rice wine) and the making of traditional delicacies like penganan (cakes made from rice flour, sugar and coconut milk) and ngelulun asi pulut (glutinous rice roasted in bamboo).
The celebration begins on the evening of 31 May with a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua to cast away the spirit of greed. Families living in the Iban longhouse will place unwanted items in a basket and tossed them to the ground from the end of the longhouse to ward off the spirit of bad luck.
In the evening, the miring ceremony (an offering ceremony) will take place where the community chief will thank the gods for the good harvests and ask for guidance, blessings and long life. At midnight, a gong is sounded and the longhouse chief will lead everyone in drinking the Ai Pengayu (tuak for long life) and they will wish one another long life, health and prosperity. After that, the celebration continues with dancing and traditional music.
The following day, activities like traditional games, blowpipe demonstrations and ngajat (dancing) competitions will be held. Besides that, the homes of the Dayaks will also be opened to visitors. In a practice called ngalu pengabang, the guests will be served with tuak by the hosts of longhouses before they can enter.
Gawai Dayak is indeed one of the best times to visit Sarawak to experience the colourful festival and unique culture.