Monday, May 31, 2010

Gawai Dayak - A special day for fair maidens and suitors

SOME 50 years ago, Gawai Dayak would double as a festival of love. Bidayuh bachelors would search for a maiden to take as their life partners in between the merry-making.

Bei Aled -- one of the last few Bidayuh men who could chant old Gawai Dayak rhymes called birayun to serenade the girls -- said back then, it was not uncommon for a young man to a marry a girl at the end of the three-night Gawai Dayak.

"Gawai Dayak was then not just about celebrating a bountiful harvest but also to provide an opportunity for young men to find their mates and start a new life through courtship, or nyagam."

He said Gawai Dayak would start at 8pm and would last until the next morning.

"A boy would try to court and serenade the girl of his heart," remembers the 74-year-old from Kampung Sebintin in Serian District.

"Once the gongs, canang and drums were beaten, Gawai Dayak will start with the elders shouting, 'Tara, Tara, Eeeeeiiiiiiiii Oooooiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii,' repeatedly.

"Everyone, young and old, would be seated at the veranda of the longhouse to greet guests and visitors.

"The maidens, too, would slowly appear from their bilik, under the watchful eyes of their parents, topless.

"So, each young man would try to outdo each other to win the heart of the prettiest girl, or kumang, of the village."

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