Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gawai Dayak Best Celebrated At The Longhouse

KANOWIT (Sarawak) -- The longhouse is the place to be when the Dayak community in Sarawak ushers in the annual Gawai Dayak harvest festival at midnight tonight.

Most of the 5,000 longhouses and villages across the state will reverberate with rejoicing as the community of Iban, Bidayuh and others, making up 40 per cent of the state's 2.4 million population, begin the celebrations.

The community will usher in the festival with a toast of the "Ai Pengayu" or longevity drink, which is usually the "tuak" made of fermented glutinous rice.

This will be preceded by Christian prayers by some and the traditional "miring" and "bebiau" ritual offering by others, seeking God's blessings for a better harvest, health and fortune for the coming year.

The toast is a highlight of the Gawai, said longhouse chief Mathew Sembilan anak Asap, 63, from Nanga Tada here.

"In all longhouses, each family will contribute their "tuak" and an assortment of tidbits for the gathering at the "ruai" or public gallery of the longhouse.

"Of course, before the feast begins, the chiefs or their deputies or elected representatives will make the traditional speeches, offering well wishes," he said.

After the "Ai Pengayu" toast, the feasting and revelry will go on until dawn. Fire crackers and fireworks will be let off as the people feast on chicken, fish and pork and curries as well as the "kuih lapis"(Sarawak's famous layer cake) and the traditional "kuih chuan" and "sarang semut" biscuits.

"To enjoy the festival at its best, the longhouse is the place to be. This is the reason why folks from far away will make a beeline for their homes in the last week of May each year," said Mathew, a former RTM Iban journalist.

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