Monday, May 28, 2012

Nurturing spirit of Gawai

KUCHING: IT is that time of the year again in June, where familiar smells permeate Dayak villages throughout Sarawak.

The sweet pungent smell of fermented rice wines and gravies of native cuisine boiling in bamboo over open fire as well as sounds of slaughtered hogs fill the air.

A feast prepared and fit for the gods who helped to provide a good harvest for villagers is a must on June 1 when Gawai Dayak in Sarawak is observed.

The rice gods are not really sought on that day, for the ceremonies are mainly symbolic, a part of the culture that should be preserved for the younger generation -- ceremonies like Miring and Ngalu Petara or welcoming the spirits.

When I was younger, my folks in the longhouse in Bua, Engkilili would carry out all these ceremonies during Gawai Dayak and various other Gawai celebrations.

Yes, I said it right, various other Gawai celebrations.

Gawai, which literally means festival in my other mother tongue, Iban, simply means that.

Other than the normal Gawai which I experienced, I was part of my grand uncle's Gawai Kenyalang festival; a festival exclusively for warriors who had killed numerous enemies and only he could decide when the date for the celebration was to be held.

The difference with this Gawai is that a sacred hornbill statue, intricately carved is thought to represent the chief of all the worldly birds and oversees all mankind.

That is what I was told and another important part of Gawai Kenyalang is that, only an outstanding warrior can hold such Gawai and my granduncle was a former decorated Sarawak Ranger.

My granduncle is not around and I never got the chance to listen to all of his war stories. And being half Iban, honestly, I do not know much about my own heritage and I have to really do some research to know more.

Like any celebration, Gawai is the time to give thanks for any success that we achieve, but the nitty-gritty of how it is celebrated makes it different and gives it an identity.

Tourism Malaysia, Sarawak Tourism Board and Sarawak Cultural Village recently launched a tourism package that focuses on Gawai. Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board state director Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali said many Malaysians outside Sarawak were puzzled with the Gawai celebration and even he was clueless about it.

"The festival is a crowd-puller, but the problem is that it is not promoted. It is sad that such an important event is not widely known in Malaysia."

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Nurturing spirit of Gawai