EVER since the dawn of history, man has related in one way or another to the presence of a special spiritual being.
He has devised ceremonies and prayers to establish the special communion between man and the spirits.
According to both the Torah and the Old Testament of the Bible, Adam and Eve bore two children. One of them, Abel, was a shepherd who found favour with God.
His brother Cain, a grower of crops, was jealous and so he killed Abel. This was the first crime recorded in mankind’s history by the two holy books.
Abel found favour with God because his prayers were from the heart. Thus, prayers said in this way continue to play a very big role in the spiritual lives of most people.
According to a learned friend, the Ibans, following traditions, stay close to the teachings of Sempulan Gana.
“Gawai Batu” is one of the many Gawai practices of the Ibans, the purpose of which is to safeguard their padi farms.
This belief stems from the teachings of Sempulang Gana and is not practised yearly but several years in between, normally when one feels one’s production or harvest has declined through the years.
This is not very different from modern-day prayers for a better life, offered by people of other faiths.
Sempulan Gana is the Iban God of Earth (Tanah).
Elaborating on Sempulang Gana, Gregory Mawar said: “When he returned, all that was left for him was an earthern box. At first Sempulang Gana was angry but he was later informed by his father-in-law, Petara Semarugah, of the box’s value.
“He discovered he had received the most valuable inheritance of them all — the Earth itself. As such, all the other gods and all human beings had had to make offerings to Sempulang Gana to obtain his permission before farming the earth.”
Another Iban professional said rice cultivation is actually very ritualistic for the Ibans.
“Every step of their farming is like a religious rite because the farmers have to respect the order of Nature and the presence of God. Without respecting the presence of God in their farming life, they will not have successful crops,” he explained.
Mrs Mail, a rice cultivator, does not harvest all the padi she planted, leaving some sheaves of grains for “the others” to eat.
She prays in church and whenever she tends her padi field she leaves grains for the birds to feed on, God will be pleased because I am sharing my crop with God’s other creations.
Other rice cultivators also perform ceremonies before their planting season.
In Thailand, for example, an age-old ceremony was held on an auspicious day, determined by a royal astrologer, sometime in May, to mark the beginning of the rice-planting season. Today, the ceremony continues to be practised.
Traditionally, the culture of the Ifugaos (the Philippines) has been intimately connected with the cultivation of rice.
Twelve rice rituals, performed by the native mumbaki, define the Ifugao agrarian calendar. These rituals, conducted throughout the rice growing cycle, helped maintain the balance the Ifugaos had with their environment and ensure a bountiful harvest — (Dulawan 1982).
According to one of the tourist brochures on Japan, the Emperor, embodying the god of the ripened rice plant, plants the first rice of the Spring and harvests rice from the plants of the autumn.
In one of the most solemn Shinto ceremonies of the year, the Emperor, acting as the country’s chief Shinto priest, ritually sows rice in the royal rice paddy on the grounds of the Imperial Palace.
It is also a well-known fact that Emperor Akihito tends a rice plot on the imperial grounds in Tokyo.
An indigenous group in Sarawak, the Bidayuh hold an elaborate June Gawai for the Padi Goddess. It’s very colourful and the priestesses who go into trance provide blessings for the farmers for the whole year.
The Iban Gawai Batu, witnessed recently in Limbang, was an all-female, solemn, although simple, ceremony.
Led by the only male member of the ceremony, in accordance with his social status (longhouse headman or tuai rumah aling), the service started with singing of praises.
Prayers were led by the local catechist, the daughter of one of the longhouse members.
This 38-door longhouse holds this historically significant ceremony only once every few years. This was their first Christian-based Whet Stone Ceremony or Gawai Batu.
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