Sunday, July 13, 2014

8th Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration: Five-star glitter for a traditional festival

SINCE its inception, the Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration has been held at a grand hotel and attended by more than 1,000 guests from Sarawak and Sabah.

Both the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and its counterpart, the Kadazandusun Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sabah) (KCCI), have been taking turns to organise the event, starting in Sabah in 2007, as a way for members to network and foster national integration.

This year was again Sarawak’s (DCCI) turn to play host – on June 28.  And it was suggested a longhouse be chosen as the venue this time around. But could a longhouse provide a five-star ambiance for the joint celebration – the 8th in the series?

The answer was found after much soul searching when DCCI leaders decided on a longhouse at Nanga Sekutan, Sabuah (Bintulu) — and the honour went to Rumah Miekle (pronounced Michael) Ding.

The recently completed Rumah Miekle Ding is touted as a five-star 24-door longhouse – not without good reasons.

Situated on a hill facing the towns of Kemena and Sebauh diagonally across the river, it is modernly equipped and also built of concrete – possibly the first of its kind in the state in terms of structure and design.

In fact, to many who visited Nanga Sekutan in the first half of the year, Rumah Meikle Ding is already a five-star longhouse with all the trappings of a modern dwelling place — water supply, electricity, air-conditioning, modern fixtures and utilities and such like.

Besides, a belian jetty by the river where many longboats are berthed, gives the longhouse an elevated status.

Rumah Miekle whose achitecture is impressive – and cars can be driven right up to the entrance — is also the home of Kemena assemblyman and Assistant Minister of Public Utilities Dr Stephen Rundi.

The people of Bintulu are very proud of this special longhouse which has produced 71 graduates, eight of whom are medical doctors, including the assemblyman himself.

Guest of honour

For the 2014 Gawai-Kaamatan Celebration, Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem was the tuai pengabang (guest of honour). The idea was well received not only by DCCI members but also the Ibans of Bintulu.

Adenan had earlier also launched the new Sebauh ferry crossing the Kemena River from Sebauh town to Sekuan.

The celebration theme this year was Rural transformation through cultural integration. The setting in a real longhouse was most meaningful to the 1,000 guests — and perhaps another 1,000 local well-wishers.

The programme included a parade of six Kumang Gawais from the state and 10 Unduk Ngadau (Kadazandusun beauty queens) from Sabah. Iban delicacies such as pantu shoots and local veges were served.

Sebuah is a sub-district of Sarawak, about an hour’s drive from Bintulu town. Part of it was settled in 1886 by the Skrang Ibans with the permission of the White Rajah not long after the Krakatua volcano erupted in Java, Indonesia.

Policy of Rajah

The Rajah’s policy was to populate all parts of Sarawak with people keen in agriculture, particularly rice cultivation.

Sebuah is made up of a few Chinese shops (some are still the old wooden shops) and government offices, and is home to the Iban, Chinese, Melanau, Malay and Orang Ulu.

There is a secondary school — SMK Sebauh — a Chinese primary school and a local government-run primary school in the town.

Sebauh produces good lumber — and a sawmill is still operating across the river just before Sungei Sebauh branches out from the Kemena River. Sungei Sera, in turn, branches out from Sungei Sebauh, further up in the ulu.