Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gawai Dayak: A time for family reunion

MIRI: The chatter in the longhouse fell silent as all eyes turned to two primary schoolboys squaring off with each other, waiting for the referee’s go.

Seconds later, the two strove to outdo each other in arm-wrestling competition – one of many games held every Gawai Dayak at the longhouse in Machan, thanks to the initiative by its chieftain Mayang Umpi.

Other fun activities were gulping down hot coffee, ‘tuak’ (rice wine) and soda drinking, three-legged races, retrieving coin from a plateful of flour and even Halloween-like contests.

Head of Gawai Dayak celebrations Mapang Sebang said these traditional games derived from a showcase of strength and special abilities of the past generations.

“Tuak was the only prize for the Gawai games back then,” he reminisced of the era of his late father, who was a legendary figure in Kanowit and Julau.

Drinking hot coffee actually honoured an elderly man Aki Tinko from the longhouse, who had a supernatural resistance to heat. He even took up the challenge of dipping his hand in boiling water as a testimony of his integrity, or to clear the air whenever his reputation was questioned.

It was also a sight to behold as the longhouse women effortlessly carried their husbands on their backs during a piggy-back race. Laughter broke as the husbands struggled to lift their spouses for the return leg, where many stumbled.

Gawai is a festival celebrated by the Dayaks in Sarawak and West Kalimantan, with June 1 being officially regarded as a public holiday in Sarawak. To the Dayaks, it is a time for family reunion as well as for them to touch base with their ancestral roots.

The idea for Gawai Dayak was first mentioned in 1957 during a radio forum conducted by Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang, a radio programme organiser. Up till 1962, the British colonial government refused to recognise ‘Dayak Day’ – instead, they called it ‘Sarawak Day’ to be celebrated by all Sarawakians regardless of tribes.

Still, the Dayaks continued celebrating their harvest festival up until after Merdeka and formation of Malaysia. It was on Sept 25, 1964 that the state government officially gazetted June 1 as the day to observe Gawai Dayak every year.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Gawai Dayak: A time for family reunion