Sunday, July 05, 2015

Gawai Bidayuh now a merry and fun time


FOR three days and nights, the priests, men and women of the village gathered in a longhouse balcony to celebrate Gawai their harvest festival.

The offering and ritual ceremony was held on the first day. The feast chief or the Ketua Gawai may sacrifice a pig or a cockerel to thank the gods for the good harvest and to ask for guidance, blessings and long life.

Sitting on a long swing made of a dug-out tree trunk, hung in the longhouse balcony, were the priestesses, reciting the chants in an archaic Bidayuh dialect.

The hymn is called beris in Bidayuh Biatah or boris in Bidayuh Bau dialect.

The priestesses were dressed in mostly black hand-woven costumes, lavishly decorated with antique beads and silver necklaces called sembon, silver belt and cap with a long wide piece of cloth, hanging down the back.

Arrayed on a bamboo shrine or platform are the offerings or sadis, normally consisting of rice and meat, presented to the gods to bestow blessings on the village.

Ritual music — beating of gongs and drums or jubat in Biatah — was played at the stroke of midnight on Gawai Eve.

The curtain raiser of Gawai got merrier when the men and women, decked in their traditional Gawai costumes, danced around the platform, holding a small bundle of items, consisting of glutinous rice, cooked in a small bamboo, rice wrapped in leaf, cigarettes and tobacco.

The dance — part of the rituals — was normally led by the Ketua Gawai. That was the general scenario of the Bidayuh Gawai once upon a time.

Dying tradition

The hymn, said to be mantras, were sung by the priestesses to their ancestors, giving thanks and appreciation for the good health and bountiful harvest during the year.

It is also to seek their blessings and guidance for a healthy and good harvest in coming year.

However, this mantra is a dying tradition as not many of the new generation are willing to learn and carry on the tradition.

They are also difficult to learn without any written references, and are passed down orally from one generation to the next.

Gawai is still celebrated by the Bidayuh but in the very different style now.

The days of real or authentic Gawai are long gone as it now comes without the pagan rituals, the birejang and nyerindang (the dances of men and women), ritual music, mantras and hymns.

The one and only village still known for practising the traditional Gawai ritual is Kampung Serasot in Bau. A special house was built mainly to hold the ritual ceremony.

The most-keenly awaited Gawai festival in Serasot, which fell on June 14, could be dubbed up as a mixture of traditional and modern festival. Its original features were seen in the ritual ceremony still practised according to the old customs and beliefs.

The offering, the ritual ceremony, chanting, the recital of hymns, the dances — name them, they are all there.

One can see the feast chief and the male elders of the village as well as the priestesses, dressed in their full and colourful traditional Gawai costumes, in addition to the chanting by the leader of the ritual, and hymns by the priestesses sitting on a long swing.

One can still see a sturdy altar standing on a bamboo platform, holding the traditional offerings of betel nut, rice wine, tobacco, glutinous rice and freshly cooked wild boar to the dieties.

On the verandah of the Gawai house was a selection of gongs and drums to be played during the ceremony.

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