Every year on the 1st & 2nd June, the Sarawakian are celebrating the Harvest Festival or famously known as ‘The Gawai Dayak Festival’. It is gazetted as public holidays in the state of Sarawak. In the old days, Gawai festival is a celebration of the end of harvesting season and the start of new farming session. The festival usually celebrated among the Dayak community and they are the Ibans and the Bidayuhs.
Nowadays, the Dayak of Sarawak celebrates Gawai at their villages and urban homes with open invitation to other communites. Back in the old days, the celebration usually begins with a ritual ceremony on the eve of May 31st and just before midnight ‘Ngalu Petara’ (welcoming the spirit of gods) is performed. Some longhouses still practice the custom till today. In the urban areas, usually a family gathering will be held instead of the ritual ceremony among close family members. 😉
Apart from the Gawai Dayak Festival, I think not many know or get to witness ‘The Gawai Kenyalang’. It is infact the grand gawai festival where the Ibans celebrated captured ‘heads’. It is believed that magical power of the heads brings strength, virtue and prosperity to the longhouse. This festival usually held after the Gawai Dayak Festival and one get see a ‘Kenyalang’ (hornbill) totem pole to mark the festival.
Back in the old days, the festival is celebrated before a headhunting journey. A slave/enemy will be killed and buried. The hornbill totem pole later will be built on the slave grave (approximately the height of a 2 storey building). A wooden carved hornbill will be placed on top of the totem pole and it has to be align based on the direction of the headhunting attack. The totem pole is built to invoke prayer offered to the Sengalang Burung (Iban deity-The Bird God of War) before any headhunting expedition.
Nowadays, Gawai Kenyalang is rarely occurs as of due to the expenses inccured. It was said for a longhouse to organise a Gawai Kenyalang, a ‘bilik’ has to ‘feed’ one village.
The Gawai Antu (Festival of the Dead) is another dying gawai festival celebration. The Gawai Antu usually held a year or more after the Gawai festival celebration. Very few longhouses in Sarawak organised this festival celebration as there are ritual ceremonies have to follow and performed. Only a ‘manang’ (shaman) can performed this and they are dying as the festival as well. 🙁
On my personal experience, I’ve experience once the Gawai Kenyalang festival celebration and it was held back in the 80’s at one of the Iban longhouse located in Bintangor. I forgotten the name of the longhouse and only now I tend to appreciate it. I saw the kenyalang totem pole but I didn’t know what was it used for then. I was only 9 years old back then. 🙁
I hope to see some efforts to preserve this 2 dying gawai dayak festival celebration and it is possible for you (if you’re a Dayak) work together with me by gaining more information from reading materials, your own family culture history and pass it on to your next generation. Together we can make a difference. 🙂
To my Dayak friends out there, Selamat Ari Gawai Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai Uuuuhaakkk..