Ethnic Festivals, Life Is Such A Wonder!

Selamat Gawai Dayak Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai

May 31, 2010
An Iban man performing the ngajat

Tomorrow is Gawai Dayak. This is a harvest festival celebrated by Sarawak’s largest ethnic group, the Dayaks, and the Bidayuhs. It is a time for family reunion, renewal of friendship and paying respects to the elders and the departed. The festival is rhapsody of non-stop dancing and merry-making as well as lavish offerings of traditional delicacies and tuak, a wine made from fermented rice, yeast and sugar.

This is how you make tuak. Glutinous rice is cooked and left to cool in a ‘tapan’ or any flat utensils. For every five kilograms of glutinous rice you will need five kilograms of round ‘ragi’ (yeast) and five pieces of thin slice ragi (round ragi for bitterness, slice ragi for sweetness). The yeast are pounded into powder and mixed with the rice after it has cooled. This mixture is then left to ferment in any clean container (jar) for a week or so. Cool, boiled water plus sugar is added to this mixture (10 kg sugar for 20 liters of water) . Depending on your taste, your tuak is now ready but the longer you keep it, the more potent it will be. Gawai Dayak would be less meaningful without the tuak. The tuak is a must, just like turkey is a must for Christmas. Bottoms up!

On Gawai Dayak, it is a ritual to give offerings to the dead through the miring ceremony, an elaborate and often colourful and noisy ceremony performed to appease the gods and the spirits and to ask for prosperity, good health and other blessings from them. The ceremony is performed by passing a live chicken above the food and drink, or other offerings, in a circular motion several times.

Gawai Dayak, particularly at the longhouses, is an unparalleled example of unity and harmony in the country. The longhouse folks welcome with open arms all guests irrespective of race, gender or religion. A visit to a Dayak longhouse during Gawai Dayak is a real eye-opener. The longhouse folks bring out their gongs and drums. Many of them wear hand-woven costumes lavishly decorated with antique beads and silver. Ladies and men in traditional costume perform ngajat which is a simple, rhythmic, strutting shuffle danced in rhythm to the beats of the gongs and drums. Visitors to the longhouses are often invited to join in.

A Dayak girl dancing

An Iban man performing the ngajat

A longhouse usually has dozens of families living in it so you will be invited to visit all the families. Be warned….if you cannot handle too much alcohol, you may end up very drunk as you will be served tuak by every family that you visit.

To all my Dayak friends, I wish you all Selamat Gawai Dayak……Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai!

Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai

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