Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak

By Sarawakian

Sarawakians celebrate Ari Gawai Dayak on 1st and 2nd June each year. Gawai refers to a Festival whilst Dayak refers to the group of indigenous people which include the Ibans, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and many minority groups. The Dayaks are the majority ethnic composition in Sarawak and are considerable in even Kalimantan, Indonesia. The Gawai Dayak celebrates the Harvest Festival and a huge celebration.

This year, the Sarawak Government had decided that the Bidayuh community host the 2024 Sarawak edition. In 2022, the Orang Ulu hosted the Sarawak Gawai and in 2023, last year, the Iban community had their turn. The Sarawak Government seems focused in ensuring the culture of the people are celebrated with the aim of inclusivity, unity, and solidarity.

Many Sarawakians have started to travel back home earlier this year as there was a school holiday period of 1 week prior to the 1st of June. I do know that those who have their other half from Sabah would also take the same opportunity as they would return to their home in Sabah and then to Sarawak or vice versa. Pesta Ka’amatan is celebrated from 30th to 31st May each year.

KLIA 1 and 2 were both remarkably busy in the week of the start of the school holidays. Flights have been increased and we do note that the pricing has come down for these flights unlike the days immediately after the Covid-19 movement control orders. The roads from the Kuching International Airport and the Kota Kinabalu International Airport showed the building traffic each day leading to the festivals. I do not discount the same being seen on the week of post festival.

There are also many Sarawakians and Sabahans who were unable to get their flight home as tickets were still beyond their means. This is especially so when the Christmas, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya celebrations came packed into a space of 5 months from December. It is not an easy trip back even for those who were able to make it home. We must not forget that the connectivity within the Peninsula itself requires you to either get to KLIA or to Penang or to Johor Bahru to even get flights to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. From there, there are many who would have to make their way to another airport using the turbo prop aeroplanes, buses, or the express boats. The Pan Borneo Highway has not yet been completed.

During the Gawai Dayak, you would surely be able to find diverse types of tuak to sample on. Some families have their own recipe and would have made their own tuak. The Tuak is traditionally made with fermenting glutinous rice whilst the potent Tuak Tobuh is made of sugar cane. This has a lower alcohol content but sweeter. Why is this potent? It is because of it being sweet, many would consume more.

That is why when you visit a longhouse, you would have to go through close to 30 bilik which is synonymous with the number of families. It would be an arduous drinking fest. The sound of gongs forms the base of the music played nonstop at the main longhouse. There would be dancing, eating, and drinking. This is no different than any other festival.

Many of the longhouses in Sarawak have become more modern in the use of construction materials. Many have relocated and are also built without stilts unlike before. The olden ones would be razed to the ground if on fire rather quickly and this is main reason the new builds were required.

It is also heartening to see that many in the Peninsula are interested in finding out more about Sarawak and Sabah. It is about time too. Sarawak and Sabah have been part of the formation of Malaysia since 16th September 1963 and the two regions are each distinct and not the same. This is why tourism from the domestic market is increasingly popular. China tourists and Korean tourists are making a strong claim in the overall tourist arrivals, especially in Sabah. These numbers are also strong in Sarawak and would surely surpass Brunei and Kalimantan (Indonesia).

Culture, history and natural attractions do play a part in making Sarawak attractive. The new Borneo Cultures Museum and the rather controversial RM30 million 99 metre flagpole by the riverside at the base of Fort Margherita would surely make their own statement of attraction. The flagpole was reported to be the tallest not only in Malaysia but also, in Southeast Asia. This together with the nearby Kuching Waterfront, the Sarawak Assembly building and the Golden Bridge would surely make a case for a truly accessible scenic location.

As you read this article, many Sarawakians and Sabahans would be making their preparations to leave and come back to the Peninsula to work. But there is a future where the reverse would be happening in the not-too-distant future. We should not forget that both Sabah and Sarawak are making plans to improve their control of the economy including education, healthcare, public infrastructure and healthcare. This is in anticipation of the new capital of Indonesia which is currently being built in Kalimantan (Indonesia).

But till then, let us continue to celebrate in Malaysia and pray that the future gets better. We should encourage politicians to focus on the needs of their own people first before others. Malaysia has so many things to do and fix and we should focus our energy and resources toward this instead of externally.

Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak 2024. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai.