Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gawai Dayak: Harvest aplenty or not, it’s celebration time!

31/05/2014 - 18:00      

Anna Chidambar

QUICK TAKE: Tomorrow (June 1) is Gawai Day in Sarawak and it’s celebration time once again as the Dayaks prepare to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.
Oh well, it doesn’t really matter these days whether the harvest was aplenty or not. When it’s time to celebrate a special occasion, just celebrate and have fun.
Gawai is an annual harvest festival celebrated on a grand scale by the Ibans and Bidayuhs in their longhouses and kampungs, leaving the cities and towns eerily quiet.
According to native customary rights lawyer Baru Bian, while Ibans and Bidayuhs celebrate the harvest festival on a lavish scale throughout Sarawak, the Lun Bawangs celebrate a sports festival during the same period.
“I can’t remember even during my parents’ time any emphasis on celebrating Gawai after the harvest. In fact we don’t have a word for it. Instead Lun Bawangs have a Pesta Lun Bawang during the period which is a sports carnival which I will be attending in Ba’kelalan.”
He said Gawai Dayak in the Orang Ulu, Kayan and Kenyah communities was celebrated moderately unlike the elaborate festivities organised by the Iban and Bidayuh communities.
Baru said that calling the festival Gawai Dayak was seen as a move to politicise the word Dayak.
“There was an amendment to the constitution of Sarawak that was passed by the assembly to delete the word Dayak from Sea Dayak and Land Dayak and replace them with Iban and Bidayuh.
“When it was amended, there was a huge outcry instigating that the state government did not want unity among the natives and that the one word ‘Dayak’ would unite all natives in Sarawak.
“But if you look at history, the only group of people referred to as Dayak were the Ibans and Bidayuhs and eventually the word became Dayak. Somewhere along the line the rest of the native communities apart from the Malays, Melanaus and Kayans were roped in and called Dayaks. So the term Dayak is now synonymous to natives including the Orang Ulu except for the Malays, Kadayans and Melanaus.”
When the amendment was made to the state constitution, it was not amended in the federal constitution. The definition of the natives of Sarawak still remains as Sea Dayaks and Land Dayaks as it was not amended in Parliament.
“The same goes for the Muruts of Sarawak which was changed to the Lun Bawangs at the same sitting but according to the federal constitution we are still referred to as Muruts. The categories are still Sea Dayaks, Land Dayaks and Muruts,” he said.
Gawai Dayak is now perceived as an excuse for over-drinking and other forms of indulgence among the Dayaks prompting a call for moderate celebrations. Yet customarily it has always been a grand celebration in the longhouses that last up to a month.
“In the past, longhouse folks have always had plenty of rice which they harvested in the fields nearby. For Gawai, ‘tuak’ a rice wine is also a must which is prepared well before the festival. The longhouse folk also rear animals below their longhouses including chickens, ducks, pigs and goats. So they can afford to celebrate and it would be very unusual for a family not to be able to celebrate,” Baru rationalised.
Over in Sabah, the Kadazans, Dusuns and Muruts also celebrated their harvest festival known as Kaamatan.
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