31 May 2015
Being a multi-racial country, Malaysia is a one of the few countries in the world to observe numerous holidays and celebrations. We consider this a great privilege for us, and the fact that Sarawakians of all races and ethnicity can freely celebrate Gawai each year is reason for us to be thankful. The celebration of the harvest, or Gawai, is a major feature of our unique cultural heritage. Sarawakians make great effort to travel home from all over Malaysia and overseas to celebrate this festival with their families – it is a time for reunion and strengthening family ties, as well as to offer thanksgiving for bountiful harvests. It is my hope that we will continue to preserve this unique cultural heritage.
This year, a Gawai Dayak Bazaar was organised for the first time, by the Miri Unity Chapter in collaboration with the Miri City Council and the Permy Mall Management. This is a laudable move, as it enables Sarawakians in the city to be able to enjoy and appreciate the elements that make up the Gawai celebrations. I understand that attempts were made by certain quarters to restrict the types of food to be sold but they were unsuccessful after the organizer insisted that all local foods and delicacies were to be made available at the Bazaar. This is an example of real muhibbah – where we practise acceptance, inclusiveness and mutual respect, and not by curtailing the freedoms of others in the guise of tolerance and sensitivity. This is what sets us apart from West Malaysia. The unique thing about Sarawak is that a Muslim can sell nasi lemak next to a Chinese stall selling pork. In a way, it is sad that this is held up to be a uniqueness, when it should really just be a matter of fact. Such is the state of affairs in West Malaysia brought about by the policies of an administration that seeks to rule by divisiveness. We must be on the alert at all times to reject undesirable ‘West Malaysian’ practices and policies from infiltrating our shores.
As an indication that the government is finally acknowledging the ethnic identity of the Sarawakian indigenous people, there are plans to refer to non-Muslim natives as Dayak in official forms instead of the ‘lain-lain’, which we are categorized as currently. Certain amendments need to be made to the Federal and Sarawak Constitutions and the Interpretation Ordinance before these changes can be finalized and implemented, but it is a positive sign that indigenous Sarawakians are finally getting the recognition we deserve as a distinct group of Malaysian citizens with our own unique culture, traditions and customs. This will hopefully be the precursor to Dayaks taking their rightful place in this country’s society, economy and administration
For 2015, I expect a 'great harvest' of inclusiveness, respect and acceptance in Sarawak in the midst of rising racial and religious extremism elsewhere in the country. It is in these admirable characteristics that we lead in Malaysia, which is a source of much pride for us. In the midst of a bleak economy and implementation of the GST this year I hope Sarawakians will be wise and prudent in spending their hard earned incomes. I am sure our celebrations will be no less joyous and our thanksgiving no less fervent in spite of the cutbacks we may have to make. To those who will be travelling home, safe travels and be sure not to take any risks on the road or in the river boats.
“Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak, Gayu-guru, Gerai nyamai.”
ADUN N70 Ba’ Kelalan