A mix of tradition & modernity
by Salena Pail email@example.com. Posted on June 10, 2012, Sunday
Joyous Gawai celebration at Rumah Margaret Ugak in Kanowit
GAWAI is a time when the Dayak communities touch base with their roots by celebrating the traditional Harvest Festival with familes and friends in their villages or longhouses.
Family members might stay apart due to working in different parts of the state or country while some might have migrated to other countries.
Thus, Gawai, celebrated on June 1, is a time for the Dayaks to welcome their relatives and friends to their homes and vice versa in accordance with an age-old custom known as ngabang in Iban.
Tuak (rice wine) is synonymous with ngabang. The host will serve the traditional beverage to pengabang (guests) along with other local delicacies.
Tuak is brewed a few months before the celebration although nowadays imported liquor and beer are preferred as substitutes. This is common among the young generation who may lack the knowledge of preparing tuak.
The celebration usually differs from place to place. For instance, every longhouse in Sarawak has its own customs in consonance with how the longhouse community is organised.
In the early days, the miring (offerings) ceremony was performed on Gawai Eve where the village or longhouse chief gave thanks to the gods for the good harvest, blessings and longevity by waving a chicken in circular motion known as bebiau over the offerings.
The chicken was then used as a sacrifice.
However, in these modern times, most longhouses, especially those in the suburban areas that are easily accessible by road, no longer observe the miring ceremony.
Rumah Margaret Ugak
Margaret Ugak is one of the few female longhouse chiefs in Sarawak.
Her longhouse bearing her name – Rumah Margaret Ugak – at Sungai Lukut, Kanowit Division, is less than 10km from Kanowit town.
This 54-door longhouse, served by a tarred road, is equipped with basic facilities and amenities, including clean water and electricity supplies.
As early as May 29, Rumah Margaret Ugak was welcoming home relatives from urban centres such as Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Miri, Bintulu, Tawau as well as Kuala Lumpur.
By May 31, various games and telematches had been held for families of the longhouse. Among the events were dart and blow pipe competitions, fishing, tortoise racing and sepak takraw.
On Gawai Eve, a karaoke session was held at the ruai.
Five minutes before midnight, the prayer leader, known as Apai Jawai, led a welcoming ceremony to usher in Gawai. Tuak was subsequently served as the revellers wished each other Happy Gawai.
Early on the morning of June 1, the Gawai mass prayer was performed at the ruai. The prayer leader then proceeded to bless the longhouse. The blessing of all the 54 doors took more than half a day. The families prayed together as they moved from door to door.
After the blessing, the families started their ngabang, brightening the atmosphere with laughter and joyous greetings.
Pengabang were served drinks and delicacies such as manok pansuh (chicken stuffed in bamboo), kelupis, lemang and curry chicken.
Meanwhile, on the evening of June 1, a beauty pageant synonymous with Gawai – the Kumang – was held with a bevy of eight beauties vying for the coveted Kumang Gawai title. Also in the celebration programme were the fancy dress and karaoke competitions which drew 24 participants.
Tatyana Tracy Pail was judged the Kumang Gawai of Rumah Margaret Ugak. The runner-up was Diana Malissa with Wendy in third place.
Gawai Antu celebration
On the second day (June 2) around 3pm, the longhouse celebrated Gawai Antu, the Iban feast of the departed souls.
A total of six ranyai (colourful trees constructed with banana leaves and trunk or coconut leaves where food items are hung as decors) were set up along the ruai for the celebration in remembrance of those who had departed the previous year.
All the longhouse folks helped in preparing the ranyai tree to strengthen unity and harmony. This is where sabung telo (egg crashing), traditional cock fighting (nyabung) and coconut breaking were performed by family members of the deceased.
Gawai Antu was celebrated overnight with the longhouse folks performing the ngajat (traditional warrior dance), circling the ranyai trees in a ritual called ngeliling ranyai.
Each of the performers cut off one of the food items from the ranyai trees before finishing their ngajat ngeliling ranyai. Around 4am, all the six ranyai trees were cut down in a ritual known as nebang ranyai.
The next day, the longhouse folks celebrated by performing ngabang to their relatives at nearby longhouses.
Gawai and Gawai Antu at Rumah Margaret Ugak this year were celebrated with merriment and joy that brought the people in the area together in unity and harmony.