The secret behind the making of Gawai Dayak traditional offering — Tuak


KOTA SAMARAHAN: The neighbourhood in Lorong 8 Desa Ilmu, Kota Samarahan, some 30 kilometres from Kuching, is just like any other neighbourhood in town.

Yet, the area, which has a majority of people from the Iban community, offers uniqueness—all the residents in the area can produce their own tuak, Sarawak’s traditional rice wine.

For Cecilia Adam, 44, who has 10 years of experience in producing tuak, making her own tuak gives her a sense of satisfaction that cannot be derived from buying a bottle of tuak.

Cecilia, who had produced and sold tuak in the past when she followed her husband, Malin Kaya, an ex army personnel, during his posting in Kluang, Johor, now produces the heady drink only for her family.

She, however, does not decline if there is a request to purchase the tuak that she produces.

Tuak and Gawai Dayak

Having inherited the talent and recipe for making tuak from her mother and grandmother, Cecilia, who is originally from Sri Aman, said the drink is always served during the Gawai Dayak, a harvest festival celebrated with thanksgiving offerings for a bountiful year.

For this year’s festival, which will be celebrated from today, Cecilia has already stocked up on the drink, which she started brewing a month ago.

Tuak is basically made from fermented glutinous rice but how good it gets will depend on the method of preparation.

“The tuak should be prepared well ahead actually, sometimes two months before the festival. Fermentation is the first step, and in order to get good tuak, time must be given for the process,” she told Bernama.

Made with a mixture of glutinous rice, sugar and yeast, which are fermented for a long period, the art of preparing tuak is usually left to women, who are expected to follow the various dos and don’ts involved diligently in order to make the best tuak.

There are secrets too on how to make tuak, which are different from the rest. Cecilia shares one secret, which gives her tuak a unique taste.

“If the prepared tuak is stored in a liquor bottle that has been used, the tuak will be more tasty and unique,” she said.

Dos and Don’ts

However, it is not all that easy. Even with her vast experience, Cecilia admitted that there have been times when the tuak she produced turned out wrong and tasted sour.

“There are rules to follow when preparing tuak. Among them, women are not allowed to prepare the tuak when they are having their periods since it is believed that the tuak will turn out bad,” she said.

Cecilia added that another don’t is fermenting tuak in a container that has been used to store salt or salty food since this will make the tuak sour.

“Those who make tuak should also refrain from eating food or drinking beverages that are salty,” she explained.

Kuih Jala

Meanwhile, in another house, in the same neighbourhood, Dilam Segili, 54, who is experienced in the art of making another traditional delicacy, kuih jala, and is regularly invited to teach the method of making the delicacy, was seen giving instructions to five of her friends on how to produce good kuih jala, also known as kuih karas in the Peninsula.

According to Dilam, kuih jala is a traditional snack among the Iban people and should be cooked during the Gawai Dayak celebration.

“Kuih jala is not very different from the kuih karas in the Peninsula except that in Sarawak, sugar from the nipah tree is used in the recipe,” she added.

Apart from the dish being tasty, the preparation of kuih jala is quite an interesting feat.

The prepared rice dough mixture is poured through holes punched in the shell of a halved coconut and fried in oil. The shell is also tied to a long stick, which acts as the ‘hand’ and is hung to another long rope that is tied to the roof.

The stick or ‘hand’ is used to do the work of frying when it gets too tiring for a person during the frying process.

In sync with the open house concept, a feature of 1Malaysia, these traditional food and drinks will be offered to visitors from various communities in Malaysia during this Gawai Dayak celebration. — Bernama