‘Gawai Dayak’ a proper noun, loses meaning without ‘Dayak’


Datuk Prof Dr Jayum Jawan

IN the last several days, many social media groups among Dayaks are abuzz with intense discourse centering on the polemic emanating from a statement from the Honorable YB Datuk John Sikie Tayai, ADUN Kakus who is also the Minister in Sarawak Premier’s Office. He was reported in The Borneo Post to have said that it is alright to remove the term “Dayak” from the greeting “Selamat Gawai Dayak”.

He said this in connection with an advertisement that stated, “Selamat Gawai” and without “Dayak” at the end.

An overwhelming majority of those who are engaged in the discourse in various social medias are critical of Sikie’s suggestion and do not have kind words in their criticism of his shortcoming and unwarranted pronouncement and defense of the mistake.

Technically, Sikie is right in regards to when someone, a Dayak or others extend wishes verbally to a Dayak Selamat Gawai. The word or term “Dayak” at the end does not need to be said or added as it would still be understood.

This is because you do not utter such a greeting to a Malay or Chinese. It has to be about a Gawai that a Dayak is celebrating.

But in greeting cards and advertisements, it would only be complete to write ‘Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak’ because ‘gawai’ is a general term denoting a celebration. But adding the term ‘Dayak’ refers to a specific celebration, a harvest celebration or festival hosted by a Dayak.

Sikie is incorrect when he uses the instance of ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ that he says does not have the Malay word at the end too. He argued that it would still be understood that the ‘Hari Raya’ would still be understood to refer to a celebration by the Malays. Here he is not quite correct.

‘Selamat Hari Raya’ is not for the Malays but for the Muslims all over the world. In Malaysia it takes that form and properly it should have been ‘Eid Mubarak’. Selamat Hari Raya is the Malay or Malaysian version of a Muslim wishing fellow Muslims ‘Eid Mubarak’.

The use of the term must also be seen in its convention which Sikie presumably did not consider when he compares the use of ‘Selamat Gawai Dayak’ to other forms of greetings for other communities and celebrations.

‘Gawai Dayak’ is a proper noun and thus removing ‘Dayak’ from the term takes away the specific meaning. A Christmas is a ‘gawai’ and so too birthdays and anniversaries.

Certain celebrations are specific although they may not have the noun to identify them. For example, the Spring Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival are Chinese and even though it does not have Chinese in the term. That is by convention and usage that date back to time immemorial.

Dayaks should be careful to make pronouncements regarding things Dayak and which has some element of cultural value. Having important positions such as ministers do not grant authority to make any pronouncement that could invite backlash.

Furthermore, such pronouncements should be left to the elder or ‘tuai adat’ who are more authoritative on the matter and should do so. Least what Sikie has done is to invite unnecessary criticism to his person and stir unnecessary controversy.

A minister or person in position cannot simply utter a statement that can invite discord.

When one has omitted to include Dayak in the formal greetings or advertisement and statement, make the correction. There is no need to defend one’s mistake or oversight and in the process create undue discourse that do not speak well of “segulai sejalai”.

Belated ‘Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak’ to all, ‘Gayu Guru, Gerai Nyamai, Lantang Senang, Celap Lindap Nguan Menua’. Oooh Haaa.

Datuk Prof Dr Jayum Jawan, 
Professor of Political Science UPM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences Malaysia