From harvesting the field to harvesting of technology

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Yang Di-Pertua Sarawak Tun Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar (centre) beats the ‘gendang pampat’ after officiating at the Gawai Dayak 2024 Open House at Borneo Convention Centre Kuching. Accompanying him in the drum-playing are Abang Johari, on his right, and Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas. — Sarawak Public Communications Unit photo

IN a world full of adversity and challenges, the Dayaks must come together and have the courage to dream. And dream big.

But before the reality check of life begins, let the joy and frivolity of the month-long Gawai festival run its course.

After almost a week of celebration rooted in tradition and not without the elements of modernity, those celebrating Gawai Dayak are gradually bringing down the curtain on the annual cultural grandeur as the grind of everyday life begins to settle in.

Although the fun-filled revelry may be tapering off, the spirit of goodwill continues to prevail for another three weeks to a month until a formal ceremony is held to mark the end of the festival period.

Agrarian-based cycle

It is a life cycle that celebrates the land’s fertility and the natural forces that shaped it, with Gawai serving as its high point. The cycle, which is important to the rural, rustic farming community, has developed into a philosophy that has undergone modernisation and changed values along with it.

It also provides the defining characteristics of the social and economic value system of the Dayak community, although these would vary among ethnic groups, geographical areas and social groups.

Under the term ‘Dayak’ are three major ethnic groups: Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu, with further breakdown to sub-ethnicity.

Each ethnic and sub-ethnic group is characterised by its cultural nuances, from language to costumes and religious fervour. To suggest a template on social construct that can be uniformly used across the Dayak sub-ethnic communities is therefore disregarding the differences and not acknowledging the cultural diversity.

Although it makes more social-anthropological sense to have a conversation about the ecosystem influencing the social and economic development of a Dayak rural community, whether in a village in the Padawan District or a longhouse in the Upper Trusan Valley, the broad umbrella term ‘Dayaks’ offers a platform for unity and unanimity.

Minor sub-ethnic groups

For the smaller sub-ethnic communities such as Sakapan, Kiput, Berawan and Ukit, and a few other others whose numbers may be less than 1000, the concept of unity and social cohesiveness under the umbrella term ‘Dayak’ promotes a sense of identity and belonging after being left on the margins for a long time by the march of time.

The Gawai Dayak celebration is one occasion that enhances their dignity and brings them into the public view. Their participation in the celebration adds colour, history and diversity to the Dayak story.

‘Segulai Sejalai’ revisited

No one among the Dayaks dispute the importance of ‘unity’ and social cohesiveness, irrespective of sub-ethnicity, and they are more than determined to uphold and reinforce their commitment to ‘Segulai Sejalai’ (together in pursuit of a shared destiny) to achieve higher socioeconomic objectives.

Essentially, ‘Segulai Sejalai’ must manifest as a unifying force that gives everyone the pride and drive to elevate their performance to new heights.

However, there is also the worry that when these flashy phrases start to lose their edge, they may end up sliding down the slippery slope. One of the main factors that might lead to this is the issue of mindset and the unwillingness of many to accept one another as equals on the Dayak platform.

The expression of unity and collective strength in cultural performances and parades for public view does not necessarily reflect the construct of state of mind and social fabric of the bigger community.

Conversely, it encourages us to gain a deeper understanding of a variety of issues affecting the community and sub-ethnic groups, such as re-examining their aspirations, expectations, social obstacles, inhibitions, and a wide range of other social constructs that might give unity and ‘Segulai Sejalai’ new and enduring meaning.

Premier’s call to mitigate negative mind

Against this backdrop, Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg’s bold and fitting call to the Dayak community in his Gawai Dayak speech, via TVS, to put aside their differences and come together as a progressive and dynamic community in this difficult time is noteworthy.

The mindset that is not adapting well to change and is resistant to shared values has been singled out by the Premier as a major inhibiting factor to progress.

He calls upon the Dayaks to break down all mental barriers so that they will be able to rise collectively as a progressive and dynamic people in the face of challenges and opportunities.

Only then will they be able to put their best foot forward and increase their involvement in the mainstream of development before 2030, which has been set aside as the deadline for achieving the goals of the Sarawak Transformation Plan.

Green economy

Soon, such terms as green economy, hydrogen energy, precision farming and AI-driven management system will find their indelible place in the vocabulary of the modern and progressive Dayak as more earn their rightful stations as leaders and catalysts of change and progress alongside those from the other ethnic groups.

There is no reason not to, considering the opportunities that the government has created that the community may explore and venture into.

It is imperative to address the mental barrier preventing individuals from venturing outside their comfort zone or from falling into a lazy and complacent mindset, as the Premier has correctly noted.

Since the Premier has called attention to mentality as a barrier, it is now the responsibility of Dayak leaders who hold positions of authority to initiate the necessary changes in attitude and conduct and to inspire others to take on more responsibility as a group.

The call from the Premier speaks volumes of the need to act collectively and with a sense of community duty and to stand on high moral ground.

Communitarian values

The afore-mentioned call for leaders in a community to commit to one another is a real embodiment of the African saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

It sends the message that creating a secure, healthy environment for community members, where they are provided the security they need to grow and thrive and to be able to fulfil their dreams, takes a large group of individuals – the community.

The idea that taking care of the community is a shared duty among many is inherent in the concept.

Gaining a practical understanding of this concept can effectively liberate the mind and provide pathways for the community to progress further on a strong and united platform. This will give rise to a communitarian spirit that will mould and impact the community’s psyche and dignity.

* Toman Mamora is ‘Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022’, recipient of Shell Journalism Gold Award (1996) and AZAM Best Writer Gold Award (1998). He remains true to his decades-long passion for critical writing as he seeks to gain insight into some untold stories of societal value.