Gawai Dayak: The second word matters


A Kampung Segu Bunuk’s representative leads his contingent in the ‘Brarak & Bipajak Gawai Bisegu 2024’ parade at the Bidayuh village in Puncak Borneo, near Kuching. — Photo by Galileo Petingi

AT the end of last month, as I was being driven along the Kuching-Samarahan Road, something moving on the screen of a billboard caught my eye.

In blue was ‘Selamat Hari Gawai’. No ‘Dayak’ there, I pointed out to the driver.

“I see, no! I don’t,” he was reacting without really seeing the importance of the omission.

Why did they omit the word, I wondered?

In the evening, as I was looking into my handphone, I saw on the screen more such greetings worded in similar fashion – an undefined Gawai.

As I was flying via AirAsia from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, I was expecting the pilot or the chief steward to extend the season’s greetings to the passengers, some of whom are from longhouses and villages. I had met a few of them.

On May 31, 2024, a nephew shared, via the handphone, the picture of someone who looked like Donald Trump and sounded like Donald Trump, sending his message to ‘whoever you are – Selamat Gawai Day, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai’.

I did not think it was the real Trump, it was ‘just a joke’, and a poor joke at that.

The real Trump is having real problems with the law. Cannot imagine him to have bothered to send Gawai greetings to the Dayaks.

The screengrab of the AI-manipulated video featuring Trump sending his Gawai message. – Screengrab via WhatsApp

What’s wrong with the word?

For the second year in a row, I have noticed the missing word ‘Dayak’ from a number of advertisements paid for by big companies in Malaysia.

This year, I have taken note of seven big companies that have not inserted that word in their commercials. They might have their reasons for omitting the word.

I do not think it costs a lot much more for a large corporation to add another word at the end of the sentence “Selamat Gawai …”

The sentence ‘Selamat Hari’ (Day or Occasion) ‘Gawai’ (festival/festivities) is not complete without stating which the festival is. We have lots of Gawai: ‘Gawai Antu’, ‘Gawai Kenyalang’, ‘Gawai Batu’ – to name just a few major ones.

To us, it is important to distinguish one from the other because of the differing ‘sampi’ (incantations) used.

The questions as to who is celebrating it, when and how each festival is to be celebrated, are important. Maybe the advertisers were not fully aware of the characteristics of each festival.

To avoid criticism, the advertisers would be advised to just add the word ‘Dayak’ at the end of the sentence ‘Selamat Gawai…’ – and all would be fine.

The first day of June in any year is a gazetted public holiday to mark the ‘gawai’ in Sarawak.

The ethnic groups, other than the Muslims, in Sarawak have been celebrating this rice harvesting festival since 1964 without fail.

The state government has seen it politically correct to patronise the festival. This year, all the legislators in Sarawak from all political parties have pooled together their financial resources to organise the state-level Gawai Dayak.

A Gawai Dayak Bazaar 2024 was held successfully late last month.

The best is yet to come – watch out for announcements from the organising committee on the next events: the Cultural Parade called ‘Niti Daun’, the ‘Grand Dinner’, etc.

I was in Kuala Lumpur for the whole of last week and was told that the Sarawakians and Sabahans working or residing in the federal capital, calling themselves the ‘Borneo Diaspora’, were holding a Borneo Dayak Festival at Pasar Tani, with cultural performances and sales of food and drinks.

It was meant for the foreign tourists, but it was also the idea concocted by the Dayak Diaspora in Kuala Lumpur who would not be able to come home to their longhouses and villages on account of work or other commitments.

They like to show solidarity with their fellow Sarawakians at home in terms of the slogan ‘Segulai Sejalai’ (One Group, One Road).

In Sarawak, the host for this year’s festival is the Bidayuh community, and they have translated the spirit of the theme adopted for last year’s state-level Gawai Dayak (Iban community’s turn) as ‘Indi Awang Indi Asung’ (Together As One). The ‘we’ feeling is crucial.

Next year, it will be the turn of the Orang Ulu to host the state-level Gawai Dayak.

It is hoped that whoever is responsible for writing the 2025 Gawai Dayak message for the President of the USA would not forget to insert the word at the end of the sentence ‘Ngajih Mujur Ngintu Gawai 2025’.

Thank you.

Greetings from my family

To all those celebrating Gawai Dayak this year, I wish to say this: while you are enjoying good food and drinks and musical entertainment, do spare a thought for, or better, include in your daily prayers, those of your people who are poor, sick and immobile.