The origin of the term ‘GAWAI’ signifies a celebration and ‘DAYAK’ refers to the indigenous society residing in Sarawak, Kalimantan, and the interior areas of Borneo. Gawai Dayak is a festival that honors the presence of this particular group of people in Malaysia. Their estimated population ranges from 2-4 million individuals. The festival was initially initiated by two radio producers, Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang, and later embraced by the Dayak community. In 1962, it gained recognition from the British government.
About Sarawak Gawai Festival
On 1 June 1963, the first Gawai Dayak celebration took place at the residence of Datuk Michael Buma in Siol Kandis, Kuching. This multi-day festival is observed annually, commencing on the first day of June, and is accompanied by grand festivities. Today, it has come to symbolize unity among the Dayak community, serving as an expression of gratitude to the gods and nature for bountiful harvests and a prayer for a peaceful and prosperous future.
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Customs Of Sarawak Gawai Festival
The festival begins with a ritual cleansing to eradicate negativity from both individuals and their surroundings. Two individuals carry a basket in which people throw away items believed to carry negative energy or bad fortune. At sundown, each family conducts a sacrifice or offering ritual. Decorative ceramic containers are filled with food and other offerings to be presented to their deities. These offerings are placed at four different locations to ensure blessings are bestowed everywhere. After the completion of the offering ceremonies, the festival’s leader seeks blessings and guidance for a positive future. They wave a rooster over the offerings in circular motions before sacrificing it to the deities, slitting its neck and plucking its feathers, using the blood to rub on the offerings.
On this day, individuals wear the traditional costume called ‘NGEPAN’ to welcome guests into their homes. Men don drapes made of animal skins, known as Gagong, along with loincloths called cawat or sirat. They also adorn crowns made of peacock feathers, necklaces, armlets, and anklets. Men often display tattoos representing their tribal heritage and significant personal stories. Women wear a handmade cloth around their waist, along with a corset and a garment draped over their shoulders. They also wear bead chains and fancy combs. Previously, it was customary for women to leave their breasts bare as a symbol of beauty and naturalness.
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Traditional Dance Forms
The NGAJAT dance style is a customary dance performed collectively by men and women. The performance consists of occasional shouts and loud cries. There are numerous variations of this dance style, each with a different atmosphere such as bountiful harvest, warrior verses, ceremonial fabric dance..etc. The men showcase their bravery, heroism, and vigor and often imitate the gestures of the hornbill bird, which is revered as the ruler of the avian kingdom. A traditional band accompanies the dance troupe, infusing life into the performance with their vibrant rhythms and melodies, playing the traditional folklore.
In addition to dances, sword dances and showcases featuring various feats of martial arts are also presented. Competitions are held to crown the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of the festival for that year. Other games are organized, where the winner is symbolically awarded a coconut, representing a skull. Another captivating event of the festival is the recitation of their ancient traditional poems, including pantun and ramban. Apart from the mentioned activities, there are various other games and mini-sports such as arm wrestling and log pulling. Cockfighting is also a highlight of the event.
The practice of welcoming guests into one’s home is known as the custom of ‘NGABANG’. This is primarily arranged on the inaugural day of the month of June, every year. For added convenience, NGOs and other Dayak Associations organize open houses to accommodate guests who are attending the festival.
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Gastronomy And Refreshments
On the eve of Gawai Dayak, a substance called Sago is derived from the core of palm trees and coconut palm extracts, which are used in preparing soup for the following day. Another renowned dish from the festival is ‘Pansoh’, made by cooking meat in bamboo logs. ‘Tuak’ is served with roasted animal heads over an open fire. Rice is cooked on traditional clay utensils and hearths. After the ceremonial offerings, a dinner is arranged, primarily featuring the Makai Rami or festival meal.
How To Get There
Since Kuching is not well-connected to other places, one can reach there by taking a one and a half-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur.
Where To Stay
1. Hilton Kuching Hotel
The highly recommended accommodation option is the Hilton Kuching Hotel, which provides 6 dining choices and features a lavish outdoor pool. It is situated at the waterfront of Kuching.
Place: Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
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2. Pullman Kuching
This is another highly recommended choice with a marvelous view, positioned above the Hills Shopping mall, and in close proximity to the waterfronts of Kuching.
Place: 1A Jalan Mathies, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
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3. Hornbill Residence Kuching
It is the most favored cozy accommodation in Kuching. It has the capacity to host up to five guests. The atmosphere is extremely relaxing, offering additional amenities like a jacuzzi and sauna. A must-try experience!
Place: A7-05, Jazz Suites 4 Vivacity Megamall 7Th Floor, Kuching, Malaysia, 93350
4. Imperial Suites Kuching
Yet another entirely achievable choice, this establishment is a deluxe 3-bedroom serviced apartment situated at the center of the city.
Area: Taman Seng Goon, 93250 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian
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Suggestions For Sarawak Gawai Festival
- Sarawak, the Malaysian province on the Borneo island experiences the most extravagant festivities of the Gawai Dayak celebration.
- The festival atmosphere can be sensed in the main city Kuching, a week prior to the festival day.
- There are parades and processions associated with the festival that commence a few days before the event.
- Ensure that you explore the Skrang River, the Lemanak River, the Batang Ai, and Annah Rais.
- The average cost is about INR 5000 per individual.
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The extravagant celebrations of Gawai Dayak and the city of Kuching will undoubtedly meet your expectations. If you do not want to miss out on the finest travel bargains, then reserve your extraordinary Malaysian vacation package with Fred and Fuzzys and stay tuned for details on more amazing locations.
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