Gawai Dayak

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Five elements of Gawai Dayak

EVEN among present-day Dayaks, few realise the historical significance of Gawai Dayak to their existence in the Land of the Hornbills.

MERRIMENT: Gawai Dayak is a time when people of all walks of life enjoy their time with a company of friends and relatives. — Photos by Margaret Apau & Sarawak Tourism Board When first incepted in 1965, Gawai Dayak had a dual purpose — as a rest day for the community and an acknowledgement of their existence in Malaysia. At the same time, Gawai Dayak should not be seen as a religious festival or made into a platform or an excuse to organise beauty contests as is happening at the moment. “Gawai Dayak needs to adapt to changes in our society but it does not mean it has to be revolutionised,” pointed out Jimbun Tawai, assistant research officer, Majlis Adat Istiadat (Iban section). He said Gawai Dayak should be viewed from another perspective — as the community’s contribution to advance the 1Malaysia Concept since Dayaks also hold ‘open house’ during Gawai to promote bonds of friendship and understanding among the various races in the country. According to Jimbun, there are five elements attributable to Gawai Dayak. “Trying to understand the significance of the festive  occasion much like peeling through the many layers of a banana tree trunk,” he reckoned. “The first outer layer is quite tough, rough and exposed to the elements. In this layer, Gawai Dayak is seen as a time of enjoyment, entertainment and getting drunk and also engaging in the community’s favourite traditional pastime of cock-fighting. “The second inner layer — a little more refined than the outer layer — is seen as a time of personal reflection when individual Dayaks will look at their past year’s achievements in term of self-development in various fields,” he opined. Jimbun believed that at the second level, most members of the community would make a note of what they had accomplished in the past year, and try to resolve any...
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