Celebrated with enthusiasm across Sarawak both in cities and rural villages, Gawai Dayak is a multi-day festival to honor the indigenous people. Gawai Dayak translates to "Dayak Day"; the Dayak people include the Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit and Murut tribes which once roamed Sarawak and relieved unsuspecting traders of their heads.
Although steeped in headhunting traditions of the past, the only head removed these days during Gawai Dayak belongs to a chicken sacrificed to honor a successful rice harvest.
More than just a touristy demonstration of indigenous culture for tourists, Gawai Dayak is celebrated with genuine joy and enthusiasm. Weddings take place, singing and toasts fill the air, and families are reunited with one another after being separated all year. The History of Gawai Dayak
The traditions celebrated during Gawai Dayak are ancient, but the holiday is not. The first Gawai Dayak festival took place in 1965 after several years of renewed cultural pride within the oppressed Dayak community. When first asked to create a public holiday in celebration of the Dayak people in Sarawak, the colonial government refused; they were afraid that other minority groups would make similar demands. Instead, the government declared June 1 as "Sarawak Day". Eventually, once Sarawak was awarded independence, the holiday was officially changed to Gawai Dayak. The Traditional Gawai Dayak Ceremony
Unless advertised otherwise, the opening ceremonies for Gawai Dayak in villages are typically closed to tourists. The festival begins on the evening of May 31 with traditional music and Muai Antu Rua - a ritual aimed at keeping the spirit of greed from ruining the celebration. During Muai Antu Rua two men drag a basket along the longhouse; families in each room throw clothing and household items into the basket. The basket is later dumped on the ground as a "sacrifice" to prevent interference from evil spirits.
At sundown, the festival chief sacrifices a...
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