Gawai Dayak in Sarawak Date in the current year: May 31, 2024

Gawai Dayak in Sarawak Gawai Dayak (Dayak Day or Dayak Festival) is an annual festival celebrated by the Dayak people in the Malaysian state of Sarawak and parts of Indonesia on May 31 and June 1. It was created to celebrate the culture of the native people of Borneo.

The Dayak are the largest of the indigenous peoples inhabiting the island of Borneo in the Malay Archipelago. It is a loose term used to describe over 200 ethnic subgroups, each with its own territory, culture, dialect, customs and laws. However, these groups have enough common traits to consider them sub-ethnoses within the same ethnic group.

Many Dayak tribes live in the so-called longhouses. A longhouse is basically a village, but instead of separate houses, all families live in one narrow building that can be several hundred meters long. Each family in a longhouse has a private living and sleeping space, and there are also common rooms used by all residents. The head of a Dayak longhouse is essentially the chief of the settlement.

Today, more and more young Dayaks leave longhouses to live on farms or in cities, but even they try to stay close to other Dayaks regardless of where they live. And those who choose to stay in longhouses do so not because they have no other options, but because they respect the traditional way of living.

The Gawai Dayak festival was conceived by the radio producers Owen Liang and Tan Kingsley in the late 1950s. The idea found support in the Dayak community, but the British colonial government of Sarawak refused to recognize Dayak Day until 1962. They insisted on calling it Sarawak Day as a national day for all Sarawakians, regardless of their ethnicity.

The first Gawai Dayak celebration took place on June 1, 1963. The next year, when Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia, Gawai Dayak was officially declared as a public holiday in Sarawak. The first official celebration occurred on June 1, 1965. Since then, the festival has become an integral part of Dayak culture, as well as a symbol of hope and unity for the Dayak community of Malaysia and Indonesia.

As the holiday approaches, Dayaks are busy with cleaning and decorating their longhouses, as well as preparing traditional food and drinks, such as rice cakes and traditional rice wine. The celebration begins on the evening of May 31 with a traditional ceremony designed to cast away the spirit of greed. Two men or boys, each carrying a basket, would go through the longhouse collecting unwanted articles from each family. These articles are then thrown away.

At dusk, a ritual offering ceremony is held at every family room. When all the ceremonies are over, all families gather for the festive dinner in the gallery of the longhouse. Everyone contributes something to the table, and the dinner lasts until late at night. Shortly before midnight, a spirit-welcoming procession and sometimes a beauty pageant to choose the king and queen of the festival are conducted.

At midnight, a gong is rung, and the longhouse chief or the festival host makes a toast. After that, the celebrations become less formal, usually including traditional music, dance and sports. The celebration continues on June 1, when longhouses open to guests.

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