Gawai Dayak

So in another one month, I as a Dayak will be celebrating Hari Gawai! Well, it’s a highlight of every year. Below I would like to tell you a little bit about Gawai and matters related to the celebration.

What is Gawai Dayak?
It’s a harvest festival of the Bidayuh and Iban people. (In Sabah, harvest festival is known as Hari Kaamatan.) The Dayak mostly believe in Christianity but that doesn’t mean it’s a Christian-related celebration. If you’re a pagan, you do it on your own way, and if you believe in God, all thanksgiving is to God! It is a celebration of hard work throughout the year — thanksgiving for harvest blessings and a hardworking farmer you have become! That means so much for farmers, despite of hardships, they are always blessed and that the Highest Power has never fail to provide for His people.

OK, that’s traditionally. Nowadays, many Dayak work in town, so that’s a celebration for their hard work and blessed lives. Gawai brings families and friends together just like any other celebration.

Oh, to add, there is still pagan belief at some places at Bau district, which there will be pagan thanksgiving ceremony to the spirit of the dead. That’s what I heard.

Do all races in Sarawak celebrate it?
Yes, if they come to visit the Dayak houses. I mean, Gawai is actually celebrated by the Iban and Bidayuh people, so if friends and families of other races would like to come to celebrate, they are welcomed!

What do you do on Gawai Day?

31st May

If you’re a Christian, there will be house-visit for prayer (as of my place) in the morning till evening. Then after, the villagers will be eating together at the long house and traditional dance session. Not to forget, there are speeches by the village high committees. So it will be this, this, this… that, that, that.

OK, speaking of traditional dance.

Bilanggi dance resembles the eagle flying and soaring to the sky. It symbolises bravery and power of the people… like an eagle! Meanwhile, Sidandut (usually danced by females) symbolises the act of sowing and harvesting and bringing back their ground yields home.

Now, the real fun is when it’s time for open-floor dancing. I mean, anyone can dance at the awah (the balcony of the longhouse). That’s the only time I would go upstairs (I rarely be there at the long house before 12 a.m. Well, many of mid-age will do that.) My house is like 200 meters from the longhouse, so I could know when to go or when not to go to the longhouse. Loud dangdut music indicates the time that I should go. You can spend time dancing up to 5.00 a.m. if you’re a dancing machine. Just saying.

(Photo credits:

1st June
This is the real Gawai Day. People start visiting their family members and friends. Eat till you can’t breath because Dayak people have loads of foods in store. You know, there are plenty of rice as they have just harvested paddy in last two months and they have lots of livestocks in their backyard. Eat while they are free. Even if they don’t have much, they will make sure your tummy is full before you leave. (Laughing)

Note: I know others will do too, but this is me speaking as a Bidayuh. (Laughing)

It’s the same as the night before. Only you can determine how to make Gawai memorable.

Well, drink responsibly people! For the fact that alcohol is not good for health. Tuak is made of sticky rice, solid yeast, and sugar. Fermented for months. You know, the fermented rice will be deposited at the bottom and will produce liquid on top. Two ways to consume it: drink the liquid or eat the rice.

Make sure you try nasi ayam pansuh (rice and chicken that’s cooked in bamboo), the layered cake, or anything Bidayuh people cook because it is a Bidayuh traditional cooking. Bidayuh people like grilled steak so grab the chance to eat as much as you can because that’s the only time they spend money on meats. Yeah, most of people outskirts of town do that.

What do you wear on Gawai day?
Nowadays, they are making their own traditional clothes, I don’t have one. One fine day lah. You can wear casually to visit. Bidayuh traditional costumes are as the picture above.

Fun tips
Make friend with the kids because that’s the only chance you can swim in the river (as if you accompany them, LOL) and kids do always have free time to bring you there. Unlike the adults.


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