The word Gawai in Iban means festival. The Dayaks are the indigenous native people of Sarawak and Kalimantan.
The Dayaks in Sarawak are made up of 3 groups of native ethnics, Iban (formerly known as Sea Dayak), Bidayuh (known as Land Dayak) and the Orang Ulu (literally translated as rural dwellers/ people), comprising Kelabit, Kayan, Kenyah, Lun Bawang, Penan, Bisaya etc.
Interestingly, Melanau does not fall under the category of “Dayak” although the Melanau are considered to be among the earliest settlers in Sarawak. Originally, the Melanau call themselves a-likou meaning “people of the river” or sea-faring people. Legend has it that the name Melanau was given by the Malays of Brunei to the inhabitants of the coastal swamp flats and riverbanks of central Sarawak which signifies “coast-dweller”.
1st June – Ritual Greeting Day
When I was in school, my friends used to send me the ubiquitous greeting of “Selamat Hari Gawai” every 1st of June. I thanked them for their wishes and greeting but was very curious why we (my family) never celebrated Gawai Dayak. One day I asked my late Dad the question. He said Melanaus do not celebrate Gawai but Kaul Festival. Unfortunately, the Kaul Festival is not widely known by non- Melanaus as it is not celebrated on the state level but more so locally only in Mukah on the right bank of the river estuary. The festival is celebrated in the third week of the month of April.
Demographically, Ibans form the majority of the population of Sarawak with 29%, followed by Chinese with 24% and Malays with 23%. The rest are made up of Bidayuh, Melanau, Orang Ulu and others.
With Iban being the most populous native ethnic group of Dayak people in Sarawak, the Gawai greeting is recited in the Iban language.
Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai which means Happy Dayak Festival. May you have long life, good health and prosperity.
Oh by the way, the Gawai festival is a symbol of unity, hope and aspiration for the Dayak community. It is a day of Thanksgiving which marks the end of a bountiful harvest and ushering the new year with a new farming season of bountiful goodness.
Shopping malls in Kuching are beautifully decorated to symbolise the meaning of Gawai Dayak. Here’re photos taken by my older brother. Thanks bro G!
Simple Food of the Jungle
Honestly speaking, the local dishes are very pure, simple and straightforward. One of my favourites is this simple dish, the Sarawak jungle fern aka Midin. I will never be able to cook this dish in Belgium, for obvious reason due to non-availability of that special flora.
Manok Pansoh meaning Chicken cooked in Bamboo
Very simple ingredients are used in “Pansoh” cooking method. The typical ingredients in “Manok Pansoh” are Chicken, water, shallots, lemongrass, ginger (optional) and salt. Tapioca leaves are used to seal the top cavity of the bamboo and are then cooked over an open fire.
In veneration of the simplicity of the cooking method and the ingredients used by the local people of Sarawak, I cooked a very simple dish today in the comfort of my own kitchen. No bamboo. No open fire. Just reliving good memories and sharing them with you.
- 250g barley
- 1 carrot, diced
- One bunch of fresh dhill
- Coarse sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
Cook the barley in stock water for 10 minutes. Add finely diced carrots and fresh dhill. Season with coarse sea salt and black pepper. And that’s it!
To all my friends and relatives celebrating the Gawai Dayak, “Selamat Ari Gawai Dayak. Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai, Chelap Lindap Lantang Senang Nguan Menua!” Or Happy Gawai Dayak Day. (Wishing you) long life, health and comfort, no problems, no hardship and a prosperous life!
1st and 2nd June are Public Holidays in Sarawak. Enjoy the “ngabang” … But watch your limit on the “tuak“!😜