Kuch­ing holds a cel­e­bra­tion on May 31 at the Civic Cen­tre which in­cludes din­ner, dancing, and even a beauty pageant. Ar­rive be­fore May 31, how­ever, as Kuch­ing is teem­ing with peo­ple the week be­fore

Asian Geographic - - Southeast Asia -

Gawai Dayak in Sarawak on Malaysian Bor­neo is ded­i­cated to hon­our­ing the tra­di­tions of the in­dige­nous Dayak peo­ple: the Iban, Bi­dayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Ke­labit and Mu­rut tribes – who his­tor­i­cally be­came no­to­ri­ous as head­hunters. Thank­fully to­day, no hu­man heads de­part their necks; the same can’t be said for the cer­e­mo­ni­ous chicken that is sac­ri­ficed at sun­down in a bid for a pros­per­ous rice har­vest.

Not ev­ery­one wears tra­di­tional out­fits any­more, and many peo­ple have aban­doned long­house liv­ing in favour of more con­tem­po­rary res­i­dences. For many Dayak com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in the cities, Gawai Dayak is merely a pub­lic hol­i­day; but for oth­ers – par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties – the hol­i­day is cel­e­brated through a cul­tural fes­ti­val.

The first Gawai Dayak fes­ti­val was held in 1965 – but the tra­di­tional cel­e­bra­tions them­selves are steeped in an­cient cus­tom. The fes­ti­val be­gins on the evening of May 31 with tra­di­tional mu­sic and a rit­ual called Muai Antu Rua, where two men drag a bas­ket along the long­house, and fam­i­lies (up to 30 per long­house!) throw cloth­ing and house­hold items into it. The bas­ket is then dis­carded as a “sac­ri­fice” to keep evil spir­its at bay.

Be­fore mid­night, the Ngalu Pe­tara pro­ces­sion ush­ers in the friendly spir­its. At mid­night, the chief holds a toast for a long life with a lo­cally­brewed rice wine called tuak, which kicks off a night-long fes­ti­val of drink­ing, dancing and singing.

Tourists are not al­lowed to at­tend this cer­e­mony, but are in­vited to join in ac­tiv­i­ties the next day. Peo­ple open their homes, and trav­ellers are al­lowed a chance to learn more about their daily lives. All vis­i­tors are wel­comed with a shot of strong rice wine.


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