This celebration of unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayaks mark the end of the rice harvest and ushers in another year of bountiful goodness. During this festival, almost everyone dresses in traditional costumes while the elders perform traditional rites.
First celebrated on 1st June 1965, it is the feast for the eyes with its colourful rituals, traditional music, cock fighting, feasting and games. It is simply a time for merrymaking.
Tuak (rice wine) and an array of traditional food are generously served. Widespread celebrations are held not only in the main cities and towns but also in the interior settlements. Gawai is an occasion for parties, fun and games, processions and open houses.
In remote villages, guests are expected to taste tuak and eat at each household. Music and dancing usually follow suit.
In Kuching, for instance, celebrations start a week before with colourful street parades and cultural activities. On the eve of the Gawai, a grand state dinner is usually held with singing, dancing and a beauty pageant, which culminates in the crowning of several Gawai Queens, one each for Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu communities.
Obviously, Gawai Dayak is the best and the most interesting time to visit Sarawak as you can see and sample the lifestyle and its festivities.
Where to Go
-The Skrang River (Iban Longhouse)
Experience life at the longhouse with this exciting destination. The journey to Skrang is firstly by road, and then by a motor propelled long boat up the river. The highlight of any visit to a Skrang longhouse is the entertainment by the longhouse residents featuring traditional dances and music.
-The Lemanak River (Iban Longhouse)
Upon arrival at the longhouse, the Iban natives will greet and welcome you with tuak, the local traditional rice wine. Explore the longhouse and gain an insight into the unique culture of the Iban communities. This longhouse is home to 23 families. All resides under one roof. Have a chat with the Iban old folks to understand more of their culture and the history of headhunting. The trophy of the headhunting days can be seen hanging from the rafters and antique Chinese jars.
-Batang Ai (Iban Longhouse)
Arrive at the Lemanak jetty and take an hour boat ride upriver amidst overhanging foliage. Upon arrival at the longhouse, the longhouse occupants with generous flow of tuak will greet you with the traditional dance. Explore and visit the longhouse where you will see many things such as human skull hanging from the rafters, antique Chinese jars dated back hundreds of years and some 25 families living together under one roof.
-Annah Rais (Bidayuh Longhouse)
Bidayuh, the second largest ethnic group in Sarawak, is formerly known as the 'Land Dayak. They were also known as the 'Engineer of Bamboo'. You will be able to see the splendid architecture of their longhouse, which was build mostly by bamboo when visiting their longhouse. Annah Rais is one of the most famous Bidayuh longhouse in Sarawak, which located about 100 km east from Kuching city and quite close to the Indonesian border. The excursion will take about one and a half hour on the road.
Types of Gawai
The Ibans has many festivals called 'Gawai'. These different 'Gawai's are known as 'Gawai Kenyalang' (hornbill festival), 'Gawai Antu' (festival for the dead) and 'Gawai Dayak' (harvesting festival). During such festivals, besides the customary observance of ritual, there is usually a lot of drinking of the locally brewed rice wine called tuak, much merriment and dancing called ngajat and displays of elaborate traditional costumes.
Tuak is a special rice wine. It is a drink for all occasions, be it Gawai, weddings or entertaining visitors. It is generally served during any sort of entertainment or festivities. When you arrive at any longhouse during the festival, the occupants will offer you tuak as a welcoming drink. It used to offend the occupants if visitors refuse the offering but now the host is more understanding as some religion like Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol of any sort.