Footsteps - Jotaro's Travels
Gawai Harvest Festival Sarawak
Kampung Bunan Gega & Kampung Mongkos, Sarawak, Malaysia - June 2015
We were on a cycling trip in Sarawak and were fortunate to be able to witness their celebrations. Eventhough we were outsiders, the locals welcomed us warmly and invited us to be a part of their celebration.
Sarawak has more than forty sub-ethnic groups and the way they celebrate may differ somewhat between the different ethnic groups. We joined the procession at Kampung Bunan Gega; the locals here are mainly Bidayuhs and we saw how they celebrated it the Bidayuh way. Later in the evening we joined in the night festivities at a longhouse in Kampong Mongkos.
Kampung Bunan Gega is a fairly large village with six different zones, each zone has a zone elder and the whole village comes under the village headman. The procession started at Zone 6 and worked it's way through the different zones before ending at Zone 1, at the cultural longhouse hall. At each zone, the procession stops for a while for some mini-celebration before continuing on.
Some customary items; gongs, drums and new rattan mats. These are carried by locals and will lead the procession followed by two long timber drums.
A look at the long timber drums, these are carve out from hollowed out tree trunks with motifs embossed onto their surface.
One of the drums had a carved motif of a native...
While the other has a carved hornbill.
It was a perfect setting, the procession proceeded in the tranquil village with the misty mountains; the gongs and drums were beating and every once in a while the locals will go into a "yeeeeee-eeeee!" cheer.
Click on above to see a YouTube video of the procession.
At each of the zone, the procession will stop. Mats will be laid out, and to the beat of the traditional music, locals will start dancing their traditional Bidayuh dance.
Visitors were warmly welcomed to join in the dance and the gaiety.
Click on above to see a YouTube video of the procession dancing.
At each of these stops, the zone residents had laid out cakes & drinks for all to partake. These were made by individual households and has been put out in a community shed for sharing.
Part of the tradition is the drinking of "tuak" (rice wine) made by the locals and offered to everyone. It's a mild wine made from the harvested rice and fermented over a period of a month. If lucky, one may also be offered "langkau", a stonger rice wine.
The procession ended a communal longhouse in Zone One, it is not a residential longhouse but one that is use for communal and cultural gathering. We all gathered inside sitting on the mats on two sides...
While the village headman and zone elders sat opposite the centre stage.
The new rattan mats that had been carried along the procession were ceremoniously unrolled and laid out at the centre and then the village headman went on stage to give a talk; he spoked on being thankful for a good harvest year and also warmly welcomed visitors to join in the celebration.
To the rhythmic beat of the drums and gongs, local Bidayuhs did a dance presentation. Visitors were then invited up to take part in the dancing. We not only took part but were also dressed in the Bidayuh costumes with the help of the locals.
Click on above to see a YouTube video of the longhouse traditional Bidayuh dance.
EVENING CELEBRATION AT LONGHOUSE
In the evening at the communal corridor/hall of the longhouse at Kampong Mongkos where we stayed there was another round of celebration. Local children did a good presentation of a Bidayuh dance...
... a lady in a simple yet colourful floral sarong and blouse did a slow and expressive dance.
Visitors were encouraged to take part in this and other dances. Unfortunately, some did not get their rhythm right and got their foot caught in between the poles.... Ouch!
Amidst this colourful and musical revelry, local ladies went around serving cakes, fruits (pineapples & steamed corn) and tuak (rice wine).
Only a thing that troubled us: Westerners, despite us telling them to take off their shoes, went walking around in their shoes on the mat that we sat and dance on. Really, they should learn to respect local cultures. The natives were too polite to tell them but we did.
GAWAI HARVEST THANKSGIVING PROCESSION
The following morning saw local ladies streaming in to our longhouse, bringing in their harvest baskets with harvesting implements and timber crosses. They have brought these in to be blessed and later carried on a short procession around the village to invite the spirit in for another good harvest year.
Slowly the came in, put their harvest baskets to one centre side and congregated in front of and behind a make-shift altar. Prayers will be said to bless them and their baskets.
Each of these ladies had a cloth satchel inside of which were cowry shells. Later on during the procession the spirit will be invited into these shells and then these will be taken home to place at their altars.
We were allowed to take photos but were advise not to take photos during the later part of the procession lest we interrupt the calling of the spirits.
A short ceremonial dance was performed...
With that, the ladies (there were some two hundred of them) trooped out of the longhouse with colourful umbrellas and commenced with their procession.
A quick last shot of some of the ladies before we left them to proceed on their own.
In my heart, I wished the success towards another year of good harvest.
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