Regarded as one of the most impressive harvest festival in Malaysia, Hari Gawai shows gratitude to the spirits and gods for the land’s generosity. The festival has been celebrated for centuries and entails ancestral worship, contact with the spirit world, as well as partying with acquaintances and family members. Gawai Dayak is observed on the 1st and 2nd of June, even if unofficially, the celebrations kick off on the final week of May. Usually, the harvesting of the rice fields happens before the festival and locals organize their personal small Gawai feasts when their harvests are completed. Travelers, who have no ideas what to do in Malaysia in June, should be prepared as this event will exceed their expectations.
Introducing the Hari Gawai Festival
Gawai Dayak is observed with enthusiasm throughout Sarawak, one of the best places to visit in Malaysia. In English, Gawai Dayak means “Dayak Day”, and the Dayak peoples comprise the Bidayuh, Kenyah, Murut, Iban, Kayan and Kelabit tribes that used to lurk the Sarawak and remove the heads of innocent traders. Even though the Gawai festival is derived from the headhunting traditions of the ancestors, the only head that is cut during the holiday belongs to a chicken that locals sacrifice to show gratitude for a flourishing rice harvest.
Gawai Dayak is rejoiced with passion and true happiness by both locals and tourists. In fact, the festival serves as an excellent demonstration of the indigenous culture for those who visit this place during their holidays. The locals celebrate their wedding anniversaries on this special day; they sing, dance, get together with their families, and have a great time, so attending the event is one of the best things to do in Malaysia.
The Traditional Hari Gawai Festival
The celebration starts on the evening of May 31st when participants enjoy their traditional music and get involved in the Muai Antu Rua rite. The purpose of the ceremony is to prevent the spirit of greed from destroying the festival. Two men pull a big basket by the side of the longhouse; individuals from every room toss all sorts of household objects and pieces of clothing into the basket. After this, the basket is cast off on the ground to avoid intrusion from evil spirits – this practice is considered a “sacrifice”.
In the evening, the festival’s chief has to sacrifice a chicken to express gratitude for the rich rice harvest. Dinner includes dishes like bamboo-steamed rice, as well as sweet cakes prepared with coconut milk, and is served subsequent to the sacrifice. Before midnight, the Ngalu Petara procession is held to greet the friendly spirit gods that attend the ceremony. At midnight, the chief of the festival has to hold a toast for long life. The liquor used for the toast is the famous rice wine prepared by the locals – tuak. After this, the festival becomes an informal free-for-all event where all participants drink, sing and dance. It’s one of the greatest things to do during the Hari Gawai festival, so make sure to have the time of your life.
Those who visit Sarawak during Gawai Dayak have the possibility to opt for various exciting activities. For example, some longhouses permit visitors to shoot traditional blowpipe guns, whereas others enable them to watch cockfights. Anyway, regardless of the locale, tourists are always welcomed with a shot of rice wine. Note that you must drink it, and the locals will assume you’re impolite if you refuse them. What’s more, you can also visit Dayak and Iban residences to catch a glimpse of their day-to-day lives. You’ll have the opportunity to dress in multicolored costumes and take astonishing photos, get involved in traditional dances and taste a plethora of mouth-watering treats and cakes.
Gawai is the perfect occasion for all sorts of processions, parties, games and “open houses”. You must first know where to go in Malaysia to enjoy Gawai to the fullest; Sarawak is an excellent spot. Apart from observing and participating in the amazing festivities and rituals, you will also be able to sample the tasty foods cooked by the locals, and all tourists are warmly greeted and accepted as friends of the communities.
Travelers from around the world should support, cherish, and praise the Malaysian territory and all its festivals and celebrations. Show respect and gratitude to the people, protect the environment, and don’t spoil the natural surroundings in any way. Hence, future travelers will have the chance to benefit from the Malaysian wonders for years to come.