GIVE THANKS: Younger generation must learn to appreciate their roots
KUCHING: IT is that time of the year again in June, where familiar smells permeate Dayak villages throughout Sarawak.
The sweet pungent smell of fermented rice wines and gravies of native cuisine boiling in bamboo over open fire as well as sounds of slaughtered hogs fill the air.
A feast prepared and fit for the gods who helped to provide a good harvest for villagers is a must on June 1 when Gawai Dayak in Sarawak is observed.
The rice gods are not really sought on that day, for the ceremonies are mainly symbolic, a part of the culture that should be preserved for the younger generation -- ceremonies like Miring and Ngalu Petara or welcoming the spirits.
When I was younger, my folks in the longhouse in Bua, Engkilili would carry out all these ceremonies during Gawai Dayak and various other Gawai celebrations.
Yes, I said it right, various other Gawai celebrations.
Gawai, which literally means festival in my other mother tongue, Iban, simply means that.
Other than the normal Gawai which I experienced, I was part of my grand uncle's Gawai Kenyalang festival; a festival exclusively for warriors who had killed numerous enemies and only he could decide when the date for the celebration was to be held.
The difference with this Gawai is that a sacred hornbill statue, intricately carved is thought to represent the chief of all the worldly birds and oversees all mankind.
That is what I was told and another important part of Gawai Kenyalang is that, only an outstanding warrior can hold such Gawai and my granduncle was a former decorated Sarawak Ranger.
My granduncle is not around and I never got the chance to listen to all of his war stories. And being half Iban, honestly, I do not know much about my own heritage and I have to really do some research to know more.
Like any celebration, Gawai is the time to give thanks for any success that we achieve, but the nitty-gritty of how it is celebrated makes it different and gives it an identity.
Tourism Malaysia, Sarawak Tourism Board and Sarawak Cultural Village recently launched a tourism package that focuses on Gawai. Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board state director Ahmad Johanif Mohd Ali said many Malaysians outside Sarawak were puzzled with the Gawai celebration and even he was clueless about it.
"The festival is a crowd-puller, but the problem is that it is not promoted. It is sad that such an important event is not widely known in Malaysia."
Tourism Malaysia has come up with a "Gawai Special Package", which gives visitors the opportunity to experience, learn and participate in cultural activities of the diverse ethnic groups in Sarawak -- the Bidayuh Hornbill dance at the Bidayuh congregation hall called the Baruk, witnessing the Gawai ritual or Miring by the shaman and other activities at the Sarawak Cultural Village.
I believe it happens in many villages around Sarawak, where Gawai is slowly losing its lustre and the reason behind this is the mass migration of youths to towns and bigger cities, in search of a better future.
This leaves many villages with only the old and children, where there is a large gap between them.
There are also some who do not bother to go back to their villages for Gawai. This reminds me of a friend who has migrated to Texas. He is an Iban of mixed parentage. His father is an American while his mother, an Iban, looks more like an American than an Iban.
During a gathering when he was back in Kuching, some girls seemed interested in him and started to talk to him in fake accents. And I swear that he made the jaws of those girls open wide, when he said: Nama aku Charles, Iban ari Texas. (I am Charles, an Iban from Texas).
He spoke Iban with his parents in Texas and his family would come back to his mother's home town in Sri Aman every Gawai.
Each and every one of us is different because of our respective cultures and that gives us our unique identity.
Though Gawai Dayak may have lost its lustre in some villages because it is no longer cool or is just a village party, the spirit of getting together to appreciate and give thanks for our achievements is always there.
I hope the younger Dayak generation will learn to appreciate their roots and be proud of it, because that is who they are, where ever they may go.
Happy Gawai or in my mother tongue, Selamat Ari Gawai, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai, Lantang Senang nguan Menoa.