Hornbill Unleashed

June 1, 2011

Gayu Guru, Gerai Nyamai

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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Sim Kwang Yang

GREAT universal joy has arrived in Sarawak again, with the celebration of yet another Gawai Day on June 1 in the Land of the Hornbills. It is the most joyous occasion for our Dayak brothers and sisters as they rejoice in this most auspicious festival, in the only place on earth they can call their Homeland.This is what Wikipedia says about Gawai Day: “Up till 1962, the British colonial government refused to recognise Dayak Day. Gawai Dayak was formally gazetted on Sept 25, 1964 as a public holiday in place of Sarawak Day. It was first celebrated on June 1, 1965 and became a symbol of unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayak community. Today, it is an integral part of Dayak social life. It is a thanksgiving day marking good harvest and a time to plan for the new farming season or activities ahead.”

Gawai Day is also the most significant of Sarawak’s public holidays. This is the only day in the year that all the shops throughout Sarawak are closed and all the streets are eerily empty, as members of the Dayak community return to their villages for festivities. The fair land of Sarawak is completely shut down for business during these few days.

For the past month, tuak, or rice wine, has been brewing in all kinds of containers in the backrooms of each of Sarawak’s longhouses.

Brewing of the tuak is one of the most important activities for the Gawai celebration. It takes knowledge and experience to brew tuak successfully, because as all Iban housewives know, there are always goblins hiding in the corner attempting to steal a taste of a new brew and threatening to turn the whole stock sour.

On Gawai eve, young people who have travelled far away from home would have returned. The longhouse is the scene of great joy, as returning children bring gifts home for the very young and the very old, who have stayed in the longhouse. Many chickens and pigs would have been slaughtered to prepare for the Gawai Eve dinner.

It is usually around midnight on Gawai Eve when the religious offerings are made to the various deities including the patron saint of agriculture, Pulang Gana, in thanks for blessing the house with a good harvest. In some longhouses, this opening ceremony would be accompanied by the blasting of a shotgun to scare away the bad spirits lurking in the shadows. The great gongs will be sounded to signify the beginning of the celebrations and from then on, it is merrymaking unlimited for a few days.

While I share the aura of great joy permeating the longhouses throughout the land, my heart sit uneasily at the thought of great challenges facing the Dayak people.

Independence has brought great changes to the Dayak community and not all the changes have been good for the Dayak nation.

Today, the Dayak people have benefited the least from the opening of educational opportunities for Sarawakian children. The development of a balanced and prosperous Dayak middle class is still a communal dream, as the Dayak people sit at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of economic development. It is a sad commentary on our political health that the Dayaks are the most marginalised community in our multiracial society.

Even now, our Dayak people suffer from underemployment and unemployment as they occupy low-paying posts at the bottom of the job market. They have to travel great distances, away from family, in order to secure those low-paying jobs in Singapore, Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

I have met many of these fellow Sarawakians throughout my travels in West Malaysia. The treatment of Sarawak workers by their employers is a mere notch above the treatment given to Indonesian workers. The Sarawakians see few of the benefits regularly enjoyed by other members of the Malaysian workforce.

Meanwhile, Sarawak suffers from economic stagnation; hence the desperate need for employment opportunities in West Malaysia. Economic growth in Sarawak is greatly restricted by the limitation of land for development.

Many young Sarawakians see agriculture as a cul-de-sac, and farming is no longer as a natural life choice according to their perception. The development of Sarawakian agriculture is always an uncertain enterprise when farmers have to deal with many seemingly insurmountable problems, such as the fluctuating prices of the commodity markets, uneconomic land size, as well as expensive fertilisers, insecticides and farm tools.

The farming community often has trouble trying to ensure their security of their land tenure. Land ownership through customary land rights is the source of many conflicts and land claims. These problems will require some kind of land reform, to give the farmers a guarantee of land ownership.

The problems faced by the farming community aside, the Dayak people will celebrate their Gawai Day this year with no less abandon than in previous years. This is the only day in the year that they can call their own.

I have lived with the Dayak communities for many years and I am not unfamiliar with the many economic, social and political problems infesting their social fabric. Lately, there have been pockets of Dayak society falling prey to the evil of alcoholism. The proliferation of alcoholism is greatly fuelled by the availability of relatively cheap langkau. This illicit liquor is so potent it threatens to suck the life force out of the Dayak community in many places.

At the same time, though, I have great faith in the communal strength of the Dayak people.

They have weathered many crises of all kinds threatening their communal survival in the past. Yet their living culture seems to furnish them with a natural life force for their survival in the jungle. As long as they can maintain the integrity of their cultural power by ensuring the survival of their adat, the Dayak civilisation will have a bright future in the years to come.

As the old Iban greeting goes, “gayu guru, gerai nyamai”. This is the message of the new Gawai to the whole of mankind, a message of universal peace, love and hope.



    In response to “Malaysian”-

    The “factors” are man-made- the result of a small elite dictatorship monopolising state power and abusing this privilege with repressive laws and brute force to plunder and enrich itself.

    In the 1960s we were not politically “backward” as exemplified by the SUPP and Brunei People’s Party which were anti-colonial and “revolutionary” in many aspects.

    They sought to establish a “Unitary State of North Kalimantan” by bringing together Brunei Sabah and Sarawak. They were progressive forces.

    This is the big “what if they had succeeded” question.

    If the Brunei independence uprising (1962) or the later Sarawak guerrilla independence war had succeeded, politics would have been different.

    We will never know how a North Kalimantan state would have turned out since this struggle ceased in 1990. But it would most certainly not have become a basket case like the British-Malayan neo-colonial creation “Malaysia” now run by forces of darkness and evil.

    Under the sanguine colonial rule of UMNO the Sarawak people have been suppressed and kept ignorant so it is incorrect to blame them as “politically backward”.

    After nearly 48 years they are showing signs of throwing off their fear of the colonial authority as shown by the many NCR Land rights struggles and show of force by common city folks who came out in their thousands during the recent “state” elections.

    The people are awakening!

    Comment by WHAT IF — June 5, 2011 @ 11:31 PM | Reply

  2. Do not blame writer. Blame Tun Jugah. His anak cucuk melambak in Sarawak deserved to be blamed.

    Comment by Paloi Sarawakian — June 5, 2011 @ 1:29 PM | Reply

  3. The biggest problems in Sarawak are the Sarawakians themselves who had developed a dependency syndrome. They had yet to found the spirit of self reliance, choosing to blame for colonialism and other evils.

    We cannot just blame TM merely because if there is no TM, there will be somebody else in this place. How come we allowed TM to go on as he did? Where is the spirit of self renewal? Self alliance? And self rejuvenation, that will make our Sarawak people great.

    What we need in Sarawak is a cultural revolution, a different way of thinking about our nation. We can depend on nobody else, except ourselves. The political apathy among middle class Sarawakian is very much at fault for the political backwardness in the state. But the State of Sarawak suffers from backwardness that is the fault of nobody. But is a result of political congruence of many factors.

    We are still suffering from the effect of a social political backwardness. TM is not the cause, but the result of that political backwardness.

    The greatest of the world is still ignorant just like most of you guys here! Blaming… blaming…. But chua’

    Comment by Malaysian — June 5, 2011 @ 1:27 PM | Reply


    SKY “Gawai” may come to symbolise “hope for a better harvest and better tomorrow” since all the choice land has been seized by the robber baron clan and cronies and stripped bare of valuable timber and now turned into oil palm plantations. None of this valuable land has been reserved to grow the staple food- rice and other food crops so the people can have plentiful food for the Gawai table.

    For Gawai let us also remember Temmengong Jugah’s words that we may end up chewing on the bitter end of the sugar cane. Many thousands of native people are chewing the bitter end because UMNO and Taib and his cronies got all the good bits.

    For Gawai we support the slogan “No Oil, No Trees, No Land, No Harvest, No Food, No Hope” to raise popular consciousness of our plight as colonial subjects of Kuala Lumpur.

    Indeed your great “independence in Malaysia” brought us great miseries and sufferings.

    Comment by More Sarawak Partiots — June 2, 2011 @ 10:50 AM | Reply


    SKY as usual we somewhat envy and empathise with your in depth experience of engaging with the rest of Sarawakians but we find your comments on neo-colonial Malayan rule a bit warped.

    Your comments on the beginning of official Gawai Day condones and make the Malayan colonial rulers sound like they are heroes and liberators of the Dayaks!

    As concerned Sarawakians we must disagree with your idea of “independence”. Sarawak is not independent and self-governing. It was an independent sovereign state in 1941. Since 1963 Sarawak has been ruled by the colonial dictatorship of the UMNO PBB BN.

    We have been made a “dependent state”. Sarawak is a KL cash cow and yet we beg for and depend on it for funds!

    Yes you did raise the issues of the marginalisation of the “native” peoples. But you should identify this as a result of Malayan colonialism. Why continue the big lie about “independence in Malaysia”.

    Yes “independence” also brought “great changes” to Sarawak such as the pillage of its oil and timber land and dispossession of its native people.

    What is so GREAT about this?

    Kindly read the opposite comments by Sarawakbaru in your Gawai Greetings.


    Comment by Sarawak Partiots — June 1, 2011 @ 11:56 PM | Reply

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