The Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated in Sarawak and West Kalimantan by Dayaks. This festival is celebrated on June 1st of every year in Sarawak, Malaysia. On the day of the festival it is a pubic holiday for all the people in Malaysia. The idea for the Gawai Dayak was started back in 1957 in a radio forum which was held by Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang who is a radio program organizer. This brought lots of interest in the Dayak community. The British colonial refused to recognize the Dayak day, but instead he called it as Sarawak day, which was meant to be celebrated by the Sarawakians as a national day regardless of tribes.
The first festival of Gawai Dayak was celebrated in the year 1963 by Datuck Michael Buma, a Betong native at his house at Siol Kandis. This festival was officially declared as a public holiday on 25th September 1964 after the formation of the federation of Malaysia. After the declaration the festival was first celebrated on 1st June 1965 and became the symbol of unity and today it has become one of the famous festival in Sarawak.
About the festival:
The Gawai Dayak is a harvest festival, which is celebrated by the people of Sarawak, mainly the Ibans and Bidayuhs. At the time of the festival they wear their traditional costumes and they also offer various local traditional delicacies and homemade rice wine which is known as tuak to the god of rice and prosperity. They celebrate this festival so that god will take care of their harvesting lands and they get good profits from the harvest. The Gawai Dayak festival is celebrated with fun and fanfare across Sarawak, both in cities and villages. The Gawai Dayak festival has been celebrated for 2 days that honors the indigenous people of the Dayak community that comprise of the Iban, Bidayuh, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit and Murut tribes in Sarawak.
In the past they used to kill animals to sacrifice to the god so that there will be no problem for their fields, currently the only animal killed during the Gawai Dayak is hen, which is sacrificed in order to honor a successful rice harvest. This festival is celebrated at the end of the summer season and the beginning of rainy season. The Gawai Dayak festival commemorates the garnering of the rice harvest and proclaims the onset of a new planting season. It is believed that Dayaks and Ibans were headhunters, who prayed to their god for a good harvest of heads at the annual festival. The people of the Dayak community wear their traditional dress and gather at longhouses for prayers at the time of the festival. The person who is designated as a priest of the tribe chants specially written litanies to appease the gods. At the time of the festival you can see events such as war dances, cockfights and blowpipe competitions which takes you to the past. Before the events at the midnight their will be a procession know as Ngalu Petara, which passes the community seven times in order to welcome the gods to the festival and at midnight the head of tribe holds a toast with tuak for longevity after which the programs starts.
People who are located in Malaysia and other visitors from around the world visit to Sarawak at the time of the festival to see their tradition and their way of living.