Remember when you were a youngster and the first festival attended was an absolute jaw dropper? Well, that’s what the Gawai Festival in Matop, of the Betong region delivered – the same reaction.
The Gawai Dayak comes from the meaning festival and Dayak is a collective name for the indigenous Iban peoples of Sarawak.
And there’s that Hornbill again having a marvellous time and pride of place in the parade.
The excitement and community spirit with the eye-catching costumes was bling on steroids. This gentleman allowed me to take his photo whilst showing off his region’s tribal outfit for the upcoming ritual associated with the Gawai Dayak Festival.
The Iban are a vigorous, outwardly expansive people of West-Central Borneo who number some 400,000 in the east Malaysian State of Sarawak. Despite increasing urban migration, the greater majority live in Longhouse settlements along the main rivers and smaller streams of the interior and subcoastal districts.
Our official welcoming at the Rumah Engkeranji Longhouse from the Minister for the Ngabang Gawai Dayak Open House in Matop, Sarawak. Colourful and bright, the anticipation of meeting the friendly locals was quite humbling.
A birds-eye view of a typical Longhouse. Afterwards, we were able to participate in an exchange with the Chief of the Longhouse – a form of gift-giving presentation and a habit for visitors to show gratitude in being allowed into the community for the short duration of the event.
Staying at a Longhouse in Matop with the Iban people of Sarawak was an unforgettable insight into remote tribal traditions that still exist on the island.
The generosity of the combined families showed us warmth and a outpouring of sincere friendliness… along with plentiful snacks and drinks.
This little man was more than happy to take my case and show me my place at the Rumah Engkeranji Longhouse Homestay. He was ready and waiting long before the beginning of the Gawai Dayak Festival in full costume – along with his family and friends.
Longhouses have been around for a long time and are usually passed down through the ownership of past generations. With each family having their own apartment-style quarters, they are also very deep and narrow, but look comfortable and practical.
Before heading into Rumah Matop Longhouse, outside a traditional offering to show respect to all who had come along to share their last year’s successful harvest. The celebration starts in the early evening with a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua to cast away the spirit of greed, also ensuring the spirit of bad luck will not interfere with the cheerful celebrations and of course, the new year of another successful harvest.
A rhythmic tune was played throughout the ceremony giving everyone – regardless of age, a turn at the helm to show one’s skill. The Engkkerumung has small agungs arranged together side by side and played like a xylophone and the sound is quite similar.
There was a genuine eagerness to share their traditions with the outside world – and hopefully they continue on with these customs for many generations to come.
As the pecking order of participants and guests ascended into the Rumah Matop Longhouse, there was a show of the bright locally patterned vests. Worn with pride, the mood was happy and excitable.
A shared communal area for all residents who offer their daily greetings, food and company to one another – especially to the elderly, frail and those who need assistance.
What’s a festival without food and drink? The Iban people will greet you with smiles and they love to shake hands – a custom they have come to know from the days of British rule and present-day interaction with westerners. Here everyone sat on mats with an abundance of goodies to share amongst locals and foreigners.
Lucky enough to see the beautiful Miss World Malaysia 2018 perform for our group at the Gawai festivity. So polished and her dancing was exquisite.
Folk traditional dancing starts at a very early age and there wasn’t any mistake they enjoyed every minute of their showmanship. Perhaps, another Miss World Malaysia here in the making?
And the following day, the early morning parade of very proud youngsters, mums, dads and residents were continuing on the true spirit of the Gawai Festival. I can’t think of anything better to photograph than men showing off ‘a bit of leg’!
To finish off the early morning celebrations, an anticipated dose of traditional Malaysian Keropok Lekor was gratefully accepted by all who participated … along with the onlookers. A fish-cracker snack and yummy as when freshly cooked!
Next stop? Some markets and eateries we enjoyed along the way.