Gawai Dayak is the important annual festival celebrated in the state of Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbills. This festival is celebrated by Sarawak’s indigenous people, particularly the Ibans and the Dayaks. Sarawak’s harvest festival is known as Gawai Dayak and has only been celebrated on a large scale by the tribes since 1964.
Gawai Dayak features the conduct of a ceremonial offering which is held in towns and longhouses alike. Offerings of various foodstuff and ‘tuak’ or home-made rice wine are made to the gods of rice and prosperity. The poet of the tribe then recites a poem specially meant for the occasion and smears blood of a sacrificed cockerel over these offerings.
Once the ceremonial offering is over, the traditional celebration of the gawai begins. The community gathers around the ‘ranyai’ or ceremonial tree at the common verandah of the longhouse. Celebrations centre around the ranyai with decorated foodstuff and drinks. This festival is a combination of merrymaking, feasting and drinking of rice wine.
During the Gawai, the wearing of traditional costumes and a display of the Orang Ulu’s priceless antique beads and the Iban maiden’s silver jewellery are seen. The end of the gawai is signified by the removal of the ceremonial tree.