Saturday, December 25, 2010

“Gawai” Iban festival

We had been invited to Sarawak many months ago by our Iban friend in Sitiawan. Little did we realise just what we were invited to. “Gawai” seems to be a general term for festival
The annual Gawai is to celebrate the harvest June first each year. However the Gawai we were invited to is held only 10-40 years due to the cost involved. This is the Ghost Festival.
We were picked up at Kuching airport by our friends and taken for a ride around that lovely city, before returning to their house in outer suburbs and a sumptuous meal.
Next day off to the Longhouse. As so many family members and goodies were to go we took a moonlighting school mini bas. It took us almost 4 hours to get to Betong, with numerous “smile stops” (our euphemism for toilet stops) and large plates of Kolo mee. If you have never had Kolo mee you haven’t lived. Once at Betong relays of cars took us the remaining 20 min on a sort of road to our destination. Rumah Panjai (Longhouse) Duri Bangat.

The Iban were head hunters and some samples greeted us on arrival; Members bringing Sago palm to make soup; Our friends-third in line as head of the clan.
A meeting of the heads of household units was called (bit like body corporate meeting) to allocate funds received to assist with costs.
The Longhouse had been newly painted and plastic covers for the floors. Food is a feature (and booze) and much preparation.

While the ladies collected roadside veg and prepared food, the men got down to the serious business of betting on cock fighting.


But …hey…men do their stuff as well and in true hunter style dispatched 5 pigs and countless chickens to be BBQ’d or broiled...even BBQ various preparations in lengths of bamboo.

…mind women had to prepare non meat stuff…

Time to get ready for the festival proper….and last chance to buy costume items from traveling costume shop!!


 Last minute favourite items put out to eat.

Then everyone got ready for guests to arrive. Apart from a few invited outsiders like ourselves, it was 99% Iban and most from the neighboring 17 longhouses. This added up to 1000’s of people.

Finally guests start to enter the Longhouse from one end. Each group will enter as a family and related unit and be greeted outside each “inner” door of the Longhouse, offering sweet biscuit, but mostly “tuak” unknown percentage of alcohol drink. But suffice to say, NASA can use it for rocket fuel. The procession will travel the whole length of the Longhouse and double back to peel off to the “home” team family who will entertain them.(Grandfather chief of a friend)


The party gets under way..

 Can’t tell a whole lot more about the party. But I did find a Scottish link in the habit of drinking spirit and chaser. The Scots stick to whiskey. The Iban are not as particular and start with whiskey, then Vodka, Gin. Brandy, Tuak, rocket fuel and anything else that smells as though it will ignite….chased with warm beer!!
I have no recollecting of finding our allotted bit of floor to sleep on, but I do recall a rude awakening an hour after sleep, still pitch black outside, for the next step in the Gawai. That was to break fast with even more food, and a hair of the dog and wander through the bush to the site of family graves. Here we paid respect, killed the last remaining rooster and BBQ’d it on the spot and ate it with the dear departed.

 After Gawai we managed to take 7 hours back to Kuching…I think we had drunk the petrol and were running on a lean mixture of tuak. It did include a couple of Kolo mee and smile stops.
The rush back was basically so we could party some more with immediate family in Kuching…for a few days. It included a night with our friends sister and we had a special treat with a troop of young people singing Christmas carols and KC and I being dressed as honorary Iban.

This last picture sort of became a natural look after a solid week of partying…and the stuff in the Coke bottle is not coke….and you drink it fast before it melts the bottle.
The whole family came to the airport to see us off and with repeated invitations to return in our ears, we took off bound for KL.
For YouTube coverage of the festival this and related links

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