Gawai Day or Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated in sarawak on 1 June every year. It is both a religious and social occasion. The word Gawai means a ritual or festival whereas Dayak is a collective name for the native ethnic groups of Sarawak the Iban, also known as Sea Dayak and the Bidayuh people, also known as Land Dayak. Thus, Gawai Dayak literally means “Dayak Festival”. Dayak would visit their friends and relatives on this day. Such visit is more commonly known as “ngabang” in the Iban language. Those too far away to visit would receive greeting cards.
It started back in 1957 in a radio forum held by Mr Ian Kingsley, a radio programme organiser. This generated a lot of interest among the Dayak community.
The mode of celebration varies from place to place. Preparation starts early. Tuak (rice wine) is brewed (at least one month before the celebration) and traditional delicacies like penganan (cakes from rice flour, sugar and coconut milk) are prepared. As the big day approaches, everyone will be busy with general cleaning and preparing food and cakes. On Gawai Eve, glutinous rice is steamed in bamboo (ngelulun pulut). In the longhouse, new mats will be laid out on the ruai (an open gallery which runs through the entire length of the longhouse). The walls of most bilik (rooms) and the ruai are decorated with Pua Kumbu (traditional blankets). A visit to clean the graveyard is also conducted and offerings offered to the dead. After the visit it is important to bathe before entering the longhouse to ward off bad luck.
The celebration starts on the evening of 31 May. In most Iban longhouses, it starts with a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua (to cast away the spirit of greed), signifying the non-interference of the spirit of bad luck in the celebration. Two children or men each dragging a chapan (winnowing basket) will pass each family’s room. Every family will throw some unwanted article into the basket. The unwanted articles will be tossed to the ground from the end of the longhouse for the spirit of bad luck.