Celebrating differences in multicultural Sarawak

“We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” – Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America

 

THIS year, Hari Raya will be celebrated a couple of days after Gawai Dayak.

The school holidays also coincide with both festivals to enable everyone to go back to their hometowns-wherever that may be-to celebrate with their loved ones.

Back home, the tuak (fermented rice wine) is ready, the kuih (bite-sized snacks or dessert) have been made, the house has been decorated and is ready to receive guests, friends and family members.

By May 31, the head of the household will do his/her final shopping, usually food items, to prepare for the midnight feast to mark a new beginning for the Dayak.

As for the Malay, Hari Raya comes after the end of Ramadan. Preparations are also made such as baking and cooking, shopping for new baju raya (clothes), cleaning and decorating the house, hanging colourful lights and so on.

Sarawak has always been fascinating to historians, anthropologists, writers and outsiders.

Its history is interesting and its culture is rich and diverse. Sarawak is a unique place in Malaysia as it comprises more than 21 ethnic groups and more.

It is a multicultural society where people of different ethnicities, religions and beliefs live peacefully for ages.

Religious differences were never an issue for the people of Sarawak.

Hence it is very common for the Malay, the Melanau, the Chinese, the Iban, the Bidayuh and the Orang Ulu (which comprises the Kenyah, the Kayan, the Lun Bawang among others) to visit each other during festivals, be it Hari Raya, Gawai Dayak, Chinese New Year and Christmas to name a few, without worrying about food restriction or halal.

This is unique to Sarawak, which can be attributed to respect for one another without prejudice. And from this understanding comes tolerance and accommodation.

Politics may divide us but it never stops us from coming together during the festive season.

Inter-ethnic marriage is also very common in Sarawak.

For example, my family. We celebrate all of the major festivals in Malaysia. We celebrate Chinese New Year, Gawai Dayak, Hari Raya and Christmas together with our relatives of different beliefs. No one celebration is seen as more relevant than the other.

Religious politics have no place in multicultural Sarawak, although it cannot be denied that attempts had been made by religious political parties from Peninsular Malaysia to set up their party’s branches in Sarawak but they had failed to make significant inroads into the Sarawak political scene.

The Sarawak government is very successful in preventing religious differences from separating us as Sarawakians.

Apart from that, Sarawak is also unique in the sense that almost everyone in Sarawak is multilingual.

If you go to rural Sarawak, it is very common to hear a Chinese businessman or woman speaking the language of their customers be it Malay, Melanau, Iban, Kenyah, Kayan or many other languages to build rapport.

At the same time, non-Chinese children are also enrolling in Chinese schools to study Mandarin.

It is very common to see Malay food stalls next to the Chinese or Dayak ones under the same roof.

This is almost unheard of anywhere else in Malaysia. This goes to show that Sarawakians are very tolerant, laid back and open minded!

Issues such as halal or non-halal have never been a problem for us because my mother always made sure that we have a set of utensils just for our Malay friends and relatives when they do come for a visit.

Growing up, when my childhood Malay friends came over to my parents’ house during the festive season, they would always ask if we would be serving our traditional food such as ayam pansuh, kuih acuan and penganan/penyaram.

And likewise, when I come over, I would ask them whether they would be serving my favourite traditional Malay food such as lemang, rending and masak lemak.

At the time, the festive season was a way for us to experience each other’s culture while growing closer together.

We are very much like the mosaic as mentioned by the late Jimmy Carter, in that, like mosaic pieces, we differ from one another.

Despite these differences, the people of Sarawak have not been discouraged from working together to achieve a common goal, and that is to ensure a harmonious Sarawak, in which many ethnicities are able to co-exist together.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my Dayak friends, “Selamat Hari Gawai Dayak, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai, Lantang Senang Nguan Menoa”, and to my Malay friends, “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir Dan Batin”.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.