To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole. – Josef Pieper, German philosopher
Ngiling tikai (rolling of the mat), a ceremony held as the concluding episode of Gawai Dayak which is an equivalent to the Chap Goh Mei of Chinese New Year, actually was not in the initial package of the Dayak festive do in its 1964’s inception.
This part of the event was created to add grandeur to the celebration and thus would help to satisfy the Dayak, especially Iban, craving for a prolonged festive and drinking spree.
Taken from the original act of literally rolling the mat once the festival was done with in the past — when longhouse folk of old left no chance for their dogs and fowls to have a fine time trampling on the celebratory mats — this concluding act was a necessary measure to ensure cleanliness and to save the mats from being trodden by dirty feet.
In fact, this was the main logic behind ngiling tikai (also known as ngiling bidai) immediately after the festive guests were gone.
Nevertheless, nowadays some very eager celebrants tend to extend the duration of the closing of Gawai into July or August and on one occasion some years ago my good friend and former colleague Datuk Seri Michael Manyin Jawong, now the state Education and Technological Research Minister, reportedly officiated at a ngiling tikai do in September.
Such late closing of Gawai did not amuse then president of the state customary council Majlis Adat Istiadat Datuk Nellie Tangai who came up with a press statement that ngiling tikai should be held within the month of June, preferably two weeks after Gawai that falls on June 1 annually.
“Ngiling tikai should be held immediately after Gawai and not a month or more after June 1. Two weeks after that date is okay but not after more than a month. Going into July or later is unacceptable,” Nellie said.
Dayaks, especially those of Iban ethnic group in the Krian and Saribas basins are now following their counterparts in the Lupar, Rajang, Kemena and Baram basins to erect the ranyai (ceremonial tree) with its various “fruits” as the central activity of Gawai, including its concluding episode ngiling tikai.
Most activities associated with the conclusive Gawai do are held around or adjacent to the ranyai. For our longhouse’s ngling tikai do on the evening of June 2, this year’s Gawai chief Minggu Awi and his committee decided to erect the ranyai at Minggu’s ruai (open gallery).
Our Saratok longhouse’s closing of Gawai do saw the symbolic rolling of the mat performed by five elders of the longhouse in the presence of about 120 celebrants.
Accompanied by a traditional gong music, the ceremony saw Minggu handing over the rolled rattan mat to my brother Edward who will head the 2020 Kedap Gawai Committee.
Nevertheless, as it was still an early evening, after the official and symbolic rolling of the mat, a number of items that had been planned were carried out accordingly. Edward and two of his granddaughters started the ball rolling with a song each on karaoke.
After the short karaoke session, a veteran karaoke contest was held for both males and females aged 45 and above that attracted six men and five women.
A beer drinking contest was held subsequent to the karaoke competition. This was an open contest for both men and women. It attracted 10 male and one female contestants.
It was then time to feature on the ranyai. Five youngsters took a traditional musical instrument each to start with the gong music tabuh that was to accompany the warrior dance and rituals performed around the ranyai.
Minggu accompanied by Tuai Rumah Robert Lin led the others to perform the Nyelai Ranyai ritual. During the warring days this ritual was where the victors would dance around the ranyai tree to celebrate their head trophies.
But in the modern era, Gawai celebrants dance around the ranyai bearing war sword parang-ilang and pretending to cut “heads” by cutting the strings of the packages and removing them one by one.
These gifts would later be distributed among the families in the community dwelling. Once all the gifts and packages are taken, the ranyai would be cut and taken down.
That was what actually happened to our ranyai on June 2 evening. It was the final conclusion of our Gawai Dayak 2019.
Nellie Tangai would be very happy if he knew our rolling of the Gawai mats was done immediately. Kudos to Minggu and his committee. We look forward to next year’s Gawai do.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.