The ai pengayu tastes bitter this Gawai

Celebrating Gawai Dayak is fun. Families get to come together, to drink the ai pengayu (the longevity tuak) at the stroke of midnight and thereafter celebrate the way you know best.

You get to visit friends and your friends get to visit you, to eat and drink and make merry.

There will be gong music and there will be traditional dances. These either have their own corner in the longhouse or they are performed at their own time because there also has to be space given to those who love modern music and songs. Live bands and karaokes are part and parcel of Gawai Dayak nowadays. That’s the fun part.

But Gawai Dayak is not just fun. In fact, the fun part comes only after certain rituals have been duly observed by the Tuai Gawai or Gawai chief.

The celebration or the merry-making begins only after the rituals are done. And that’s the tradition that Dayaks are systematically keeping alive through Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU), Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) and Orang Ulu National Association (Ouna).

These three groups take turn to organise the state-level Gawai Dayak, which has been the practice since 1987.

This year’s host is DBNA. Last year’s was SDNU and the previous year’s was Ouna.

Can anyone else host a state-level Gawai Dayak?

I guess any Dayak can but with the agreement of SDNU, DBNA and Ouna, and of course, with the blessing of the state government.

A state-level-do means you are getting the state leaders, including the Head of State and the Chief Minister, to come to your Gawai.

In other words, you can’t be just any Dayak or any Dayak-based association to qualify as host.

Therefore, SDNU president Tan Sri William Mawan is perfectly right when he spoke of his fear that Gawai Dayak was being abused by irresponsible individuals if the relevant authorities were not consulted and the proper customs and traditions not observed.

Mawan is perfectly right when he questioned the locus standi of the organising committee of a recent National Gawai Dayak 2019 celebration (Bernama March 31).

The same Bernama report quoted the organisers as saying, “We have extended our invitation to our fellow Dayaks in Sabah and Kalimantan, Indonesia to share in this celebration in order to better understand the similarities of our cultures.”

Further it reported, “… the organising committee had also extended an invitation to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (described as an ‘advocate of creating better understanding among Malaysians of different cultures and races’) to officiate at the closing ceremony in Bintulu on the evening of May 19.”

No mention was made as to whether invitations were being sent out to the state leaders. And the Prime Minister did not come.

Call the Gawai by any name, but it did not appear that it merits being called National Gawai Dayak 2019 by the mere presence of some federal leaders none of whom had come to represent the Prime Minister.

I mean, if the Prime Minister couldn’t make it, he should have sent a representative to address the Gawai on his behalf or read his text of speech.

Conspicuously absent – which was to be expected, since there were no invitations to speak of – from this particular so-called National Gawai Dayak 2019, which was held on Sarawak soil, were the leaders of the state government.

Is that why it was called National Gawai 2019? Perhaps.

Was Gawai Dayak being politicised? To be fair, I say no, but it was one-bad taste National Gawai Dayak that did not live up to its name. It looked very much like syok sendiri Gawai.