Festivals promote diversity, they bring neighbours into dialogue, they increase creativity, they offer opportunities for civic pride, they improve our general psychological well-being. In short, they make cities better places to live.

– DAVID BINDER, BRITISH-BORN AMERICAN JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR

I always find there is ‘something’ about festivals, any festival. Whether it is just a joyous party; cultural celebration; a respectful gathering that honours tradition; a ritual or a religious celebration. It is always wonderful to see people celebrating and having a happy time with their families and friends.

On the evening of Chap Goh Mei, I was in Miri Times Square and came across many families, some three generations walking together towards the Chinese temple to celebrate. It was indeed a stirring and heart-warming sight to see so many happy families together with the expectation of joy, fun and togetherness.

Festivals allow us to express ourselves and celebrate each one of our magnificent cultures, heritages, and traditions openly.

These festivities also offer us a means to rejoice and create special moments and emotions in our lives with our loved ones. They play an important role by adding meaning to our social lives and connect us with our origins and sense of belonging.

Some festivities are a distraction from our humdrum day-to-day existence and routine of life. A celebration gives us some form of motivation to remember the important things and moments in our life.

I think we also like to get together due to the inherent goodness in us and our humanity towards each other. This desire to have a good time with our family and friends is possibly due to our passions and our wish to spread and share our joyfulness with as many people as possible.

Originally many festivals and celebrations were most likely started to pass on teachings, knowledge, heritage, legends and traditions onto the next generation.

Sometimes, in addition to this we as people create festivals since in one way or another, we want to get together to eat, sing, dance, drink, laugh, dress up, and do almost anything to have a good time.

Whatever the reason, it is vital that it promotes understanding, compassion and a greater acceptance of each other as individuals within the community and between communities.

Our cross-cultural and religious gatherings help to foster interfaith understanding as well as present the opportunity to explain unfamiliar practices and rituals.

Much has been said about our tradition of open house and gatherings where friends from other races and religions join us and celebrate each other’s cultural festivities and religious celebrations. Our Chief Minister can be seen actively visiting all the communities during the festivities.

In Sarawak, we had only just celebrated ushering in the advent of a new decade, 2020 and we immediately moved on to Chinese New Year. After the Pongal festival, the harvest festival of the Tamil community on January 15, we immediately moved on to Chinese New Year. A few days ago, it was Chap Goh Mei and Thaipusam on the same day.

We have Valentine’s Day on February 14 and coming up soon after that is Holi, the Festival of Colours. Religious observance of Ramadan is almost here and followed by Hari Raya.

Gawai, the harvest festival of the Dayaks, is one of the most popular festivals celebrated with much fun and merriment. The list goes on and on.

There are also various regionally celebrated events such as the Rainforest World Music Festival, Miri Jazz Festival, Rainforest Cup Mountain Bike Challenge, Bau International Raft Race, Borneo Cup Motorcross Championship, Sarawak International Triathlon and Kaul — celebrated by the Melanau fishing community marking the beginning of the fishing season.

All these festivals can in one form or another bring a whole town or village together.

This on-going exchange and camaraderie between Sarawakians here provide us with a peaceful and relaxed environment.

However, to sustain this we need to continuously work together and collaborate towards such unity. I do not prescribe to the concept of tolerating each other only. This implies that we have to put up with each other for the sake of appearance. It is good only as a first step to maintain the ‘peace’. This is not a sustainable approach to unity.

It is important that we actually get to know why each one of us celebrates our festivities and celebrate our religious rites and practices. Gaining knowledge and insight into each other’s cultural and religious practices helps us move from tolerance to deeper understanding and therefore lifelong relationships and friendships that will sustain us during good and bad times for generations to come.

Our Sarawak leaders have over the years always emphasised the importance of celebrating together. This is the proof, that they place huge importance towards our understanding and accepting each other’s culture and values.

It is still a work in progress and cannot be taken for granted. Especially due to the onslaught and negative value system from some segments in Malaya.

It is clear that we in Sarawak have done well towards establishing strong bonds towards each other. Despite many years of working hard to achieve the unity we have; it is still fragile and has to be nurtured well.

That is why we need a continued commitment from our Sarawak leaders to carry on their drive for unity. We must not let anyone from within (the 5th Columnist) or outside seize the reigns of authority in Sarawak. This will have dire consequence.

This is not just about more autonomy and oil and gas royalties. This is about protecting the very fabric of our society in Sarawak. 

Let’s stay together as one in Sarawak via our festivities.

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