The largest ethnic group in Sarawak, the Dayaks, play a significant role in Sarawak’s economic activities. It is most unlikely that you will not find them almost everywhere in urban Sarawak today.
This ethnic group has been participating actively in politics and also in general in the private and public sectors as well. Dayaks are holding important positions in both Sarawak and the Federal Cabinets and the civil service.
Throughout the Brooke period, the British administration and later in Malaysia, the Dayaks who were in the legendary Sarawak Rangers did an incredible job in maintaining law and order
As Border Scouts they were a great help to the Commonwealth forces deployed in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.
The Dayaks were equally active during the Confrontation in the 60s when Indonesia was against the formation of Malaysia.
During both The Malayan Emergency and The Confrontation, the Dayaks, as always, displayed their bravery in the discharge of their duties.
Gawai Dayak was the harvest celebration originally held in different longhouses on different days, unique as it embodies what I think of as the core of Sarawak’s essence, that is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual , multi-religious, and multi-cultural community living in peace and harmony, with every ethnic group in the country having a special designated day in the year on which their particular customs, heritage, belief system and ethnicity are celebrated and honoured.
Gawai Day, June 1, is dedicated to and for our Iban, Bidayuh, and Orang Ulu, which include among others our Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit and Murut.
Gazetted in 1964, it is very special not only as day of celebration for some 40 per cent of our population, but also in setting an example to the world at large of the unity and harmony in a state with a multiplicity of customs, religions, ethnicities, and heritage.
It symbolises a policy of inclusion by celebrating differences, in sharp contrast to what is a happening in so many parts of the world today, selective exclusion that leads to mayhem and destruction in struggles for hegemony.
This day is a reminder that we must always be on our guard against divisive influences.
While the whole world is aware of the national days celebrating nationhood and the major events celebrated worldwide by the world’s major religions, few outside this local area in South East Asia will know about Gawai Dayak. But I know that every Dayak community overseas, however small, celebrates this day with pride.
Sarawak has now a time-honoured custom of sharing these celebrations with relatives, friends and visitors without regard to their social status, ethnic group, religion or cultural background; a reflection of our societal harmony. And something which we in Sarawak can be proud of.
Selamat Hari Gawai!