Sarawak village goes all out for Gawai celebration

Kampung Taee residents add colour to Gawai Dayak by turning up in traditional costumes.

Villagers dressed in traditional costumes joined the annual Birarak Gawai Taee float procession, one of the highlights of the celebration.

The float, shaped like a rice field hut and decorated with a hornbill, travelled 1.5km around the village, carrying the village’s Kumau Gawai beauty queen and performers beating the gong and traditional Bidayuh musical instruments known as “sabang”.

More than 600 people including tourists took part in the procession and merrymaking.

Stalls held “open houses”, serving traditional Bidayuh cuisine and tuak or traditional rice wine to passersby.

Tourists and villagers at the Birarak Gawai Taee float procession.
Visitors get a taste of Sarawak’s famous layered cake.

Visitors were also coaxed to try local delicacies such as the famous Sarawak layered cake.

“Come, come, try our layered cake. It’s famous in Sarawak,” a lady said, beckoning visitors with a smile. “Have some drinks, too.”

There were also karaoke sessions, as well as performances by local bands.

Although the highlights of the celebration take place from May 31 to June 2, Gawai Dayak usually lasts a month. The “nyisan bunos” ceremony will be held at the end of June or during the first week of July to mark the end of the festivities.

A villager serves food to performers and children on the Birarak Gawai Taee float.
A tourist samples local food served at an open house.

Arvindran Alaga, 36, from Alor Setar, Kedah, was a first-time visitor to Kampung Taee. He said he had never experienced such a unique celebration and that everyone was very welcoming.

“I really enjoyed the traditional dishes and hope to bring my family in the future,” he said, adding that he found out about the celebration from a friend.

Juniper Odell, from North Carolina in the US, said she was surprised that so many people wanted to take photos with her.

“This is my first time in Malaysia. The people here are very friendly,” Odell, 38, said.

She said she had not planned on visiting Kuching but that her husband, who works at a college in the US, was involved in a study abroad programme in Sarawak.

Odell said one of her husband’s co-workers happened to be related to a family from Kampung Taee.

Travis Gunasekara (second from right) and his friends enjoy the unique festival.

“They offered to pick me up from the airport and they’ve been great hosts,” she said, adding that she had found out about the celebration from Lonely Planet Guide to Borneo.

Travis Gunasekara, 26, a Sri Lankan studying at Segi College in Sarawak, also said he had a wonderful time experiencing the Gawai celebration.

Arvindran Alaga.

“I saw a post on Facebook about it and decided to rent a car. I drove here with my friends to see the culture.

“I love the tuak. It’s not bitter at all. In fact, I prefer tuak to whisky,” he said.

Vincent Rollin, joint chairman of the Gawai Taee 2019 organising committee, said the float procession started on a smaller scale 40 years ago.

He hoped the celebration would continue attracting more visitors to the village.