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Home » Pontianak » Gawai Dayak: Dayak Tribe Harvest Ceremony in West Kalimantan

Gawai Dayak: Dayak Tribe Harvest Ceremony in West Kalimantan



There are many ways to express gratitude, one of which being through a series of rituals. Gawai Dayak is an example of this. This routine ritual is from the Dayak tribe around Pontianak, West Kalimantan and has been part of their tradition for many decades now. The essence of this ceremony is as an expression of gratitude to Jubata (God) for the abundant harvest, and also petitioning that the next harvest will be fruitful as well.

The Gawai Dayak tradition is usually performed over a period of three months by the Dayak tribes, especially the Dayak Iban and DayakDarat, as an expression of gratitude for the plentiful harvest. There are a number of ceremonies to be performed in Gawai Dayak. This traditional ceremony involves a series of steps that have to be completed. A variety of traditional food and a ritual offering are key elements of this ceremony.

Over the years, as time passed, adjustments have been made to Gawai Dayak, however, the traditional ceremony still maintains its key elements. Working with local government Gawai Dayak is now only held for one week, instead of three months, which takes place on the 20th of May every year. This ritual holds much importance to the culture of this tribe and is now known as Pekan Gawai Dayak.

Pekan Gawai Dayak  initially started  from a common desire to strengthen and introduce Dayak traditions to other parts of Indonesia and the world, as well as a form of preservation of their ancestral traditions. In essence, Gawai Dayak is a traditional ritual that was meant as a channel to cultivate and strengthen the Dayak tribe itself, as well as to preserve important elements from the traditional ceremony. This was realized in 1986 and was marked by the Dayak Arts Secretariat (Sekberkesda). Sekberkesda was given the duty to name and conceptualize the Dayak cultural arts which later formed the cultural arts week, now known as Pekan Gawai Dayak.

Since 1986, Pekan Gawai Dayak has been implemented and has received funding from the local government.Lately it has been said that Pekan Gawai Dayak has been tainted by touristic and even political interests. However, regardless of the accusations, Pekan Gawai Dayak has proven to have a positive impact on sustaining, while at the same time, expandingthe Dayak culture through West Kalimantan. It  has encouraged the preservation of the Dayak culture and is also a promotion tool for  tourism to  the area. Moreover, as a potential economic activity, Pekan Gawai Dayak will also provide positive contribution to the community and surrounding areas.

Regardless of the various political issues, Pekan Gawai Dayak receives the support from theDayak cultural community as their activities are concerned with the preservation of local culture. Sekberkesda itself gains support from approximately 23 groups which represent the Dayak sub-tribes around Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

Traditional Gawai Dayak and Pekan Gawai Dayak

The Gawai Dayak post-harvest tradition includes a series of rituals performed in gratitude to Jubata (God) for the abundance of harvest. Implementation of Gawai Dayak traditionally takes up to three months, which usually falls from April to June. Performers involved in the ceremony wear traditional costume and ornaments such as beads and silver handicrafts.

Held in advance of the GawaiDayak ceremony is Ngampar Bide. This ceremony is performed only before  the implementation of Gawai Dayak and is usually held at Betang Panjang, the traditional long houses in West Kalimantan. The aim of Ngampar Bide is to petition for a smooth execution of the entire Gawai Dayak ceremony, for it to go smoothly and without any interruptions. In Ngampar Bide itself, there are a series of steps, namely Nyangahathn manta’ (a chanted prayer / mantra), before the rest of the ceremony is performed to  the final stage, which is a ritual offering of Buis(traditional offering) to Jubata and the ancestors.

Nyangahatn manta' is divided into three parts, namely Matik,a sort of notification ceremony to the Awa Pama or ancestral spirits and Jubata about the upcoming ceremony, Ngalantekatn, asking for the safety for all involved in the ceremonies, and Mibis, a purification ritual. During the nyangahatn manta’ ceremony, an offering is made and is usually a substance that has not been cooked (manta).

The following ceremony is called Ngadap Buis. At this stage, an offering (Buis) is made, in the form of cooked food and presented to Jubata and the ancestral spirits, as an expression of thankfulness.

Ngampar Bide is attended by all Dayak tribe leaders who also play a role in the Gawai Dayak preparations.  They discuss the preparation, completion, and conduct of the main event, which is a petition for Jubata’s protection and blessing on the entire ceremony.Following Ngampar Bide is Gulung Bide (mat rolling), which marks the end of the ceremony.

Pekan Gawai Dayak is a more modern version of Gawai Dayak. It includes a series of ceremonies mentioned above but within a shorter time period.This ceremony is performed in one weeks’ time, as opposed to three months as is the traditional Gawai Dayak ceremony. It is conducted every 20th of May as directed by the former Governor of West Kalimantan, Kadarusno. This week-long event is not only enlivened by ritual ceremonies but a range of art activities are held that showcase traditions from the whole of Kalimantan.

Cultural seminars and traditional dance performances will usually mark the start of the Pekan Gawai Dayak. There are also special attractions of Dayak culture such as seeing traditional games. There is also a wide variety of stands which offer a variety of cultural products unique to the Dayak culture, such as handicrafts, art products, and traditional Dayak food. There are also a number of races and competitions which last the entire week of Pekan Gawai Dayak, for example, traditional cooking competitions, and other exciting events.

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Gawai Dayak: Dayak Tribe Harvest Ceremony in West Kalimantan

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