In Sarawak Gawai Dayak – as it calls by the Iban or elou pesavik or Bungan among the Punan festival is celebrated every June 1. Similar to the Tadau Kaamatan festival in Sabah, Gawai is a festival related to successful rice paddy harvest.
There is a slight difference between the Iban’s Gawai and Punan’s pesavik evolves to become known as Bungan after 1960. Among the Punan pesavik is celebrated only after bountiful harvest season – poor harvest means no pesavik festival that year.
It not always celebrated on June 1. Prior to 1980s before the standardization of the date to June 1, it was celebrated in between February to May – right after rice paddy harvest is done by the Punan.
However, as many Punan had became Christianity, Muslim Pesavik festival gradually relegated to a minor festivity – compare to Christmas. Nowadays, it is only celebrated by the Punan in Rejang basin – Punan Bah, Sama and Biau villages.
Gawai Dayak festival was formally gazetted by the Government as public holidays on Sept. 25, 1964 and the first official festival was on June 1, 1965. Gawai Dayak festival thereafter become a symbol of unity of the diverse Dayak community in Sarawak.
The preparations for the Gawai celebrations begin days before the the actual day, first by brewing the potent rice wine known as tuak or burak. Homemade cakes – kueh jala, penyarom, teleguk, telupi are done few days before June 1.
On the evening of May 31, among the Iban, a ceremony called Muai Antu Rua to cast away the spirit of greediness, bad luck spirits during the celebrations.
Two children or men each dragging a chapan (winnowing basket) will pass each family’s room in the Iban longhouse with each family throwing unwanted articles into the
Among the Punan the actual ceremony start on June 1, starting with ‘bepela’ – or blessing and prayers for good harvest, health and prosperity. Then ‘bepela’ at each bilek. In the evening – is the feast – dinner of good lucks.
Today, the celebration gets merrier with people dancing to modern and traditional music. This is the best time to visit a longhouse as every Dayak home will be open to visitors.
The tradition is called ngabang guests will be feasted to varieties of foods and drink the potent tuak or burak. The official holidays is only for two days, but the celebratory moods may last up to several weeks.