Everything you need to know about Gawai Dayak

Selamat Ari Gawai!


By Buro Malaysia

TEXT: BENEDICT UNANG & MARISSA CHIN | Featured images: @tourismmalaysiade / Instagram
Everything you need to know about Gawai Dayak

As this month concludes, there’s just one thing left on the list that hasn’t been ticked off—Gawai Dayak! If you don’t already know, Gawai Dayak is an annual celebration held in Sarawak by the indigenous community to honour food harvested on the land. Read on to find out more about the fun-filled cultural festival and where to celebrate the occasion.


What is Gawai Dayak, and why is it celebrated? 

Gawai Dayak, also known as Hari Gawai, is a traditional festival celebrated by the Dayak ethnic groups—the Ibans and Bidayuhs—primarily in Sarawak. The Dayak people used to kick off the celebrations after the harvest season in April or May, but it was marked formally and gazetted as a public holiday in 1964, with the festivities lasting up to a month. 

Essentially, Gawai Dayak is observed to mark the end of the harvest season and to express gratitude to the Gods or petara for all the harvests received during the season. Aside from that, it is also a day to celebrate the spirit of the harvest to ensure that they will continue to get blessings in the future. 



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What preparations are needed to celebrate Gawai Dayak?

The Dayak tribes usually start their preparations for the auspicious celebration about a month in advance, with the older generation brewing tuak, commonly known as rice wine. And, of course, what would a celebration be without food? Whether you favour sweet or savoury delicacies, there is always something for everyone! Traditional feasts such as penyaram—a snack sweetened with palm sugar, kuih cuan—a Malaysian version of honeycomb cookies, and kuih sarang semut—a delicacy that resembles an ant nest—are often prepared by the ladies. 

Meanwhile, meat braised in soy sauce, glutinous rice roasted in bamboo, and manuk pansuh—chicken cooked in freshly-cut bamboo stalks—are popular savoury dishes. Nearing the much-anticipated festival, the longhouse will also be decked with the ‘Ranyai’ tree, which will be set up in the middle of ruai—a communal area in the longhouse—and decorated by the longhouse community with a range of products, including fruits, snacks, and canned drinks. 



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How is Gawai Dayak celebrated?

On the eve of Gawai, the Iban community that still practises folk religion will hold miring—a thanksgiving and blessing ceremony to honour their gods, spirits, and deceased ancestors before having a feast together in ruai. At the stroke of midnight, everyone will take a sip of tuak, but first, they will say “Ooohaa” to let others know that the celebrations have begun. To make the occasion more lively, ngetas ranyai will be carried out—where guests and a member from each household take turns doing the Ngajat dance around the tree before picking up all the goods hanging from the tree.  



What are the things to do to enjoy the festive atmosphere? 

Pageant events such as ‘Kumang Gawai’ and ‘Keling Gawai’ will take place throughout the month to build excitement before the celebration. As with any cultural pageant, the contestants are assessed based on their knowledge of the culture and traditions, in addition to their physical appearance. What is equally significant is the traditional attire they wear, as well as the accessories they adorn during the event. 



Much like Raya or Chinese New Year, Gawai Dayak is also celebrated by visiting each other’s homes. This practice is known as ngabang, and it’s just the perfect time to catch up with family and friends! Plus, if you have Dayak friends and want to wish them well, you can say, “Selamat Ari Gawai, Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai,” which translates to, “May you live long and have good health.”


Where can we celebrate Gawai Dayak?

Now that you know all there is to know about the cultural festival, it’s time to immerse yourself in its rich heritage by attending Gawai events happening all around the Klang Valley! Find them below.


Gawai The Fest

When: 31 May and 1 June 2024, 5pm till late

Where: The Pirates Club

Price: Free entry

Expect a vibrant celebration of culture, tradition and community at Gawai The Fest, where highlights include traditional dance shows, sumpit (blowpipe) challenges, a fire show, a lucky draw with prizes and more.

Follow The Pirates Club on Instagram for more information and RSVP at +6011-2672 6363.


Bazaar Gawai


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When: 1 and 2 June 2024, 11am to 7pm

Where: The School, Jaya One

Price: Free entry

Peruse unique and remarkable Sawarakian creations in art, crafts and gastronomy at The School’s Bazaar Gawai where many handmade accessories, tantalising desserts, tuak, vendors offering hand-poke tattoos, and more await.

Follow Bazaar Bustle on Instagram for the latest updates.


Rumah Asap At Kampung Attap


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When: 8 June 2024, 6:30pm to 10pm

Where: Triptyk, 88 Jalan Tuba

Price: RM198 per person

In collaboration with Ethnic Sarawak Night, F&B collective Triptyk is hosting a mouth-watering four-course barbecue experience showcasing traditional Sawakian smokehouse cuisine. Merging the BBQ culture of a Dayak Rumah Asap in a smoke-imbued menu of festival delicacies, indulge in an authentic Sawarakian gastronomic journey as you get up close and personal with ancient cooking methods such as live fire cooking and cooking in bamboo stems. 

Reserve your spot here.


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