Abang Johari: Gawai Antu, other indigenous festivals provide avenue for cultural education

Abang Johari delivering his speech at the event. Screenshot: Ukas livestream

By Ashley Sim and Yee Mei

KUCHING, Sept 20: The ‘Gawai Antu’ (Iban Ghost Festival) is an important link for Sarawak to the outside world, as indigenous festivals of many ethnic groups in Sarawak provide important avenues for cultural education for those from abroad, said Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

Abang Johari stated this today at a documentary film launch on the Gawai Antu festival held at the Borneo Cultures Museum here.

“This documentary serves to refresh my memory of an unforgettable experience when my wife, Datin Patinggi Puan Sri Datuk Amar Hajah Juma’ani, and I were invited to the Gawai Antu celebration at Gensurai Layar longhouse in Betong on Dec 2, 2018.

“I can remember vividly that there was a large and joyous crowd of a few thousand people attending the ceremony,” he mentioned.

He went on to say that the documentary is an exemplary effort by former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu and his family to document the celebration in order to preserve it in a medium that the Iban community’s younger generations and others outside the community can view.

“This is a tremendous effort that should be emulated by our various ethnic communities in Sarawak to seriously preserve their cultural heritage by recording them and storing them digitally that can be retrieved for viewing and for various other purposes by the future generations,” he added.

Furthermore, Abang Johari noted that Alfred Jabu informed him that the Ibans held the unique Gawai Antu celebrations to accord the highest form of respect, appreciation, and honour to their forefathers, relatives, or ancestors who had worked hard during their lifetime to ensure a good and decent life for those who came after them.

“I was told that the preparation for such an event is steeped in rituals according to the Iban belief system that may differ from region to region.

“But what struck me deeply was how the celebration, as I saw it happened, was that the merriment has been an effective platform for intra and inter-cultural interactions as Iban communities from other longhouses and places, including from overseas, joined in the celebration, while others from other communities also came around as friends to appreciate this unique aspect of the Iban community,” he pointed out.

Moreover, he acknowledged that the documentary has provided an important medium for showcasing Sarawak’s diverse socio-cultural aspects, which can be shared and appreciated by people living outside of Sarawak.

“The official launching of this morning’s screening of the documentary is probably the first of such initiatives by Borneo Cultures Museum to share with the general public and the world at large, this beautiful aspect of the Iban community’s culture.

“I understand that following this official launch there will be one or two occasions for screenings as permitted by Borneo Cultures Museum to share the uniqueness of this rare festival with a wider audience and cultural enthusiasts,” he remarked.

Abang Johari also highlighted that the entire longhouse and the people of Gensurai Layar, Betong should be commended for successfully organising the celebration, which has now been fully documented and preserved in high quality digital format.

Also present were Abang Johari’s wife, Datin Amar Juma’ani Tuanku Bujang, Deputy Premier of Sarawak Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and wife Datin Amar Doreen Mayang, State Legislative Assembly (DUN) Speaker Tan Sri Datuk Amar Mohammad Asfia Awang Nassar and wife Datin Amar Fatimah Mohamad Iskandar, former Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu and wife Tan Sri Datuk Sri Empiang Jabu, and Minister for Tourism, Creative Industry, and Performing Arts Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah and wife Datin Zuraini Abdul Jabbar. — DayakDaily