Gawai Antu preserved in film documentary for generations to come

A screenshot of Gawai Antu producer and director Loo Shun Ming delivering her speech during the documentary’s launching ceremony at the Borneo Cultures Museum via Ukas Facebook’s live stream today (Sept 20, 2022).

By Yee Mei and Ashley Sim

KUCHING, Sept 20: Gawai Antu is a festival celebrated by the Iban community in Sarawak to honour the spirits of the dead and is now preserved as a film documentary for future generations.

Loo Shun Ming, the documentary’s producer and director, said that Gawai Antu opens up the spirit world to the Iban.

“For us, the filmmaker, it opens up the world of imagination,” he explained.

“The story centres around the Jabu family organising Gawai Antu in the Gensurai longhouse in Betong, Sarawak. We were told that Gawai Antu might only be revealed to the Iban once in a lifetime.

“Yet, as I spent more time with the Jabu family and the locals, it struck me that I was in the middle of a bigger story.

“From shooting, scriptwriting, editing, and even music and colour grading, my team and I felt like we were straddling two worlds — the spirit world and the human world,” she said during the documentary’s launching ceremony at the Borneo Cultures Museum which was streamed live on Sarawak Public Communication Unit’s (Ukas) Facebook page today.

She added that it took them 14 days to shoot in Betong and Gensurai longhouse and another ten days to film B-rolls (supplemental or alternative footage intercut with the main shot).

“In post-production, we sifted through hundreds of hours of footage, hundreds of pages of transcriptions, and an abundance of information.

She elaborated that ‘Gawai Antu’ is a story about the pride of the living Ibans, who are the guardians of their rich cultures and identity, a story about the mythical world in the jungles of Borneo, and about respect and unity between the living and the dead.

“Once, the Ibans were known as feared headhunters. Today, in a way, they are still headhunters, but they are headhunting the right people to continue their stories.

“My team members and I were happily being headhunted by Datuk Patinggi (Tan Sri) Alfred Jabu and Tan Sri Empiang (Tan Sri Datuk Sri Empiang Jabu) to work on this very meaningful project. They have given us tremendous support and creative freedom in everything we do — our greatest gratitude and appreciation to Datuk Patinggi Alfred Jabu and Tan Sri Empiang,” she said.

She also thanked executive producer Barbara Dubah Jabu, Temenggong Richard Mulok, former Temenggong Nunong, Major Riman PGB, Bandang Numpang for advising the most complex ritual and cultural protocols, Susie Wong who took up one of the most challenging roles in the film, all the characters in the film, director of photography Tang Keng Hong, scriptwriter Allan Baddock, Martyn Gillman for audio post, Nick Atkinson for voiceover, and everyone who has involved directly or indirectly in the making of ‘Gawai Antu’.

“Last but not least, to the Gensurai longhouse community, this film is specially dedicated to you.

“The personal journey of mine has taught me many life lessons. If I may leave you with some thoughts: Who are we without culture? Who are we without stories? Who are we without identity?”

The film documentary was officially launched by Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

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