Quiet but fun Gawai for some amidst Covid-19 situation, how’s yours?

Nelly Paya (second right) with her son's family members celebrating Gawai Dayak at their house in Padawan.

By Nur Ashikin Louis

KUCHING, June 6: It is another year of a quiet Gawai Dayak celebration this year due to the alarming Covid-19 situation nationwide.

The wish to have a big celebration this time around to make up for last year’s moderate Gawai could not be fulfilled, again, as the people have to focus on observing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to curb the spread of Covid-19 infection.

All the activities that the Dayak community were looking forward to such as ‘balik kampung’, ngabang (visiting), rituals, taking part in traditional performances, family dinner and so on, were either prohibited or altered to ensure strict compliance with the SOPs.

However, this does not dampen the spirit of the Dayaks to continue celebrating Gawai in a moderate manner as people have started to shift Gawai celebration online.


Many posted photos of themselves and their family wearing their Gawai outfit on social media, exchanging Gawai wishes and greetings as well as holding the annual beauty pageant virtually to choose the festival’s queen and king (Kumang and Keling Gawai).

Sarawak Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) chief Supt Maria Rasid said she did not return to her village, Kampung Bogag in Bau for this year’s Gawai as her family chose to celebrate at their home in Kuching.

Supt Maria Rasid celebrates this year’s Gawai with her family at their home in Kuching.

“We shared our celebration online through Google Meet with my siblings, in-law and nephews.

“I wouldn’t say that it was a boring Gawai for my children because they had fun meeting their cousins through Google Meet.

“Despite no ‘ngabang’ rule, we (Maria’s family) all woke up early to cook our food like ayam pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo) and other dishes just enough for own consumption,” she said.

A retired school teacher Nelly Paya, 67, said this year’s Gawai festival was a very quiet affair as she celebrated with her son’s family, while four members of her family – husband and three daughters in Peninsular Malaysia were unable to be back to celebrate with them in their kampung in Padawan.

But despite that, she said the celebration still went on as she was able to connect with her husband and daughters through video calls and Google Meet.

“We cooked authentic Bidayuh dishes but did not have open house or go for ‘ngabang’ since it is not safe to have social gatherings during this pandemic.

“And despite the Movement Control Order (MCO) that has been imposed on the nation which restricts from celebrating with the families in the kampung, my family here still made an effort to make our celebration meaningful to the kids,” she said.

Nelly said lives had been badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic but stressed that everyone must learn to adapt to the new normal and try to follow the SOP with the hope that by doing so, it can help flatten the curve of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Jane Dripin, 56, did not deny that she misses the physical closeness with cousins, aunts, uncles and friends during the Gawai celebration.

Jane Dripin (seated) poses for a photograph with her son Kabir Edward Dhaliwal and daughter Farrah Anne Dhaliwal clad in traditional costumes on the first day of Gawai this year.

“However, I do understand that forgoing the closeness and visits this year gives me the hope and I pray that I can look to begawai (celebrating Gawai) in the future with the full family gatherings again,” said Jane.

She said this year, her family celebrated quietly with a luncheon with her two ageing parents, her sister and her two young adult children.

Jane added that she was grateful that her son made it home from the university when it was announced that classes would be conducted online, way before the rise in infections.

“We sent and received Gawai greetings from my two sisters, Christina in Erfurt, Germany and Jessie, in Montreal, Canada and we also video call with my close cousins in the kampung in Penrissen.

“We also received and sent safe and healthy Gawai wishes to all our Dayak family members and friends via the WhatsApp messages on our phones and watched Gawai Dayak festivals of previous years on YouTube.

“We spent it in reflecting on the meaning of living life in gratefulness that I am still alive to enjoy a different kind of Gawai this year and those medical frontliners are always on my mind and in my heart and I celebrated Gawai for them by staying safe at home,” Jane concluded. — DayakDaily