Gawai Dayak

1 - 2 Jun 2018
Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Get ready to party Bornean style with Sarawak's annual end-of-harvest festival, that sees the region come alive with celebration, merry-making and feasting.

If you like your home brew stronger than an ox on steroids, then look no further than Sarawak's Gawai Dayak or Hari Gawai celebration held every year. Officially for two days, the region comes alive for more like a fortnight with dancing, feasting and festivities, all fuelled by the locally produced rice wine.

The world Dayak refers to the hundreds of different ethnic groups of indigenous peoples that live in the region, such as the Ibans and Bidayuhs. Celebrating the end of harvest season, the festival has religious and social roots; towns and communities all celebrate together with singing and traditional dancing in the streets, reunited with those who work in cities who tend to return for the occasion. A winnowing basket makes its way past each family members room and unwanted items are thrown onto it. Disposing of these articles from the house placates the spirit of bad luck and a cockerel is often sacrificed for good measure, a throwback to the ceremonies headhunting origins.

Cockfighting and blowpipe demonstrations are typical of Gawai Dayak but one of the most popular traditions (that occurs in the month leading up to Gawai Dayak) is the preparation of potent tuak (rice wine). Fermentation is achieved by mixing glutinous rice from the harvest gone with home-made yeast. If that doesn't get you in the party mood, then the stronger langkau will. This is made by fermenting tuak further and then heating and collecting the condensed liquid as a purer, stronger liquor.

The dancing is nearly as wild as the consumption of wine. Females dress elaborately in meshed, overlapping fabrics. The flashing colours and top heavy headdresses are completed with bracelets and earrings. It is common for male dancers to dress in Gagung, a thick, hard armour made of animal skin and decorate themselves with bird feathers. Musicians beat the dedumba drum and gongs as dancers form a circle and jump to the throbbing beats. At the stroke of midnight, a gong is struck, a toast is made and everyone wishes each other long life, health and prosperity (gayu-guru, gerai-nyamai).

Dancing in the streets, boozing on wine and feasting with friends and family... yep, it's basically the Dayak's version of Christmas. Tuak and langkau is not for the faint-hearted so at the very least don't forget the painkillers for the morning after.

  • Get there: Fly to Kuching International Airport which is in the Sarawak region. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak and the centre is only a short drive from the airport.
  • Stay: Base yourself somewhere like Kuching for extravagant festivities, or head to Bintulu further along the coast (you'll need to fly there separately).

*We do our very best to verify the dates of our events but please check with the official event provider before booking your flights. We would hate for you to be disappointed!