A merry Gawai at Rh Entalau
By Patricia Hului
RUMAH ENTALAU, ULU SKRANG is like any other Iban longhouse in Sarawak; the permanent occupants are mostly middle-aged to elderly citizens making living out of the surrounding land and rivers and the not-so permanent occupants come back during the funerals, weddings, Christmas and of course Gawai.
This year’s Gawai Dayak was no different.
Families and friends of the 24-room longhouse of Rh Entalau made their way back to the longhouse because there was food to be cooked, booze to be served, songs to be sung and ngajat to be danced.
The mode of celebration for Gawai Dayak is different from place to place.
In some longhouses or villages, Gawai is celebrated with additional activities such as a drag queen contest, sports activities and the village’s own league of beauty pageants or Kumang Gawai.
At Rh Entalau, the party started on Gawai eve with food served at the ‘ruai’ or common area in the longhouse.
After everybody was well fed, the entertainment began with the ngajat is performed around the tree of life called ‘ranyai’.
Since their conversion to Christianity, the residents of Rh Entalau stopped practicing the ‘miring’ ceremony more than ten years ago. Fifteen minutes before the clock struck midnight, prayer leaders took over the mike and prayed for a good celebration and year ahead.
At midnight, everyone held up their glasses ready to drink ‘ai pengayu’ after which the residents and visitors of Rh Entalau shook hands and hugged wishing each other ‘Selamat Ari Gawai’.
The next morning, the house-visiting or ‘ngabang’ begins.
While some longhouses select a ‘Tuai Gawai’ and the food is prepared and served by that host for the year, Rh Entalau practices a quaint tradition where each ‘pintu’ is visited, from the first to the last. Each pintu has prepared a range of food for their guests, ranging from pork, deer or wild boar.
Besides that, there were shoots, pansuh, glutinous rice, kuih sepit, roti jala and if one is feeling adventurous, some exotic meat such as ‘munsang’.
A day of merry-making and drinking in Gawai ends when the entourage finally reaches the final 24th door of the longhouse.
During the Gawai season, the ruai becomes a dining hall, dance floor, jamming studio and karaoke lounge combined. With music filling the air, the dance floor is never empty, with people breaking into ‘ngajat’ during the house-visiting session, or breaking out into a ‘joget’ at the ‘ruai’.
Besides the beating rhythm of ‘bertabuh’ and borrowed ‘sape’ music, more modern tunes were also played during the festivity including a ‘rami’ must-have song, Andrewson Ngalai’s ‘Berkikis Bulu Betis’.
All of the songs have one thing in common; they are meant to move everyone’s dancing bones.