Gawai Nyebang, a unique tradition of border village folks

By Robert Kenneth
KUCHING: Residents of Kampung Gumbang, a border village near Serikin, about 50km south west from here, had a unique way to celebrate Gawai which this year had been hampered again by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Calling themselves Bigumbang Bidayuh, they are the only community that celebrates ‘Gawai Nyebang’ or a traditional celebration after the harvesting season, by organising ritual offerings to appease Kamang, their holy spirit.
This celebration is also called ‘Gawai Baruk’, said the village chief Atok Derop, 60, where the Gawai ritual would be held at the ‘baruk’ or Bidayuh ceremonial house which in the past was used to keep skulls belonging to enemies during the head-hunting era but now functioned as a place for community gathering.
Being a settlement located close to the Malaysia-Indonesia border, it had been a tradition for them during this festival to receive or visit folks of neighbouring villages in Indonesia’s West Kalimantan every year, but not for the last two years.
Actually we plan to invite a Bidayuh cultural troupe from Desa Umbo in Bengkawan, West Kalimantan to visit us for Gawai celebration but (the plan had to be) cancelled due to the pandemic,” he said when contacted by Bernama.
Atok said that as far as he could recall, Kampung Gumbang villagers had visited West Kalimantan’s settlements of Desa Senebe in 2013 and Desa Tangguh in 2015 with their last Gawai trip across the border was made in 2019, as their counterparts reciprocated by visiting them in between the years.
As border crossing had been prohibited since the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) as a measure to contain COVID-19, the visits had ceased but failed to dampen the spirit of the Kampung Gumbang folks to celebrate Gawai Nyebang.
To continue fulfilling their traditional obligations for the festival while adhering to the MCO’s standard operating procedures (SOPs), only Atok and the village’s celebration chief Anyan Jikan, along with several committee members were involved in the ritual.
Minus the usual long hours of festive merry making and big gathering, it started in the late afternoon on the first day of Gawai with traditional prayers at the Baruk, followed by a chicken being slaughtered and cooked in bamboo before being served to those present.
“By 7 pm everything was done. We observed the SOPs but what is important is we still can celebrate (Gawai) and pray for peace at the occasion,” he added.

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