June 1, 2011

For the Guests and Well Wishers - a Gawai Feast

First of June


lst June was originally designated as a state cultural holiday for the various Dayak ethnic population which formed the majority group of the diverse demography of Sarawak in 1962. Ever since then the Gawai (now a public holiday) has been celebrated at various levels. At one time there was even the National Level Gawai celebration in as far away places like Kuala Lumpur!!

However this year Gawai seems to be celebrated amongs the Dayaks in a very low keyed manner.

Food is essentially the most important part of any festival. For the Ibans in the longhouse the women would be busy preparing their own items while the men would be in charge of the barbeque-ing be it fish or meat. If the hunters are lucky and they come home with some wild meat or even snakes the festival would be merrier.


The women folk would make this leave wrapped rice to go with the meat and vegetables. This is easier to manage than lemang which requires chopping of bamboo (pansor bamboo) The leaves would become the instant and disposable "party plate". Every one would use hands to eat so there would be not much trouble in washing of forks and spoons.

Today more and more Iban housewives are serving ikan patin or terubok to their guests. Notice the forks at the side of the serving plate.


Guests would arrive in batches. First the young children would arrive and they would be most happy to be served with ice cold Pepsi.

A group of older men would then come to pay respect to the grandfather who would be happy to receive them in the kitchen and have coffee and some biscuits. Later several different groups of young men who have come from the town would arrive and have a great "visit" which included some offerings of home made rice wine. Each would be offered a small glass which they could reject if they preferred. But most would finish the strong tuak at a single gulp.

The ladies would come in their groups of five or six. Some are bigger in size.

Then the married couples would also make an appearance.

Ngabang or visitation here in Ulu Limbang seem to be very gender and age oriented.






The local vegetable known as Buah Ensaya (buah kundor or Winter Melon)  is a favourite dish. cut into small pieces a guest would take a piece of the vegetable to eat with the rice. The leaf becomes the "plate".



This is barbequed meat cut into small pieces for easy handling.


This is a popular small fish and is finger food (finger size too)


Cucumber leaves (stir fried) is nice with a heavy dosage of barbequed meat and fish.


Special gingered and vinegared pork leg (Chinese and Iban fusion cuisine) has appeared in Ulu Limbang...and is well received.

The ever popular bamboo chicken was gone in no time.

The ubiquitous pantu slices cooked with a generous amount of onions and ikan bilis. This can be cooked in the bamboo or in a huge pot. A pantu tree is cut a day before and the cook will trim the stems for the heart of the palm to produce a delectable palm heart stew which is both healthy and organic.

When all the cooked food is gone the dried tit bits bought in the town would appear in their trays.

Everyone is welcome to visit a longhouse Gawai and no one will be turned away...in fact in Iban adat there is no such thing as an uninvited guest (unless he or she has committed an offence according to the adat but even then when a Gawai is being celebrated it is a time for communal peace and joy).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

wow that all looks so amazing thanks for posting the pictures. good to know that tradition is alive and well. it's all in the food and good for the soul.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Anonymous...traditions must be kept to a certain extent and good food is definitely good for the soul.

I definitely think that some traditional food is good for the soul and the body.

Ann said...

These day, people eat a lot of leaves and tendrils. Next time, if I plant some cucumber, I must try some. Oh deal. e coli, My son was happy to grow some organic veg with me. if only it is not winter.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes...with e.coli floating around we must eat a lot of vegs....I almost bought some beansprouts today....and then I held myself back.

Do you know how to grow your own beansprouts?

My son and your son are learning fast.

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