KUALA LUMPUR, 7 January 2021: Malaysia’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, has recommended that Sabah’s Kaamatan and Sarawak’s Gawai festival holidays be included the Cuti-Cuti Malaysia programme that encourages domestic travel.
First reported in Star Online, the proposed listing of the two harvest festivals would draw more tourists and help to put the two festivals on the tourism map.
The Kaamatan Festival, also known as the Harvest Festival, is a month-long celebration of the ethnic Kadazandusun, Murut and Rungus communities in Sabah that begins in May and culminates on 30 to 31 May. The Gawai Festival in Sarawak state is celebrated 31 May to 1 June.
In Sabah, Kaamatan or Pesta Kaamatan marks the thanksgiving for a good harvest. It is mainly celebrated by the ethnic Kadazan-Dusuns, as well as by other related ethnic groups in the state, and lasts for the whole of the month of May, ending with a public holiday on a date selected by a priestess known as the ‘Bobohizan’.
A beauty pageant, known as ‘Unduk Ngadau’, marks the close of the harvest festival. There is also a dance performance called the Sumazau, a singing contest called Sugandoi, a bodybuilding competition, and other arts and crafts performances. Contests such as hitting the gong and folk sports have also become one of the main events in this festival.
Popular drinks during the festival are ‘Tapai’ and ‘Kinomol’, which is a traditional ‘Alak’ drink. Tapai is drunk from a small bamboo vessel or from special glasses crafted from bamboo.
Gawai Dayak Sarawak
Known locally as ‘Gawai Dayak’ the annual festival is celebrated by the Dayak people in Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan, Indonesia. It is a public holiday in Sarawak and recognised as a religious and a social occasion since 1957.
The annual ritual festival involves longhouses planting extra paddy ahead of the celebrations, some of which is used to brew the traditional Dayak rice liquor called ‘Tuak’. It is brewed at least one month before the Gawai Dayak festival gets underway.
Traditional cake delicacies are prepared from glutinous rice flour mixed with sugar. The cakes include ‘Sarang Semut’ (ant nest cake), ‘Suwan’ (moulded cake) and ‘Kuih Sepit’ (twisted cake).
In the days leading up to the Gawai eve, longhouse residents may organise a hunting or fishing trips to gather wild meats and fish. Both can be preserved with salt in a jar or smoked over a firewood platform grill.