Gawai – A Dayak Desa Harvest Ceremony Using Traditional Textiles

Thalu Lius

Thalu Lius is from the ethnic group Dayak Desa in West Kalimantan. Lius has been working as field staff in Kalimantan for Threads of Life since 2010. Lius is working with Dayak traditional natural dye weavers and basket makers. He comes to Bali twice a year to meet with the Threads of Life team and this year we had the opportunity to learn about the use of tradtional textiles in Dayak ceremonies.

The gawai ceremony occurs every year and is bound to bring family members back to their traditional long houses and homes. Many young people work in the bigger cities or on other islands, but will always find a way to return for this rice harvest ceremony.

Returning home for gawai despite flooding

Pua Kumbu are hung during the gawai harvest festival

Gawai is a cermonial time where one may see many traditional textiles used in different ceremonies. Within a traditional long house (rumah panjang) many different families live in what are called biliks. Large blankets (pua kumbu) are hung on the walls of each individual bilik. Women wear their best textiles, often the decorated beaded tating, and men wear textiles made into vests along with a headscarf called an angkolas.

During the gawai ceremony sumpit (blowpipe) are tied to the sandung (altar) using a traditional bidang textile containing the ruit nyandik pattern (blowpipe motif). One or more sandung stands in front of each traditional house. Ceremonies that may occur during gawai other than the ngamaik semangat padi (rice harvest ceremony) include: asah gigi or tooth filing ceremony as a rite of puberty, ngemaik manik or ritual first bathing of a newborn and netak buok or the first haircut of a young child. For all of these ceremonies offerings must be made using newly harvested rice that is pounded by women wearing traditional dress of tating in a ritual called begendang.

Ritual pounding of newly harvested rice called bedangang wearing tating textile

Traditional textiles wrap the cupai or harvest baskets containing symbols of the rice seed

From the newly harvested rice, a symbol of the seed is created and used as part of a series of ceremonies that strengthen and purify the seed so that it will be strong and plentiful in the season to come. Traditional textiles (bidang) wrap the harvest baskets (cupai) from the head of each family group and offerings are made to the rice spirit.

With hopes of the rice seed being healthy – a ceremony called perau semengat padi is performed whereby a miniature boat (perau pekejang) is covered with a textile (bidang) and set upon a traditional textile (bidang).

A miniature boat is used in the perau semengat padi

The perau pekejang or boat covered with and placed on traditional textiles

During the perau semengat padi ceremony, a boat (perau pekejang) becomes the medium or vehicle for taking “on board” all negative factors – both from natural and social settings – that may affect the health of the seed. The boat is taken around to each household where a symbol of the rice seed is placed and offerings are made. It is believed that all negative energy will be carried by the boat and dispersed in the sea. Following this purification, the spirit of the rice seed can be evoked to protect the next season’s plants.