Gawai Dayak in Malaysia

Gawai Dayak, also known as "Hari Gawai" in the local language, is a significant cultural festival celebrated in Malaysia. This vibrant event is primarily observed by the Dayak people, which includes the Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, and other indigenous groups in Sarawak, Malaysia. Gawai Dayak is a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to strengthen the bonds of unity within the community.

Gawai Dayak is celebrated annually on the 1st and 2nd of June. While the date remains constant each year, the festivities and preparations leading up to the event may begin weeks in advance.


The origin of Gawai Dayak can be traced back to the pre-Christian era when indigenous communities in Sarawak practiced animism and relied heavily on agriculture, particularly rice cultivation. The festival was initially a form of thanksgiving to the gods for a successful harvest. With the arrival of Christianity in the 19th century, Gawai Dayak took on new significance, merging both religious and cultural elements.

The first official Gawai Dayak celebration took place on June 1, 1965, after the community leaders in Sarawak, including Datuk Michael Buma and Temenggong Jugah, campaigned for the recognition of the indigenous people's customs and traditions. The Malaysian government eventually declared Gawai Dayak as a public holiday in Sarawak, and it has since become a major event in the Malaysian cultural calendar.


National customs for Gawai Dayak in Malaysia

Gawai Dayak is marked by a variety of customs and rituals, which are observed by the Dayak people across Sarawak. One of the most important aspects of the celebration is the preparation and sharing of traditional food and drinks, such as "tuak" (rice wine) and "pansuh" (meat or fish cooked in bamboo). These dishes are often prepared communally and shared among family members, friends, and neighbors.

The festival also involves the performance of traditional dances, such as the "ngajat," which is accompanied by the music of gongs, drums, and other indigenous instruments. Traditional attire, featuring colorful beadwork and intricate patterns, is worn during these performances and throughout the celebrations.

Another significant custom is the practice of "miring," a ritual offering made to the gods, ancestors, and spirits to seek their blessings for a prosperous year ahead. This ceremony is often led by a village elder or shaman and involves the offering of food, drinks, and other symbolic items.

Local customs for Gawai Dayak in Malaysia

While the overall theme of Gawai Dayak remains consistent across Sarawak, local customs and practices may vary between different indigenous groups and regions. For example, in some Iban communities, a ritual called "muai antu rua" is performed to ward off bad luck and evil spirits from the previous year. This involves symbolically sweeping the house and disposing of the collected dirt and ashes in a nearby river.

In Bidayuh communities, a ceremony known as "ngetas ulih" is held to mark the beginning of the Gawai Dayak festivities. During this ritual, a ceremonial pole is erected in the village to symbolize the bridge between the mortal world and the realm of the gods.


Gawai Dayak is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of the indigenous Dayak people in Malaysia. This annual event brings together communities to give thanks for a successful harvest, share traditional food and drink, and participate in various customs and rituals. As a symbol of unity and cultural pride, Gawai Dayak continues to thrive as an essential aspect of Malaysian cultural identity.