Selamat Hari Gawai to Malaysians celebrating this auspicious occasion! This year, PrestigeOnline Malaysia speaks to Miss Universe Malaysia 2020, Francisca Luhong James.
In 2021, Malaysia was not able to carry out the 2021 Miss Universe Malaysia competition due to the pandemic — resulting in a withdrawal at the 70th Miss Universe pageant. However, this year things are definitely looking up — the Top 15 Finalists are inching closer to the gala event where 2022’s Miss Universe Malaysia is set to be crowned.
As the first Dayak woman to win the title of Miss Universe Malaysia, Francisca’s identity set her apart from the contestants back in 2020. In fact, she was the only finalist from Sarawak. In celebration of the momentous occasion, we speak to the beauty queen herself to see how she marks the day with her loved ones.
Also known as Gawai Dayak, the day is celebrated annually as both a social and religious occasion, as a thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest and to mark the new farming season. Days before Hari Gawai, everyone will be busy with tidying up and decorating their houses to welcome guests, visiting the graves of loved ones, paddy drying and milling, as well as preparing food for the festivities. At least one month before the thanksgiving day, the traditional Dayak liquor tuak (rice wine) is brewed.
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At dinner, the family sits down for dinner in the gallery area of the longhouse, with each family member contributing to the mix. Like many other family occasions, the best festive dishes and delicacies take centre stage.
After the meal, the celebration becomes less formal. Now, a tree of life or ranyai is erected at the centre of the gallery. Performances of the ngajat dance, sword dance (bepencha) or self-defence martial art (bekuntau) take place around the tree of life.
Celebrations may last for a month, with a closing ceremony to mark its end where a miring ceremony mat (bidai) is rolled back by each family within the longhouse. Today, beauty queen Francisca Luhong James shares how she celebrates the festival.
Gawai is a celebration where we gather together as one whole family. For us, celebrating the harvest festival together gives us a window to appreciate the value and beauty of our culture.
I guess in this generation, everyone celebrates it in their own way. We don’t do rituals, but we appreciate the tradition we have that’s been practiced since many years ago. Usually, we will gather at “ruai” (or in English, a covered balcony that runs the length of a longhouse) on the 31st May for Gawai which falls on the midnight, 1st of june. Everyone will start celebrating with food and drinks.
As for the actual tradition, the elderly will have a small shot of “tuak” which is a traditional drink that is made out of rice. It represents prosperity and good living for next harvest festival to come.
Food! I always look forward to our local foods. There’s something special about Sarawak food that will live in me forever. I can never overlook it; I will always choose my traditional local food over anything else.
Back then, a ritual called “miring” takes place before Gawai. It is the epitome of Dayak tradition. This ritual is to give thanks to the “petara”(Gods), holy spirit and ancestors. It started with preparation of food offerings and “air pengayu” (“tuak”, AKA rice wine). Then, they will slaughter a chicken and give it as an offering to the Gods.
However, these rituals are not practice entirely by the people as they are raised in a more modern community and convert to a religion of their own choice. Sometimes you’ll see this food offerings placed on the table, floors or graveyard during Gawai celebration just to appreciate the tradition, but they don’t practice the rituals.
Ayam pansuh (cooked in bamboo), fish pansuh (cooked in bamboo), daun ubi tutok, BBQ pork, and chicker soup with sour eggplant.
Featured image credit: Francisca Luhong James/Instagram; Hero image credit: Unsplash