June 1, 2012 - Gawai Dayak in Malaysia

This festival is both religious and social, as Sea and Land Dayak visit friends and relatives, eat special foods and hold a special ceremony.

One thing that I learned when reading about this festival is that families in Malaysia often live together in longhouses. These large houses are raised up on stilts, and one long half is a communal area, and the other half is divided into private areas for each family. Apparently this style of elevated building is practical to reduce damage from flooding, to promote a sort of natural air conditioning and circulation, and to keep livestock safe and protected under the building (when there aren't flood conditions!). It's a sort of apartment building combined with community building.

Dayak Headdresses
The ceremony is held in the public area of the longhouse. Before the ceremony starts, two children drag a large basket past each family's private room. Every family throws some unwanted item into the basket, and when the children get to the end of the longhouse, they toss all of the unwanted items onto the ground, outside of the longhouse, for the spirit of bad luck. I think having all those new things is supposed to keep the bad-luck spirit busy and interested OUTSIDE the longhouse, so it won't come inside.

The ceremony itself is an offering to the gods and a thanks for the harvest. There are many other traditional activities such as cock fights (yikes) and blowpipe contests. There is feasting and dancing and music. A beauty pageant is sometimes held to choose the king and queen for the day.

Learn more about Malaysia...
...with this earlier post

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