Gawai: It may not be the same again next year

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Two Dayung Borih (Priestess) in a state of trance during 'Nguguoh'.

As I sit at the very same kitchen which saw me growing for the past three decades, I heard granny tell my sisters something which made my heart sink.

It may not be as significant to some, but for a person who grew up knowing such tradition, or better called ‘ritual’ exist, it was indeed heart-wrenching.

Grandma told us that this might be the last time we could witness the real life affairs of ‘Nguguoh’, which is a Pagan ritual done only in a few villages in Bau, in the occasion of ‘Gawea Podi’, or in general terms, Gawai.

One of the 'tua Gawea' performing the ritual during this Gawai
One of the ‘tua Gawea’ performing the ritual during this Gawai

According to grandma, there’s only one sole ‘tua gawea’ (leader of the ritual) left next year after his partner for decades decided to embrace Christianity. The man has since told villagers that he is tired, and he does not want to do the whole thing alone as it is very tiring.

The altar, or better known as 'bawar'
The altar, or better known as ‘bawar’

For those not knowing what this ‘Nguguoh’ is all about, here’s a very quick lesson:

‘Nguguoh’ it’s basically the climax of Gawai for us Bidayuhs, in which the ‘tua gawea’ and the male elders of the village (in white and colourful turbans), together with a group of ‘Dayung Borih’ (priestesses), wearing colourful skullcaps, embroidered black tunics and skirts of rich brocade fabrics with traditional motifs, summons the rice goddess to feast upon the offerings that had been prepared for, and to accept the thanks of the people for a good harvest. It is done around an altar, which is locally known as ‘bawar’. The event only begins at the wee hours in the mornings, and ends sometimes at 430am, which also marks the end of Gawai.

You see, for the past 30 years, I have rarely skipped Gawai celebrations in my dear village because it is distinctively different from the rest.

Modern day Gawai will normally feature live band performances and 'mejeng sessions' such as this one.
Modern day Gawai will normally feature live band performances and ‘mejeng sessions’ such as this one.

While most modern Bidayuh kampungs tend to celebrate Gawai the modern way nowadays, which is with live band performances, dancing (mejeng), and beauty pageants (Kumang Gawai), my village which is just about fifteen minutes from Bau town has somewhat retained this aged pagan ritual despite most villages nearby already being unable to do so, also due to lack of manpower, which I understand are selected by the spirits.

The 'Bori Gawea', or 'Gawai house', where the whole ritual happens at 4am.
The ‘Bori Gawea’, or ‘Gawai house’, where the whole ritual happens at 4am.

The whole ritual which stands out the most during Gawai makes the village people, myself included, somewhat proud of their Bidayuh roots, although some may not realize it, what more say to admit it.

However, a visit by any outsider to any house in the village during Gawai would surely lead on to the host promoting this dying heritage.

The huge crowd this year. It's been like this for years.
The huge crowd this year. It’s been like this for years.

With that said, the announcement made by grandma that ‘this may be the last’ took myself and my sibling hard. We have, after all been witnessing the events for almost every Gawai, and it was indeed the highlight of every Gawai, after the family barbeque.

A friend on Facebook did say that the whole ritual could be recreated and done again just like what what the Iban’s did the ‘miring ceremony’, or it could be just done for show.

Two Dayung Borih (Priestess) in a state of trance during 'Nguguoh'.
Two Dayung Borih (Priestess) in a state of trance during ‘Nguguoh’.

However, I felt that a ‘performance’ will not feel the same as the real thing, although the younger so called ‘Dayung Borih’ would indeed be more of an eye candy in comparison to the older ones in the real ritual=P

On a serious note, you can see the difference between the two videos of ‘nguguoh’ below. The first video showcases the ‘remake’, while the second was the original I shot in my village some 4 years ago. For the sake of comparison, you should jump to the 7th minute in the first video.


I apologize on the poor video quality for the second video, but I bet you can see the difference.

So, that night, together with a few more cousins, we stayed up late until 4:30am to see what could be the last ‘real’ live ‘Nguguoh’ ritual in my village.

Live feed of the whole event through an iPad. For those unable to see it up-close, this was good enough.
Live feed of the whole event through an iPad. For those unable to see it up-close, this was good enough.

At the end of it all, there was indeed a huge sense of sadness that future generations may not be able to see such scenes anymore, and it was sadder knowing that this whole thing would probably be gone totally in the next 10-20 years.

For me personally, Gawai would never be the same again.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Bro, do you know any other villages around who still have this ritual? I really want to document this event in the future. This is really a dying rituals and you’ll never see it again in my area. Let me know if you have any information about this.

    • I think there are a few more villages in Bau doing it bro.. but I\’m not sure..If I happen to know, I\’ll let you know.

    • Since Feb bro.. hehehe… got to update that feed you have, or subscribe to the mailing list =P

      Had to change because the old domain was loading very slow =(

  2. Hi there, as bi-opar too im always proud that we retain this ritual..its sad to know this. We'll somehow lose the uniqueness of our kupuok right.

    • Hey there =) Samah kupuok yoh.. hehhe

      I hope its not true, and next year I can see it again.. always proud of this. always. Glad to know you feel the same.

  3. Sad to read this post. Friends asked me to experience the original long houses the sooner the better because nowadays, people live in "modern" society. Many will stay back in town instead of balik kampung for this festival 🙁

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