Thousands of people in traditional Dayak costumes marched down the streets of Pontianak, while a number of youths, wielding daggers and blowpipes, danced on top of vehicles with graceful women wearing peacock feather headgears.
The Dayak ethnic community living in the capital of West Kalimantan held an annual festival called the Dayak Gawai Week from May 18 to 24. The 26th festival took place at the traditional house, Rumah Betang or Rumah Pajang, on Jl. Soetoyo, Pontianak.
For Dayaks living in the inner region, gawai represents an expression of gratitude to Jubata or the Almighty God for bumper harvests they have reaped, whereas their urban counterparts see the festival as a celebration for God blessing them with ample fortune throughout the year.
The Dayak Gawai Week was this year marked with a cultural parade of Dayaks and other ethnic groups on the main roads of the city, which started from Jl. Soetoyo in front of Rumah Betang, and finished at the same building.
Over a dozen automobiles decorated with fancy Dayak ornaments were meant to display the diversity of Dayak sub-ethnic groups in Kalimantan and promote the cultural richness of this regional community.
The daily executive chairman of the Dayak Custom Board (DAD) of West Kalimantan, Yakobus Kumis, said the Dayak word gawai signified a party, in which the various features of Dayak art and culture could be enjoyed.
He hoped that such colorful displays of culture and art would dispel the myth that Dayaks were killer tribesmen. Dayak art and culture is unique in the world because it comprises 350 sub-ethnic groups.
Dayak Gawai Week Committee Chairman Herculanus Didi said 37 delegates from the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) and Borneo Dayak Forum, the world Dayak forum based in Sabah, Malaysia, attended the 26th event this year.
The Gawai Week, he indicated, also acted as a gesture of gratefulness for the upcoming planting season besides the past year’s successful harvest. Gawai is now on the tourism agenda of West Kalimantan, scheduled for May 20 on the calendar of events of regional, national and international tourism.
Other activities held that week included Dayak song performances, Dayak and other West Kalimantan ethnic dances, as well as traditional sports competitions such as blowpipe and spinning-top games.
One of the representatives of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Tridiana, officially opened the festival on May 20.
“Tourism is one of the sectors that helps the national economy grow. All future tourism endeavors should aim for further preservation and promotion [of this unique culture],” he said.
Provincial youth figure Karolin Margaret Natasya stressed the need to preserve values handed down by the region’s forebears. The provincial councilor and oldest daughter of West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis said positive cultural attributes should be maintained.
Sumangat Binua, a dance depicting the nature conservation spirit of Dayak youngsters and the recovery of village children’s once lost cheer and vigor, was the opening night’s main highlight. Around 50 dancers and 20 musicians from different studios presented the show.
Indonesian senior artist and actress Jajang C. Noer, who witnessed the 26th Dayak Gawai Week in Rumah Betang, was very pleased to attend the annual cultural event.
“This is the first time I watched the Gawai festival in Pontianak. I enjoyed it and we all should appreciate our own culture,” she said.
West Kalimantan senior actor Piet Pagau present on the occasion claimed he had attended the festival almost every year. “I’m proud of today’s younger generation. They have shown that many cultural attractions can be well organized,” he pointed out.