THE low-key pandemic-era Hari Gawai, or Gawai Dayak celebration that begins on June 1 in Sarawak has received a heartwarming boost with a motley group of Sarawakian arts activists, traditional musicians, storytellers, writers, and cultural artisans coming together to share the community spirit of the harvest festival in a video recording.
This virtual hug of a video features the tune Liling, the unofficial Orang Ulu anthem. It is traditionally sung by communities in the dim longhouse nights in Sarawak in celebration of Hari Gawai.
With Hari Gawai events and festivities cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Kuching-born sape musician Alena Murang moved on the idea to bring “semangat” Gawai to Dayak communities in Sarawak and also those far from home.
“Semangat is an inner fire, from within an individual’s soul, multiplied when we come together as a community, is what we need right now to keep going” shares Kuching-born Alena about this virtual initiative.
The video, which was shot remotely from individual homes and studios, sees Dayak singers and Sarawakian artistes performing in their own mother tongue. As a linguistic tour of Sarawak, this video also features nine languages, five of which are listed as “threatened” or “endangered”.
Alena, who rearranged Liling with guitarist/producer Joshua Maran, has diverse company joining her in this video, including pop stars Dayang Nurfaizah, Zee Avi, Arabyrd, Jolly Jengan, Sasha Ningkan and Alex TBH, right to sape legend Mathew Ngau Jau, storyteller Adrian Jo Milang and poet Kulleh Grasi.
Hari Gawai or Gawai Dayak, a thanksgiving and harvest festival marking bountiful yields, was first celebrated officially in Sarawak on June 1,1965.
This article first appeared in The Star.