Project: Refurbishment of Rumah Gawai, Serikin
Date: 9th – 17th Nov 2013
Number of people benefited: 200 families
Number of volunteers: 12
This is a fellow volunteer’s account of the project called Rumah Gawai Serikin which he volunteered for (though parts of his writing have been rephrased and edited for brevity purpose, and to better frame into the context of a story):
“I signed up to be a volunteer of Impian Sarawak in 2013, having read about the plight of many groups of indigenous people there who are still living without basic amenities of water, electricity and/or proper roads. This brought about a sense of urgency to contribute to this cause which I believe many Malaysians may be aware of but never took time to let the inconvenient truth sink in - that scores of our fellow countrymen across the South China Sea are still living in conditions many of us (especially the post-independence generations living in urban and suburban areas) cannot begin to imagine being in.
“Rumah Gawai in Kampung Serikin, near Batu, was a project launched from Nov 9 - 18, 2013. Some 12 volunteers came together to embark on the refurbishment of this dilapidated Rumah Gawai, which is a central feature of the Gawai Dayak celebration for the Dayak community of Sarawak. This major festival-ritual is celebrated annually on June 1 as a thanksgiving day for their bountiful paddy harvest while signalling the start of a new planting season.
“The Gawai festival starts on the evening of May 31st, with the miring (offering) ceremony in the longhouse common space or in the community centre like this Rumah Gawai. This is where the ketua adat (feast chief) would give thanks to the Gods for the good harvest and to ask for guidance, blessing and a long life. At the stroke of midnight, the tuak or local wine is presented with everyone sharing a toast, with lots of dancing, merrymaking, drinking and eating!
“Enlightened by the significance of the Rumah Gawai to the locals, we could better appreciate the work put into this project. Since it was built 30 years ago, this structure had never been refurbished. Owing to its dilapidated condition, it had not been used for the past few years.
“After nine days, we managed to complete up to 50% of the refurbishment work. The wooden-wall panels have been replaced with brick ones and the unstable parts of the structure restored. The locals, numbering to about 1,000 members from four villages here, will resume the remaining aspects of the work. A pre-opening ceremony held on Nov 16, and we are glad to hear that progress is on track and that the Rumah Gawai will once again be the centre of various celebrations. As mentioned by a fellow volunteer in his sharing; Impian Sarawak is not just about fulfilling the dream of a local Dayak community for a proper and functioning Rumah Gawai, it is also about the preservation of culture and tradition, history, rituals, celebrations and stories, which are legacies for the future generations of not just the Dayak people but for all Malaysians.”