“GAWAI KENYALANG” Hornbill Ceremony
On a river trip in Borneo, I was fortunate to observe and participate in the Iban people’s sacred “Gawai Kenyalang”. “Gawai” or Festivals are often held at the end of the Rice Harvest throughout most parts of Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). The lban, Sarawak’s largest Dayak tribe, are most fond of the Hornbill ceremony. In earlier years, the ceremony was a precursor to headhunting raids, for which the Iban were legendary. Today, with headhunting officially banned, the ceremony has been incorporated into the rice harvest celebrations. This particular Gawai was held at the Entanau Longhouse, far up the Baleh River on the mystic island of Borneo.
Arriving at the “Longhouse” (a communal village) we see a woman carrying her baby “Dayak” style. Beaded Baby Carriers are symbols of status among Dayak Tribes
Shaman’s prepare for one of the many ceremonies to be held. Note the Albino Dayak Shaman! Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, shamans
Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, protective Pua
Ceremonial Textiles “Pua” are used to protect all aspects of rites, including this blanket that surrounds the rice wine
An important dignitary prepares an offering of coconut. Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, Wood Hornbill offerings
Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, Wood Hornbill offerings Participants and guests are seated with food offerings on ceremonial “Puas” Note, Hornbill carvings in background.
Hornbill Carvings “Kenyalangs” are readied for the ceremony. Offerings of cigarettes and money are placed in the beak of this sacred bird. The carver is seated with the white hat. Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, Wood Hornbill offerings
Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, Wood Hornbill outside After hours of incantations, recited only by priests, the Hornbill is brought outside and attached to a post. The post hole was sanctified by the blood of a sacrificial animal. In the past, the body of a slave or captive would have been used.
With yet more sacred speeches and great fanfare, the posts are erected into place. Iban Dayak, Sarawak, Borneo Islands, srecting the Wood Hornbill
Travelogue Photo – Wood Hornbill
The Posts are in place and the spirits of the Hornbills are ready to take messages to the upperworld. In former days, these same bird spirits would attack and weaken enemy villages in preparation for headhunting raids.