GAWAI UMAI (FARM FESTIVAL) versus Ngemali Umai


Shortly before the weeding season is to start, if the growth of padi in the farm is seriously damaged by insect and other pests, it is the duty of the Tuai Umai to discuss this matter with the other farmers. Two courses of action may be followed. Either a Gawai Umai festival may be held, if the pest damage is particularly serious, or only an ordinary Ngemali Umai (taboo on the field) ceremony. If the latter course is taken, the dukun umai will treat the fields using his charms, after which he declares a three-day taboo on the farms in the particular area he treated.

If all agree to hold a Gawai Umai festival, the Tuai Umai will ask the members of each family to brew the necessary tuak wine. Early in the morning a man from each family makes a frame to be put over a fire for roasting of glutinous rice used in preparation of tuak. While doing this at the boat-landing place (Pangkalan) on the riverbank, three successive gendang rayah are performed by men in the longhouse. As soon as the gendang rayah music is over, the women folk start to soak their beras pulut (glutinous rice) in the river.

Eventually before dawn of the next morning, the Tuai Umai waves a chicken along the longhouse galleries to ask the people of every family to cook their glutinous rice in the frames they have erected at the pangkalan. As the people start to do this work, men in the longhouse again perform gendang rayah. At this time the Tuai Umai will first go to a special platform (duran) to make three offerings to God and the deity Raja Simpulang Gana. The Tuai Umai remains at the duran until all of the rice has been cooked. This should be completed by about 6 a.m. when the cooked rice is brought back to the house by its owners to be fermented for tuak wine.

After breakfast men in the longhouse start to prepare the many things needed for the nimang pantar ceremony which will be held during the coming night, when the bards sing their pengap chants to bless the family’s wooden seat specially erected for the festival. On this day, too, invitations are sent to neighboring villages to invite other people to attend the feast. That after­noon, the Tuai Umai, who has now been appointed to direct the festival procedure, asks a senior woman in every family to collect the pests, such as bugs, mole crickets, caterpillars, and young padi plants which have been badly infested by pests in the fields. These they wrap with leaves and put in a special hut near the longhouse. While they are still in the padi fields, the people in the house spread their best mats (beranchau tikai) on the floor of their respective sections of the gallery where guests will sit when they arrive.

Shortly after the house has been properly decorated for the guests, the bards arrive. The hosts outside the longhouse building with the beating of gongs and drums welcome them. After the bards have been received with cakes and tuak wine, the feast chief leads them in procession to the longhouse. The bards who walk behind him sing their pengap chants. As they pass each family gallery, the maiden who welcomes them offers them a small glass of wine. When the procession reaches the other end of the longhouse it turns back to the feast chief’s gallery, where the bards are asked to take their seats.

As the bards are sitting in a row on the feast chiefs gallery, they are ser­ved by the hosts with delicious cakes, other food and tuak wine. This recep­tion lasts for over half an hour.

After dinner that night, the feast chief waves a chicken along the galleries to inform the people that a ritual berandang jalai dance will be per­formed soon by the man who will kill a ceremonial piglet (anak uting dipeda atau) for the feast. As he starts his rayah dance along the gallery, men at the feast chiefs’ section of the gallery perform gendang rayah music. Af­ter the dancer has encircled the longhouse gallery three times he takes his seat at the feast chief’s upper gallery.

Shortly after the dance is over, the feast chief waves a cock again to ask the members of each family to make a shrine (pandong) on the gallery where their individual offering may be placed. As soon as the pandong have been made, the bards start to sing their ritual chants and they continue until late after­noon.

When the bards have stopped singing their chants, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the women of every family to soak their glutinous rice in the river. As the women soak their rice, men in the longhouse inform the universal spirits that the preparation for a festival is underway in the village by performing three successive gendang rayah.

At about 3a.m. the feast chief again waves a chicken to ask the men and women to cook their glutinous rice on the frames near the riverbank. At this time another three gendang rayah are performed by men in the longhouse to signal the feast chief and others to go down to cook their rice. When the feast chief arrives at the duran platform, he makes an offering to God, the deity Raja Simpulang Gana and the spirits. At day break the rice is cooked and brought back to the house by its owners.

Eventually, at about 7 a.m., a ceremonial cockfight is held on the open-air tanju of the feast chief. This game lasts about an hour. As soon as it is over, a meal is served to all along the galleries. After the meal is finished, the feast chief waves his chicken to ask the people to erect a big meligai platform where padi pests collected earlier by the women are placed during the night of the Gawai Umai celebration. After the meligai has been completed, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the old man who had been chosen to kill a piglet to make offerings to the deity Rajah Simpulang Gana with the help of few other elders, including a man who has been asked to look after the young padi plants (anak padi) which have been brought home by the women with the pests.

After the offerings have been made to the gods, the feast chief waves his chicken to ask a senior woman from every family to form a procession with the bards to fetch their young padi plants from the hut outside the longhouse building.

Immediately after these women have put their individual anak padi in­side a ranjok carrying basket, the bards they follow in procession again sing their chants as they walk slowly along the path towards the longhouse. As they enter the longhouse building, the procession encircles the gallery three times. The final round stops as it reaches the meligai platform where an old man cleans the anak padi with holy water and ties the plants with string. After they are cleaned and tied, the old man returns the plants to the meligai platform, which is then covered with pua kumbu blankets.

As soon as this is done, an expert makes a jong, a small sailing boat, from the spathe of an areca-nut palm. In this boat are placed all the pests, such as bugs, mole crickets and caterpillars that the women have collected from the padi fields. These are set adrift in the river at the end of the feast.

After the jong is completed, two men carry a winnowing basket (chapan) each and starting from the feast chiefs passage beg for useless ar­ticles from each family to be given to the antu rua, the spirits that cause rice and other property to be quickly exhausted, so that they can remove bad luck from the families of the longhouse. As the two men reach each end of the longhouse, they throw away all these unwanted articles together with the win­nowing baskets to the ground below, with the following words:

O ni kita antu sial, antu pachal, Rinan saan kita utai tu, Ngagai tasik besai, ka menoa bukai. Anang agi minta, anang agi nanya ngagai kami.

Oh ye spirit of waste, Carry these articles with you, to the overseas and far away lands. Do not beg anymore from us.

Shortly after this, guests begin to arrive from other villages. After they are seated in a long row along the gallery of the longhouse, they are offered food and drink. This ceremony is called nyambut pengadang, reception of guests.

Eventually, at around 8p.m., dinner is served along the family galleries. After this, the feast chief waves a chicken to ask men, women, boys and girls to form a procession along the galleries of the longhouse for the combing of the piglet’s hair (nyugu babi).

This procession is led by the man who was asked to kill the piglet in the morning and who brings a sharp spear. Behind him is a woman who carries a plate of offerings. Next to her is another woman who carries water in a brass kettle (labu kendi). The maidens and young men in their traditional Iban dress follow them. The young men carry a bottle of tuak wine each, while the maidens each carry an empty glass in their hands.

After the procession has encircled the longhouse galleries three times, it turns and goes on to the feast chiefs open air verandah, where a piglet’s hut has been placed. On reaching the hut, the first woman feeds the piglet with the offering she carries. As she feeds it, she prays that the piglet’s liver when the animal is killed in the morning will produce an excellent indication to the far­mers, that their farms that year shall bear abundant grain. After this, the second woman pours the water from the brass kettle on the piglet. After she has bathed it, she combs its hair with a comb and makes a similar petition as the first woman. When this is done, the procession returns to the longhouse building where the young men and maidens offer tuak wine along the family galleries to the guests.

Shortly after the nyugu babi procession has ended, the feast chief waves his chicken again to inform all that the dances of ngerandang jalai and ngelalu are to be performed by the dancers along the galleries as has been mentioned above.

After these dances are performed by the man who killed the piglet and the man who cleaned and tied the anak padi respectively the feast chief again waves a chicken to inform the people that the bards are about to sing their ritual chants (pengap) along the longhouse galleries.

As the bards are singing the feast chief waves a chicken to ask the hosts to arrange the sitting of the guests in a long row along the upper galleries: When this is done, a chicken is waved again by the feast chief to inform the people that a procession of ngalu petara, welcoming the arrival of the deities and universal spirits, is to take place soon along the longhouse verandah.

This procession is led by the feast chief himself. Behind him walks a speaker. Two women follow them; one brings a plate of offerings, and the other throws popped rice (letup) as she walks. Behind them are the maidens and young men who carry glasses and tuak wine. In the rear are the young men who perform music with gongs and drums.

After they have encircled the longhouse galleries twice, the senior guests start to ask why they have held such a procession with a number of men and women and maidens and with music of gongs and drums. In response to the guests’ question, the speaker explains to his audience, repeating his ex­planation at each gallery, as follows:

Malam tu kami sarumah tu nyadi gawai umai, nya alai kami ngambi Simpulang Gana sama enggau Petara Aki, Petara Ini kami, ka lalu di-alu kami ngena piring ngena ading tu, awak ka sida muru ngebu ka antu penyakit umai ka ngachau ngaregau utai ke ditanam kami. Kami minta pinta kami tu bisa, Ngambi ka kami bulih padi bulih puli.

Tonight we in this longhouse are holding a farm festi­val to which we invite Simpulang Gana, together with the spirits of our pioneer ancestors. We welcome them humbly with these offerings, so that they may merci­fully drive away the pests, which damage the padi in our farms. We ask that our prayer be promptly answered, so that our farms may produce an abundance of padi.

As the speaker ends his speech, a senior guest stands up and answers him with the following words:

Nyadi aku tu ngari ka samoa kami ke duduk ba ruai tu,
Nyadi pengawa kita sarumah tu ngena bendar,
Laban kita begawai ngemali umai nunda adat aki,
Adat ini kita empu,
Kita ga nunda ajar Raja Simpulang Gana.
Nya alai laban Petara sama kena padah kena tunggah
Petara seduai Simpulang Gana,
sama enggau Petara aki,
Petara Ini kita,
Sama bisi magang datai ditu malam tu.
Sida iya mai ka kita Pengaroh ka gembar tuboh,
Ubat bai sida serangkap genap,
Kena kita muru ngebu ka penyakit umai ka tasik besai,
Ka menoa bukai,
Nya alai laban nya,
ba ujong taun tu ila,
Bulih meh kita padi ka di jual ngagai orang dagang,
Awak ka kita raja mara diau di menoa.

On behalf of all the guests at this gallery,
I must congratulate the people of this house,
For holding this traditional festival of Gawai Umai,
Following the teaching of the deity Raja Simpulang Gana.
By your invitation and prayers,
The God almighty,
And Raja Simpulang Gana,
Together with the spirits of your famous ancestors,
Are spiritually with us here tonight.
By their presence they will save you from trouble,
And by their miracles and charms all the pests
Which have damaged your farms,
Are driven away to foreign lands overseas.
We can assure you that at the end of this year,
You shall reap a very good harvest,
For you to sell to the traders in this country.

After the ngalu petara is over, the young men and maidens offer tuak wine and food to the guests. After this, the hosts invite the guests to change their seats from one gallery to another in the longhouse. As they sit at each family gallery, the hosts offer more drinks and food.

At about 3 a.m., when the bards sing the ngua pengaroh chants, most of the older guests take their seat near the meligai platform at the feast chief’s gallery. Here they hear Raja Simpulang Gana’s wife bless all her family padi charms that Raja Simpulang Gana and his followers will bring with them to attend the Gawai Umai feast, which the people in the longhouse are celebrating.

The singing of the ngua pengaroh chants lasts for an hour. After the bards have finished with the ngua songs, they continue to sing until they men­tion the spiritual arrival of Raja Simpulang Gana and his followers at the festival. At this time, this is approximately 6 a.m., the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people to form a procession to welcome the arrival of the deity and his followers. This procession is like the ngalu petara procession mentioned above. As the procession ends, two senior bards sing the chants nenjang Raja Simpulang Gana to a feast chief who now acts as Raja Simpulang Gana. After this, they and other bards sing the denjang songs to other senior farmers who sit in a row at the feast chief’s upper gallery. They mention that the deity and his male followers present to each farmer various kinds of charms for suc­cessful farming in future years. After the badenjang is over, the bards con­tinue to sing the chants until the time when a procession for killing the piglet is held.

This procession is like the nyugu babi procession mentioned above. Af­ter the two senior women have fed the piglet with offerings and combed its hair, the man pierces its throat with a sharp spear. After the piglet has died, another man removes its liver carefully and places it on cordyline leaves in a large bowl. After he has done this, he presents the piglet liver for the bards and experts to divine. At this time the procession disperses.

It takes about half an hour for the bards and expert diviners to read the piglet liver carefully. If the result is favorable it indicates that a good harvest will take place at the end of the year. The abundance of the coming harvest is believed to depend very much on the indications received from the atau babi liver.

As soon as the reading of the piglet liver is ended, the bards continue with their songs till the feast chief waves a chicken to inform the people that the time has come for all of them to witness the ceremony of ngundor ka Antu Penyakit Padi (sending away the pests in a sailing boat). For the occasion, a small procession is formed led by a man carrying a basket in which the pests to be placed in the sailing boat have been collected.

The procession is accompanied by the music of gongs and drums. As it reaches the boat landing place (pangkalan), the pests are carefully placed near the offerings inside the boat. Before the feast chief sets the sailing boat adrift, he recites the following prayers:

Oha! Oha! Oha! Tu aku ngundor ka kita,
ngagai menoa kita empu.
Empangau pulai ka Salimbau,
Merak pulai ka Pontianak,
Ulat pulai ka Pemangkat.

Kita ga udah di bekal kami
enggau chukop piring, chukup ading,
Datai kita din ila nya baru kita,
Beridup ka upa apong, upa mulong,
Beridup ka paku jerai, ka sumbok melai.

Lantang senang kita diau din ila,
Anang nikal kitu agi.

“Oha! Oha! Oha! Now I send you pests to
sail away to your respective countries;
Empangau(bug) go to Salimbau,5
Merak and Buntak (crickets) go to Pontianak,
Ulat (worms) go to Pemangkat,
I have provided you with sufficient provisions for your
In your country you may feed on the hearts of palms,
And at your country you will eat tops of wild leaves,
Be satisfied with your new life,
Do not come back anymore.

After this ceremony is ended, all the people, bards, guests and hosts, return to the longhouse. On their arrival the guests are asked to sit in a long row along the lower galleries for the hosts to serve them with a morning meal (makai pagi). This meal lasts about an hour.

As soon as the morning meal is over, women and damsels dress them­selves beautifully and with great care for the badenjang indu ceremony. At this ceremony the feast chief’s wife leads one or two women from each family to sit in a long row on the lower gallery. As they come out from their rooms these women bring with them a bottle of tuak wines each, in addition to plates of delicious cakes and buns.

After the women and maidens who participate in the badenjang ceremony have taken their seats, the senior bard starts to sing his denjang song to the feast chief’s wife. In it he says that she sits between Raja Simpulang Gana’s wife and her eldest daughter who present to her various kinds of charms so that she may become expert in weaving blankets of highest quality and mats of many patterns. After the bard has ended his song, the feast chief’s wife offers him a glass of tuak wine and, at the same time presents him with a few dollars of money in appreciation of what he said in his song.

Shortly after the senior bard has sung his song to the feast chief’s wife, another bard next to him in seniority sings his song to the wife of the longhouse headman. In his song he sings that the former sits between the elder daughters of Raja Simpulang Gana, who give to her many kinds of charms which may cause her to become an excellent hostess to many visitors as well as to become a successful farmer. When the song is ended she also offers a glass of tuak wine to the bard and a few dollars of money in appreciation of what he has mentioned in his song.

The badenjang sometimes lasts till night if the longhouse is an especially long one. After the badenjang has ended, the bards also finish their chants, thus ending the feast.

As for the guests, most of them return to their villages shortly after the reading of the piglet’s liver, i.e. after they learn its indication. The younger guests generally remain in the longhouse till the end of the feast.

Early next morning the meligai is demolished. All of the offerings on the brass trays (tabak) inside it are divided equally by the farmers who take these offerings to their farms. As soon as this division is made, the farmers go to their farms to make preparation for a three day taboo period.

When they return, each farmer makes a barrier at the main road which leads to his farm, so that for three days from that day onward no one may pass it.


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