Gawai Antu – The Iban Feast of the Departed
Published at the Sarawak Dayak Community Online
Nganyam – Preparation of Basket
While the men are busy carving the sungkup, the women shall start to weave (nganyam) all
types of curious sacred baskets. The shapes vary in accordance to the age of the departed. For the children, ball, fruit and varieties of toy are woven.
A decorated basket known as gelayan, which has eight tooth-shaped projections on which it
stands is the only thing to be woven for any ordinary dead men and women.
If the deceased is a man of rank, who had always been lucky in life and who had been wealthy enough to purchase valuable old jars (tajau) or had kill an enemy in battle (bedengah), he is entitled to be given the fantastic garong tunggal basket, which has nine projections for its stand.
If a deceased was a leading warrior he is entitled to be given a ranggong dua basket, which
also have nine projections for its stand. The lower side of this basket is decorated with hairs of the enemy to show that he is an honoured brave man.
If a deceased is a war leader, who successfully led a few wars in his lifetime, he is entitled to be given a ranggong tiga basket, which also has nine projections for its stand. The lower side will also be covered with the enemy’s hair, but more thickly than the ranggong dua basket.
If the deceased was a really great and celebrated war leader, he is honoured with a basket
called entugin. The entugin is made of five baskets place one upon another. It will have thirteen projections for its stand and be heavily decorated with enemy’s hair.
On certain occasion, the Dayak like to honour once again an ancestor who has already been
honoured at the last Gawai Antu. This is permitted but is rare and only done to honour the most famous or war leader or hereditary chief of the tribe.
On this second feast, the deceased is entitled to be honoured with seven baskets neatly woven together known as ranggong tujuh (sometimes called Mudor Ruroh). The ranggong tujuh will have fourteen projections for its stand and be thickly decorated with the hair of the enemy.
If the deceased has twice been honoured at the Gawai Antu, his grand children are still permitted to honour him again for a third time. However, this sort of honour can only be permitted to be given to a war leader or hereditary chief of the tribe. For his third and last memorial, he is entitled to be honoured with nine baskets called ranggong sembilan (sometimes called sandau liau). This basket will have fifteen projections for its stand and is also heavily decorated with the enemy’s hair.
It is a rule in weaving these baskets that no women of loose character are allowed to weave.
The baskets, which are to be decorated with the enemy’s hair, are only to be woven by the most expert and elderly women of the tribe.
In the evening after the ngeretok and the nganyam ceremony are over, the guests shall return
to their respective villages. Beginning that night, after the departure of the guest, every family must light a fire on the rugan (tabernacle). This fire must continue until the completion of the Gawai Antu.