Dayak festival features contemporary arts

Dayak festival features
contemporary arts

Bambang Bider, Contributor, Pontianak, West Kalimantan

The audience became silent all of a sudden, touched by a verse spoken in the Dayak Kantu’ language during the closing ceremony of the 2003 Gawai Dayak Week festival.

West Kalimantan deputy governor Lorensius Herman Kadir, who had chanted the verse, broke the silence and said, “”Gawai next year should be better.”” Kadir himself is a Dayak Kantu’.

The 2003 Gawai Dayak Week, which was officially kicked off by West Kalimantan governor, H. Usman Ja’far, on Tuesday May 20, lasted for six days.

It featured a number of activities such as the Baliatn customary rite, a male and female group blowpipe shooting contest and pop music performances. Other contests included a Pangkak top-spinning contest, a fairy-story-telling contest, a male and female tug-of-war contest, a sculpturing contest, a Mrs. and Miss Gawai 2003 contest, a rice-pounding contest, a contest on shield drawing and a uniquely Dayak cuisine contest.

Gawai is the Dayak people’s thanksgiving celebration, when they express their gratitude for the year’s harvest.

As the tradition is celebrated every year in May, the West Kalimantan tourism board has included it in the province’s annual calendar of events for tourists.

Originally, the celebration began as a rite conducted separately by each Dayak sub-ethnic group in Kalimantan, with a different name for each. The celebration is known as Naik Dango among the Dayak Kanayatn, while it is Nyareakng among the Dayak Bakati’ Riok, Dange among the Dayak Kayaan and Gawai for the Dayak Iban.

Under the auspices of the West Kalimantan tourism service, Gawai has become an occasion to promote artistic creativity and cultural tourism. The joint secretariat of the Dayak Art for West Kalimantan, which provides dance workshops for every Dayak group in Pontianak, coordinates Gawai.

Chairman of the joint secretariat Yohanes Bambang said, “”Gawai week is a platform for the Dayak people to demonstrate their artistic abilities. It also shows the diversity of the Dayak sub-ethnic groups in West Kalimantan.””

Bambang also said Gawai Dayak 2003 would help conserve the identity of the Dayak people in the modern and cosmopolitan world.

“”Despite the difficulties, we must learn to love other people’s cultures, because culture reflects our own identity. We must be able to discover our own identity in the changing times,”” he said.

This year’s Gawai festival featured contemporary Dayak art, a departure from the traditional norms as was also reflected in the dances, costumes and songs. The songs were similar to modern pop songs, while the costumes — despite the predominant beads particular to Dayak textiles — revealed richer patterns. The dances, which are usually inspired by the Dayak people’s daily activities, rural lifestyles and nature, had also been contemporized.

“”We have come up with artistic performances that cater to the general public. It is not possible for us to present monotonous traditional dances, as the audience will get bored. Besides, such dances are closely linked to rites that can only be presented to the public after we have fulfilled special requirements,”” Bambang said.

Generally, the younger Dayak generation is very fond of contemporary music and dances, and the festival was highlighted by songs in the local vernacular presented in dangdut (a blend of Malay and Indian tunes and rhythms), house, country or easy-listening music. The dances were contemporary, but without abandoning their original traditional significance.

Bambang said the theme of this year’s festival, peace, was especially chosen because of the occasional ethnic conflicts that broke out in the province.

“”We know West Kalimantan was torn by ethnic conflicts long before similar conflicts broke out in Ambon and elsewhere. It is hoped that art and culture will be able to contribute to the reconciliation efforts now underway,”” he explained.

Meanwhile, chairman of the organizing committee of the festival Fredrick Kuyah said, “”Almost every year we invite our brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups. This year, members of the Madurese, Malay and Chinese communities participated in the Dayak Cultural Display,”” he said.

Nico Andasputra of the Pontianak Dayakology Institute said, “”There are various ways through which people express their concerns about a problem. Artists are no exception — they have the capacity to develop tolerance among people,”” he said.


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