Gawai Nyobang; 3rd – 4th June 2011 at Kpg Gumbang, Bau

En Anjan (2nd left) with Pak Amin of Sibujit, Indonesia

En Anjan (2nd left) with Pak Amin of Sibujit, Indonesia

Kampung Gumbang, a remote Bidayuh village in the Bau district, situated on top of a low mountain is now accessible by road. A far cry in the 80’s where one has to walk for a few hours to reach the village.

Driving from Bau town to Gumbang village now only takes about 20 minutes. You will not miss the junction of Gumbang/Padang Pan road at Pijiru. A panoramic view with green vegetation and trees can still be seen along the way.

I started my journey to this village with lots of excitement and high anticipation. I wanted to experience the real Bidayuh culture. By the way, I’m a Bidayuh but my Bidayuh culture is being modernised with time. I don’t know much about Gawai Nyobang. Last year I went to Sibujit village at the Indonesian side for the same function, and it thrilled me when I was informed of this gawai at Gumbang village. I never gave it a second thought. I wanted to meet the people of Sibujit (they treated us well while we were there) and to greet them here in my homeland Sarawak is an honour.

Before the construction of the road began in 1994, the village was only accessible by walking through jungle tracks. It took about three hours from the village to reach Kampung Bogag, some 10 km away, from where they could board a bus or private vans or pick-ups to reach Bau town. The return journey would take about four hours or more as they have to scale the mountain with goods over their shoulders.

The worst was when the villagers had to carry sick patients along the jungle tracks to seek medical treatment in Bau town. In several cases, the patients died before reaching the Bau Dispensary.

I arrived at Gumbang Village at about 3:30 pm on Friday, 03 June 2011, and my cousin En. Rojos was waiting for me and my entourage to welcome us to his village with a big smile on his face. He invited us and happily led us to his humble home. Rojos was from Kpg. Tembawang Sauh, Bau and married to a lady from Kpg. Gumbang and resided there ever since. I stayed at his house while I was there.

After relaxing and had a few cups of cold drink, Rojos invited me to taste his newly brewed Tuak Tebu (made from sugarcane) and Tuak Tumbang (from palm tree). I liked the sweet taste of Tuak Tebu, and had a few glasses poured by my host. Finally, the Tuak Tumbang, which was recently harvested from the tree that day, and tasted very refreshing indeed.

Our conversation continued with history telling by my host and some of the folks that came to visit us. They related to me about how difficult it was when there was no good road to reach Bau for medication.

They related that there was once sometime in the 1970’s when there was an outbreak of a mysterious sickness in the village which claimed some 40 lives. As there was no medical facility available and poor accessibility, many of the unfortunate villagers who contacted what seemed to be a skin disease, turned out to be a killer disease.

“The skin rotted and the patients died just within a few days. Even the doctors did not know what the disease was.” They recalled with a sorrowful expression on their faces. Two of KK Keelim anak Nilam’s daughters aged 5 and 6 then were among the victims of the killer disease.

Then the Ketua Adat (custodian of the old customs) claimed that it could be the work of evil spirits, so he suggested that a Gawai Mukah (Skulls Festival) needed to be held to appease the spirits.

As the village did not have any skull, the villagers had to go across the border to the Indonesian villages to look for human skulls. They went there not to go for head hunting but to seek skulls.

They managed to buy five old skulls from the Indonesian villagers and then a grand Skull Festival was held in the Baruk Tiguon (head house) which was situated at the highest point in the village.

It was later observed that after the ritual, the mysterious sickness was miraculously gone and never occurred in the village again.

To ensure that such a dreadful event will never happen again, the skulls were placed permanently in the baruk and offering had been made to the skulls every year during the Gawai Dayak (Harvest Festival) celebration which fell on June 1st every year. However, Skull Festival was not being held any more unless something disastrous happened.

The baruk (ritual house) was a historical building and as old as the village itself. The village was among the oldest in the district.

It was a round building with conical shaped attap roof, wooden and bamboo wall and floor made from bamboo strips. Besides the five human skulls, there were two deer skulls being hung in the baruk. The skulls were wrapped in leaves and tied with rattan.

A few olden weapons including spears and wooden shields were tied to a post in the baruk. These antiques were said to be a few generations old. They had been used by their fore-fathers to protect the village from invaders.

I was informed that their ancestors at first stayed at the lowland somewhere at the present Pangkalan Tebang, but were forced to move to build their village up at the mountain in order to protect themselves from the attack by their enemies, the Dayaks from Indonesia.

The village was near the Indonesian border. It took about 15-minute walk from the village to the border at Batu Aum, but the nearest Indonesian village, Kampung Sidin was about 3-hour walk from the village.

In the 80’s and 90’s the Indonesian Dayaks from Kampung Sidin, Tawang and Sungkung, used to come over here to sell their farm products such as gingers, chickens, pigs and other jungle produces. This path between Sarawak and Indonesia was now seldom being used due to good roads connecting the two countries.

Before, they were enemies, but now they were like brothers and sisters as they spoke the same dialect. Mutual visiting was common especially during Gawai.

Last year, we were invited to celebrate a traditional Gawai Nyobeng at Sibjujit, Kacamatan Siding. This year, a group of them comprised 46 men and women, including the Ketua Adat Pak Amin, walked for 8 hours to reach Gumbang village to make a return visit by holding Gawai ritual at Baruk Tiguon here. It was a grand ceremony in a traditional style. Gumbang village intended to make this event as a private affair, only meant for Bigumbang (People of Gumbang village) but words spread out. This year they are very proud that YB Dr. Jerip Susil and the President of Dayak Bidayuh National Association (DBNA) Datu Ik Pahon Joyik and entourage also attended the Gawai Nyobang.

YB Dr. Jerip Susil in his speech announced a yearly grant for funding the Gawai for Gumbang village and also to provide some funding for next year’s event of Gawai Nyobeng at Sibujit at the Indonesia side. On the 4th June 2011, when the actual Gawai was held, everyone was to go to the Baruk Tiguon to start the ritual after the function at the village hall. The procession was headed by both Ketua Adat from both countries. Ketua Adat from Gumbang En. Anjan ak Jikan led the groups from the Sarawak side whereas Pak Amin from Sibujit led those from Indonesia. They danced round the pole in the middle of the Tonju (Bamboo platform). Mantra was chanted to appease the unseen spirits so as to give them good health, protection, good harvest and etc.

Afterwards, Pak Amin and Anjan led the cutting of the bamboo pole that they had carried with them, and each of the warrior then cut the bamboo with one stroke of their parang (sword). The tuak was given to everyone that attended the event. Everyone greeted each other while the sound of gongs played in the background.

Later in the afternoon, slaughtering of pigs for the Gawai was held. Drinks such as tuak and beer were served to the guests at the Baruk. For visitors that came to witness the event, they could visit any houses in the village and enjoy the delicacies of various foods and cakes. House to house visit was a very common practice during Gawai in every Bidayuh village in Sarawak.

I had lunch at my host’s house before I made my journey back to Kuching. It was an unforgettable event. Come next year, I’m eyeing for Sibujit with YB Dr. Jerip Susil.

I left Gumbang at about 2.00 PM. Having good road to this village was the most welcoming development that the villagers ever wanted, which their fore-fathers never even dare to dream, considering the village was situated far in the middle of the jungle and up in the mountain. They, the villagers were very grateful to the government of the day for bringing such a great change which could upgrade their living condition.

The villagers also enjoyed 24-hour electricity supply, supplied by Sarawak Electricity Board (SEB) where the wiring was provided by the government late last year. En Rojos was very happy because the meter at this home was recently installed before Gawai. So his house was as bright as any home in town.

En Rojos said that his generator only provided electricity from 6.30 PM till 10.30 PM daily to light up the florescent lamps and to power the other electrical appliances including televisions and refrigerator.

Water supply was from gravity feed pipe from the water source from nearby Gunung Api since the 1970’s. Soon, the government would provide a bigger tanks/dam to cater for the increasing population of the village.

There was a primary school in the village, Sekolah Rendah Kerajaan Gumbang, with six classes from Primary One to Six. Most students, who were boarders, in this school came from Gumbang itself as well as from Plaman Sibuluh and Padang Pan village. The school had all the modern facilities provided for the teachers and students alike.

There was a Roman Catholic church, St. Nicholas’ Church at one end of the village. It was built some 20 years ago to cater for the Christian families in the village.

Only a few of the villagers were still pagans who held on to the traditional beliefs. As the padi harvesting season was now over, the traditional rituals during the annual Gawai celebration had started. The all-night long music by the band boys at the village hall and the sound of the gongs from the baruk filled the night at Gumbang village till the wee hours of the morning.

At present there were some 80 houses in the village with about 400 people. They were farmers planting padi, cocoa, pepper and other crops. Education was right at their doorsteps. Most Bigumbang worked as Civil Servant in town and major cities in Sarawak. Many youngsters had left the village to look for greener pasture in towns.

With the completion of the road, villagers were now able to transport their farm and jungle produce (by boarding the vans) to sell in the Sunday market in Kuching every weekends, which gave them an additional source of income. This was something impossible in the past.

For those who have not witness this rare event, you can come and join them in the year 2012 where Gawai Nyobang will be held every 2 years.