The Art of Gawai Festival

Gawai Dayak is a well-known and one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Sarawak and it is usually celebrated during the month of June. It is a festival to celebrate the end of the rice harvesting season and to give thanks to the gods. “Gawai” means festival and “Dayak” refers to the indigenous people of Sarawak. The Dayaks mainly consist of the Iban, Bidayuhs, and the Orang Ulu.

If we were to pay attention to the details of the Gawai festival, we will be able to see all the artistic elements in the festival from the traditional costumes worn to the musical instruments played during the festival.

Before the festival, everyone involved in the festival will be decorating their longhouses, for example hanging ceremonial blankets (pua kumbu), tied cloth (kain kebat) and other handicrafts in their rooms. The Pua Kumbu is a traditional patterned multi-coloured and intricately designed ceremonial blanket and is usually hand woven by Iban women.

During the celebrations, there are activities like a beauty pageant (“Kumang” and “Keling”) to choose the festival’s queen and king. Participants will wear their traditional costumes for the pageant, for example, Ngepan Iban for females and they will be judged based on their costume and beauty.

There are also performances of traditional dance such as ngajat, “bepencha” and “ajat perang”. Traditionally, ngajat is a dance to welcome the Iban warriors back home while “bepencha” is a sword dance and “ajat perang” is a war dance. There are different types of ngajat dance and they are accompanied by traditional musical instruments, like the gendang. For the Orang Ulu dance, music is usually played with the Sape’.

These are the highlights of how art has been assimilated into the Gawai festival in the form of beautiful decorative blankets and handicrafts to traditional costumes and performance art during the celebrations. Indeed, Gawai Dayak is a colourful and exciting festival to be experienced in Sarawak.

(Gawai Festival-Image taken from, Credit: Agustus Sapen)

(Gawai Festival-Image taken from



Tracing the origins of Pua Kumbu - BASKL. BASKL - Bandar Aktiviti Seni Kuala Lumpur. (2021). Retrieved from

Nyambar, N. (2019). Tarian Ngajat identiti masyarakat Iban. Retrieved from

Gawai Dayak. BorneoTalk. (2022). Retrieved from


July 31, 2022
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