Nantang Jule: Kpg Pichin’s Gawai Tradition

Prologue

Tabi basa & greetings everyone. In this post, I’d like to share about the one of Kpg Pichin’s Gawai tradition, which is called Nantang Jule.

What Is Nantang Jule?

Nantang Jule (pronounced as Nan-tang Ju-le’) is basically a blessing ceremony where Bidayuhs will lay down their paddy seeds on top of tray (usually bronze, and sometimes silver) and the shaman will bless it. 

In the past, these activities will take place at a random date though concentrated around end-May or early June, depending on your area. But nowadays, us, Bi-Pichins (prefix “Bi-“, pronounced “bee” means “people of” in Bidayuh) will carry out these symbolic activity in honour of our ancestral past. Meaning to say, even though we are Christians, particularly Catholic, we do not completely discard our past but rather keep our identity so long as it doesn’t contradict with our faith. 

To answer the common question, no, Bi-Pichin does not practice folk religion anymore. Pichin is almost 100% Catholic with some folks embracing other religions. What you are about to see is just a symbolic. You will see later that we have Catholic priest, Reverend Father Lazarus Swinie, Rector of St Theresa Serian, who will start our Nantang Jule’ symbolic ceremony with by blessing using holy water. 

The truth is, not easy for you to find Bidayuh village that is still practicing the old ways. There are some though, done by certain individual though I can’t truly be sure whether it is in practice now. 

Evening Mass

Since 2nd June is Sunday, it is our obligation to go to church and attend that weekly mass. However, considering that the day before was Gawai’s first day, hence the decision was made to start mass in the evening instead at 5pm. 

The celebrant of the mass was Fr Lazarus, who gave very interesting homily about the body of Christ. 2nd June itself is The Feast of Corpus Christi, which is also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

This time, there was no blackout during mass (thank goodness!). Therefore, we are able to proceed with our mass as usual. However, the group at the right side of the church didn’t manage to get holy communion due to a large number of congregations since it is Gawai time.

Post-Evening Mass

After the mass, we managed to greet Fr Lazarus and we spoke a bit about his homily, to his delight. The best thing is we are able to converse fluently in Bidayuh. It is something that I can’t do when I am outside of my village. Outside, medium of conversation is either English, Malay or Iban. Sometimes Bidayuh, but even then, I can’t use pure native language, but it is always better than none.

Such is the challenge faced not only by Bidayuh, but other indigenous peoples at Sarawak, be it Iban, Melanau, Kayan, Kenyah, Kelabit, Lahanan etc. Language preservation is always a challenge but I’ll save this topic for another post as it deserved its own spotlight.

After taking photo with few of my friends, we made our way to the Awah Gawai. (Awah Gawai here refers to our homestay shaped in our traditional longhouse, and its official name is Awah Gawai Tun Abdul Razak, but we just call it Awah Gawai).

The Wait

Upon our arrival at Awah Gawai, Bi-Pichin already filling in the “awah”. We’re lucky to be able to find a parking spot as it usually filled before you even realise it, especially during big celebrations like this one. 

The Guest-of-Honour of our event this evening is Dato’ Sri Richard Riot anak Jaem, Member of Parliament, P.199 Serian, which is the only active minister from Champaign Pichin. The other one was Datuk Amar Michael Manyin and Datuk Dominic Dago, where they well-respected among fellow Bidayuhs.

I heard that the VIP is coming, and therefore, I followed the welcoming bands consisting of “pironchong” (Bidayuh’s bamboo musical instrument) and welcoming ladies, dressed in Bidayuh traditional clothes, or simply called “jamuh”. 

The Welcoming

At around 7.30pm, finally our VIP arrived. Dato’ Sri is well-dressed in a “kupak” (tree bark) jacket, with a headgear that is adorned with a replica of hornbill beak. This is different from the usually simple headgear of Bidayuh warriors, but this one definitely is better aestatically.

Joining him is Datin Sri Betty Mincha, his wife, from Kpg Pichin as well. 

As the entourage walked slowly to the Awah Gawai, as usual, I will rush forward to take the best angle. Joining me, as usual for any Gawai event is Mr Hadi and Mr Zachary Levi, our Pichin YouTuber.

Once Dato’ Sri arrived at the Awah Gawai, he did some traditional Bidayuh ceremony, which I didn’t get to witness with my own very eyes. 

After that, he greets the people at Awah Gawai, where Bi-Pichins already lines up to greet him. There was a long line, all the way until the end of Awah Gawai. 

In this segment alone, there were a lot of photographs captured but I only share a handful of it to conserve some space.

Langgi Pingadap

Once our VIP was seated, just like any other official event, we sang Negaraku and Ibu Pertiwiku, after which the ladies from Paddu zone did a welcoming dance, called Langgi Pingadap. Langgi is Bidayuh Serian’s dance, which involves a tricky footwork and a relatively simple hand mavements. 

Dinner Prayer

After the welcoming dance, it is time for dinner prayer by Fr Lazarus. There was a funny moment here, where a confusion occurs on what to pray, to which Fr Lazarus decided that it is appropriately dinner prayer, and the blessing of jule’ will be done later. 

Dinner time were done in potluck style, where each zone members brought their own respective food. This is the time where we will be able to see various Bidayuh traditional food served.

But this time, I was too hungry, and therefore, I enjoyed my dinner in peace as I know I will be busy after that and will have no time to eat. Hence the need to fill my stomach while I am still can. The next food pitstop is 12am, which midnight porridge break.

As for the VIPs, they will have their own dinner provided by Paddu zone’s team since they are the host of Gawai this year. 

Speeches & Toast

After everyone is settled down, the emcee, Mr Cyril @ Tageg invited the our village’s chief, KK Rioi Lagit to give a speech, followed by Dato’ Sri. In this speech, he mentioned that Kpg Pichin is actually the biggest Bidayuh village in the world. But the most important one is the fact that Kpg Pichin’s 2nd June tradition is something that we should be proud of, the night where we will showcase our tradition for everyone to see. 

Once the speeches concluded, it is time for the toast, wishing for a better year. Did you know that Gawai is actually new year for Bidayuhs? It marks the end of harvesting year, and the beginning of a new year. But since not everyone is practicing the old ways of living, we celebrate it symbolically. 

Incentive Prizes

As usual, Kpg Pichin’s People Association will reward the children of each of its members, whoever that excels academically. Hopefully the reward received will motivate them to reach higher. Congratulations to the recipients.

I was struggling to find a spot to capture the images for the incentive prizes, but luckily my childhood friend, Mr Gugik @ Paisam willingly let me use his chair for me to get a better angle for this shot. Thank you Sam!

For this incentive prizes, best case scenario is the receiver stand by to receive their prizes. However, in the event they are not around, then their parents should take on their behalf. It is not fair to let others wait because time is precious. At least the organiser is informed beforehand.  

Brakat Bine

Once incentive prizes were given to the intended recipients, it is time for us to move on to the next part of the agenda: blessing by priest.

For this. Fr Lazarus lead the prayer and whilst others who present prays Hail Mary, he will walk from end-to-end of the longhouse with the altar boys to bless the “jule” of others, which contains farming seeds, or work tools that will be used by fellow Bi-Pichin. 

In the past, it is blessing of seeds & work tools by shaman. But now, in the age of our Lord, it is done by an ordained priest. 

Mini Photoshoot

Whilst waiting for it to be completed, we managed to do a bit of photoshoot though it is kind of rushed. But it doesn’t matter as long as we met the objective.

Langgi Dari

The return of Fr Lazarus to the main room marks the beginning of the next segment, which is the Langgi Dari. Langgi Dari means langgi dance performed by men, with two representing each zone. In this dance, Dato’ Sri also joined in. In fact, he will join every year. His commitment to present on Pichin’s Gawai on 2nd June is what makes the event even more special.

In this event, no one talks about politics. There is a time for that. Quoting Datuk Amar, Bidayuh event should be apolitical, meaning free from talks of politic. In that way, we are able to bring everyone from all walks of life, religion as we are one Bidayuh. 

Datuk Amar himself is the founder of DBNA, Dayak Bidayuh National Association, hence he is fully aware of this and his goal is simple, to unite all Bidayuhs: all the way from Sematan to Serian. 

As these men dances, a dance led by the leader of Paddu Zone, Mr Michael Noot, those who present can see that there is a lot of smartphones camera pointing at the dancers. This is totally different from 10 years ago, when I joined these dances. Only in 2016 I joined the “birehe”, which I will touch later. 

I am also delighted to see that not only Dayaks are present but other folks as well, including other guests from different religion. Truly, this is the beauty of Sarawak, and Malaysia in general. 

Tax Collectors?

Langgi Dayung

Langgi Dayung took place after Langgi Dari, where these ladies have been prepared since 7pm, and they finally dance 3.5 hours later at 10.30pm. This is the usual timing. Some might say that they have been waiting for a long time, but it is Gawai time, the excitement overrides all of the other negative emotions. 

The group is led by Mdm Rita Laun, with the youngest of them is Miss Issabell Abell, at a young age of 15 years old. Each zone sent two of their representative. 

Some might say, it is better to send the elder women to dance, but it is easier said than done because based on my experience and words from other zones, those of that age doesn’t have the appetite to dance and it is quite taxing for them too. Yes, they can work at their farmland but performing in front of hundreds of spectators takes a different competency, and courage. 

Hence, whoever volunteers should be welcomed. By having a variety of young and old in the langgi group, it is one way to ensure that the knowledge doesn’t die down. In fact, these youngsters should be encouraged. Who knows, they might be representing Bidayuh elsewhere? The same train of thought applies to other indigenous peoples too. 

When a youngster shows an interest in culture, do give them encouragement. The least you can do is to let them pursue it at their own pace. To force them is not good either, as they might hate or resent it. 

Once the langgi dayung was completed, we took a group photo for them. 

Birehe

This is considered a special part of the evening because this is the part that people call “dance with the chickens”. But it actually is called “Birehe”.

As the men dances, they will shout “hek ah”, as if they are chasing away the bad luck and invites the good luck in. 

Of course, it has its original meaning, but in this case we only do it symbolically, and we did not invoke any presence of spirits though in the past, Bidayuh do. 

Most of the dancers will dance with their respective chicken, village chicken to be exact, not commercial chicken. There is only one rooster, while the six others are hen. 

As they dance from the end to the other end, they will take the liberty to interact with the crowds while holding the chicken. Once they are nearing the end of the dance, the dancers will twist the neck of those chicken to their demise. They are not supposed to use knife because that is not how it is done according to the spirits. Hence, one needs to have a good grip to twist it. 

This something fun, and I recommend you to visit Pichin on 2nd of June just for this part alone. 

Sangar? What Sangar?

In my previous post, I do mentioned about “sangar” / Bidayuh offertory place that was placed outside. Usually it is placed inside for Gawai goers to see, and usually dances will be done around it. But in this case, it is not done. Perhaps the next host will put it inside? We shall see. 

Another Mini Photoshoot

Maan Bubur Birehe

Remember those chicken that the dancers langgi around with? Those chicken are supposed to be cooked and porridge will be shared with whoever present, as part of sharing the blessing.

This is where you can see the Dato’s Sri, KK and other dancers walk from “sijo tok sabai”, i.e. from one end to the other end whilst shouting “hek ah”. 

Midnight Porridge Break

Close to midnight, finally we are able to take a breather. Chicken porridge, which was prepared by all of those zone members are finally shared for all to enjoy. It always tastes better when you are exhausted, or thirsty.

Entertainment Time

Then, it is time for us to start with our entertainment. This time, we have three local Bidayuh singers who came to entertain us at Awah Gawai, namely Rozzie Mila, Daren of Wooden Gun and Carrie Geres. 

Each of these singers have their own strength, but Daren’s Daari Gap really took the spotlight. No matter how many times he sang that song, the Awah Gawai will always be full of dancers “masu tampe tok tampe” (from end to end). I counted six times of Daari Gap, where the last one was performed using band. 

Metric Modulation band also performed during that evening.

In the end, the event was concluded at 5,30am, just an hour short from our Nam Stengah slogan.

Epilogue

2nd June is always a special occasion for us, Bi-Pichins. Therefore, for those who wants to experience authentic Bidayuh Gawai celebration, this is the right moment. So much thinas that I cannot convey using words and pictures, but can only be experienced by actually being there. 

Thank you for reading and have a great weekend ahead!

Your Tukang Rantek / Rockstar Emcee (R★MC),
Claudius

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