SMEP Gawai Kaamatan Festival 2023: An Emcee’s Story

Tabi basa & greetings everyone. In this post, I’d like to share about my experience in emceeing the recent SMEP Gawai Kaamatan Festival 2023 at Kelab Rekreasi Petroleum (KRP) Lutong.


This is an annual event for SMEP, though it was put into a pause during pandemic period. The last one was done in 2019, where it was done in accordance to Bidayuh’s tradition, and the year before was done in accordance to Iban’s tradition. These are the two ethnics at Sarawak that celebrates Gawai Dayak. 

For this year’s celebration, it was done with Kaamatan, to honour our colleagues from Sabah, where both Gawai and Kaamatan can be considered Harvest Festival.


Putting aside complexities associated with Gawai (because there is a lot of Gawais actually for both Iban and Bidayuh), Gawai Dayak can be considered a New Year celebration, marking a new year of harvest.

Some area still practice the old ways, hence Gawai is a religious celebration. But since majority of Bidayuhs are Christian, Gawai celebration is one way to keep “batan asal” or roughly translated to tradition, alive, lest future generations forgot about it.

It is indeed a threat due to rampant influence from social media. 

For Gawai, Ibans will have their own Kumang Gawai competition, while Bidayuhs have their Dayung Sangon competition. There will be Keling categories too, for adult males. A lesser-known title is Dari Pagan / Dari Pogan for males.

Not to forget, for Orang Ulu community, their beauty queen is called Keligit, while their male counterpart is called Belawan.


Kaamatan itself comes from the word “tomot”, which means harvest. In simple, Kaamatan is considered a Harvest Festival for Kadazan-Dusun. But it actually has a deeper meening than that. For the rest of the world, what they see is only Unduk Ngadau competition, which is their beauty queen competition.

The title evolves from Miss Kadazan (1960-1970), Miss Harvest Festival (1971-1980), Ratu Pesta Menuai (1981-1986) and from 1987 onwards, it is called Unduk Ngadau Kaamatan.


Preparation for SMEP Gawai Kaamatan Festival 2023 (GKF’23) was started before Gawai-Kaamatan break. It was not an easy task to do, given limited time and budget, but in the end, they made it through.

For myself, I have invested in my complete Bidayuh warrior costume because what I have was the standard Bidayuh male costume, which is more like “shaman” costume, the one that they use for Langgi / Sigar / Rejang.

Having that warrior costume gives a different vibe and feel. You feel like you’re ready to face anything. Come what may, for I am ready with my “ilang” (that’s what we call our sword).


What happened behind the scene is the thing that most people won’t know. By this time, supposedly the venue is ready and so on, but just like any other events, there will be some things unexpected happening, somewhere.

From what I can see, Gillvest, Sharon and Eleanor are busy with “Ranyai”, or tree of life, an important component of Gawai for Iban peoples. Bidayuh’s version is a shrine-like structure made from bamboo called “Sangar”.

Trusting other team members to take care of their respective issue with the best of their abilities, I just concentrate with my own part with my co-emcee, Elyana, sumandak (girl) from Ranau, Sabah along with other available crews.

She’s representing Sabah people, while me representing Sarawak. My approach is to make things as holistic as possible. Even for 2019’s Gawai, I invited Miri’s Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu and Melanau communities to come and join us because I want to celebrate the diversity of culture that we have at Sarawak.


We came early also to do another dry run. Yes, there would be a lot of dry runs. Especially for emcees, we would need to familiar with the agenda, what ifs scenario and others. It’s good to know that they other team members are showing strong commitment. Jessica, Azim, Danial and both emcees are discussing about event flow. 

Then Elyana and I grabbed early lunch because we can anticipate that we are not going to have time to eat during the event.

We were right.


Upon my arrival, as I walk to the multipurpose hall, I met Brenda along the way, dressed beautifully in Kadazan-Dusun costume that they called “Sinuangga”. There were two other ladies dressed in sinuangga, including Farah, the program director and Elyana. 

Shu Jia was excited to see my “kupak” jacket. It is not a thing that you can see everyday.

For my audio test, I sung Redak Seribu, much to Gillvest’s delight. While he was busy doing other things, he also took his time to sing. We both duet Tulus, for a while, then Airbone, our Ranau boy, sing a bit too.

The clock shows 3pm, and it is about time for me to change into my warrior costume. While others are busy, I seek help from Gillvest with my “kitahûp” (or sirat in Iban, which means loincloth). 

It is not easy to put on alone, because it is quite complicated, 5 meters of long white cloth. The pattern that I am using is Pichin’s old, style kitahûp, something that not many people are using today. I will keep mine and let it be family heirloom.

It is said that each of these costumes keep its owner’s spirit. That’s why you shouldn’t just take someone’s costume without permission. Best if they gift it to you, to get their blessing.

After donning that full costume, I walk with pride to the hall. For the first time in my decade long life in Miri, I worn this full costume. 

The last time I worn it was back in 2016, during Kpg Pichin’s Kaleng Gawai Champions League, where the champions from past years Kaleng Gawai are being pitted together. I only won 3rd place. It’s not easy to beat my seniors when it comes to these competition. My accessories also are not complete. But it’s fun.

Andrew and Lui took a photo with me. So is Faustino and Patrick. 

Warrior Costume is the best costume to beat the heat.

It is actually the most practical costume as it is not trapping any heat, thanks to my kupak. The kupak’s movement also provided some air movement, hence no need for me to be in front of the fan all the time.


It is time for us to start the event. Elyana and I make some announcement to the event-goers. SMEP Country Chair, Siti Sulaiman, and her LTs – Kim Mun and TC are the key people present. 

Not to forget Tuai Rumah: Norman Ingka and Jimmy Dominic, representing Shell’s Iban and Bidayuh community respectively. 

We started our event with Safety Briefing by Mr Wilther from KRP, mainly talking about mustering station. 

After that, Elyana and I took over, where we spoke about Gawai and Kaamatan, before I proceed to teach the crowd about “Tara Tara Tara”, which is then replied with Ooooo Haaaa.

Throughout the session as well, I do mix a bit of Malay language, particularly communicating with Elyana in Sabahan slang to make things more fun. I have my thanks to my GIFT brothers & sisters, for example Gerard, Lydia, Alex Godon, Lorna & Kath Duo, Ica, Rayner & Elisa, Cons-Jo, and many more, because they taught me how to communicate in Sabahan slang, indirectly.


Before inviting our Tuai Pengabang (leader of the guests), Siti, I led the crowd to cheer Tara Tara Tara as a way to welcome her onstage to give her speech.

In her speech, she publicly told everyone that she feels under-dressed and will get her own costume for future Gawai-Kaamatan celebration. Nevertheless, she’s happy to be there with everyone and hope everyone enjoys the evening.

After Tuai Pengabang Siti’s speech, it is time for Tuai Rumah, Norman to give his welcoming speech, this time in Iban language. He ends his speech with Iban’s style – a long, reverberating Oooo Haaaa. 

Then, Tuai Rumah Jimmy’s turn. He also speaks Bidayuh, Biatah dialect from Siburan. He ends his speech with Tara Tara Tara, which is Bidayuh’s cheer, reserved for joyous occasion, such as Gawai, wedding or other happy occassion and celebration.


For the opening gimmick, Elyana explained about the tradition of hitting gong based on Kadazan-Dusun culture, especially for celebrations. The gong was hit three times by Tuai Pengabang Siti. It was followed by another round of Tara Tara Tara.

It was time for group photo between the Tuai Rumah and Tuai Pengabang’s entourage, before it was finally opened for public to join. 

I always find this as a weird feeling because usually I am the man behind the lens, but now it is my turn to be in front of the lens. Such is life.


Throughout the dinner session, Elyana and I were still onstage, and we were having live conversation about Gawai & Kaamatan and its significance,  to keep the vibe of the event going.


First performance was based on Sabahan culture, where it is performed by MaskarSari Dance Troupe. That group was established around 5 years ago at Miri. For this session, Pengiran brought his trusted 3 members to join in.


For this part, Elyana explained about Sugandoi. Sugandoi is part of Kadazan-Dusun culture, where there is a competition from district level, all the way up to division level of Sabah. That’s why you can see that a lot of Sabahans can sing very well.

Mark Julex performs a popular Sabah song called Tanak Kampung. His baritone voice captivates the audience, who were still enjoying their dinner.


For the prize-giving ceremony, Tuai Pengabang Siti & Tuai Rumah Norman was given the honour to grant them the prize to the winners: Joanne Ting won the first place, followed by Dymphna Jane Ekol and Petrus Balan Wan.

As we speak, coloring competition for the kids is still on-going.


Then it came to one of the best part of the day, which is Ngetas Ranyai. While waiting for the dancer to get ready and demonstrate the Ngetas Ranyai, Tuai Rumah & Tuai Pengabang invited a lot more guests to join in the fun. It was during this time we can see a lot of ngajat styles from these peoples.

Siti dances first, followed by Jimmy, fellow leaders and finally Tuai Rumah Norman was given the honour to chop down the tree. Being an Iban, this thing came naturally for him, that he effortlessly chop down the tree. 

It was such a contrast to the Ngetas Ranyai done by one of our senior leader long time ago, but that is fully understandable. Besides, that’s part of the fun.


After Ngetas Ranyai, MaskarSari Dance Troupe takes the stage once again. This time, with Sarawak-inspired performance, which includes elements from Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu.


There was also video competition for Gawai-Kaamatan. Tuai Rumah Jimmy and TC was given the honour to grant the prize to the main winner: Alyssa Nuwey, followed by Freda Win and Lawrence Sinel.


For this part, Elyana called upon my name. I performed Bekikis Bulu Betis first, then followed by Kampung Love. Bekikis Bulu Betis was indeed a popular song, and a lot of event guests danced Poco-Poco for this song. Too bad I don’t have the picture for it.


For this prize-giving, we invited our Sabah Rep, Miss Farah and TC & Kim Mun give away the prize. It is good to seee these talented young girls gave their all for the competition despite a tight deadline.


For this best-dressed competition, it was such an interesting part. For that, we have divided it into four categories: Children – Boy, Children – Girl, Adult – Men, Adult- Women category.

The winners are being chosen based on the loudness of the cheer that they received. Brenda and Gillvest helped to facilitate this mini competition.

Girl Category

For Girl’s category, there were only three identified girls move forward to the stage: Amber, Joanna and Zara. Amber was shy, didn’t do any action.

Zara was much older, and she can give a good catwalk as demonstrated by Elyana. Joana also quite energetic. But the winner is Amber.

Boy Category

For Boy’s category, there were only three contestants as well: Zach, Osbert and Oswald. During their talent show part, Osbert were trying to showcase his talent, but Oswald followed him.

It was a tricky situation, so I proceed with Zach’s talent show. He did a brief walk. As for the winner, it is Zach received the loudest cheer.

Men Category

For Men’s category, the four contestants were Wilson Tigus, Kustine, Asun Entaban and Mark Julex. Things are getting more interesting here.

Wilson showcases Bidayuh’s langgi move, Kustine and Asun both showcases their ngajat moves and MJ, since he’s wearing Sabah costume, proceed to do sumayau moves.

But it is hard to defeat Asun’s starpower, where he received the loudest cheer of 105 dB, far leaving behind the others.

Women Category

For Women’s category, the four contestants were Helen, Lidiya, Josephine and Bulan. Helen showcases her ngajat moves, Lidiya’s langgi, Josephine with her Berawan’s kanyet dance, and Bulan with Kayan’s Saga Leto.

When it comes to voting, there was close fight between these ladies, but Lidiya prevails at 96 dB reading.


For Gawai, to mark the end of it, Iban peoples will do Ngiling Bidai, or basically rolling the mat. Both Tuai Rumah, Sabah rep and LTs were invited to the stage to do Ngiling Bidai. Tara Tara Tara and Ooo Haa cheers can be heard in the background as they roll the mat. I can see a number of peoples raises their drink, including yellow tin Sagota whilst popping another can of Sagota. Haus eh?


After Ngiling Bidai, it is the finale of the night. Mass Poco-Poco from end to end, with all guests are invited to join. Some expressed that they are not familiar with Poco-Poco, so we did a dry run before that. We played for a bit. Then proceed to to do the full round.


After that, both Elyana and I proceeds to close the event. Thanking KRP for the venue, our advisors, the committees and those who came and dressed beautifully in their own traditional costumes. Whilst many went back home, there were some who stayed on and drink.

Shu Jia can be seen singing hear-break Chinese songs, whilst Eleanor and Sharon was tapau-ing food. Chris of Village also singing a song. Malcolm was singing Tulus too.

The committees were taking over the stage and to my surprise, they were singing Mimpi Yang Sempurna. One of my favourite song. 

After that, we have our debriefing. There were a lot of thanks from the committees, especially about emcee. But they didn’t realise, they are the true heroes for they carry the event behind-the-scene, such as Izzati, doing important things far from the event venue. Unsung hero indeed.


In this part, I’d like to thank the Gawai-Kaamatan organising committee led by Miss Farah for giving me the opportunity to be the emcee. Thank you also for accommodating my comments and remarks to make this event a successful one.

I’d like to thank Elyana to agree to be my co-emcee despite were being given a last minute notice. Your chemistry and energy onstage was much appreciated.

I also would like to thank the amazing guests, especially those who dances to my song. Should you require emcee for future events, feel free to contact me at 014-8677585.

Tukang Rantek,
Claudius (Del)
Photographer / Emcee

© Claudius Weson (2023). All rights reserved.


For those who didn’t know, “Tukang Rantek” means photographer by Bidayuh Pichin, which is my village at Serian. Here are some of the images that I manage to take after my duty as emcee and finally was able to take some pics with my camera.

error: © Claudius Weson (2017 - 2024). All rights reserved.