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Hari Gawai Dayak 2014 special supplement Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Celebrating Dayak culture with Kumang Gawai By Jude Toyat J ust as every community has its own creation story, so too do they have their own heroes, gods and goddesses. For the Iban community, Kumang of folklore was the epitomy of womanhood: gentle, beautiful, resourceful, loving, loyal and talented. She was every man’s dream, and “It is a platform to showcase the rich tapestry of Dayak ethnic cultural heritage and most importantly its conservation for future generations.” Priscilla Hyginus parents wished their daughters to possess Kumang’s good qualities. According to legend, Kumang was the daughter of Bedang and Sinjung. Besides being skillful with the pua kumbu, she was a master streamstress and weaver. She was always consulted on her expertise and skills in weaving by her compatriots in her home in Gelong. According to Hassanal Redzuan, culture officer from the National Department for Culture and Arts Sarawak (JKKN), Kumang is the most popular and frequently recounted woman in Iban folklore. “It was believed that Kumang possessed mystical powers and that she was the fairest maiden that had captured the heart of the prince, Keling.” The annual search for the perfect ‘Kumang’ has become the highlight of our Gawai festivals. For Hassanal, the best part of the Kumang Gawai competition is where the contestants are paraded out in their full regalia. “That’s what makes the competition really different from modern beauty pageants where the contestants parade in their evening gowns.” Pageant winners are not only judged according to their physical beauty, grace and talent, but also in how well they represent their ethnic communities. “The Iban costume is the most difficult to wear and it’s really unique in its own way,” he said, adding that besides the perfect costume, the judges would also be looking to see whether the contestant had a deep understanding of their customs and traditions. The legendary Iban Kumang finds her counterpart in Keligit of Kayan/Kenyah folklore, Dayang of the Kelabit/Lun Bawang legends and Kumang or Iyang in the Bidayuh oral tradition. The makeup of the Iban traditional costume The traditional costume for Iban women consists of ‘kain pandak’ (short skirt) or ‘kain tating’ (weighted skirt), ‘lampit’ (girdles), ‘rawai’ (corset) with silver coins fastened and worn as belts, ‘marik empang’ (collars of beadwork), ‘selampai’ (shawl), ‘sugu tinggi’ (head gear) decorated with coloured metal ornaments called ‘ensuga’ on the top of the tiara, ‘tenggak pirak’ (silver necklaces) or ‘marik engkeringan’ (necklace) ‘tumpa pirak’ (silver bracelets), ‘sabit’ (silver or brass chains), ‘kelunchong’ (anklet) and ‘buah pauh’ (small silver boxes) or ‘perecha’ (handkerchief) to hold in their hands. Gawai celebrations: Then and Now Dayung Iyang, the Bidayuh counterpart In the olden days, beauty contests among Bidayuh women and men were held during major festivals like Gawai Mukah (Gawai Antu Pala) or during the padi harvesting festival ‘Gawai Sawa’ , now known as ‘Gawai Daya’. ‘Gawai Daya’ is considered the best time to hold a pageant as it coincides with the padi harvesting festival marking the joy of reaping the fruits of many years’ labour and many years of waiting and watching for a good padi harvest. It is also believed that the beauty contest would attract the wandering souls of the padi to return to their respective grain bins in the village. A platform for conservation For Priscilla Hyginus, better known among her friends as Pris, the Kumang Gawai is more than just a beauty pageant: “It is a platform to showcase the rich tapestry of Dayak ethnic cultural heritage and most importantly its conservation for future generations.” Currently working as an administration executive, 27year-old Pris from Padawan won the Kumang Gawai (Bidayuh) title in 2009. While she advises young hopefuls to take part in the beauty pageant for the personal and cultural experience, “The most daunting task for someone who enters the Kumang is to be the ambassador and represent the tribe that you are representing.” Becoming a true kumang means being knowledgable of your culture and traditions. For Pris, who was also the choreographer for the Dayung Sangon 2014 beauty contest on Kumang Gawai 2009 (Bidayuh) winner Priscilla Hyginus. May 10, she believes that she was destined to have a life entwined with the arts and music of Sarawak. When asked about the difference between Kumang Gawai today compared to the past, she said that she was happy that there was more opportunities for the younger generation to join in the pageants. • Turn to page E3 E2 By Patricia Hului By Danielle Ringgit Tastes and flavours of traditional Dayak cuisine E6

Gawai Supplement 2014

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