‘For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.’ - Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Here we are again, getting ready to celebrate Gawai, a significant part of the cycle of life that we experience in this corner of the world. Each time Gawai comes around, I am reminded that it is a celebration of what we receive after a season of hard work as farmers.
To the native community of Sarawak, this hard work is a mandatory process that enables them to sustain their livelihood. If they do not perform the jobs required each season, they will get nothing at the end of the cycle.
For wet paddy cultivation, the order of the process is to prepare the semai (seedlings), clear and prepare the paddy field (by flooding with water, then draining the field to soften the ground), transplanting the seedlings, tending to the fields and getting rid of pests, then finally, harvest the padi.
For dry paddy cultivation or shifting cultivation the process is different. Firstly the place needs to be identified, and the undergrowth cleared (“lemidik’). Then comes the “temara’’, or the cutting down of the trees, which are then burnt once they have dried up (“nutung”).
Sowing (“nguan”), done by a pair, is by making a hole in the ground and dropping a few grains of padi in the hole. While the seedlings are growing, the farmers tend to the fields and clear the grass around the plants (“demamu”), until the time comes to harvest the padi (“ngerani”).
‘Sluggards do not plow in season; so at harvest time, they look but find nothing.’ - Proverbs 20:4
I used to help my family with both times of padi cultivation, and the experience ingrained in me was that if we do not put in the hard work, we will go hungry. Of course, sometimes there are factors beyond our control that affect our harvest, such as the weather, or disease. Nevertheless, we must carry out our tasks each season if we are to have any chance of a harvest.
For the native communities, every stage of the cultivation process is carried out in a gotong-royong manner where everyone works together on all the fields to ensure that every family gets a good harvest.
The spirit of Gawai teaches us to be thankful for everything we have. In the past, before the harvest, our ancestors invoked the spirits’ or the gods’ blessings, whereas nowadays, we ask for God’s blessings for good harvests.
Many of us are not farmers, but we work to make a living, and like the farmers, we should also be thankful for what we reap. Like the farmers, our livelihood is affected by factors outside our control.
In our case, the economy, government policy and management of the country’s resources are some of the factors. Our country and our people are going through difficult times now. Like the farmers, we need to work together to ensure a good outcome for all.
‘Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.’ - James 3:18
Some of the matters most threatening to our ‘harvest’ and peaceful enjoyment of it are corruption, bigotry, religious extremism and radicalism, and of most concern, the apathy and silence of the many in the face of such threats.
We must all play our parts to be peacemakers, to stand up and reject these threats. It is time for the people to realise that the fate of our country is in our hands, and not the politicians’ or political parties’. It is time to let the moderate voice of the silent majority be heard.
‘When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field, and don’t gather up every remaining bit of your harvest.’ - Lev 19:9.
Finally, as we celebrate the good harvest with joy and merrymaking, let us not forget the poor amongst us.
My grandfather used to tell me that it is a custom of the Lun Bawangs not to harvest the entire crop, but to leave some in the fields. Similarly, when collecting fruits, we do not pick the trees bare, but leave some fruit behind for others who may need them.
Therefore, in our daily endeavours for survival and advancement, we must not forget those who are less fortunate than us – the poor, the sick, widows and orphans. Let us share our good harvests while we can, for this is the spirit of Gawai as well.
I wish all my Dayak friends a happy Gawai.
Do Aco Gawai.
Gayu Guru, Gerai Nyamai.
BARU BIAN is PKR’s Ba’ Kelalan assemblyperson and Sarawak PKR chairperson.