SIBU: Pictures of tuak (rice wine), ngajat (a dance) video clips and Iban songs have started to emerge on the Facebook pages of many Iban people, a clear indication that the harvest season has ended and the community is preparing to mark Hari Gawai on June 1.
Usually, many of those working and living far away from home would return to their longhouses to be with family, relatives and friends to celebrate the Sarawakian festival, but with COVID-19 still a problem and a movement restriction still in place, most Ibans have decided not to go back.
Johntan Japang, 50, a foreman in Pandamaran, Port Klang, Selangor said he and his family will not be going back to their longhouse in Tatau, Bintulu although they booked their tickets last year and were supposed to fly home on May 15.
“I think there is a lot of hassle if we were to go back for Gawai, such as the 14-day quarantine period,” he told Bernama.
Johntan believes that one can take precautionary measures like wearing a face mask and using a hand sanitiser, but it won’t insure against catching the virus.
“It would be disastrous if we infect the whole longhouse, especially when there are many elderly people who have a lower chance of recovering from it,” he said.
Johntan added that he and his family will fly home after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
On May 10, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, announced an interstate travel ban for Hari Raya (May 24 – 25), the Kaamatan festival (May 30 – 31) and Gawai festival (June 1 – 2) due to COVID-19.
He also announced a four-week extension to the movement control order (MCO), now called the conditional movement control order (CMCO), till June 9.
The Sarawak state government has banned interdistrict travel for Hari Raya and Gawai, too.
Jalil Unjar, 45, a safety supervisor in Singapore, will not be going back to Sarawak for Gawai either, and doesn’t know when he can return to his wife and children in Johor.
“We planned to go back to our longhouse in Ulu Katibas, Song this year. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen because of COVID-19. I have already cancelled our tickets,” he said, adding that it is too risky to go back now.
Emily Sangan Empaling and her husband, Nick Apoi, who are working in Kalabakan, Sabah have also decided not to go back to their longhouse in Sungai Mador, Bintangor for Gawai.
“I really want to go back as it has been a while since I saw my family and relatives. Gawai is a merry occasion for us to appreciate each other and renew or strengthen our ties. What to do? It is better to be safe than not,” she said, adding that not going back has created a deep hole in her heart.
Her cousin, Syura Kelukut and husband, who are working in Miri, will not be returning for Gawai, too.
They are are a bit sad about the whole situation but are adhering to the advice to break the virus chain.
“Friends and relatives have been teasing me, telling me not to cry this Gawai. I probably will. I guess I can go back another time when things are a lot better,” she said.