Sat, 06 Aug 1994

`Gawai Mandung', a joyful festivity to pay respects to Dayak ancestors

One hundred years ago a Dutch military doctor, Anton W. Nieuwenhuis, set off to explore the natural and cultural potential along the Kapuas and Mahakam rivers in West and East Kalimantan.

To commemorate the expedition, 20 people participated in the "Kapuas-Mahakam Expedition 1994, Kompas-Gramedia-Mapala UI". The Rp 250 million adventure started in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on June 15 and ended in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, on July 22.

The Jakarta Post's reporter Lewa Pardomuan joined the excursion team in Putussibau, in Kapuas Hulu regency and reported the following. Another story is on Page 7.

MALAPI PATAMUAN, KAPUAS HULU, West Kalimantan (JP): Everyone in the longhouse was in a festive mood.

The old and the young were dressed in their best colorful outfits and the longhouse's apartments were decorated with brightly colored traditional cloth.

The Taman tribe were celebrating Gawai Mandung, a joyful festival to pay respect to their ancestors.

This year's celebration was jointly held by four families who felt that they could afford to fund such an event.

"It costs a lot to organize the festival, which is why it is usually held only once every two or three years," said A. Dalingasdi, an elderly man living in the house.

He said that a single festival can cost more than Rp 5 million. Some of the money is spent by the host families who give one kilogram of rice to relatives invited to the party.

Dalingasdi explained that the celebration is also meant to improve the social status of the organizers.

Various sorts of cookies, beer, soft drinks, palm wine and music permeated through the house when members of the Kapuas- Mahakam expedition team and Kapuas Hulu regent AM Djapari paid a visit recently.

It is a communal enterprise. Every inhabitant of the house, which boasts 42 apartments, takes part in preparing for the event under the guidance of a special committee set up to arrange the three day party.

On the first day, the hosts were busy greeting the guests to the all night celebration.

At the pier on the Kapuas river in front of the house, girls dance to greet guests from the surrounding areas while other children help carry the luggage to the house. Two special boats, richly decorated with banners and ornaments made of coconut leaves, shuttle the endless line of guests from the other side of the river.

The festivities usually begin with the restoration of ancestral graveyards.


Gawain Mandung includes the unique sacrifice of cows. Honored guests are given the chance to spear the animals to death. According to tradition, these guests will then provide cows to the organizing families of the next celebration.

The cows, there were 10 at the recent ceremony, are kept in the cage and sacrificed at the peak of the festival on the second day.

When the guests arrive, they circle the cage before being allowed to pass through the wooden gate heading to the house door. At the gate, the guests are invited to carve into the logs with daggers, an act that welcomes them to the party.

Before entering the apartments, the guests are further greeted by dancing and then served palm wine.

Attending the celebration also means staying awake all night eating and singing. Those who fall asleep are roused, even at dawn, and offered more food and wine.

At the peak of the revelry the most interesting event takes place; for those who can stand the sight of blood.

Cows, which have not been fed for a few days, are speared. The animals are left inside the cage while selected guests stab at the cow's through openings in the cage. It takes endurance and strength for an outsider to listen to the cow's dying moans.

The festivities continue on into the evening, when the cows are butchered, cooked and served to the guests with a steady flow of beer, soft drinks and wine.