Gawai Dayak celebrations were forced to be muted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic but cherishing the good times from past years is something that can never be taken away.
Speaking to Rojak Daily from New York, current Miss Universe Malaysia Francisca Luhong James says that she truly missed her family and the festivities this year.
The 25-year-old, who is the first indigenous Miss Malaysia, said that while Gawai Dayak celebrations are officially on the 1 and 2 June in Sarawak, celebrations often continued for the whole month.
"Of course I miss it all. My most favourite part of Gawai would definitely have to be the food!"
"At the longhouse, my family and other families in the community would gather, and we would do everything together. We prepare the food, cook together and then enjoy all the dishes together," she said.
The Public Relations major, who is still in the United States after attending the Miss Universe competition in Florida recently, said that she cannot wait to get back home and enjoy the local food again.
"My most favourite dish during Gawai is the roast pork. I also love ayam pansoh and terung asam. It's the best!" she exclaimed.
Fun times with food prep
Like all other festivals in Malaysia, food is also a big part of the Gawai celebration.
Everyone in the longhouse is given different tasks to do and they do it together.
The younger ones in her family are usually tasked with preparing the chicken.
"It's not so simple though. We have live chicken at home so before we cook it, we have to slaughter the chicken, pluck the feathers and prepare the meat.
"It's a whole process but we come together as a community," she said adding that prayers and other customs are also done as a sign of respect to the ancestors.
"It's something that I cherish and we practice every year. In fact, when I explain what happens to you, I’m not just telling you information but I can actually picture the whole thing in my head," she said with a smile.
Francisca said that prior to the pandemic, celebrations often went on for a month.
"At the very the end we will have this ceremony called Ngiling Tikai. We would weave these traditional mats and have a ceremony to roll it up at the end," she explained.
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Additionally, music, dancing and merriment were also important aspects of the festivities.
Keeping the culture alive
Despite being from quite a modern family, Francisca, who is born in Kuching, said that tradition and culture was something that they valued very much.
"I definitely do miss the celebrations being in Kuala Lumpur and additionally with the COVID-19 restrictions but we are very much in touch with our cultures and customs."
"No matter how modern we may be, my family believes in preserving culture. Our culture and our ancestors are very important. Without them, we would not be where we are today," she said.
Francisca added that preserving culture and heritage was one of the aspects that she hoped to champion as the current Miss Universe Malaysia.
She also hopes to use her influence to help women and help the needy in the community once she returns to Malaysia.
We wish you all the best Francisca!