Will Gawai and Kaamatan ever be recognised as national public holidays?

Azmyl Yunor

The writer wonders why Hari Gawai and Kaamatan have not been designated as national public holidays considering that Sarawak and Sabah are intrinsic to the formation of Malaysia. – AFP pic, June 2, 2023.

SO this year I can’t go back to Sarawak to visit my in-laws for Gawai again because I caught the flu over the weekend (and lost my voice) and am still recovering.

Not exactly in shape for festivities, so I am properly bummed out.

I haven’t gone back to my wife’s longhouse since 2019.

If there’s one thing about Gawai I tell those who have yet to experience it, it is this: whatever you learnt in school is barely the tip of the iceberg of the real party that goes on.

Another thing that blows the minds of many who have gone and survived Gawai is the hospitality and warmth of the Dayaks and the extensive merrymaking into the wee hours.

Yet one thing I have always wondered is: why aren’t Hari Gawai and Kaamatan national public holidays?

Borneo Malaysia is intrinsic to the formation of Malaysia as we know it, but yet these two cultural celebrations are still only given public holiday status in their respective realms alone.

I’d like to see this changed and added to the roster of public holidays we already have as a nation.

Not that we don’t have enough public holidays already as it is but in order for both celebrations to be recognised nationally, symbolically, the only way is to make both into national public holidays, not just state ones.

I often joke in my live show that Malaysia has public holidays in abundance that if we could categorise it as a product, we could actually export our public holidays abroad.

Think about it – the boon (or bane, especially for us in the education industry because we have to arrange for replacement classes) of having such a wealth of public holidays is that it’s crossed over to the category of “luxury” items or experiences in this increasingly post-modern world we live in.

Jokes aside, there are real economic concerns for East Malaysians who live and work in the peninsula when Gawai and Kaamatan arrive – notably the high cost of flights.

And those who live and work in the peninsula also have to use their annual leave to return home.

Now that the Madani government is running the show with the best Bornean representation in the federal government, there’s no better time than now to lobby for Gawai and Kaamatan to be recognised nationally.

If Gawai and Kaamatan are declared national public holidays, then there will also be higher chances of Malaysians from the peninsula travelling to Sarawak or Sabah (or both) and being exposed to the culture and society.

While public holidays are well-deserved time off from the drudgery of work and labour, they also tend to disrupt our much valued “productivity”.

Maybe more public holidays just means more people vegging out at home watching Netflix or travelling elsewhere. 

For the two worlds that I ply my trade in – live music and higher education – the abundance of public holidays is good for the business of music (people are more likely to go out and watch a live music show on the eve of a public holiday) but annoying for those who teach (replacement classes are a real bane to educators).

Nevertheless, humans are bound to complain and we’ve got it good here, culturally.

Well, I’m biased since I have Bornean filiality through marriage and was welcomed into an extended Bornean family.

As a “peninsulan” (I like that term), I confess I felt disillusioned with all things “Malaysian” at one point in youth until I realised that version of Malaysia was solely a peninsula version.

Borneo balances the country’s weight.

I’m proud to say I have a complete Malaysian experience.

As they say in Sarawak: “Oooooohaaaaaaaaa!” – June 2, 2023.

* Azmyl Yunor is a touring underground recording artiste, and an academic in media and cultural studies. He has published articles on pop culture, subcultures and Malaysian cultural politics. He adheres to the three-chords-and-the-truth school of songwriting, and Woody Guthrie’s maxim “All you can write is what you see”. He is @azmyl on Twitter.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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