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Mendy Smith

Selamat Hari Gawai!

May 31, 2010 at 1:54 AM

After posting "Selamat Hari Gawai!" on FB, I got a few puzzled responses. 

Gawai is the rice harvest festival in Malaysia, celebrated mostly by the indigenous people in Borneo.  One of my first Gawai celebrations was back in 2003 when I was invited to a kampong (village) out in the jungle.  We made it before sunset when the festivities were scheduled to begin. 

Gawai celebrations begin with the village elder women (priestesses) going into a trance to the beating of gongs in a tonal rhythm.  My friends, knowing I was a musician, convinced me to join in the gonging.  What they failed to tell me was that the beating of rhythms on a gong suspended from the ceiling went on for hours.  After an hour or so, it felt like my arms were going to fall off and I had to pass the gong sticks to another.  After the women went into a trance state, they made offerings to the gods and began a dance, weaving in and out of every "door" in the long house, offering blessings of prosperity and fruitfulness.

After the blessings, the festivities began.  You are expected to go from door to door and partake in drink, food, song and dance.  I was mesmerized by their music and dance, a bit like Thai.  Women show their poise by dancing on plates.  The plates are laid out in a row.  They place the ball of one foot on a plate and then do a stylized dance before placing the other foot on a different plate.  This goes on down the line of plates.  The skill is in the balance, especially as the night progresses after much food and drink.  This is repeated until dawn of the next day.

It was this holiday, thousands of miles away from home, that inspired me to begin playing viola again.  The tonal rhythms and majestic movements woke my inner muse.  I even brought home to the US one of the gongs used in the festival.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 31, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Omigosh, how COOL! I must confess, I saw the title of the blog and did some head-scratching. I thought you were going to be blogging about a Southeast Asian musician I'd never heard of (which is to say, pretty much any Southeast Asian musician...). 

Very cool story and experience!

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