On the afternoon of Saturday, 12 May, the musical tones of sape and gong wafted through the still afternoon air as a group of parishioners, together with their parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando, gathered at the main entrance of the Church of Divine Mercy (CDM) in Sg Ara, Penang. Resplendently dressed in the colourful traditional costumes of East Malaysia and Indonesia, they watched with bated breath as a young girl was carried in on a bamboo litter in a re-enactment of the legend of Huminodun, the Rice Spirit. According to the legend, there was a great drought throughout the land and people were dying of starvation. A young girl, Huminodun, offered herself as a sacrifice so that the people might be saved. She was buried and from her body, many food crops, including rice, sprouted and propagated. The skit was followed by traditional dances portraying the joy of the people as they happily reaped and threshed rice. Ngajat dancers then invited Fr Martin to strike a gong to signify the start of the parish’s Hari Kaamatan/ Gawai/ Kesyukuran celebrations, organised by the CDM Bahasa Malaysia Apostolate.
After Novena, the church was packed with parishioners and guests for the Sunset Mass which was celebrated in Bahasa Malaysia, with readings proclaimed in Kadazan and Iban. Mass began with a group of sumazau dancers leading the way before the entrance procession. During the Mass, parishioners from Sumatra and Flores performed an offertory dance just before sheafs of rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, were presented as offerings, representing the fruits of our labour. Handicrafts were also offered as these are the symbols of our hard work, patience and endurance in the face of many challenges. Last but by no means least was the tarian Bidayuh, performed in thanksgiving. Finally, accompanied by the music of a live sape, all the performers approached the altar to make their obeisances. It was truly a sight to behold.
In her speech thanking the participants and supporters, Chairperson of the Organising Committee Sylvia Subok who is also the leader of the BM Apostolate at CDM ,said that even though there were fewer people involved in farming activities these days, it was still important to celebrate the harvest festival because it reminds us to thank God for all that He has given us. Moreover, celebrations such as this bring people closer together and strengthen the ties of friendship among us. Therefore, she hopes that the harvest festival will continue to be celebrated by young and old, year after year.
After Mass, everyone gathered eagerly in the basement for an evening of fellowship and good food. The scene was reminiscent of festive celebrations in Sabah or Sarawak, with singers belting out Kadazan and Iban songs, poco poco dancers and lucky draws. There was even a children’s sumazau dance troupe. It was obvious to everyone present that much time and effort had been put into organising this event. Many parishioners and even some visitors commented that they were very impressed by the commitment and teamwork shown by everyone involved; someone even noted that the performers had been practising for at least 2 months. One parishioner said that the lucky draw prizes were quite attractive. A number of people expressed their appreciation of the cultural elements incorporated into the liturgy. Agrypenna, who had been coming to the celebrations every year, said that she found it especially touching this year because, coming so soon after GE14, it was an opportunity to celebrate not only the harvest of crops but the results of the elections.
All in all, it was a hugely successful event. Kudos and many thanks to the CDM Bahasa Malaysia Apostolate for bringing the culture of Sabah and Sarawak (and Sumatra and Flores) to our doorstep. To all our brothers and sisters everywhere who are celebrating this harvest festival, we wish you kotobian tadau tagazo do kaamatan, and, as they say in Batak, sai Gabe ma akka na Hita Ulla. And of course, selamat Hari Gawai, gayu guru gerai nyamai, lantang senang nguan menua! Oohaa!
Ng Wai Queen.
15th May, 2018