Which of these tribal festivals will you be a part of in 2020?

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Which of these tribal festivals will you be a part of in 2020?

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Many of Sarawak’s indigenous communities have called the state home for thousands of years. All these communities contribute to Sarawak’s unique culture and colour.

With so many different communities, it is no surprise then that the state is home to a wide variety of cultural festivals. These festivals ensure the remembrance of their cultures and heritage stays alive amidst the relentless onset of modernisation. While Sarawakians generally welcome everyone to join in their festivities with open arms, there are certain traditional festivals which require an invitation because of its prestige within the particular community.

Here is a list of some of the prominent cultural festivals that Sarawak’s indigenous communities celebrate, two of which are open to anyone, wherever in the world you may come from!

Gawai Dayak

Gawai means ‘festival’ in Iban while the word Dayak is to represent that this is a festival celebrated by the Sea Dayak and Land Dayak, who are respectively known as the Iban and the Bidayuh.

The Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated by the Iban and Bidayuh to mark the end of the harvesting season. It also celebrates the beginning of the planting season.

The official date of the harvest festival is between 1st and 2nd June. However, different villages may have different dates depending on the decision of their Ketua Adat (Custom Chief). What is consistent is that it is important for those living away from the village to try and come home to help bring in the harvest and celebrate afterwards!

In 1957, Tan Kingsley and Owen Liang, two local radio programmers, first brought up the idea of Gawai Dayak. The British colonial government initially refused to recognise Dayak Day, calling it Sarawak Day instead. It was only in 1962 that Gawai Dayak was officially recognised.

On Gawai eve, the Tuai Rumah conducts miring (blessings and thanksgiving ceremonies). They do this by making offerings to departed ancestors, deities, and spirits. This ritual is to cast away the spirit of bad luck.

Gawai Dayak is a lively festival of traditional music, good food, and games. It does not only preserve the important heritage of the Dayaks, but it also celebrates unity, aspiration and hope for the community.

Of course, Gawai Dayak wouldn’t be complete without (way too) many servings of tuak, a locally-brewed rice wine. Tuak is also an essential part of many other indigenous festivals as well. A stronger alcoholic beverage made by the Iban by distilling tuak over a fire is called “langkau“, or arak tonok by the Bidayuh.

Iban and Bidayuh homes are also open during this festive day to allow visitors a glimpse into their lives. Be sure to come wearing colourful traditional costumes. Don’t be shy to participate in their activities and try their amazing food and tuak!

Pesta Kaul

A prominent festival celebrated by the Melanau is Pesta Kaul. This festival is an annual “cleansing” of uninvited spirits and bad influences. Kaul means ‘coming together’ in the Melanau language.

The Melanau celebrate Pesta Kaul to thank the Ipok (spirits/guardians) for a bountiful harvest. They also pray for the Ipok to protect them and bless them with a better crop the coming year.

Pesta Kaul is celebrated during bulan Pengejin (the month of the spirits), which is the first month of the Melanau calendar. On the Gregorian calendar, bulan Pengejin normally falls between March or April.

This year, the official dates for Pesta Kaul are April 18th and 19th at Taman Kala Dana Mukah in Sarawak however the festival runs for a whole week! If you book now, flights are still good value but will undoubtedly go up nearer the festival!

During Kaul, the Bapa Kaul (Father of the Kaul) officiates the festival by singing mantras. Over the course of the week, people will bring traditional food to the river mouth to share and eat together. Villagers build huge swings, called “tibou”, for them to play with and entertain the spirits. There will be stalls selling different foods and many traditional games.

The highlight of the festival is the ceremonial offerings of food, cigarettes and betel nut sent in the form of Seraheng, an arrangement created by leaves of the sago palm. This procession is led by the Melanau elders.

In up-river Melanau towns such as Dalat and Medong, they celebrate Pesta Kaul by participating in traditional canoe races and other river sports. However, in more modern times, they can often be seen racing power boats instead.

As bulan Pengejin is the first month of the Melanau calendar, it is also the celebration of the Melanau New Year.

Gawai Antu

One of the famous traditional festivals of Sarawak is Gawai Antu, celebrated by the Iban. The name Gawai Antu means “Festival for the Departed Souls”. It is an occasion to honour those who have passed away since the previous Gawai Antu.

Gawai Antu is a rare event, held only once every generation for any longhouse. As Gawai Antu is held in extremely high prestige by the Iban community, it is a festival that people cannot partake in without an invitation. So if you get invited, be sure you don’t miss the chance to attend!

There is no fixed date for the celebration, and due to its expensive nature, it takes at least one to two years to prepare for the ceremony. However, due to the time pressures of the modern age, it is usually held in December to coincide with the longest Malaysian school holidays.

The origins of Gawai Antu are linked to the Iban legend and hero Sarapoh. He was the first to propagate the traditional rites of death and mourning. The spirit Puntang Raga reached out to Sarapoh after the death of his parents to teach him how to prepare their bodies for burial and the proper mourning rituals. These rituals continue to this day.

They begin with the longhouse chief holding a meeting to inform the other occupants of his intention to hold the Gawai Antu. The festival will only happen if everyone in the longhouse agrees. The chief descendant of the eldest deceased person is appointed as Feast Chief. He will then delegate work to different households to do before, during, and after the festival.

During Gawai Antu, the Iban celebrate the dead through significant memorialisation rituals. It is a day of traditional dance, song, feasts, and cockfighting. Many rituals involve the drinking of tuak and are led by the longhouse elders. The festival ends with the erection of the sungkup (memorial hut) on every grave.

The Iban celebrate Gawai Antu to complete the final transformation of the dead into merantu (spirits). This festival also establishes the dead in a longhouse of their own. It provides them with the means for a self-sufficient existence, independent from the world of the living.

Gawai Antu is a festival that all Iban people must celebrate at least once in their lives. Failure to do so may deem them as disloyal to their people.

Pesta Nukenen


Pesta Nukenen is a celebration of the cultural heritage of the Bario Highlands region of central Sarawak that is home to the Kelabit. Not only is getting to Bario Highlands an experience on its own but if you make the effort at this time, you will also be joining one of the best food festivals that Sarawak and probably the world offers!

The dates differ from year to year, so be sure to keep an eye out for when Pesta Nukenen will be held in 2020. Visit sarawaktourism.com/events for more information.


Pesta Nukenen

For several years now, the Kelabits have been organising Pesta Nukenen to showcase their tradition and culture. There are dances, singing, traditional games, plenty of activities, and as you’d expect, a wide array of good food. The people of Bario hold this festival so the world can experience their culture and get to know them and their customs. The best part is that it is all free.

The hiking trails and rainforests in the Bario Highlands mean you have plenty of organic activities to get involved in and work off all that good food. You can trek up the highest national park in Sarawak at Pulong Tau, or even stargaze at night and marvel at how little light pollution there is. But as progress finds its way to every corner of the globe, who knows how long it’ll stay so special?

Pesta Nukenen helps preserve the heritage of Bario Highlands as one of the last traditionally farmed and forested highlands in Sarawak. It also shows the world the beautiful and colourful culture of the Dayak Kelabits.

Borneo Cultural Festival

Last but not least, there is the Borneo Cultural Festival held in Sibu, a short flight from Kuching. BCF, as it is commonly known, is celebrated by Sarawakians from all walks of life. It is a celebration filled with traditional food, and multicultural dance and music. BCF happens every year sometime between July to August, and it is open to anyone.

The Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) first organised BCF in 2005. Besides food, dance, and music, there are also contests, beauty pageants, food stalls, funfairs, and product exhibitions. This colourful and vibrant festival draws a crowd of approximately 20,000 every year.

BCF is a one-week long festival highlighting the diverse cultural backgrounds of Sibu, which has become a cultural melting pot for many Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Malay, Melanau, and Chinese. It is celebrated to promote the “Beauty in Ethnic Diversity” within Borneo and to the world.

Known as one of the biggest festivals in Sarawak, this is definitely one festival that you wouldn’t want to miss! It is the perfect opportunity to experience the diverse culture of Sarawakians firsthand.

Unless you live in Sarawak, it may be difficult to attend all of these amazing festivals but at least one should be on everyone’s bucket list for 2020.

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11 Most Isolated Places at the End of the Earth

11 Most Isolated Places at the End of the Earth

1. Palmerston Island

Palmerston Island is located 2,000 miles northwest of New Zealand. The scenic white sand destination is home to 62 people, 59 of whom are direct descendants of a man named William Marsters, who settled the place. There are no shops or markets on Palmerston because the community does not use money except to purchase supplies from the outside world. Palmerston is typically visited by a supply ship twice a year, but it is not uncommon for residents to go up to 18 months without a shipment.

As long as you can hack the 8-day boat voyage from Tahiti, residents are very welcoming of visitors and invite them to stay in their personal homes. You won’t be roughing it completely – there are two telephones on the island, as well as 6 hours per day of electricity and 4 hours of internet access.

2. Supai Village, Arizona

Despite the fact that the Grand Canyon is one of the most visited locations in the United States, nearby Supai Village is visited much less often. The tribal center of the Havasupai Tribe, Supai is a remote village located in the southwestern branch of the canyon. Tourists are welcome at the protected reservation, but it takes a rugged 8-mile hike or horseback ride, unless you can snag a helicopter.

Havasupai means “People of the Green Blue Waters” in reference to the four beautiful waterfalls to be found along the Havasu Creek. The waterfalls serve as the community’s water source. The 208 permanent residents get their mail via mule.

3. Oymyakon, Russia

If you’re a fan of extremes, you may want to put Oymyakon, Russia on your bucket list. This remote location is the coldest continually inhabited place on the planet, with average temperatures of -58 degrees. To get there, fly from Moscow to either Takutsk or Magadan, which will put you about 560 miles away. Then it’s a treacherous drive on the “Road of Bones” to Oymyakon.

There is no running water because everything is frozen, so be prepared to use an outhouse – quickly! It is impossible to grow crops in this climate, so typical meals include frozen fish, reindeer meat, and (get ready for this) ice cubes of horse blood with macaroni. Somewhere around 500 residents make their lives in this frozen locale, a place that experiences 21 hours a day of darkness.

4. Pitcairn Island, British Overseas Territory

You may be familiar with the story “Mutiny on the Bounty,” and if you are, you’ll recognize Pitcairn Island as the location settled in 1790 by the mutineers from that tale. There were earlier settlers, however, as the mutineers discovered the remains of a Polynesian establishment, including earthen ovens, burial sites, and stone gods.

Pitcairn Island is a British Overseas Territory located 3,300 miles from New Zealand, which plays the role of the island’s administrative headquarters. Today 50 people call Pitcairn their home. Tourists who undertake a 32-hour yacht ride visit regularly, but rarely does a new resident settle there.

5. Siwa Oasis, Egypt

Despite being the historically exciting location of Cleopatra’s Bath, the Siwa Oasis is not regularly visited because it is a 5-hour bus ride from Cairo. But the area’s isolation in the middle of the Western Desert has kept the residents’ Siwi language and Amazigh culture very well preserved.

If you can handle the bus ride, you will be rewarded with the chance to swim in Cleopatra’s Bath, a luxurious mineral spring, as well as sample delicious locally-grown olives and dates. There is an eco-lodge built of mud and salt available to house visitors.

6. Socotra Island, Yemen

Socotra Island is unusual in that it has 40,000 residents yet only built its first road in 2011. It is also home to 800 rare species of plants, some with such odd shapes that they look like they came from another planet. In fact, the unusual appearance of these plants, 1/3 of which cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, is evidence of life’s ability to adapt to the environment.

The island is located about 400 miles from the capital of Yemen and has a tropical desert climate. You can fly there from Sanaa.

7. Tristan da Cuhna

This remote island is volcanic, but that doesn’t stop about 258 people from calling it home. And there are many creature comforts to be found on Tristan da Cunha, including stores, schools, churches, and a hospital. There is no electrical grid, but residents do have gas generators for power.

The island was named by its discoverer, who gave the place his moniker but never actually set foot upon it. Today, the island is a British territory. To visit, you must plan carefully. It is a 1,732 mile boat ride from Cape Town, South Africa, and ships visit the island only 9 times per year.

8. Utqiagvik, Alaska (Barrow)

This frigid city has two names. Barrow was the name given in honor of Sir John Barrow, 2nd Secretary of the British Admiralty, though it is not clear why. But archeological evidence suggests that people have been living there since at least AD 500. The native people call the city Utqiagvik.

Despite the 3-month “warm” season consisting of temperatures around 36F (cold season averages 3F with 65 straight days of darkness), an impressive 4,429 people make their home in Utqiagvik. They heat their homes with natural gas and have water and sewer service, as well as phone, mail, radio, cable, and internet. There are hotels and restaurants. However, the city is only accessible via a 1 ½ hour plane ride from Anchorage.

9. La Rinconada, Peru

Located high in the Andes Mountains, La Rinconada is the kind of place you might like to say you’ve been, but you won’t want to linger long. At over 16,000 feet, it is the highest human habitation in the world. Visitors often experience symptoms of altitude sickness, including headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath.

About 50,000 people live there due to a gold rush in the early 2000s, but the majority live below the poverty line in a community with no amenities, infrastructure, or plumbing. There are no real roads, but a 6 hour ride from the closest city will get you close enough to hike up.

10. Bantam, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

The isolation of the Cocos Islands, located about 1,700 miles from Perth, Australia, has kept the traditional oral language and religious and cultural practices of the native Cocos Malay thriving. About 600 people call the islands their home.

But despite its isolation, the area also invites tourism. Residents are welcoming and have made efforts to provide activities like snorkeling, surfing, kitesurfing, and bird watching available to visitors. There are flights twice a week from Perth.

11. Changtang, Tibet

Though not quite as high as La Rinconada, Tibet’s Chantang is up there with an altitude range of 4,000 to 9,000 feet. Colloquially called “The Roof of the World,” this 990-mile stretch of plateau is inhabited only by nomadic people called the Changpa. Of course, a variety of wildlife also call the place home, especially snow leopards and yaks.

If you like the idea of roughing it in Chantang’s cold, arid climate, you can access the area via Leh Airport, Udhampur Railway Station, or in a vehicle from Manali or Srinagar. However, you’ll need a permit to enter, and those can cost several thousand dollars.


So where will you go first? Is a warm private island in your future, or do you plan to rough it in the frigid temps near the top of the world? The isolated life certainly has its charms, and we can understand why the residents of these 11 remote places are happy where they are.

Though you might not be ready to completely eschew the convenience of drive-through restaurants and smartphones, any one of these locations would make an educational and worthwhile vacation.