Should Kaamatan and Gawai be national holidays?

Hari Gawai 2023

It started as a joke, but the conversation continued long and hard as those present wondered why Kaamatan and Gawai – the harvest festivals in Sabah and Sarawak – are not national holidays.

The argument was that a large number of East Malaysians, estimated at more than 800,000, earn a living in Peninsular Malaysia, and the harvest festival is a deep-rooted cultural festivity that people of all faiths still celebrate.

“That figure does not include family members who accompany them to West Malaysia, so the number is certainly much higher,” said Kuching native Samantha Tan, who works in Kuala Lumpur.

“It (national holiday) is something the government should consider.”

Guests at other open houses in Sarawak felt the same way, too.

“People forget that Malaysia Day only became a national holiday in 2010. Previously, it was only a holiday in Sabah and Sarawak,” said Michael Edwards from Sibu.

“That was a deserving holiday, but I feel Kaamatan and Gawai deserve equal recognition as everyone celebrates it.”

He said Malaysia has many public holidays – national and state-level, but it was right to honour the people of East Malaysia.

Michael also said if two days were too many, the government could consider one on May 31 since Kaamatan is on May 30 and Gawai on June 1.

“The festivities last a month as different villages celebrate on other days, although those two dates are the recognised ones,” said Edwards.

Enyline Bujang said she always takes annual leave for Gawai and sometimes for Sarawak Day.

“I understand if Sarawak Day is only a state-level holiday, but Gawai should be a national one due to its cultural significance … and we can save one day of our annual leave!” said Enyline.

Meanwhile, I went to an open house in Kuching on the first day of Gawai. It was the first time I had done so in 23 years of celebrating the festival.

All these years, the first day of Gawai is at my in-law’s place in Bau, about 35km from Kuching, where visitors arrive from 9am until midnight.

We also visit some relatives who live nearby.

In Kuching, I visited golf journalist and editor Jonathan Ponniah, Linda Wong and their family, with Rashid Salleh as the ‘special guest’.

It was a great catching up with them, made even special by the delicious food.

My son, Owen, joked: “Hey, you finally have friends in Kuching!”

That was not the first time he ‘insulted’ me. A week before Gawai, I posted a picture of myself in the family WhatsApp group. The picture was from a wrestling Facebook page, and someone said I looked like Lionel Messi.

Quick as a flash, Owen remarked: “Maybe last time, but now you look more like the wrestler, Big Show!”

Happy Gawai, indeed.


Peninsular Borneo Children’s Association will host a Gawai-Kaamatan celebration in Seri Kembangan on June 24.

There will be performances from East Malaysian artists, appearances by Gawai and Kaamatan beauty queens, and cultural shows.

Go to its Facebook page to book your tables.


Tomorrow is your last chance to head to the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair at World Trade Centre.

But fret now, as Book Fest Malaysia started today at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. It ends next Sunday.


Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM), a pioneer institution of the Islamic world, is hosting Orientalist Paintings: Mirror or Mirage? from today until Oct 15.

An Orientalist painting is more than a work of art. It is also an insight into people and places from another era. The collection is about what the artists might have seen rather than what they never could.

To find out more, visit their website.


Fried stuff may not be the healthiest food in the world, but it is impossible to resist a nice, juicy, crispy fried chicken. Here is a recipe that the author claims is “fried chicken nirvana”.


To close out this week’s Diary, we have Ramles Walter with Rinchah Gawai.

Until next week, stay safe.

Tagged with: