PAKAN, Sarawak – It’s going to be a very joyous Gawai Day for the Dayak community of Sarawak, many of them growers of rubber and white pepper now enjoying a price boom.
The high prices of rubber and pepper seem to have put a smile on the face of everyone in the community obviously eager to celebrate Gawai Day, June 1.
Rubber now retails at not less than RM9.00 a kilogramme and white pepper at a minimum RM22.00 in most rural towns.
Longhouse chief Andrew Ungon from Nanga Darau near here said that a husband and wife team can easily earn about RM100 a day taping rubber.
“With more involved, the income gets bigger. This is why we are all really looking forward to this Gawai,” he said.
“It has not been this good for a long time for us ordinary folks,” he said at his 18-door concrete longhouse.
Ungon said that people are “very encouraged” by the improvement in their livelihood and are asking the government to help them develop “mini rubber estates”.
Increased earnings have enabled many to renovate their longhouse, pay for their children’s education and buy a 4-wheel drive, the vehicle most suited to the rugged terrain, he said.
As for the celebrations, the extra money would mean more beer and pricey strong drinks apart from the traditional “Tuak”(Iban rice wine), Ungon said with a chuckle.
Ungon, a former civil servant, has three sons who are graduates.
A community leader, Penghulu Cosmas Pangau, said that Julau, Pakan and Sarikei were still leading producers of rubber and pepper in Sarawak’s central region.
“Unfortunately, many farmers gave up on their pepper garden many years ago when the price of the commodity dropped,” he said.
He said it was harder to cultivate pepper than rubber. “You have to do regular maintenance work like fertilising and weeding.”
Pangau said there were also farmers who had stocked their pepper waiting for the right price “who are now the envy of the others.”
Meanwhile, people continue to pack express boats leaving for upriver towns like Song and Kapit from the Kapit Express Wharf here.
Express boat company owner Ling Kuok Chong estimated that at least 4,000 had travelled the route daily in the last few days with more than 30 trips per day.
“I expect more to travel today to be in time for the family reunion dinner tomorrow evening,” he said.
The Sibu long-distance bus terminal is similarly crowded.
Business is brisk for people with vacant land that can be used as car parks at Nanga Semaram in Kanowit and Nanga Entabai in Julau.
People driving home for the Gawai celebrations from places like Miri, Bintulu, Kuching and Sibu and towns in Sabah leave their vehicles at these temporary car parks for a fee and continue by longboat to their ancestral longhouses.