SIBU: A dance performance during a Gawai Dayak dinner has sparked an exchange of words between two groups.

Dayak National Congress (DNC) president Paul Raja has labelled the dance, which was held during the dinner organised by the Dudong branch of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), as “dirty dancing”. He claimed in a statement on June 16 that the provocative dance moves by young girls in sexy clothes was a “desecration of the sanctity of the Gawai celebration”, which was in essence a thanksgiving festival.

Raja said the dance, which should not have been included in the dinner in the first place, had caused an uproar among the Dayak community in the country and even in Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Demanding an apology from the organiser, he advised those who wanted to know more about the Gawai celebration to consult and to seek advice from Dayak community leaders beforehand.

DNC is a non-governmental organisation.

PDP president Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, who is also Dudong assemblyman, then shot back.

Tiong said Raja should be the one to apologise for having “victimised the innocent performers”.

“In fact, it is DNC president Paul Raja who should apologise to the performers and the public for taking the performance out of context, belittling the cultural and artistic performances, and creating unnecessary turmoil,” he said.

He claimed that those who attended the dinner had given positive feedback, citing the unique stage performances as “refreshing, by combining dance elements of various ethnic groups of Sarawak”.

Weighing in, Academy of Sciences Malaysia fellow Datuk Dr Jayum Jawan expressed his disappointment in a Facebook post on June 18 that Dayak community leaders had remained silent over the matter, calling them “important and powerful men in Sarawak politics”.

“It is sad that the keepers of the Dayak Adat, Custom and Traditions such as Temenggong, Pemanca and Penghulu have not been heard on what they think of the issue.

“A few Iban Temenggong have been contacted and they are yet to provide their verdict on the matter.

“But then again, the individuals involved are important and powerful men in Sarawak politics.”

He felt that the issue was not so much about the dancers and the way they were dressed but that “these dancing acts were perhaps displayed at a wrong occasion, as Gawai is considered by Dayaks to be a cultural and religious festival”.