In any normal year, Maria Assim would be busy overseeing preparations for the Gawai Dayak festival, from preparing traditional dishes to monitoring activities throughout her home village of Kampung Tabuan Dayak in the capital city of Kuching.
As village chief, her responsibilities are manifold but she would always find time to focus on her family’s arrangements as well, including the preparation of kuih jala, a traditional dessert, and the production of a rice wine known as tuak.
Normally this is a task that she performs every year. With Covid-19 on the loose, though, it has been two years since she last made the wine, produced from glutinous rice mixed with homemade yeast and a staple at most Gawai celebrations.
“What the old people say is there should be the aura of Gawai and the smell of cake and tuak.
“But this year I didn’t make tuak as we still have stock from the previous year because people were not allowed to visit, just like this year,” she said.