KUALA LUMPUR: Gawai in Sarawak will be merrier this year with more Sarawakian youths returning to celebrate the harvest festival, which begins on Thursday.

Michael Ancho Tabor, a 78-year-old Iban community head, also known as the “Tuai Rumah” in Sibu is looking forward to a livelier festival in the kampungs and the longhouses as more Iban youths return for Gawai, thanks to cheaper airfares.

He expressed his appreciation to the government for providing flight fare subsidies to ease the financial strain on those flying back to Sarawak from Peninsular Malaysia.

“I am happy to be able to get together with the younger members of my community after a long time. The youths from my community, who are working and studying in other parts of the country, can return for the Gawai celebration,” said Tabor.

“Even though some airlines are offering discounts, the price for return tickets are still expensive for some. However, with the airfare capped at RM300, the airfares are more affordable.

Earlier, Transport Minister Anthony Loke announced that airfares would be capped at RM300 one way, excluding taxes and fees. The government is expected to spend between RM5.8 million and RM11.4 million for this initiative.

Kaamatan will be celebrated in Sabah on May 30 and 31 while the Gawai festival will be observed by Sarawak’s Dayak community on June 1 and 2.

Among those taking advantage of the cheaper airfare is 23-year-old Biomedical Science student Albert Nading Alexson Jawan.

“I have been saving RM200 every month since the beginning of the year to purchase the flight tickets this month,” he said.

Nading, who is thankful for the price cap, said he was unable to return last year as he could not afford to pay RM1,300 for a one-way ticket to Miri.

“I thought I would have to celebrate the Gawai festival here with my Sarawak friends like last year. The fare last year was outrageous, especially for a student like me, as it is equivalent to my three months’ expenses on campus,” he added.

Evyna Randai Enjop, a 22-year-old student from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, expressed her gratitude for the cheaper fare, adding that she will be able to spend the Kaamatan festival with her family in Beluran, Sabah this year.

“Before I decided to come here to pursue my studies, I was already aware that it would be difficult to go home during festive seasons. This will be the first time in two years I will be with my family for the festival,” she said.

“If there were no subsidies by the government, I would be celebrating the holiday with my friends and participating in any events organised by the Borneo association in the university for those on campus.”