Posted by: mel | February 16, 2009

Chinese-Indonesians Resume Cap Go Meh Celebration

On 2009-2-16

PONTIANAK, Indonesia (UCAN) — Chinese-Indonesians in Pontianak, banned from celebrating the Lunar New Year last year, thronged the streets recently to mark the last day of festivities for the Year of the Ox.

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Spectators in Pontianak watching a dragon dance  

“I am so glad that I can now see dragon dances again in Pontianak,” said Vivi, a Chinese girl. She was among thousands of spectators watching eight 20-meter-long colorful dragon figures,carried on poles, prance down Gajahmada Street on Feb. 9 in the provincial capital of West Kalimantan.

“It is a sign that the local government and public recognize and respect different cultures,” she said. The Cap Go Meh celebration, held on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, marks the final day of New Year festivities.

“The Chinese community here has longed for this celebration,” another Chinese spectator commented. He explained that last year, the Pontianak mayor banned Lunar New Year celebrations because of protests by local Muslim Malays. “The new mayor lifted the ban, so this year the Chinese community can organize these festivities publicly.”

Deputy Mayor Paryadi, in his address before launching the Cap Go Meh celebration, said the festivity is part of West Kalimantan’s cultural heritage. “I hope this celebration strengthens harmony among the people of Pontianak,” he said to the crowd that comprised mostly Chinese-Indonesians but also included local Dayaks and Malays as well as migrants from Java and Madura.

The celebration started with a ritual to open the eyes of the dragons and invite the guardian spirit of the universe to enter the figures. The dragons were then taken in a procession around the city to expel evil spirits and diseases, and to bring good fortune to the people.ij_pontianak.gif

During the procession, several performers, called tatung, were supposedly possessed by spirits and entered into a trance. They stepped on blades and pierced their lips, noses and cheeks with skewers.

The celebration ended with the burning of the dragon figures as a symbol of the casting out of evil spirits and diseases from the area.

Chinese Catholics in the crowd said they did not participate in the religious rituals. “I am Chinese, but I am also Catholic. So I just watched the dragon procession but did not take part in the rituals,” said Steven, a parishioner of St. Joseph Cathedral Church.

Father Antonius Sutadi, head of Pastor Bonus (Good Shepherd) School of Theology of Pontianak, said Catholics are not prohibited from celebrating Cap Go Meh. “But they may not take part in the rituals and activities to worship gods. Catholics are also prohibited to perform as tatung,” he said.

Cap Go Meh was also celebrated in Singkawang, also in West Kalimantan, in Jakarta, and other Indonesian cities and towns.

The late President Soeharto banned public expression of Chinese culture and beliefs, as well as Chinese festivals and celebrations, in 1967. In 1999, President Abdurrahman Wahid annulled the ban, and his successor, Megawati Soekarnoputri, declared the Lunar New Year a national holiday in 2002.

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