The 15th day of the Lunar New Year, or better known here as “Cap Go Meh”, forms the highlight of any Chinese New Year celebrations in Indonesia. This is most elaborately held in areas with a large ethnic Chinese population such as in West Kalimantan, Bangka-Belitung and Palembang or in the Chinatowns of Semarang, Surabaya, Jakarta, Bandung,Manado and Medan. This year, as Chinese New Year (Imlek) falls on 19th February 2015, the Cap Go Meh Celebration will take place on 5th March 2015.
As always, Cap Go Meh will be celebrated with extraordinary festivities in the city of Singkawang in West Kalimantan Province. Already hotels in the city report rapid registration facing this year’s celebrations.
In Singkawang, the peak of the festival and of the entire New Year series of celebrations is highlighted with the parade of the ancient art of Tatung. Intended to repel misfortunes for the rest of the year, Tatung is the principle medium of the Cap Go Meh ritual to reject evil spirits. During the Tatung rituals, its participants will enter into a trance and perform many incredible stunts, such as stepping on a sword, or sticking steel wires or nails into their cheeks. This is quite unbelievable to see that despite such torture, the Tatungs are not wounded or even scarred.
Singkawang is the second largest city in West Kalimantan province, bordering the State of Sarawak, Malaysia. Unlike other towns in Indonesia, Singkawang has a distinct oriental atmosphere with hundreds of Chinese temples found around almost every corner of town. This is because over 70% of Singkawang’s population is of Chinese descent, predominantly of the Hakka tribe with some Teochew. Others are Malays, Dayaks and other Indonesian ethnic groups.
In the 18th century, West Borneo lured many from mainland China to the gold mines at Monterado (today called the Bengkayang district). The Chinese came by the thousands, and on their way there they used to overnight in Singkawang. Most settled here, and their descendents today form the majority population of Singkawang.
To reach Singkawang, one must first fly to Pontianak, capital of West Kalimantan, then take a taxi or public transportation to Singkawang.
Celebrated annually on the 15 day of the Chinese New Year, Cap Go Meh literally translated means the 15th night, on which the first full moon of the year occurs. As the pinnacle of the entire Chinese New Year Celebrations, this truly amazing cultural event is surely worth traveling for, to watch and experience firsthand. Be sure to have your accommodation confirmed since hotels during these festivities are at a premium.