Category: General

Something to celebrate

The Indonesian government has added another cultural event of its ethnic Chinese community to its official list of top attractions in a bid to lure more domestic and international tourists.

Chap Goh Mei marks the end of the Chinese New Year period, and the most lavish celebrations take place in Singkawang, a coastal town of roughly 240,000 in West Kalimantan on Borneo. About 40% of the town’s residents are of Chinese descent, but the celebration itself is a fusion of Chinese, indigenous Dayak and Malay cultures, laden with mysticism and supernatural power.

The highlight of the annual festival is the parade featuring Tatung, or people who are believed to have supernatural powers because they are possessed by the spirits of their ancestors or deities.

Dressed in the colorful garb traditional Chinese and Dayak warriors, more than 800 Tatungs from Singkawang and neighboring towns, as well as from Malaysia and Australia, thronged the town’s main streets on the last day of the celebration on Feb 8.

Spectators lining the parade route watched in awe as marchers demonstrated their supernatural abilities by having their faces and bodies pierced with sharp metal objects. Some were hoisted wooden chairs, but instead of soft upholstery, the seat, backrest, and armrest contain rows of sharp blades and arrows.

“We are proud that Chap Goh Mei in Singkawang is included again in the tourism ministry’s annual top 100 calendar of events, and has become one of the top festival destinations for tourists,” Mayor of Singkawang, Tjhai Chui Mie said prior to the parade.

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A Tatung stepped on a blade as he was hoisted on a chair with arrows of sharp blades and passed by the main podium during the annual Tatung parade in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 8, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The annual parade was the culmination of two weeks festivities that started on Jan 23. It has become the main attraction to spur economic growth in Singkawang, through the development in the real sector, the mayor added.

Last year’s festivities attracted 76,964 foreign and domestic tourists, an increase from about 70,000 in 2018, according to the ministry.

Sutarmidji, governor of West Kalimantan, acknowledged the festivities were the biggest tourism event in the province.

“When I was the mayor of Pontianak, I did not allow the Tatung parade to be held during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebration so that it would remain the main attraction for Singkawang,” he said.

“Pontianak can have the longest dragon dance, but the Tatung parade should be the focus of Singkawang’s Chap Goh Mei.”

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Dressed as a Dayak warrior, a Tatung made his way to Tri Dharma Bumi Raya temple to pay respect during the road cleansing ritual on Feb 7, 2020, in Singkawang, West Kalimantan. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Dian Halidi, a tourist from Sumbawa Besar, the main city on Sumba Island in central Indonesia, said he had come to the festivities because he was curious to see the Tatung parade in person.

“I came here just by myself and this is my first time in Singkawang. It turned out the Chap Goh Mei here is really amazing and as spectacular as I have been seeing on television.”

Hotels and homestays in the city were fully booked ahead of the parade, wit room rates as much four times higher than they normally are. Some tour operators even had to book the rooms for their clients a year in advance.

However, concern about the coronavirus in recent weeks led to some people having second thoughts about traveling, although Indonesia officially has reported no cases of infection yet.

Hotel occupancy and visitor numbers slipped as a result, although Daniel, a manager of a homestay in Central Singkawang, said the rooms in his establishment were fully booked for the festivities.

“But reservations and confirmations were slow and occurred at the last minute,” he said.

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The Dragon statue, one of Singkawang’s landmarks, was adorned with red lanterns during the city’s Chap Goh Mei celebrations in the West Kalimantan town. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Hellen Chia, who comes from a family of Tatung and whose siblings are Tatungs from the Tho Fab Kiung temple took part in the parade, said that this year’s crowds of spectators were smaller compared to last year.

Dewi Virtana, a tour leader from a tour operator in Surabaya, East Java, said her company took just one group of 31 tourists to Singkawang this year, compared with three groups last year.

“I think it was mainly due to the rising prices of plane tickets, instead of the coronavirus,” she said.

But another tour operator based in Pontianak, Sentosa Tour, reported a small upturn this year. One of its tour leaders, Willy, said the company had about 200 guests this year, compared to 180 last year.

“We see the number of clients increase every year, he said. “Ninety percent of our clients are domestic, from other big cities in the country, and we also had a few foreign visitors from Japan and Australia who booked our private tours.”

In a bid to attract more tourists to the city, which is about four-hour drive from Pontianak, Mayor Thjai said the city has allocated and cleared an area of 151.45 hectares to build an airport and is seeking to develop it under a public-private partnership.

According to the transport ministry, the first phase of the airport will have a 1,400-metre runway that could accommodate ATR aircraft. A 2,600-metre runway that would allow a Boeing 737 to land could be developed in the future.

A day before the parade, the Tatung also toured the city performing a road cleansing ritual to ward off bad spirits. They also paid respects to their ancestors and deities by visiting various temples and houses of worships, or cetiya, scattered around Singkawang, which is known as the city of a thousand temples.

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Rattan dolls from the Hok Lo Nam temple believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities were brought to pay respect to the sea goddess in the century-old House of Tjhia in Singkawang, West Kalimantan, on Feb 7, 2020. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

An entourage from the Hok Lo Nam temple also took part in the ritual. Carrying five dolls made of rattan and dressed in colorful Chinese costumes, the entourage visited a cetiya at a century-old mansion belonging to the Thjia clan in the city center, to pay their respect to the sea goddess to which the cetiya is dedicated.

The dolls were believed to have been possessed by the spirits of their ancestors and deities, as well as a local Malay elder identified as Datuk Suleiman.

More cities in the country with a large population of Chinese descent have been making Chap Goh Mei, or the 15th day of the Chinese new year an annual celebration. They include Jakarta, Palembang in South Sumatra, Bali, and Bogor in West Java.

Bogor celebrated in style this year, with organizers buoyed by the tourism ministry’s decision to place the festival on its official calendar of events.

The West Java provincial administration has even disbursed 30 billion rupiahs to revamp Suryakencana Street, the main street where the annual Chap Goh Mei parade is held in Bogor, 55 kilometers south of Jakarta.

“This is a show of support from the provincial administration,” West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said.

The story was first published in Bangkok Post

Minister urges fatwa requiring rich to marry poor

An Indonesian minister has called for a fatwa, or religious edict, requiring the rich to marry the poor to reduce inequality.

“What happens is the poor marry the poor and they create more poor families,” Minister of Human Development and Culture Muhadjir Effendy was quoted as saying by the news portal Tempo.co.

“The religious affairs minister should issue a fatwa requiring the rich to marry the poor and the poor marry the rich,” he said.

In November, Religious Affairs Minister Fachrul Razi said he was considering requiring those wishing to get married undergo a pre-marital preparation course.

He has not responded to Muhadjir’s suggestion.

A 2017 study by international charity Oxfam found that four richest Indonesians own as much wealth as the country’s poorest 100 million citizens. Indonesia is home to 260 million people.

Palu croc proves too elusive for Aussie wranglers

Australian animal experts tried and failed to free a crocodile that has been stuck for years with a motorcycle tyre around its neck, an Indonesian official said Tuesday.

Matt Wright, the host of the Nat Geo Wild series Outback Wrangler, and fellow animal wrangler Chris Wilson set up steel traps to catch the saltwater crocodile but the reptile proved to be elusive.

“They have returned to Australia but they promised to come again in May if we had not managed to remove the tyre outselves,” said Rino Ginting, the head of the team tasked with saving the crocodile, which lives in a river on Sulawesi island.

“The river is too wide and there were too many spectators, making the crocodile too afraid to walk onto dry land,” he said.

Wright wrote on Instagram on Sunday that the crocodile “has been tough to catch”.

“It’s all about getting the right opportunity to get a good run at catching him and there far and few between,” he said.

On Monday he wrote that he would “be back soon to continue operations.”

Previous attempts by local psychics, members of an Australian conservation group and a celebrity animal whisperer also failed.

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A neighborhood on the banks of the Palu River, which runs through the city. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The crocodile was first spotted in 2016 with the tyre in a river running through Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province.

At the time, officials at the conservation agency feared that the tyre would strangle the reptile as it grew bigger.

Local authorities estimate there are 36 crocodiles in the area.

Australian presenter tries luck at saving Palu croc

An Australian animal expert is trying his luck at freeing a crocodile that has been stuck for years with a motorcycle tyre around its neck on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island.

A contest to get the tyre off the saltwater crocodile was called off earlier this month after no one volunteered.

Matt Wright, the host of the Nat Geo Wild series Outback Wrangler, arrived in Palu on Monday at the invitation of the local conservation agency and began building a trap to catch the crocodile.

“We have managed to set one trap in the river and plan to head over this arvo (afternoon) with the police to try our luck on the river,” Wright wrote on Instagram on Wednesday.

The crocodile was first spotted in 2016 with the tyre in a river running through Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province.

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The Palu River runs through the city of Palu in Central Sulawesi. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

At the time, officials at the conservation agency feared that the tyre would strangle the reptile as it grew bigger.

Local authorities estimate there are 36 crocodiles in the area.

Last month, agency head Hasmuni Hasmar offered a reward to anyone who could get the tyre off the crocodile, but cancelled the offer after no one came forward.

Hasmar said Wright was accompanied by fellow Australian crocodile wrangler Chris Wilson.

“He is also training members of our specialized team who are helping him,” he said.

Previous attempts by local psychics, members of an Australian conservation group and even a celebrity animal whisperer to try to remove the tyre failed.

Indonesian Spider-Man makes neighbourhood friendly

When Rudi Hartono started picking up rubbish on beaches in and around his coastal community on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island more than two years ago, very few people paid attention to him.

But that changed when he began wearing a Spider-Man costume in 2018.

“Wearing the costume did the trick because it attracted people’s attention,” said Rudi, a 36-year-old cafe worker.

“Other people began joining and even the local government started doing their job of cleaning up.”

“More recently, my photos became viral and more people have joined,” he said.

Rudi said he bought the superhero costume to impress his young nephew but instead he scared the boy.

“So I decided to wear it while picking up rubbish on the beaches,” he said.

Rudi said he also removed graffiti scrawled by students on the local council building.

But he said despite the work he has done, some people are critical of his appearance.

“Some people mocked me and called me beer-bellied Spider-Man and an attention seeker,” he said. “But most people are on my side.”

About 20 per cent of plastic waste in Indonesia is believed to end up in rivers and coastal waters, according to the World Bank.

A World Bank report said every 20 minutes the equivalent of a 10-ton truckload of plastic is dumped into the waters around Indonesia, making the country the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China.

Aid sought for croc with tyre stuck around neck

Psychics, Australian animal rescuers and a celebrity adventurer have all failed to free a crocodile stuck with a motorcycle tyre around its neck for more than three years, but Indonesian authorities are not prepared to give up yet.

The saltwater crocodile was first spotted with the tyre in a river running through the provincial capital of Palu in 2016. At the time, officials feared that the tyre would strangle the reptile as it grew bigger.

Hasmuni Hasmar, the head of conservation in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, is offering a reward for an expert who can end the animal’s suffering.

“Whoever can remove the tyre around the crocodile’s neck will be rewarded,” Hamuni said, adding that the money will come from his own pocket. “It’s quite substantial.”

But he’s not publicizing the amount of the reward, fearing such a move could attract people without skills to come forward and endanger themselves.

“It will draw reckless people to come and this is dangerous because there are about 36 crocodiles in the area,” he said.

In 2018, a celebrity animal rescuer, Panji The Adventurer, and his crew tried to lure the animal on to dry land, but their attempts failed.

Before that, local authorities had enlisted local sorcerers and even members of an Australian conservation group, but to no avail.

It’s not as simple as just using a tranquilizer to subdue the crocodile, Hasmuni says.

“If we go down there, other crocodiles can attack us,” he said.

Tiger skin, fetuses seized in Indonesia’s wildlife trafficking raid

Indonesian authorities detained five people in Pelalawan district of Riau province for allegedly poaching and trading body parts of rare Sumatran tigers, an official said Sunday.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s law enforcement and forest protection director, Sustyo Iriono, said officials from the ministry and the police seized four tiger fetuses from three suspects, including a husband and wife, during a raid on Saturday morning.

“The fetuses were stored in a plastic jar. Based on the information from those arrested, the authorities were able to arrest two more suspects and seized the skin of an adult tiger,” Iriono said.

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The skin of an adult tiger found during a raid on wildlife traffickers in Pelalawan, Riau province. Photo: Photo: Balai Pengamanan dan Penegakan Hukum Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan wilayah Sumatra

The suspects could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 100 million rupiahs according to articles in the 1990 natural resources conservation law.

The Sumatran tiger is the last of Indonesia’s three subspecies of tigers that still exists and is listed as a critically endangered species. The big cat has been pushed to the brink of extinction due to its natural habitat rapidly perishing as a result of massive deforestation.

According to data from the forestry ministry, there are roughly 600 Sumatran tigers now living in the species’ natural habitat, but human encroachment on the protected forest that the tigers inhabit has caused frequent human-tiger conflict.

A farmer was found dismembered last week after a suspected attack by a Sumatran tiger in his coffee field in South Sumatra province. Another farmer was injured.

It was the second fatal tiger attack in the province in less than a month. A camper from Musi Banyuasin was injured in a tiger attack while he was camping in Pagaralam’s Gunung Dempo in November.