Category: society

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.”

Tatung Dayak1 (1)
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.

Jelangkung Datuk Suleiman
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.

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.

Jakarta residents ponder future as city sinks

Irma Susanti lives a few metres away from a concrete wall that barely keeps seawater from inundating her slum neighbourhood in the north of the Indonesian capital.

A few years ago, authorities raised the wall by nearly a metre, to 2.3 metres high. But even that is sometimes not enough to prevent the dark brown smelly water from entering her house during torrential rain.

On the other side of the wall, the water is covered in a thick carpet of rubbish: tyres, flip-flops, used plastic cups, plastic bags and condoms.

Irma sits on a bench in the scorching sun, her 1-year-old daughter in her arms and an older woman next to her.

“We are always on the lookout for flooding, because the wall can’t always keep the water out,” the 30-year-old mother of two says.

The flooding is worst in January and February, she says, when rain is frequent or when the tide is high.

“My husband works here as a fisherman, so we have no choice but to stay,” Irma says.

No other city in the world is sinking faster than Jakarta. Twenty per cent of the territory is below sea level, and that figure is set to nearly double by 2050, according to researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

The situation is most dire in Jakarta’s northern neighbourhoods, which researchers say will be nearly completely flooded in three decades.

That’s the case at the Wall Adhuna mosque in the harbour district, about 10 minutes by foot from Irma’s neighbourhood. Built during the Dutch era as a small mosque for Muslim sailors, it was abandoned in 2005 after it was flooded, and a wall was built to separate it from dry land. The mosque now stands like a monument to a flood apocalypse, its roof half-collapsed and its walls covered with mould.

Jakarta was founded in 1527 by the sultan of the Sunda Kingdom, who conquered the area from the Portuguese and named it Jayakarta, or Great Victory.

Dutch colonial rulers later renamed the city Batavia as they set out to create a tropical Amsterdam with a dense network of streets and canals. Today, it bears little resemblance to the Dutch capital, with hundreds of thousands of cars idling in hours-long traffic jams, few pedestrians and only a handful of green spaces.

Over 30 million people live in Jakarta and its larger metropolitan area today. Nearly all of the 13 rivers that criss-cross Jakarta are dirty and foul-smelling. Apartment buildings now tower where mangrove forests once stood. In nearby landfills, plastic is burned.

But why is Jakarta sinking? Sea levels are rising, and serious city planning has been absent for a long time. The city is mostly paved with asphalt and concrete, which means that water has nowhere to go during heavy rainfall. But Jakarta’s sinking has less to do with what happens above ground than what happens below.

Around half of Jakarta’s households are connected to the privatized piped water network, but others are forced to pump their water out of the ground by hand or with electric pumps. The continuous extraction of groundwater means that the land above it sinks.

“It’s like a quiet, very slow murder,” says urban planner Nirwono Joga, who advises the government of President Joko Widodo. “You do not even see the bottom sinking in most neighbourhoods. This happens so slowly that most of them are not aware of it.”

Large hotels, factories and shopping malls also have their own pump systems. “The problems are man-made and not nature’s,” Nirwono says.

For households that are neither connected to the water supply system nor able to pump, clean water has to be delivered by truck. This is the case for Irma’s family, whose two blue 250-litre tanks are located directly on the protective sea wall. Irma cooks, washes and bathes using the water. One hundred litres cost about one dollar – not an insignificant sum for Irma or her neighbours.

“None of us has a pump,” she says. “The water here is disgusting. Filters don’t help either.”

Jakarta’s sinking is visible in other areas. In the North Jakarta subdistrict of Penjaringan, houses that used to be at ground level are now about one metre lower. Residents who used to look down on the street from their homes now live below it.

“The last time I had a flood, water as high as 20 centimetres inundated the kitchen,” says Abdul Mukti, a Penjaringan resident.

Water is seeping from the ground in front of the 62-year-old’s salmon-coloured house, but he says has no intention of moving elsewhere and does not believe that the area could sink further.

“I’m not afraid,” he says. “Flooding is only a few days a year. The rest of the year I can live without problems.”

In the nearby neighbourhood of Akuarium, dozens of houses were demolished in 2016 because of flooding, but some residents have stayed put, making do with life in makeshift shelters.

The continual sinking is not for a lack of bold ideas among city leaders. After a major flood in 2007, the city commissioned a Dutch company to build a 57-kilometre seawall several kilometres offshore, and artificial islands called Kita (We), Maju (Progress) and Bersama (Together) have been built. But the houses built there are just as empty as the streets, and the island project has been dogged by corruption allegations.

The latest plan to address Jakarta’s sinking problem is perhaps the most ambitious yet: to build a whole new capital outside Java, some 1,200 kilometres from Jakarta.

Under the proposed plan, the new capital will be built in the jungles of Borneo island, somewhere halfway between the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda.

The cost of the move to the new unnamed capital is estimated at more than 30 billion dollars. The first officials are scheduled to move into their new offices as early as 2024 – the last year of the president’s final term in office. Some Indonesians joke that the new capital should be named Jokograd, after the president.

Despite the national efforts, hardly anyone in the poor neighbourhoods along the protective walls is perturbed by the prospects of sinking.

“I know it costs a lot of money,” Irma says. “But if the government think it’s for the best, I have no problems. We are only small people.”

Attorney General’s Office says gay people need not apply

The Indonesian Attorney General’s Office said on Thursday it would not hire gay or transgender people to work at the institution.

“We want to hire only normal, proper people,” a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Mukri, told reporters.

“We don’t want unusual things,” said Mukri.

A listing for jobs posted on the office’s website, including prosecutor, doctor and computer expert, says applicants “must not be mentally disabled, including deviant sexual-orientation and behaviour (transgender).”

Activists condemned the requirement as a rights violation and noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has removed homosexuality from its list of mental illness.

“Rejecting applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity is a blatant form of discrimination,” said Ricky Gunawan, director of the Community Legal Aid Institute.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, except in Aceh province where sharia – strict Islamic law – is in force.

But the LGBT community has been under increased pressure in recent years as growing advocacy for sexual minorities has been met with homophobic rhetoric from officials and conservative Muslim groups.

In recent years, police have occasionally raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained them on suspicion of engaging in prostitution and pornographic acts.

Last year, the city of Pariaman in the devoutly Muslim province of West Sumatra passed a by-law that imposes a fine of 70 dollars for “homosexual and transgender activities.”

Push for all things halal divide opinion in Indonesia

After an official suggested that the Lake Toba area on Indonesia’s Sumatra island could be turned into a halal tourism destination, activist Togu Simorangkir came up with the idea of holding a pork festival as an act of resistance.

The event from October 25-26 involved pork cooking and pig catching competitions and was attended by 300,000 people from all over the country, according to Simorangkir.

“It was a big success even though it was just a spontaneous response against making North Sumatra a halal destination,” says Simorangkir, a British-educated activist who founded Alusi Tao Toba, a foundation dedicated to improving the communities around Lake Toba.

“The festival is not about religion, but about maximizing local tourism potential,” he says, adding that most people in the area make a living as farmers.

Muslims are forbidden from eating pork under Islamic rules because the meat is considered unclean.

The Indonesian government established a new halal certification agency under the Ministry of Religious Affairs in 2017. Since then, everything from refrigerators and microwaves to cat food can be certified as halal, or religiously permissible.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but is also home to several other religions. About 63 per cent of North Sumatra’s 15 million people are Muslim, but members of the indigenous Batak tribe, to which Simorangkir belongs, are mainly Christian.

Simorangkir says the idea of halal tourism in North Sumatra is divisive.

“I think there’s no need to divide people based on religion,” he says. “Here there are many mosques and people from all over the world come.”

“If they want tourism to thrive here, they should crack down on companies that destroy the environment,” he adds.

Simorangkir says the pork festival was initially opposed by local leaders and tour operators because of fears it would offend Muslims and hurt tourism.

“The word ‘pig’ has negative connotations in our society, when in fact it’s just an animal, like cows and buffaloes,” he says.

Critics fear that halal tourism, intended to attract Muslim visitors from wealthy Middle Eastern countries and all over the world, could mean a ban on alcohol, separate facilities for men and women and other restrictions.

North Sumatra Governor Edy Rahmayadi has denied suggestions he wants to turn the Lake Toba area into a sharia-compliant destination.

“It’s a misunderstanding,” he was quoted as saying by Detik.com, adding that he was simply suggesting that infrastructure be improved to serve visitors from Muslim countries such as Malaysia.

“So, when Muslims come to a place, […] there’s halal food,” he said. “Even in Thailand, where Buddhists are the majority, there are halal restaurants.”

The head of the Religious Ministry’s Halal Certification Administering Agency, Sukoso, says food and drinks, cosmetics, drugs and other consumer products will have to be certified halal by 2026 according to a 2014 law.

“As for household goods, it should be determined what materials they are made of,” he says, adding that products made of leather are subject to halal certification to ensure they do not contain materials from pigs.

The country’s first halal certified corrective glasses were launched in early November by PT Atalla Indonesia, according to the state Antara news agency.

“Even though glasses are not yet among products that need to be halal certified, the company has done it. I appreciate the effort,” Industry Ministry official Gati Wibawaningsih said at the launch event.

Japanese consumer electronics maker Sharp last year launched what it described as the first line of halal refrigerators in Indonesia.

The company expects sales in the segment to grow between 10 and 20 per cent with the introduction of halal products.

“We want our customers to have peace of mind when using our products,” Sharp Electronics Indonesia sales general manager Andri Adi Utomo said in a statement.

But some Indonesians have questioned why consumer products needs to be certified halal, with many taking to social media to ait their views.

“Now that there are halal glasses, watching porn will no longer be sinful,” one Twitter user joked.

Talk of introducing halal tourism to cater to Muslim visitors in the popular resort island of Bali, a mainly Hindu enclave of Indonesia, has also faced opposition from locals.

Earlier this year, vice presidential candidate Sandiaga Uno sparked controversy after he said he would promote halal tourism in Bali if he and his presidential running mate Prabowo Subianto were elected.

They were defeated by incumbent President Joko Widodo and his running mate Ma’ruf Amin in the April election.

Bali Governor I Wayan Koster rejected the idea.

“Bali is a cultural tourism destination,” he told local media. “There’s no need for such narrow branding.”

Jerinx, the frontman of popular Bali-based rock band Superman Is Dead, said the concept was irrelevant.

“Bali has always been friendly to Muslims. What the f*** is wrong with you people?” he wrote on Twitter.

Second student dies after anti-government rally turns violent in Sulawesi

 A second student has died after protesters clashed with police on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island during a rally against legislation that critics fear would undermine freedoms and anti-corruption efforts, an official said Friday.

Police fired tear gas to quell rock-throwing protesters who gathered outside the legislative council building in Kendari, the capital of South-east Sulawesi on Thursday. 

One student died of a bullet wound during the violence, authorities said.

“This morning, another student, who was critically injured, died because of bleeding in the head,” said the chief provincial ombudsman, Mastri Susilo.   

This week tens of thousands of students across the country have been holding daily protests, which have often turned violent, against revisions to the criminal code which include the criminalization of sex outside marriage, co-habitation and insulting the president.

The violence in Kendari followed clashes on Tuesday in Jakarta that left more than 260 students and 39 police injured as security personnel and protesters faced each other outside the national parliament building, police said.

The proposed changes to the criminal code would see consensual sex outside of marriage punishable by up to one year in prison, while a couple living together without being married could be jailed for up to six months.

Anyone who insults the president or vice president could be handed a prison term of up to four-and-a-half years. This was decriminalized by the Constitutional Court in 2016 after a legal challenge by citizens.

The protesters also demanded the government revoke recent revisions to a law governing the country’s anti-corruption commission that activists warn could severely threaten the body’s independence.

The protesters also demanded the government revoke recent revisions to a law governing the country’s anti-corruption commission that activists warn could severely threaten the body’s independence.

President Joko Widodo on Thursday sought to reassure the public that he remained committed to democracy. “Don’t you ever doubt my commitment on this,” he told reporters.

He said he was considering issuing a decree in lieu of law to replace the recently passed bill on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

“We will decide and inform the public soon,” he said. KPK commissioners and activists have criticized Joko for agreeing to the revision, saying that the changes could spell the end of the independent body.

Since it was established in 2002, the KPK has arrested and prosecuted former ministers, governors, central bankers and legislators with a conviction rate of nearly 100 per cent.

The agency’s success has made it one of the most respected institutions in a country where confidence in law enforcement agencies is low.

Earlier this month, the parliament also picked a new board of commissioners for KPK, led by a police general accused of ethic violations when he was an investigator at the commission.

The appointment of the police general, Firli Bahuri, prompted the current board of commissioners to tender their resignation to Joko.

KPK officials said that Firli was dismissed as an investigator last year after he met with two suspects being investigated by the agency.

Since it was established in 2002, the KPK has arrested and prosecuted former ministers, governors, central bankers and legislators with a conviction rate of nearly 100 per cent.

The agency’s success has made it one of the most respected institutions in a country where confidence in law enforcement agencies is low.