Indonesia's Cap Go Meh celebration
Held in Indonesia annually, Cap Go Meh is a Chinese traditional celebration that marks the final part of the Chinese New Year (Imlek) festivities. Cap Go Meh is observed when the first full moon appears 15 days after Imlek. In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is of the country's many national holidays.
- Nationwide, spectators and participants alike enjoy this colourful event
- The giving of alms
- A celebration with ancient origins
- Colourful lanterns and fireworks after dusk
- Special food and prayers round off the celebration
- Barongsai - the Lion Dance
- Driving away evil spirits
- Liong - the Dragon Dance
- The longer the dragon, the more luck it will bring
Nationwide, spectators and participants alike enjoy this colourful event
Cap Go Meh is celebrated in towns and cities throughout the country and starts off around noon with a parade featuring a variety of Barongsai (lion) and Liong (dragon) performances. The parade also includes an array of traditional Indonesian performances appropriate to the regional culture. Traffic is rerouted for the day and thousands of spectators throng the streets to watch and enjoy the celebration. On occasions scuffles arise between two different Barongsai, especially if a senior Barongsai feels he hasn't been shown proper respect from a junior, which should kneel and bow (kowtow) to the senior. These brief and good-natured scuffles add to the excitement.
The giving of alms
Along the route, the Chinese residents give the Barongsai an envelope containing money. Known as 'ampau', the alms are used for charitable activities conducted by Buddhist temples (bioh), particularly the distribution of rice and other staple foods to the needy. The distribution of rice usually takes place shortly after Cap Go Meh.
A celebration with ancient origins
This annual street festival has its roots in southern China, from where most Chinese Indonesians originated. The term Cap Go Meh comes from the Hokkien dialect and literally means '15 days or nights after the Lunar New Year'. In Chinese culture it is believed that the gods come out of the heavens on the 15th day of the year to grant wishes and spread good fortune among all people. Cap Go Meh was originally celebrated as a tribute to the god Thai-yi, who was considered the supreme god of the sky by the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 221 AD).
Colourful lanterns and fireworks after dusk
There is no set time for the Barongsai and Liong to return to the temple in the evening. And even after the lion and dragon performances are over, the celebration continues well into the night with fireworks and firecrackers, and colourful Chinese lanterns providing illumination. During this one-day celebration the old and the young are "required" to have fun.
Special food and prayers round off the celebration
A special ball-shaped cake called Yuan Xiao is prepared for the celebration. Made from rice flour, Yuan Xiao is an important part in the festival as it symbolises family unity, one of the main themes in celebration of the Lunar New Year. There is also a special dinner with all the family gathered together, followed by an offering of prayers for protection to Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and to the God of Protection for harmony, welfare, success, good fortune and a long life.
Barongsai - the Lion Dance
Barongsai is a traditional dance form from China that over the centuries spread to many South-east Asian countries with Chinese communities. In a lion dance two performers in a lion costume mimic a lion's movements. The colours of the costume and head are often bright and cheerful, but some are dark and mysterious. Many of the lion dance movements can be found in most Chinese martial arts. Some of the very old Barongsai are said to be inhabited by ancestor spirits and are prayed to and taken care of very carefully so as not to offend the spirit.
Performed during the Chinese New Year and other cultural festivals, the lion dance may also be performed on other important occasions such as the opening of a business, a wedding ceremony or to honour special guests.
Driving away evil spirits
Lions are not native to China and it is almost a certainty that the lion dance did not originate in China but may have been introduced into the country by Indian or Persian traders during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The first live lions in China are believed to have been presented to the Han Court by emissaries from Central Asia and the Parthian Empire. Lions have since been associated with Buddhism ever since that time. An early Chinese text records that a parade for a statue of Buddha of the Changqiu Temple was led by a lion to drive away evil spirits.
Liong - the Dragon Dance
In China, the dragon is held in high esteem for its supernatural power, goodness, fertility, vigilance and grace. Although supposedly fearsome in appearance, the dragon has a benevolent disposition, and for this reason came to symbolise imperial authority.
Like the lion dance, the dragon dance is often part of a festive celebration. The dance is performed by a team of dancers who manipulate a long flexible figure of a dragon using poles positioned at regular intervals along the length of the dragon. The dance team mimics the movements of this water spirit in a fast-moving and fluid manner. The movements in a performance usually represent the dragons demonstrating their power and dignity.
The longer the dragon, the more luck it will bring
From head to tail, the dragon is a long serpent shaped body on poles. It can be as long as 25 to 35 metres, and on some occasions up 70 metres. Dragons are believed to bring good luck, therefore the longer the dragon, the more luck it will bring. The dragon has a colourful body section and an ornamental head and tail. Traditionally, the dragons were quite heavy due to their being constructed from wood, with bamboo hoops on the inside and a heavy fabric covering. Today, in some places aluminium and plastics are quite commonly used in the construction to make the dragon lighter and easier to perform with.