Saturday, February 13, 2010

‘Imlek’ festivity no longer family activity

Wow... This year Lunar New Year & Valentine's Day come in the same day... What a special day specially for you who celebrate them both... Just wishes you all 'Gong He Xin Xi, Wan Shi Ru Yi, Gong Xi Fa Cai'...

Children from various ethnic backgrounds happily shouted or knocked on doors of houses of Indonesian-Chinese around their neighborhoods asking for angpao distributed during Imlek Chinese New Year.

Others played in the street, performing a modified barongsai lion dance in various forms while their parents either sold snacks and accessories typical to Imlek or visited their Chinese neighbors.

At least that was how Jakarta residents used to celebrate Imlek before the New Order government (1966-1998), an observer of Chinese culture, Tedy Jusuf, recalled.

“Imlek used to be a kind of festivity for all citizens before it was restricted under Soeharto’s [New Order] administration,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.

When Soeharto took office in 1967, such cheer was no longer seen since the president issued the 1967 Presidential Instruction on Religion, Beliefs and Chinese Culture in Indonesia.

The instruction ruled that all Chinese religious or cultural celebrations could not be performed publicly and ordered that it should be celebrated with family members only.

“Ever since, we no longer saw or experienced such festivities,” Tedy said.

Chinese scholar Mona Lohanda who spent her childhood in Tangerang, Banten, echoed similar sentiments, recalling that children in her neighborhood used to play with fireworks on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

“We used to pray at the altar at our homes or temples on New Year’s Eve before playing with fireworks until dawn,” she said.

In the morning, the children usually wore new clothes and visited with families and relatives, greeting each other and saying “hope you have a long life and prosperity in the years to come”.

During the New Year festivity that lasts for the first 15 days of the new year, native people also celebrate the event with tanjidor (Betawi traditional music band) and barongsai lion dance performed door to door.

“It peaked during Cap Go Meh celebrations on the 15th day of the new year, where people usually engaged in various entertainment events such as wayang [puppet show], Malay orchestra, keroncong [Indonesian traditional music of Portuguese origin] and many others,” she said.

Unfortunately it all disappeared with the government restriction.

However, Mona complained that even after the government revoked the restriction, she no longer saw the same Imlek celebrations she used to have as a child.

“Imlek has turned into a commercial event and has lost its traditional sense,” she said.

“We can see how festively Imlek is celebrated in malls and shopping centers throughout Jakarta, but we no longer feel an emotional bond.”

Betawi figure Ridwan Saidi said the peak celebration of Chinese New Year was on Cap Go Meh, where the Chinese have dragon and lion dance processions that usually began at Mester (now Jatinegara, East Jakarta) to Senen Market in Central Jakarta and ended at Kota railway station, West Jakarta.

“That event was usually followed by local traditional performances such as keroncong or orkes [musical group performance],” he said.

He acknowledged Jakarta’s administration initiated the restriction on Chinese culture in public.

“It was in the era of Mayor Sudiro in 1958 when celebration of Cap Go Meh was restricted. Then President Soeharto issued the 1967 presidential instruction,” Ridwan said.

He added that as a non-Chinese, he felt disappointed with the regulation because it affected interaction between indigenous and Chinese people.

“We used to live in harmony with the Chinese and we never had any problem with our differences, but then it all changed with the regulation. We expect it will not be repeated,” he said.

Even after the instruction was withdrawn, people can no longer experience the similar festive air of Imlek in the 1950s.

“The celebration no longer has a connection with the people because it is now centered in malls or shopping centers”.

Source :The Jakarta Post


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