Cap Go Meh, a lively fun tradition

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A man dressed as Chinese Emperor, sat on the Joli, being carried by the group of people in the rally, during Cap Go Meh Festival. (photo: IO/Yoga Agusta)

IO – The fifteenth day of Lunar New Year, commonly known as Cap Go Meh, is the annual celebration passed down through generations within Chinese-Indonesian [Tionghoa] communities. This ceremonial event in Glodok Chinatown, West Jakarta shows a special performance of Tatung, a Chinese-Indonesian cultural tradition which happens to be the main attraction duriRng the ceremonial scene. Chinese-Indonesian citizens in Jakarta believe that Tatung is a figure who worships the ancient spirit of Chinese knights in their body and later listens to their wise advice. Locals and guests seem to look for this kind of ritual as they do not want to miss the momentum of the ceremonial peak of Imlek.

Traditional parade float in the shape of a red mask. (photo: IO/Yoga Agusta)

Respectively following the combination of 10 Tian Gan and 12 Di Zhi in the Imlek calendar system, Chinese descendants in Indonesia (often referred as ‘Tionghoa’) always celebrate Cap Go Meh festival on an annual timeline. Cap Go Meh term originated from Tiociu or Hokkien dialect, “Cap Go”, meaning “fifteen” and “Meh” translated as night. As the name suggests, this celebration literally means “fifteenth night” after the first day of Lunar Year. As we all know, Lunar New Year is considered the most important holiday for the Chinese ethnics. Unlike one-day New Year in the Western culture, Lunar Year celebration extends for two consecutive weeks, beginning on the first day (zhēng yuè) of the Chinese calendar system and ending with Cap Go Meh on the fifteenth day.

There are various ways of celebrating Cap Go Meh Festival in Indonesia, depending on where the event is going to be held. Festivals are usually staged by local temples or monasteries by performing a carnival while also carrying Kio/Usungan in which the God’s statue is placed on top.

In Indonesia, Chinese-born families usually gather on the 15th day of the first month, when everyone is happy to share typical culinary cuisine known as Lontong Cap Go Meh. This is a mixed dish that has been assimilated into local Javanese recipes. Lontong Cap Go Meh is proof of beautiful cultural assimilation in Indonesia, which consists of many side dishes and ingredients from respective Chinese and Javanese customs, symbolizing fun and enjoyment.

Lontong Cap Go Meh historical name has been passed down through generations since the arrival of Sam Po Kong, better known as Admiral Zheng He, in Semarang, Central Java. At that time, he announced to the people that he would declare a competition for Cap Go Meh ceremonial day, open for everyone who could make the best soup dishes in town. Along with the news, a village head or Datuk heard about this challenge, and although it was one day after the announcement, he still decided to join while the deadline loomed closer.

(Raihan Ismail)