Article written by: Edwin Solahuddin
ASEAN-Korea blog correspondent, Indonesia
Like any other country that has sizable Chinese population, the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is also celebrated in Indonesia. People of Chinese decent are not the only ones who celebrate this festival, nearly all the Indonesian people warmly welcome the event.
During the New Order regime from 1966 to 1998, the Indonesian Government prohibited the public displays of Chinese culture, including alphabet, cultural attractions etc. However, since the 1998 reformation, the government’s policy on Chinese minority underwent a radical change.
On May 25, 1999, the Indonesian government ratified the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. A year later, President Abdurrahman Wahid abolished the ban on public displays of Chinese culture and allowed Chinese traditions to be practised freely. In 2002, President Megawati Sukarnoputri declared that the Chinese New Year would be marked as a national holiday from 2003. Three years later, the House of Representatives passed a new citizenship law defining the word indigenous in the 1945 Constitution as a natural born person, allowing Chinese Indonesians to be eligible to run for president.
Since the government fully acknowledged the political and cultural existences of the Chinese minority, the attitude of the Indonesian people towards their fellow countrymen of Chinese descent began to change, in which the people are more open-minded and tolerant towards the Chinese culture. It is very common here in Indonesia that during the Chinese New Year, locally known as Imlek, almost every mall, bank, shopping center, etc, display various Imlek decorations such as red lantern, red color decor, and even required their employees to wear traditional Chinese clothes.
In fact in several residential or business areas where the vast majority of their population are the people of Chinese descent, commonly known as pecinan or Chinatown, local people of non-Chinese descent are also participated in the celebration of the Chinese New Year.
A perfect example of the harmony and the religious tolerance between the people of Chinese descent and non-Chinese descent can be seen in the Chinatown area in Bogor, approximately 60 km south of the capital, Jakarta. On Sunday and Monday, January 22-23, 2012, thousands of people attended the celebration of the Chinese New Year in Hok Tek Bio Shrine (Dhanagun Monastery) in Suryakencana Street No 1, Bogor. Visitors to the event came not only from Bogor area, but also from Bekasi, Sukabumi, Cianjur, Depok, Tangerang, Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, and even Surabaya, almost 1000 km away from Bogor.
During the Chinese New Year holiday, the management of the monastery allows visitors to enter the shrine which was established in 1672. The relationship between the Chinese minority and the local people in Bogor is very good. In fact during the May 1998 Riot in Indonesia, when other Chinatowns were set on fires and looted, the Chinatown in Bogor area is relatively safe.
The culmination of the Chinese New Year celebration occurred on the fifteenth day of the first month which is locally known as Cap Go Meh or the Lantern Festival. On that day, thousands of people, Chinese and non-Chinese alike, gathered in the Chinatown to watch barongsai (dragon) and firework shows. The unique thing about the Chinese New Year celebration in Bogor is that local artist are also participated in the Cap Go Meh celebration by performing Indonesian traditional arts such as tanjidor, jaipongan, sisingaan, and reog Ponorogo which made the scenery even more splendid.