Tatung, Unique and Extreme Traditions of Cap Go Meh Celebration in Singkawang

Photo source: Singkawang Media Center

INDEPHEDIA.com - Tatung is a hereditary tradition held in Singkawang City, West Kalimantan, Indonesia, to celebrate Cap Go Meh.

The Cap Go Meh celebration in Singkawang has indirectly given rise to acculturation of the culture of the people in this area.

Not only ethnic Chinese, in this Cap Go Meh celebration there are also Dayak people who participate as tatung.

Since coming to Singkawang, the Chinese have forged close friendships with the indigenous population, especially the Dayak tribe. It continues until now.

History of Tatung in Singkawang

The term tatung comes from the Hakka dialect which consists of two words, namely the words ta and tung. Ta literally means 'clap' or 'hit', while tung means 'thungkie' or 'the person'.

Regarding the existence of tatung in Singkawang, in the book "70 Unique Traditions of Indonesian Tribes", the tatung tradition originates from the arrival of ethnic Chinese in the archipelago.

The Khek or Hakka tribe, which is ethnic Chinese in South China, came to Borneo Island, the name for Kalimantan.

At that time, the Sultan of Sambas, the ruler of Singkawang, employed the migrant community at a gold mine in Montedaro.

To relieve fatigue while working, they made a special ethnic Chinese village near the mouth of the river and named it San Keu Jong.

In this village in West Kalimantan they lived for many years. One day, the local people were attacked by an outbreak of disease.

Residents believe that disease outbreaks are caused by evil spirits. Because there was no modern medical treatment at that time, the immigrant Chinese community held a ritual of repelling reinforcements.

This ritual of repelling reinforcements in Hakka or Khek is called Ta Ciau. They hold rituals with local residents.

Rejecting reinforcements is carried out on the fifteenth day (Hokkien dialect: Cap Go) of the first month of the Chinese New Year calendar.

Because it was felt that the benefits of the ritual and disease outbreaks could be overcome and they recovered, finally this ritual of rejecting reinforcements was made an annual tradition and passed down from generation to generation.

This tradition has survived to this day and is integrated into Chinese New Year celebrations, which is named Cap Go Meh.

This ritual of rejecting reinforcements or Ta Ciau later became the forerunner of the tatung tradition in Singkawang.

Photo source: Antara

Symbol of Exorcism of Evil Spirits to Repel Bala

The tatung performance is a symbol of expelling evil spirits and eliminating bad luck in Cap Go Meh.

The Cap Go Meh celebration in this area took place lively with the presence of tatung with its unusual attractions.

Tatung in the Hakka language is a person who is possessed by a spirit and has supernatural powers.

Tatung is used as a medium for rituals to ward off evil spirits and rid the city of evil and bad luck.

In its attractions, the tatung show is filled with tense and mystical scenes.

The tatung show extreme skills, namely being immune to sharp objects.

In this tradition, tatung performers will parade and demonstrate like debus, which do not work on sharp weapons or objects that injure.

To become a tatung is not just anyone. Usually, the one who can become a tatung is someone who has a bloodline, either his father or grandfather had been a tatung.

Before the tatung parade, a priest will lead a spirit summoning ceremony to possess the tatung.

The spirits that are summoned are believed to be good spirits who are able to ward off evil spirits that would disturb the harmony of community life.

The spirits are believed to be heroic characters in Chinese legend, such as warlords, magistrates, princes, saints, writers to repentant prostitutes and others.

The summoned spirits can possess tatung that fulfills the requirements at the stage determined by the priest.

The tatung are required to fast for three days before the day of the celebration, with the aim that they are in a state of purity before the celebration.

Intangible Cultural Heritage and Tourist Visits

In 2020, UNESCO designated Tatung and the Cap Go Meh Festival in Singkawang as one of the intangible cultural heritages (WBTB) from West Kalimantan.

As a cultural heritage in Indonesia, the tatung attraction, which has existed since around 1737 or 1737, also has potential in the field of regional tourism, especially for Singkawang City, West Kalimantan Province.

The tatung parade at the Cap Go Meh celebration in Singkawang has attracted tourists from within the country as well as foreign tourists. (*)

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