For many Malaysian Chinese folks who grew up with Chinese New Year traditions at home, you probably are familiar with the last day of CNY, or chor 15, meaning the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. This is usually marked by a celebration called ‘Chap Goh Mei’, which typically involves throwing mandarin oranges marked with your name and contact into a river, and hope that that a soulmate would scoop it up. Old school Tinder, sorta.
But if you didn’t know, Chap Goh Mei isn’t just celebrated in Malaysia. As a matter of fact, it is a celebration that has been adapted by Chinese diaspora living in Indonesia as well, and in Singkawan, West Kalimantan, they have their very own unique way of partaking in the festivities too!
A coastal city that many often refer to as the ‘Hong Kong of Indonesia’ with a majority of its citizens being of Chinese descent, many traditions associated with Chinese New Year are practiced by locals here. Except for Chap Goh Mei, where instead of throwing oranges, the locals throw a lavish parade instead!
Often participated by Tatung, or people who claim to have supernatural abilities or are able to be possessed by spirits, the parade can number up to 1,000 participants, according to a CNA report.
These Tatung are said to prepare themselves for the event a day prior by going into trances at their own respective temples, which represent a particular deity, according to Kajo Mag.
During this trance, the Tatung are said to be capable of completing incredible feats, such as piercing themselves with spears, slicing their bodies with sharp blades, or pushing incredibly pointed hooks into their skin. It is said that in this period of trance, they do not feel pain, nor bleed.
They won’t even leave scars behind, which is similar to what we see devotees practice during Thaipusam in Malaysia.
Much of this stems from the cultural roots that the Chinese locals have insisted on keeping alive. After all, the very name of the city, Singkawang, is derived from the Hakka name San Khew Jong, meaning a town in the hills near the sea and an estuary.
Despite this being a proud facet of their local culture, this practice of organising the Tatung parade during Chap Goh Mei was actually outlawed by then-Indonesian President Suharto.
If you’ve never seen it for yourself in person, this parade is definitely one to include on your bucket list! But do make sure to make travel plans early, because hotel prices can get pretty pricey as the parade approaches closer on the calendar.