One of the things that make Indonesia attractive is its various kinds of cultures. It will never end talking about Indonesian cultures, and it is even more never-ending when talking about each culture’s festival. Every culture must have a special day or period, usually in memory of a religious event, with its own social activities, food or ceremonies. These organized sets of special events can be enjoyed in the forms of musical performances, costume parties, big feasts, drama, and so on and so forth.
Then, looking at the numbers of Indonesian cultures, it may feel like infinity holding a thorough discussion about festivals each of them has, thus an article will not be enough. Therefore, this article will only outline fifteen Indonesian traditional festivals. While fifteen is actually a small number, the rests are much more abundant numbers. This is sure something to be proud of. Another disclaimer is that the festivals mentioned are not put in sort of rank orders based on popularity. They are just picked and put randomly, considering every culture has its own value.
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1. Pesta Reba (Reba Party) of Suku Bena, NTT
Pesta Reba is one of the traditional parties held in East Nusa Tenggara. This traditional event takes place in Kampung Bena which is located about 12 kilometers from Bajawa, Flores, and is held in order to welcome the New Year. This party is usually held in December, January, until February.
However, the peak of the Reba Festival is usually held in mid-January around January 14-16 each year. This party is led by traditional leaders or tribal leaders commonly called by the name Mosalaki. The whole community of Ngada also takes part in this party.
Meanwhile, Reba word comes from the name of one of the wooden trees in Flores called Reba wood. Reba is closely related to ubi or uwi (cassava). However, Reba can also mean bamboo cutting ban (Reba Bheto) and also the ban to take coconut (Reba Nio).
On the other hand, the Reba party in the Ngada traditional community is a unifying party of small villages. Besides being a symbol of the thanksgiving ceremony, Pesta Reba also becomes one of the symbols of the ceremony of honor to Ngada community ancestors. One characteristic of the Reba Party is to eat sweet potatoes together while accompanied by a traditional dance called Besa Uwi. The dance is usually performed simultaneously with the song “O Uwi”. “O Uwi song” has the meaning of worship of sweet potatoes as a staple food for Ngada people.
However, uniquely, the song has a very deep philosophical meaning. Some verses of the song imply unity and loyalty. Such a deep philosophy is reflected from this traditional ceremony. This event offers the opportunity to promote unity for the people.
2. The Festival of Bau Nyale Putri Mandalika, Kuta, Lombok
Bau Nyale Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. This annual festival is usually held on the 20th day of the 10th month based on Sasak tribe’s moon calendar.
According to the Sasak language, the word “bau” means “to catch” while the word “Nyale” is a name for sea worms that only appear at the beach once a year. This is the reason why Bau Nyale Festival is done with catching worms along the coast of Lombok. The coastline that stretches for nearly 76 kilometers will usually be filled with a sea of people who also celebrate the Bau Nyale Festival.
Bau Nyale tradition is associated with the story of Princess Mandalika who was supposedly contested by many princes. The princess could not find the choice and finally decided to plunge into the sea. Nyale or sea worms that come out once a year in the South Sea of Central Lombok are believed to be the hair incarnation of Princess Mandalika. These creatures appear on schedule. They appear once a year around Kuta Beach and Seger during the rainy season. The sea worms always appear in two to three nights, exactly before dawn.
Meawnhile, Nyale worms have the same shape as worms in general but they have different colors. Some of ‘Nyale’ worms are dark brown and the others are dark green. Generally, not all the sea worms being caught are processed to be meals. Some of the captured ‘Nyale’ worms are also sprinkled on the ground for fertility, made into antibiotics, to be used as medicinal ingredients to increase body stamina. Nyale worms are believed to contain high protein, even higher than chicken eggs or cow’s milk.
On the other hand, the Bau Nyale Festival is not limited to the parade of catching worms in the sea, but there are also various other cultural events following the parade. One of them is the staging of the colossal drama of Princess Mandalika, the ritual of welcoming Princess Mandalika, Princess Mandalika election contest, Gandeng Baleq, Peresean, cycling race, horse race competition, and many other cultural parades.
Local people believe that Nyale Bau is related to welfare and safety. Nyale worms can fertilize the soil. If many worms come out of the sea, the harvest will be successful. Nyale that have been caught on the beach will as well be sown in the fields, besides being processed into food and medicine.
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3. Timba Laor Festival, Ambon
Timba Laor Festival in Ambon is a festival that has a concept similar to Bau Nyale Festival in Lombok. Similar to the Bau Nyale Festival, in the Laimba Timba Festival there is also activity to find sea worms among reefs located along the coast every once a year.
The language “Timba Laor” itself means “catching marine worms”. This tradition has been done for generations and still continues to this day. The difference only lies in the time of the festivals. Timba Laor Festival takes place around March and April. This festival is held in the coastal area of Nusaniwe and Leitimur Selatan area.
Laora Timba Festival usually ends by cooking the catch of ‘Laor’ sea worms which are then served to eat together. There are also cultural performances held by displaying various regional arts.
When the festival is held, the beach that becomes the location of looking for worms will be full of humans. The atmosphere becomes more beautiful because it is done at night where every person or a group will take torch as lighting.
4. Tidore Festival, North Maluku
Tidore Festival is an annual event held by the Government of Tidore.
This annual event is assembled in the form of a cultural festival that brings together several custom events.
Tidore Festival is always held in order to commemorate the anniversary of Tidore City which is now approximately 900 years old. This festival is held for 3 days, from the 1 to 3 April.
In addition, there are many series of events included in the Festival Tidore.
One of them is Dowari ritual. This ritual is performed to initiate of a traditional event called Soa Romtoha in North Maluku. This ritual is mandatory and is always done before opening the celebration. Soa Romtoha is a ritual meeting of five residents to deliver water taken from the top of Kie Matabu Mountain by using Rau to be poured or made into one in the bamboo container that has been provided. In addition, there are also cultural carnivals, creative economic exhibitions, archival exhibitions and photo collections from all over the city.
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5. Semarang Night Carnival
The festival, which was first held in 2011, is celebrated to welcome the anniversary of Semarang City. There are many events participated by hundreds of participants, ranging from students, community, art workers and many more.
The most interesting thing about Semarang Night Carnival is the costumes worn by participants, which are designed with a variety of unique decorations such as lamps and lanterns.
These lamps and lanterns have also become the hallmark of Semarang Night Carnival.
The festival participants also polish their faces with lively makeup filled with glitter and a variety of ornaments that can attract the attention of visitors who see it. They parade along the city of Semarang as well as along the historic buildings in the city of Semarang.
There is also another interesting thing in Semarang Night Carnival. It is called Warak Ngendog. It is often raised as a theme in one of the shows as well as an icon or representative of cultural acculturation in Semarang. Warak Ngendog is an imaginary animal that is quite legendary in Semarang.
The word “warak” itself is derived from Arabic, “wara’I” meaning holy, and “ndendog” which means to lay eggs. The name is symbolized as a reward obtained by a person having previously undergone a sacred process, which is fasting. Literally, warak ngendog can be interpreted as when someone keeps his or her purity in the month of Ramadan, at the end of the month will receive a reward in the day of Eid.
It is said that the characteristic of the straight form of Warak Ngendog contains deep philosophical meaning. It is believed that the straight form depicts the image of Semarang citizens who are open and speak the way they are. In addition Warak Ngendog also represents the cultural acculturation of ethnic diversity in Semarang City. The giant doll with the form of a four-legged creature resembles a tiger or lion but the body is tall and slim. \
Its body is decorated with colorful paper and wheels are installed to the feet so that it is able to pull around. This toy is an intangible creature that is the symbol of acculturation and unity of various ethnic groups in Semarang. They are Chinese, Arab and Javanese ethnics. Its head that resembles a dragon’s head is a typical of Chinese culture. Its body which is shaped like a camel represents the culture of Arab. The four legs resemble goats which show the culture of Javanese.
6. Danau Sentani Festival, Papua
Lake Sentani is one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in Indonesia. The lake is located at the eastern of Indonesia, precisely in Papua. Papua has a lot of uniqueness starting from the Jayawijaya Mountains with its snowy peak, the Raja Ampat National Marine Park which is always included in the category of most favorite destinations, and also beautiful Lake Sentani.
Lake Sentani Festival is a party involving 16 tribes in Papua. This festival is filled with traditional dances on the boat, Papua typical war dance, traditional ceremonies such as the coronation of Ondoafi, and serving a variety of typical culinary Papua.
Various kinds of performances of custom, art, and culture are presented in one of Festivals in Indonesia. It performed by the people from different tribes of Papua. The participants will perform their traditional cultures such as the typical dances accompanied by local songs. This festival has become a tradition in Papua since 2007. The Sentani Lake Festival is held for five consecutive days which usually start from the 19th to the 23rd of June in the tourist area of Khalkhote, East Sentani.
The purpose of this festival is to promote the tourism based on the natural wealth and culture of the local community. Besides, this activity also aims to increase people’s awareness of the local welfare. In addition, this festival is able to maintain unity and peace between various tribes, races, and religions.
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7. Traditional Ceremony of Tengger “Yadnya Kasada”, Gunung Bromo
Yadnya Kasada or Kesodo is one of the largest annual rituals of the original tribe of Tengger in Bromo. Every year, on the 14th day of Kasada month, or when the full moon appears in the sky as a whole every year, Tengger Hindus will throw offerings to the crater of Mount Bromo, starting from vegetables, fruits, livestock, to money.
All of that is a form of gratitude for the welfare that is considered given by Mount Bromo throughout the year to the surrounding community. The origin of the Yadnya Kasada ritual is the legends of Roro Anteng and Joko Seger who had never been blessed with children despite years of marriage.
After a long hermitage at the peak of Mount Bromo, their petition was granted by god. The couple had 24 children at once. However, there was a requirement. Their 25th child should be thrown into the crater of Mount Bromo as an offering. Roro Anteng and Joko Seger broken the promise and it made god angry. The sky became dark and lava came out from the crater of Mount Bromo. This is why the people around Mount Bromo must give offerings every 14th day of the month of Kasada, in order that they can have a safe and prosperous life. This ritual also continues to be hereditary as a form of promise of Hindu Tengger to Mount Bromo.
Yadnya Kasada’s ritual is open to the public and is usually done after sunrise as one of Festivals in Indonesia. Previously, the people of Tengger will pray first in Pura Luhur Poten which is in the sea sand in the foot of Mount Bromo. The ceremony takes place in the early hours of the morning. After that, the people climb Mount Bromo to throw their offerings.
8. Lembah Baliem Culture Festival, Papua
Lembah Baliem Culture Festival is considered as one of the most exotic festivals in Indonesia. In this festival, hundreds of indigenous Papuan men from different tribes fight in in koteka, headdress, and painting on the face. There are approximately 40 tribes participating in this festival. All of them from Dani, Lani, Yali, and other tribes wearing their exotic traditional clothes can be seen during this traditional event.
This festival is held for three days and it includes tribal war attractions and indigenous cultures of Lembah Baliem, the old mountain region of Papua that has been abandoned for a long time.
In addition to tribal war attractions, there are also various other attractions like Papuan traditional dances, pig races, traditional music games Pikon and Witawo, teen games called Sikoko and Puradan, traditional cooking show (burning rock), attraction in making Noken (women knitting bag Papua), and various other local handicraft exhibitions.
9. Pesta Budaya Tabuik, Pariaman
The people of Pariaman city, West Sumatra have a unique tradition called Tabuik. This customary ritual involves two community groups in Pariaman namely Pasa and Subarang. The Pasa group means the market, while the Subarang group means the opposite.
When it comes to Muharram month, Pariaman society will make a tabuik or the embodiment of a legend named Buraq who brought a coffin on his back. According to legend, Buraq is a half human and half horse creature.
He had a body of a horse, a human head, and wings. It was said to be the one carrying the body of Imam Hussein and disappearing in the sky. Imam Hussein is the grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW who died during the war in Karbala Dessert. Therefore, this Tabuik customary ritual is performed to commemorate the day of Imam Hussein’s death or Asyura’s warning which falls on 10 Muharram. The whole process of Tabuik ritual itself begins on the 1st of Muharram.
This tabuik height is about 15 meters and is divided into two parts, each of which is done by the Pasa and Subarang groups. The upper part represents a tower-shaped cloak decorated with colorful flowers and velvet fabrics. Meanwhile, the underside of the body is a winged horse, tailed and human-headed with long hair.
After going through these seven stages, the tabuik is directly paraded to Gondoriah Beach just before Maghrib to be floated to the sea.
10. Reog Ponorogo Festival
Ponorogo regency is often dubbed as Reog or Bumi Reog (the place of Reog) because Reog art was established here. Every month before the month of Suro or Muharam month, which is when Moslems welcomes the Islamic new year, the people of Ponorogo, East Java hold a National Reog Festival in the Ponorogo Square. Typically, this celebration takes place every year in October.
A total of more than 21 art groups of Reog Dancers compete with dozens of Reog artists from the whole country. This event gives opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience.
The performance of Reog Dance is performed alternately in random order for five days. The assessment on each participant’s appearance is based on Reog’s dancing skills, compactness, and the creativity of its choreography.
11. Mahakam Festival
The Mahakam Festival is an annual festival held by the Samarinda City Tourism Office in November. The purpose of this festival is to introduce tourism and culture of Samarinda City and also East Kalimantan as well as to increase the number of tourist visits both from within and abroad.
There are about 30 kinds of activities that are served in this festival. One of the activities is held in the waters of the Mahakam River which includes races across the river, jet ski races, flying boards, boat racing, and power boating racing.
Meanwhile, along the banks of the Mahakam River there are also various activities related to local wisdom and music such as band festivals, marching band carnival contests, dangdut music performances, cultural parades, exhibitions, gemstone exhibitions and culinary competitions.
This festival also includes Mahakam Sampe Music Festival which offers performances from various musical genres by using traditional Dayak tribe instrument called Sampe or Sape. The musicians taking part in this music festival are from Kalimantan region.
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12. Festival Kora-kora of Ternate, North Maluku
Ternate, North Maluku, also has its own annual festivals. One of them is the Kora-kora Festival which is held in the early to mid December to commemorate the anniversary of Ternate.
Kora-kora festivals showcase a wide range of North Maluku cultures ranging from art to dance, music, to food exhibition.
The festival is also filled with a variety of marine activities such as traditional Kora-kora boat races, fishing, underwater photography, Kora-kora boat rides, and ornamental boat races.
Kora-kora is a large traditional boat that is driven by using paddles. This boat can contain about 40 to 100 people including the rowers. The name “Kora-kora” is taken from the Spanish word “Carraca”. It is said that during the reign of Sultan Babullah, around 1570, Kora-kora boat became a war vehicle against the Portuguese as well as to expand the territory of Ternate. Now Kora-kora boat is used as a symbol to commemorate the glory of Ternate in the past. This festival also aims to foster spirit to the younger generation.
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13. Tabut, Bengkulu
Tabut is a traditional ceremony of the people of Bengkulu to relate the story of the heroism and the death of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad SAW, Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib in battle with the troops of Ubaidillah bin Zaid in the field of Karbala.
The celebration of Tabut in Bengkulu was first held by Syeh Burhanuddin known as Imam Senggolo in 1685. Sheikh Burhanuddin (Imam Senggolo) married a Bengkulu woman and their generations were referred to as the Tabut family. The ceremony is held from 1 to 10 Muharram every year.
To make a Tabut, several tools are needed. The tools include: bamboo, rattan, paperboard, grip paper, rope, carving knife, drawing tools, flashlight, decorative lamps, paper flowers, plastic flowers and so forth, while the ingredients used to make the feast and offerings include glutinous rice, bananas, sugar cane, ginger, palm sugar, white sugar, coconut, chicken, meat, seasoning, incense and others.
14. Gawai Dayak, West Kalimantan
Dayak gawai is a celebration held in West Kalimantan and Sarawak by indigenous tribes of West Kalimantan and Sarawak. Dayak gawai is a day of harvest festivities and began to be held on a large scale since 25 September 1964.
The Dayak gawai has several ceremonies run in the city and lamin (long house). The offerings of various foods are dedicated to the god of rice for a good harvest. There will be poet who reads a special incantation for this ceremony and sheds the blood of a rooster on the offering materials.
This traditional festival was held originally based on the myth of the origin of rice which is popular among the Dayak people of West Kalimantan. The story of the origin of rice began from a sprig of rice belonging to the god of Mount Bawakaraeng which was stolen by a sparrow and fell into the hands of a man who was doing ‘ngayau’or head hunting. As he returned merely bringing a sprig of grass, he was mocked. It was even worse when he decided to plant the grass. He was casted away from the village.
In his wandering he met the goddess and they got married. They had a son named nek baruang kulup. He was the one who brought rice to humans as he liked to come down to the villages to play tops. This act also caused him to be expelled from Mount Bawakng and finally married to a human.
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15. Nias Culture Festival
Rock jumping is an attraction displayed in this traditional festival. This event is usually held in August in Bawomataluo Village. This village has been registered as the World Heritage in UNESCO since 2009.
This stone jump has become a tourist icon of Nias Island and was once used as a picture in Indonesia’s paper money in 1992. This attraction has become a tourist attraction on the island of Nias. In the past, this stone jump was deliberately created to test the courage of the boys in Nias who had entered adulthood.
Meanwhile, Men who managed to jump over the composition of the stone are considered to have grown up.
Those are complete explanation about common festivals which are celebrated in Indonesia.