Top 15 Indonesian Cultural Festivals -Traditions – Celebrations
Throughout the year, there are many cultural festivals in Indonesia. Each region and province has their own festival that showcases their cultures and traditions. The following is a list on 15 of the culture festivals in Indonesia along with a short explanation:
1. Bahari Raja Ampat Festival (Papua)
The Bahari Raja Ampat Festival takes place each year around August. The capital of Raja Ampat regency, Waisai is chosen as the place for the event.
There are performances on various traditional dance and culture that bring joy to the people. One of them is a famous dance from the region of Papua called Tari.
Moreover, traditional food from Papua are also available for people to try out for free. Usually, there is also a performance on how the people usually consume their fruits.
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The people also hold competitions during the festivals such as underwater photography, beach volleyball, and rowboat. Traditional boats that the ancestors used to roam the sea are also out on display during the festival. The main goal of the festival is to show the beauty of the land and the sea in Papua. Another special thing, Raja Ampat is also included on the top 10 list of the most beautiful diving location in the world.
2. Cap Go Meh Festival (Singkawang)
One of Indonesian Cultural Festival usually occurs annually in February. It celebrates the fifteen days after the Chinese New Year. In the Hokkien dialect, the word Cap Go means fifteen and Meh means night.
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One of the region that celebrates Cap Go Meh is Singkawang, Kalimantan. It is known for its strong Chinese culture. The festival displays an array of the Chinese cultures. People from different ethnicities participate for the festival.
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For the celebration, there is a parade consisting hundreds Tatung. Tatung are the people believed to be possessed by the gods or the ancestors. They have the ability to abolish any bad spirits from the region. During the festival, Tatung performs amazing feats including penetrating body parts with sharp objects.
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Additionally, some even use machete on their arms or their necks. Some Tatung sit on a stretcher while the people bang on drums or gongs. They also throw paper, rice or splash some water into the crowd. Other Tatung acts as if they are fighting something unseen which causes the crowd to move back.
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3. Danau Kelimutu Festival (East Nusa Tenggara)
East Nusa Tenggara celebrates this festival in August. The event consists of arts, cultures, parades, dances, trekking and even local produce from the region. However, the main attraction is the Kelimutu Lakes (Danau Kelimutu). They are situated on the volcanic Kelimutu Mountains of East Nusa Tenggara.
There are three lakes on the mountains. They are famous for their three colours hence they earn the name Danau Tiga Warna (Three Colours Lake).
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There is a red, white and blue lakes but they keep changing colours throughout time. The locals believe that each colour has its own meaning and the lakes possess amazing powers.
The festival begins with the customary ceremony of cutting buffalos for one thousand people. It ends with the most anticipated Pati Ka Du’a Bapu Ata Mata ritual. The ritual gives offerings to the ancestors believed to reside in the Kelimutu lakes. The ethnic group, Lio, carries out this ritual.
They believe that the lakes is the final destination for the souls. It is the resting place for souls as their lives end. Traditional food are offered for the ancestors such as Konde and Ratu. Moreover, the ritual is to show gratitude. It is a prayer for peace, good health and good life for the oncoming year.
4. Pacu Jawi Festival (West Sumatra)
This is a festival for a cow race as the word jawi means cow and pacu means race. The cultural festival takes place at Tanah Datar in West Sumatra for five weeks.
For its unique circumstance, the festival is also known at an international scale.
Then, it celebrates the harvest season of paddy rice. Muddy fields are used as the race area. The cows do not directly compete with other cows. What matters is that they must run in a straight in line from the start to the finish line.
A jockey will ride between two cows with the help of a farming tool for his feet. To make the cows run, the jockey bites the tail of the cows. The harder he bites, the faster they run. The challenge lies in the ability of the cows to run straight while being tied to each other.
Sometimes cows run in opposite direction, causing the jockey to fall in the muddy field. The crowd laughs and claps at the sight. Alongside the event, traditional dances and musical performance add to the festivity.
5. Karapan Sapi Festival (Madura)
As Indonesian Cultural Festival, The festival happens on the month of August or September each year. It is similar to the Pacu Jawi Festival where there are bulls racing against each other. However, it does not take place in a muddy field. The field is a clear one.
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Again, a jockey is in charge of the two bulls. They must run as fast as they can to the finish line. The line of the lane is around 100 meters. It takes around 10 seconds up to a minute for one race to finish.
This festival is to celebrate the harvest season of the paddy rice and tobacco. During the festival, the locals use the opportunity to sell local produce or crafts. People perform rituals believed to hold magical powers. There are also traditional dances and traditional music.
6. Danau Poso Festival (Poso Regency)
Poso regency is in central Sulawesi province. Once a conflicted region, now it aims to promote its natural resources and culture.
Through Danau Poso Festival (Lake Poso Festival), the region has attract both local and international tourists. It takes place for four days in November. Activities include local culinary and local produce from the region.
There is also a 42 km marathon around the lake Poso. Runners come from all around the world. Moreover, there is a beach volleyball competition, football competition and tug of war on boats.
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Other events during festival are putra/putri Danau Poso whereby a male and a female are chosen as the representative figure for lake Poso. There is also vocal group competition, traditional games, and rowing boats competition.
7. Rambu Solo Festival (South Sulawesi)
This Indonesian Cultural Festival, specifically takes place in Toraja, South Sulawesi. It has attract international tourists from various parts of the world. The Rambu Solo festival is a burial ritual for the dead in July and August.
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The locals believe that without the ritual, the spirits of the dead will cause misfortunes to those who are still alive. They believe that the dead should be treated as if they are still alive but sick. They give offerings such as food, drinks and cigarettes.
This ritual is expensive as it requires months of preparations. While waiting to be buried, the dead is wrapped in cloth and kept in a special house for ancestors. The dead could be buried on cliffs.
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The reason for this is the belief that the high places could help the spirit reach nirvana faster. Moreover, hundreds of buffalos are cut with the feat of a single machete. One strike and a buffalo is dead. This festival is very prestigious and lasts for days.
8. Teluk Jailolo Festival (Western Halmahera)
The aims of the festival is to promote the culture of Western Halmahera. It usually takes place in April each year. Western Halmahera is known for its spices and an abundance of natural resources. There is an event called Kuliner Fiesta (Culinary Fiesta) where there is a fish barbecue party. Other activities include diving and underwater photography.
Moreover, there is a Sigofi Ngolo ritual. It is a sacred ritual of giving offerings to nature so that the festival can run smoothly.
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A notable performance is Sasadu on The Sea. Traditional dance and contemporary arts with traditional music are performed. There is a special stage that is erected on the sea. To promote the region, the festival also gives a tour to the village in the region. Tourists can sign up for the tour and learn more about the many spices in Indonesia.
9. Pasola Jousting Festival (East Nusa Tenggara)
The Pasola Jousting Festival takes place throughout February and March. The dates for the battle are determined by the elders at the village.
It all depends on when the full moon will occur. The battlefield is a wide, open land. People ride on horses while carrying blunt spears, also known as hola. The blunt spears are used to attack the opponents or even the horses. Men or horses that have fallen cannot be attacked.
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Any injury causing blood to flow is seen as a good thing. The locals believe that the blood will help in fertilising the soil. Although it may seem that the people are attacking each other on horses, the act actually symbolises peace. Through this game of battle, a problem or disagreement can be sorted out.
10. Erau International Folk and Art Festival (East Kalimantan)
The Erau festival started as only a regional festival at Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan. But then it grew into a national festival and include other countries’ culture as well.
It lasts for a week in July or August. It showcases performance and cultural tradition from Kutai Kartanegara. Countries such as USA, Bulgaria, Canada, Taiwan, Russia and others usually participate.
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There are also art exhibitions, culinary festival, dragon boat races along the Mahakam river and other traditional competitions. A notable event is the International Cultural Parade where traditional costumes from various parts of the world are shown.
However, the main celebration is Mengulur Naga (Dragging Dragons). It is a tradition to release big dragon figures by using boats. They are released at Kutai Lama where the locals believe as the den of the dragons. As the dragons are released, people try to take a part of the scales. By doing so, good fortune will follow them.
11. Teluk Ambon Festival (Maluku)
The festival happens yearly at the Ambon Bay during the last days of September. The aim of the festival is to promote the independence and resources of Maluku province. It hopes to be a desired national and international tourists attraction.
Manggarube Arumbae is a traditional boat competition that takes place during the festival. The boat consists of 31 people. Other than that, there is also a boat competition for women wearing traditional clothing.
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There is also a swimming marathon that begins at the Ambon Bay and ends at the south end of Ambon. Another interesting attraction is Bambu Gila loosely translated as Crazy Bamboo. It is a traditional dance where a spirit is summoned to possess the bamboo.
A couple of men hold the bamboo while one man serves as the handler. The possessed bamboo moves aggressively to the rhythm of the music. It also gets heavier. At the end of the dance, the handler tame the bamboo and calms down the spirit.
12. Dieng Culture Festival (Central Java)
This big cultural event takes place at the highland of Dieng, Central Java in August each year. The main ceremony of the festival is Ruwatan Bocah Gimbal.
There is a mystical folklore that says children will have dreadlocks as their hair. It must be the children themselves who ask for the cutting of the dreadlocks. When the request comes from their own will, a normal hair will grow back instead of a dreadlocks.
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The ceremony involves the cutting of children’s hair at the Arjuna temple. The cut dreadlocks are thrown to the lake as offerings to the ancestors. Other shows also add to the festivity. They include art performances, puppet shadows, a film festival and a Jazz show on top of clouds. The most anticipated activity is the release of traditional lanterns into the sky.
13. Moyo Festival (West Nusa Tenggara)
This festival almost lasts up to a month. It usually occurs at the end of September up to mid October. It opens with a big carnaval and also art performances.
People open various stands selling local crafts and produce. Other small events include a Tenun Festival and showing off the process of making it. Moreover, there is a corn party and a 10 km marathon whereby national runners will also participate.
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Marching bands will parade along the street too. To fully get the experience of the beautiful view of the region, people can also participate for the mountain biking. The route pass along the mountains of Batu Lanteh. For the closing of the festival, there is usally a Buffalo Carnaval and a fishing contest.
14. Banyuwangi Festival (Banyuwangi Regency)
The Banyuwangi Festival is a huge celebration as it lasts around two months. It usually takes place in October until December. The Banyuwangi Festival is also known as B-Fest. The aim of the festival is to attract tourists from local regions as well as international ones.
There more than 60 events for this festival. With that many events, there is something for everyone. There are Banyuwangi Batik Festival and Banyuwangi Ethno Carnival.
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There is the International Tour de Banyuwangi Ijen for Cycling in Indonesia. Its an official cycling race that takes place each year in Banyuwangi. Additionally, there is also Banyuwangi Beach Jazz Festival. Musicians perform at the beach concept area. For food enthusiasts, a food festival is also included.
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As for the traditional dance performance, there is Gandrung Sewu. It is a colossal dance performance consisting of 1200 people. The theme of the dance is the fight against the Netherlands, that once colonised Indonesia.
15. Mahakam Festival (Samarinda)
Every November, the Mahakam Festival takes place at the city of Samarinda, East Kalimantan. The festival has the purpose of conserving the cultures and the arts of the region. It also aims to promote the Mahakam river as a tourist destination.
In fact, there is a swimming competition across the Mahakam river. People are very eager to get involved because the reward is a huge sum of money.
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To preserve the culture heritage, there is the Sape Music Festival. Sape is a traditional musical instrument made of wood with four or five strings. Through this festival, it is hoped that people realize the beautiful music it creates.
Moreover, a traditional dance competition encourage people from all ages to embrace their culture. As like any other festival, there is a street and foodtruck festival with the name of Makan Behimat. People can enjoy all sorts of food while listening to indie bands playing songs for them.
We hope that Indonesia will always take pride in its cultural diversity and continue to preserve them.