Tag Archives: Palangkaraya

36 Views of Kalimantan (Part 3)

More from the series 36 Views of Kalimantan – Random photos 2014-17. Hope you like some of them!

36 Views of Kalimantan is published here in three parts. Click on these links to view Part 1 or Part 2.

Kebun Raya Balikpapan 3-Jan-2017 (25/36)

 

Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan 27-Sep-2014 (26/36)

 

Tanjung Puting, Central Kalimantan 3-Sep-2017 (27/36)

 

Tumbang Gagu, Central Kalimantan 19-Mar-2015 (28/36)

 

Bangkal, Central Kalimantan 15-Mar-2016 (29/36)

 

Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan 28-Dec-2014 (30/36)

 

Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan 29-Dec-2014 (31/36)

 

Tumbang Tahai, Central Kalimantan 6-Oct-2014 (32/36)

 

Terang Baru, North Kalimantan 25-Apr-2017 (33/36)

 

Terang Baru, North Kalimantan 25-Apr-2017 (34/36)

 

Bangkal, Central Kalimantan 13-Mar-2016 (35/36)

 

Sei Gohong, Central Kalimantan 9-Mar-2016 (36/36)

 

36 Views of Kalimantan (Part 2)

More from the series 36 Views of Kalimantan – Random photos 2014-17. Hope you like some of them!

36 Views of Kalimantan is published here in three parts. Click on these links to view Part 1 or Part 3.

Kapuas Hulu 5-Apr-2015 (13/36)

 

Tumbang Manggu 10-Dec-2014 (14/36)

 

Bukit Bangkirai 2-Apr-2017 (15/36)

 

Idul Fitri 17-Jul-2015 (16/36)

 

Betang Sungai Utik (West Kalimantan) 29-Mar-2015 (17/36)

 

Kebun Raya Balikpapan 17-Jul-2017 (18/36)

 

Long Api (North Kalimantan) 27-Apr-2017 (19/36)

 

Palangkaraya (Central Kalimantan)16-Aug-2015 (20/36)

 

Tumbang Manggu (Central Kalimantan) 9-Dec-2014 (21/36)

 

Banjarmasin 13-Sep-2015 (22/36)

 

Balikpapan 31-Dec-2016 (23/36)

 

Buntoi, Central Kalimantan 17-Jul-2016 (24/36)

 

Isen Mulang – Jukung Hias

Last year I wrote (here and here)  about the wonderful Dayak cultural festival that’s held every year (mid-May) in Palangka Raya – the capital of this Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan. The festival is known as Isen Mulang – which translates from the Dayak Ngaju language as ‘Never retreat’, or ‘Never surrender’. (Isen Mulang is also the motto of the province).

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There are dozens of events held over the days of Isen Mulang – from dance and music competitions to traditional cooking, woodchopping, fishing (by hand!), blowpipe target shooting, and a massive Mardi Gras-style parade through central Palangka.

This year we were again amazed at the near-total absence of foreign tourists. Apart from around 10 expats (including us), there were literally 10 other foreigners that we could see – almost all part of a tour group led by David Metcalf. Meanwhile almost 4 million tourists visit Bali each year Yes, Bali is lovely! But the difference in visitation numbers is unfathomable.

One of the highlights again this year was the procession of brightly decorated ‘dragon boats’ (actually known as Jukung Hias, meaning ‘decorated boats’) along the Kahayan River, through the centre of the city.

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As with almost all of the events held during the week-long festivities of Isen Mulang, it’s actually a competition between the 14 districts (13 kabupaten and one kota) which make up the Province, with one vessel representing each district.

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Points are awarded to each competing jukung according to the quality of its decoration, the performance of the traditionally attired warriors, dancers and musicians aboard each one.

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The sight of all the brightly bedecked boats lined up down the river really was spectacular.

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Points are also won for any special effects they might employ – such as fireworks or water spouts from the dragons’ mouths.

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Competition is fierce, and the results are spectacular.

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The performers seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the spectators. And they looked wonderful, all decked out in traditional Dayak costumes, with clothing made from bark (kulit pohon nyamu) and batik, headdresses made out of the beaks, casques and feathers of a hornbills and tail-feathers of the Great Argus (Argusianus argus).

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Some of the performers appeared to be heavily tattooed wth traditional Dayak motifs, but the tattoos are (in almost every case) temporarily applied for the event, because few of the local Dayak people have extensive tattoo decorations as in the past. (In some other regions e.g. amongst the Dayak Iban of West Kalimantan, tattooing is more common).

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We were fortunate to be out on the water as the flotilla arrived – on board one of the very comfortable vessels of Wow Borneo (as well as buzzing around amongst the jukung on a little kelotok longboat).

But along the banks of the river, a large  (by Palangka Raya standards) crowd was assembled to watch proceedings.

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There were a number of other spectator vessels out on the river. The passengers on this one were all civil servants, wearing the special blue KORPRI (Korps Pegawai Republik Indonesia) batik uniform that may only be worn on the 17th of each month, and on special occasions such as this.

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All of the best vantage points were chock-a-block full of spectators. As is often the case in Kalimantan, the spectators were as interesting as the spectacle.

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Some opted for an aerial view of the show from the Kahayan River bridge.

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Children found some creative ways to get a good view.

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Others took a more relaxed approach to viewing proceedings.

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Some were quite excited – particularly when they caught the attention of bule (white skinned foreigners).

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While still others were out in the ‘back yard’ of their floating homes, practising their heavy metal hand gestures.

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And others just got on with the serious business of skylarking.

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The Isen Mulang Festival was once again a great experience, and if we get the opportunity we will certainly be back again next year!

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Kalimantan smoke haze emergency

Around this time last year I wrote about the seasonal smoke haze that blights large parts of Southeast Asia each dry season. But last year looks mild in retrospect, as 2015 is shaping up to be the worst year on record. And without doubt the worst place for the worst smoke in this worst year is … our ‘home town’ of Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan province.

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This is no idle claim. The World Air Quality Index monitors atmospheric conditions in over 8000 cities and towns around the globe. It compares them based on the number of micrograms of fine particulate matter (less than 10 microns) per cubic meter of air. For the past two months, Palangkaraya has had the world’s dirtiest air – by a wide margin. When I checked a couple of days ago, for example, the worst places I could find were New Delhi on 350, and Izmir on 500. Most cities (including Beijing on 85, New York on 10, and Sydney at 15) were well below those levels. Anything below 50 is regarded as ‘Good’.

But the level in Palangkaraya showed up as ‘999’ – and that’s only because the system wasn’t built to show numbers of 1000 or greater. The actual figure for Palangkaraya that day was 3334. That’s ten times the level classified as ‘Hazardous’. It’s enough to take your breath away.

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When we found the conditions had become intolerable in late September, we evacuated to Java to enjoy the (comparatively) fresh air of Jakarta. We got ‘homesick’ and so returned here about 10 days ago. However the 2015 Kalimantan haze emergency has worsened, and may still have a little way to run… But we are in good spirits and relatively good health.

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The smoke occurs due to (mostly illegal) fires in several provinces on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. Fire provides an easy means of clearing vegetation from land which can then be used for plantation agriculture, particularly oil palms. They are set in primary and secondary forests, but the biggest and most problematic location is in the areas of peatland, dried remnants of the former peat swamp forests which have been largely cleared and drained by canals. Once established, peat fires are almost impossible to extinguish, as these fires can continue to smoulder deep underground for weeks. Smoke rises eerily from the bare earth.

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The peat can be many metres deep, and consists almost entirely of carbon-rich organic matter. It is one of the largest carbon storage deposits in the world. Its destruction constitutes an environmental catastrophe as well as a health and humanitarian crisis, because the burning of peat releases not only carbon dioxide, but large quantities of methane, carbon monoxide and other toxic compounds to the atmosphere.

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The 180 degree panorama above shows an area south or Palangkaraya that was once a peat swamp forest, now entirely deforested and drained by those canals. The peat, which has been saturated for hundreds or thousands of years, becomes bone dry, and highly flammable.

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According to NASA, the 2015 fire season is likely to be the most damaging on record, surpassing even the impact of the catastrophic 1997 fires. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, there has been little or no rain for the past six months, lowering the water table and causing the vegetation to become tinderbox-dry. Secondly, this year is subject to a particularly strong El Niño event, delaying the arrival of the wet season, and reducing the total rainfall which may be expected. Thirdly, and most significantly, there is more human pressure on the landscape, as the total population has steadily increased, primary forests are destroyed, and an ever-increasing proportion of the land is allocated to concession-holders for commercial development.

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Authorities have been slow to recognise the severity of the situation or to respond proportionately, but remediation efforts are now under way. Thousands of members of the armed forces have been mobilised, water-bombing planes and other assistance has been provided by Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, and Australia. The Indonesian Government has called an immediate moratorium on peatland development, and has sent naval vessels to provide for mass evacuations,  particularly of babies and small children with health problems due to smoke inhalation.

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There are billboards and signs around the district aimed at discouraging people from starting more fires, which is good – but in itself it’s not much of a deterrent. This one says: “Stop pembakaran hutan, lahan dan pekarangan karena menakibatkan hidup kita sengsara!” – “Stop burning forests, fields and yards because it makes our lives miserable!”

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But the scale of the disaster exceeds the capacity to respond, and emergency services are being stretched and overwhelmed. There is some (rather understandable!) anger about the situation, and there have been a couple of smallish protests, though remarkably few considering that this catastrophe could have been prevented.  But now even the head of the Indonesian Bureau of Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (BMKG) has publicly described the crisis as “a crime against humanity of extraordinary proportions”.

The statues in the picture above of a happy family, which adorn one of the intersections in downtown Palangkaraya, have been fitted out with face masks. The sign that the girl is wearing says: “Kabut asap bukan bencana alam tapi kejahatan manusia” – “The smog is not a natural disaster, but due to human wickedness”.

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It isn’t surprising that long-term smoke inhalation is having profound impacts on the health of all people living in the affected areas. Few homes are sealed against the smoke outside, and effective protective masks are not widely available or used.

It is estimated that nearly 500,000 people have contracted upper respiratory tract infections (ISPA), including over 52,000 in Central Kalimantan. Most at risk are people with pre-existing medical conditions (particularly asthmatics), the elderly, babies and infants. A number of deaths have already been attributed to the smoke, but it is difficult to establish precise numbers of proven fatalities.

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One major and insidious issue is diminished oxygen uptake. Gases in the smoke, particularly carbon monoxide, bond far more readily with haemoglobin in the than oxygen does. The metabolic impact of chronic oxygen deficit can result in low energy levels and weakness, depression and mental distress.

The lifetime health effects of extended exposure to the smoke are uncertain, in part because the exact composition of the complex chemical emissions from peat fires is still not well understood. However the smoke is known to contain a number of toxic compounds, and there is likely to be an upsurge in incidence of chronic cardio-pulmonary disease and cancers in years to come.

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My host organisation (YUM) is actively involved in delivering emergency assistance to those affected by the Kalimantan smoke haze emergency in the Bukit Batu district. There has been a large-scale distribution of N95 masks to participants in YUM’s agricultural and other projects. Copies of an information leaflet have been distributed in the community, and mobile medical clinics have been held, in conjunction with the NGO Dompet Dhuafa, the University of Palangkaraya and the Politeknik Kementerian Kesehatan (POLTEKKES) Palangka Raya.

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YUM (whose office is just on the right of the photo above) is looking for funds to build on and expand its existing response to the crisis. The primary objective is to deliver basic first-line assistance to remediate some of the most urgent and critical needs resulting from the Kalimantan smoke haze emergency. This will include distribution of thousands of N95 face-masks, medicines, oxygen supplies and much-needed information to the 13,000-strong community of Bukit Batu. A mobile medical team will continue to provide diagnostic services and first line treatment for the thousands who are suffering from respiratory ailments, and ‘safe rooms’ will be established to provide a clean air environment for people to recover from respiratory distress.

If you’d like to contribute to this project, visit the YUM website at www.yumindonesia.org/donate/, and specify “Haze emergency” on your donation.

Isen Mulang competitions

A while back I wrote about the wonderful parade that kicks off Central Kalimantan’s week-long Dayak cultural festival, known as Isen Mulang (“Never give up” in the Dayak Ngaju language). But, grand though it is, there is a lot more to Isen Mulang than just the opening parade. And much of Isen Mulang is quite unique.

Many of the events take the form of competitions between the 13 Kabupaten (districts) plus one Kota (city i.e. Palangkaraya) that make up the province of Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Tengah, usually referred to as KalTeng). There are music and dance performances (traditional and contemporary), presentations of produce and cooking, and a number of ‘sporting’ events – but unlike the sports that we are accustomed to. For example, there is football – but played at night-time, barefoot, with a flaming coconut for a football (sepak sawut). There is a fishing contest, where the (female) competitors stand waist-deep in a small muddy dam and catch the fish – with their bare hands (mangaruhi).

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And there is target shooting – with blow-pipes (sumpitan, or sepit). Hunting with the traditional blowpipe, with poison-tipped bamboo darts, used to be the preferred method for stalking game in the forests of Kalimantan. It is a stealthy and remarkably effective way to hunt, and those little darts can easily be propelled tens of metres (even reputedly up to 200 metres), with surprising accuracy.

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But rifles (often home-made) are pretty good for hunting too. So nowadays the blowpipe is (mostly) employed for sport, shooting at archery targets rather than at deer, birds, pigs – or enemies.

The pipes are around 2 metres long, and very straight. Ideally they are made from kayu ulin (ironwood), but other timbers are also used. There’s a narrow (about 0.5cm) barrel running the length of the pipe. Each competitor has five darts, each about 20cm long, with a sharpened point at front end, and a little cone (to catch the ‘blow’) attached to at the tail end. With the dart inserted and your lungs full, you hold the pipe as steady as you can, slowly lowering the tip till the target lines up, and then… blow. You don’t even need to blow particularly hard to propel the dart with considerable speed.

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Each district team of competitors was decked out in traditional clothing of their area – though sometimes traditions were re-interpreted a bit… There were vests made of bark, satin, velvet, cotton; elaborately beaded garments, and lots of the swirling amoeba-star shapes that are amongst the most common of Dayak motifs. Finished off, in most cases, with running shoes (this is after all a sporting event).

There were simultaneous competitions for men and women, with the women’s targets 10 metres from the firing line, and the men’s targets five metres more distant.

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As the only foreigners in attendance, we got a lot of attention, and got some private coaching and practice in between the rounds of the competition. We managed to hit the target each time – and Karen scored better than me! It was fun… but you must always remember to take the deep breath BEFORE putting the loaded blowpipe up to your mouth.

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The Lawang Sakepang is a stylised dance/fight between two ‘warriors’. They stand on either side of an archway, with magical strings suspended across the arch, adorned with flowers. They ‘fight’ without ever actually coming into contact with each other, mirroring each other’s movements, and the bout is complete when the string between them is broken, and they swap sides of the barrier.

In times past, the ritual of Lawang Sakepang was performed whenever a visitor sought entry to another village. He or she would have to prove their martial prowess before being admitted. Now it is performed as a competitive event between two-person teams, but we have also seen it performed when the groom arrived at the beginning of a Dayak Ngaju wedding ceremony in Palangkaraya.

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The teams were clearly well trained, and their moves were thoroughly choreographed, because they were perfectly synchronised across the barrier that separated them. The audience gave them rapt attention, and loudly gasped and cheered whenever a particularly impressive move was made.

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From combat to the kitchen: one of the buildings at the Museum Balanga (where Karen works) was given over to displays of produce and food preparation, featuring local ingredients and favourite foods of the Dayaks – from the forests, the rivers and the home gardens.

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All was presented in elaborate displays which reminded us – although the actual ingredients were rather different – of displays and competitions at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. Clipboard-wielding judges roamed around the hall, taking notes and asking questions of the chefs and ‘food stylists’ (all of whom were female).

We didn’t stay till the end of judging, so we don’t know the result, but I rather hope that the food-filled longboat above won first prize for its creativity.

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Also a bit reminiscent of an agricultural show in Australia was the wood-chopping competition (maneweng). But the axemen had to use traditional handmade axes, which slowed them down considerably.

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Chopping through the log is only the first part, after which another member of the team has to split the cut logs neatly, while a third member trims and stacks them into a pile to dry. All very interesting and practical, but it’s not really one of the great spectator sports…

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But the spectators were there in droves (whatever ‘droves’ are) later that day down by the Kahayan River. For a couple of kilometres, on both sides of the river, it was standing room only.

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We had the best vantage point, being guests (in fact the only guests!) on a luxury river cruiser (the Rahai’i Pangun). At first the river was quiet, just its usual muddy self, with the occasional klotok (canoe) passing by.

The fellow at the front of the klotok in the photo above is Putu, our friend and river guide. The Kahayan River bridge in the background is the only crossing for several hours travel upstream or downstream, and locals are very proud of it. The bridge, opened in 2002 by then-President Megawati Soekarnoputri, seems to feature in just about every tourism photograph of Palangkaraya.

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And then, from under the bridge, they started to appear: Dragon Boats! The boats (actually known as jukung hias, or ‘ornamental boats’) are in competition too, with prizes for the best decorated boat, and for the boat with the best traditional costume, music and dance performances on board.

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One by one they arrived and joined the procession on the river, each boat with its own complement of costumed crew.

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As the dragon boats passed by, other vessels would lean over for a better look.

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It was quite a spectacle when they all assembled!

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On board each of the boats, dancers and musicians strutted, posed and danced to entertain the onlookers.

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They seemed to be enjoying the occasion as much as we were. Note the Dayak motifs in the leg tattoos above, the bark vests, wild boar tusks and Hornbill casques worn by the male warriors, and the enormously long feathers of the Great Argus pheasant. (And yes, it’s an endangered species).

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Some of the warriors looked quite fearsome. This fellow above made an excellent figurehead for his boat. Note the mandau (bush knife) clasped between his teeth, more (temporary) tattoos, and the Hornbill feathers in his headdress.

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Some of the costumes were splendid enough for Mardi Gras. This headdress has feathers of both the Great Argus pheasant (the feathers with the many ‘eyes’)  and the Hornbill (the white ones with the black band)

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After the excitement of the dragon boats, our own boat chugged up river. We anchored for the night, and slept at an isolated stretch of the river, with the (mostly tranquil but sometimes weird) sounds of the forest all around, and prepared to spend the next couple of days with a Japanese film crew, looking for orangutans. But that’s another story…

More photos from the Isen Mulang Festival can be viewed on my website.

Dayak wedding ceremony

We’ve been to a fair number of wedding receptions over the past year in Kalimantan. Actually, Karen counts 11 that she has attended – Dayak, Banjar, Javanese (she’s a couple ahead of me…) – and we’ve been invited to even more. Interestingly, in no case have we met the Happy Couple before showing up at their wedding.

In a reversal of usual practice in Australia, the wedding reception is open to almost anyone who has some kind of connection to the wedding families (one wedding we attended had around 2000 guests), but the actual ceremony is usually a relatively private affair, attended only by family and close friends.

So we were delighted when our friend Lelie asked us to accompany her and her mother to the traditional Dayak wedding of two old friends of hers friends in Palangkaraya one recent evening. Lelie went to high school with Mensie (Mensie Martha Lovianie) and Alben (Briptu Alben Olandi Lambung). Although held in the capital city of the province, it was conducted as if it was held in a village, and as if the groom Alben  was coming from another village.

So, first the warriors of the village assemble and greet each other.

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While awaiting the groom’s arrival, there’s time to make some wardrobe adjustments. Note the hornbill skulls and feathers in the headdresses.

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There’s time also to limber up and practice a few dance moves with an attentive and proud teacher.

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Soon everyone is ready. The gong orchestra is playing, and everyone looks down the road for the groom.

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Then the groom arrives, flanked by his parents and an entourage of family members. But entry through the gate to the village is blocked (by some magic but flimsy-looking strings with flowers suspended from them) and, more convincingly, by a fierce-looking warrior in full war regalia, armed, poised and ready to fight.

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This is the beginning of the Lawang Sakepeng ceremony. A male visitor to the village must prove his worthiness by fighting and defeating a local warrior at the gate. Only then will he be welcomed in – assuming that he is still alive and standing up. Nowadays it is all ritualised; the arrivee can nominate someone to fight on his behalf (presumably a better pugilist), and the fighting is a stylised dance, with no actual contact between the two ‘combatants’.

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They circle around on either side of the entrance gate, gradually working in closer to each other, and to the magical strings that separate them. The music from the gong orchestra gets louder and faster, and the onlookers start calling out encouragement and cheering any impressive moves.

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Then they engage in the hand-to-hand battle (without actually touching each other!), in the course of which the strings are torn down, the two fighters swap sides and the visitor, now proven to be a good fighter (or at least to have one on his staff as his ‘best man’) is admitted and welcomed to the village.

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A dance is performed to welcome and honour the visitor and his family. Having made it through the initial challenge, they are now treated with great courtesy and respect.

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The groom is ushered in through all the wedding guests, to an inner room. He’s looking relieved – but his challenges aren’t over yet. There are  no less than 16 specific requirements that have to met before the wedding can occur. (This being 2015, all the proceedings are monitored on a video camera and screened in the courtyard outside for the guests to view.)

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First up, once settled down inside, the groom’s and bride’s families exchange formal polite greetings and a number of gifts. The groom’s family give gifts of cash, a selendang, a gong, land (on which to build a house), and other things…

Then, down to business. The bride’s father asks: “Well, why have you come here?” And the groom (perhaps a little sheepishly) replies that he’s come to take a bride.

And so begins the process known as Pengantin Bayangan. Attendants come outside a locate an unmarried girl, seemingly at random, from amongst the guests and bring her inside. “Is this the one?” the groom is asked. He replies that no, she’s not the one. She’s not the right height, or the nose is wrong, or some such discrepancy. He apologises to her for embarrassing her in front of so many people, and gives her a gift of money. And the (no doubt relieved) girl is led back outside, and another is brought in for the same examination. This whole process was repeated three times, and caused much hilarity. We wished that we could have understood all of the exchanges going on (in Dayak Ngaju language, not Bahasa Indonesia) at this point.

Meanwhile, dancers helped the groom look for his bride-to-be, and entertained the small gathering of guests outside.

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After a few errors, the ‘right’ girl is presented to the groom, who confirms that she is indeed Ms Right, and there are exchanges of vows and much celebration. No-one could tell us what would have happened if he chose the wrong fiancé, or if he rejected the right one – or if she rejected him at this point. They just looked horrified, and said that that simply doesn’t happen! It mustn’t actually have been too difficult for him to make the right selection, as his fiancé was wearing a matching outfit to his.

Both wedding costumes feature the motif of the batang garing (the Tree of Life), a central symbol for the Dayak Ngaju, complete with the four branches, spears and balanga (ceramic jar) at the base. (More about the batang garing at another time…)

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More celebratory dancing, and then the warriors, reassured that they would not be called upon to fight, retired for the evening. (By this time the little warrior had already disrobed and disappeared. It might have been past his bedtime).

The bride is now introduced to all of the members of the groom’s family – a process known as Pakaja Manantu.

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The next part of the ceremony was really interesting, and VERY different (and I have no photos…) Both families are active members of the Kristen (Protestant) Church. So, when the traditional ceremonies were over, a minister in conventional church attire presided over prayers, a sermon, and a number of hymns that we all sang from the hymn-sheets that were handed out. We sang Di Hatiku, ya Yesus (“In my heart, O Jesus”), Tiap langkahku (“My every step”), and Keluarga hidup indah (“Family life is beautiful”), amongst others.

The contrast between the two halves of the wedding ceremony was striking. But it was explained to us that the two parts are of equal importance: “The Lawang Sakepang ceremony is to show pride in our budaya and adat [culture and traditional customs]; the second part is our agama [religion]”. It’s a neat way to reconcile the two contrasting halves, but the distinction between adat and agama is not always so easily made – for example in the Tiwah funeral ceremonies. (But much more about that at another time…)

So then it was time for the obligatory series of group photographic portraits, a delicious buffet dinner – and then everyone went home. Sudah makan, pulang.

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Isen Mulang parade

No story this time, just some faces from the opening parade of the Isen Mulang Festival, which was held in Palangkaraya 18-24 May. The festival is an annual celebration of Central Kalimantan cultural diversity – but most particularly Dayak culture. Isen Mulang means ‘Never give up’ or ’Never retreat’ in the Dayak Ngaju language. It is the motto of the province of KalTeng (Central Kalimantan).

The festival program is chock-a-block with performances and competitions between the 13 kabupaten (districts) and one city that make up the province. Dragon boats, dance, music, blow-pipe target shooting, cooking, wood-chopping, night-time soccer using flaming coconuts – it’s diverse, a bit like a Royal Easter Show, even including sample bags from each district. The Festival has strong local support, but seems to be little known outside of Central Kalimantan. We attended many (but by no means all) of the events, and saw no more than perhaps a dozen foreign tourists during the entire week.

The Festival was opened by the Governor Agustin Teras Narang, signalling the start of a three hour parade around the Bundaran Besar (the ‘Big Roundabout!) which is the centre of Palangkaraya. And what a unique parade it was!

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Weddings

The ‘traditional’ institution of marriage is very much alive and well in Indonesia. Wedding receptions are big happy noisy colourful affairs with crowds and amplified music spilling out onto the street, so it’s impossible to miss them. When we were returning to Palangkaraya from Banjarmasin recently (a four hour drive, much of it through sparsely inhabited swamplands) we passed ten wedding celebrations along the way.

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The laws about marriage in Indonesia are interesting. Everyone in Indonesia must be registered as belonging to one of the six authorised religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism or Confucianism. This gets recorded on your national identity card – and agnosticism or atheism are not accepted. There is a prohibition on interfaith marriages; if a Muslim and a Catholic want to marry, for example, one has to convert to the other’s faith.

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The national law is that the minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls and 19 for boys, but this is often ignored. UNICEF has estimated that 3% of Indonesian girls are already married by the age of 15. By law, anyone getting married at 19 or under is required to have written permission from both sets of parents. Having children outside of marriage is not acceptable. In Bali for example, neither mother nor child will be permitted to enter a temple – a significant sanction there!

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There are three parts to a wedding: the religious ceremony, the official registration, and the celebration or reception. It seems that the social conventions are sort-of the reverse of those in Australia i.e. the ceremony is a small private affair, and the reception is open to just about anyone who shows up.

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We have now been to six Indonesian wedding receptions, though we only had an invitations to two of them (and in only one case – Katie and Yoyok’s wedding back in 2009 – did we actually know the bride and groom!) Three were Javanese Muslim, one Banjar Muslim, and two Dayak Christian.

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But at every wedding we have been made to feel like honoured guests – and not at all like the freeloaders that we actually are! In fact at a couple of weddings we have felt like celebrities, and wondered if we were getting photographed more often than the bride and groom!

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Styles of clothing, food and entertainment vary, but they always have a similar structure. The reception may go on all day (or one case, all night!), and the guests come, pay their respects to the couple and their families, leave a gift of money, eat a meal, and then leave. People are coming and going all day, some only staying for a matter of minutes.

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Outside, there may be specially made billboards, festooned with flowers, from well-to-do well-wishers. When you enter, your are greeted by numerous members of both families. They’ll be lined up in two rows, maybe 20 of them, and you run the gauntlet between them to get in. You are expected to shake hands with EVERYBODY, touching your right hand to your heart after each greeting.

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You sign the guest register, and make sure everyone sees you deposit an envelope of cash into the gift box. Wedding presents are unusual, but a gift of cash, no matter how small, is expected. This helps to defray the significant costs of hosting a wedding.

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The bride and groom sit enthroned on a dais or stage at one end go the hall or pavilion, possibly with their parents on either side of them. They will be dressed either in traditional wedding costumes – or in western-style white wedding attire. They may go through a couple of changes of clothing during the day.

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Before any socialising or eating, you go up and congratulate the happy couple, and usually get photographed with them. There may be a queue waiting to pay their respects; at one particularly large wedding, there were hundreds of people lined up at one point waiting their turn.

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Then it’s down to the serious business of eating. Because there is no set time for the wedding banquet, there are meals lined up ready to eat throughout the day. Good food – and plenty of it.

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The entertainment will vary. There may be Dayak dancers and music. At a Javanese wedding there may be a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) or kuda lumping. Or else, for something more contemporary, that perennial Indonesia favourite: karaoke!

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A little socialising, a few photographs – and then you leave. The well-known Indonesian expression: “Sudah makan, pulang” (After eating, go home!) applies here. So you run the greeting gauntlet in reverse, shaking hands with and thanking all of the family members on the way out.