Tatung ritual during Cap Go Meh features men possessed by ancient spirits and self-torture. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Redemption Is a Wound: Cap Go Meh Celebrations in Bogor and Jakarta
BY : YUDHA BASKORO
FEBRUARY 20, 2019
Cap Go Meh celebrations – called Yuanxiao in mainland China – mark the 15th and final day of the Lunar New Year.
A set of specialized rituals formed a part of Cap Go Meh ceremonies in Jakarta and Bogor, WEst Java, on Monday and Tuesday, including tatung, an ancient form of performance art involving self-torture – piercing of cheeks with hot skewers and cutting of the tongue – to call upon ancestral spirits.
Tatung was originally performed to summon holy spirits from their spiritual homes in China to give positive energy to the Chinese diaspora of Singkawang in West Kalimantan, where the practice originated. It is also a ritual to ward off bad luck.
The name tatung came from the Hakka Chinese word for a "person possessed by gods or ancestral spirits." Once possessed, the person cannot feel any physical pain. In Minahasa, tatung is also called tang sin.
People performing tatung and tang sin show off their prowess by piercing their bodies with needles, knives and swords.
Not everyone can perform tatung or tang sin. Only descendants of traditional performers of this ancient art are allowed to take part.
As part of the ritual they have to go on a vegetarian diet for 15 days before Cap Go Meh and refrain from sexual intercourse.
The self-torture manifests itself in different ways. Tatung performers at Dhanangun Temple in Bogor, cut their tongues with a sword to redeem their sins and get rid of bad luck.
At the Lo Cia Bio Temple in Petojo, Central Jakarta, tatung performers are paraded on the street in their kabasaran costume while performing a special dance to spread good fortune to the neighborhood.
Kabasaran is a traditional Minahasan war dance from North Sulawesi. It is performed by men clad in scarlet robes, brandishing swords and shields.