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.

A tatung lights up a incense above table of offerings during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 18, 2019 in Bogor, West Java. The ancient performance art is believed to call upon holy spirit from their ancestral homes in China that may give positive energy to peoples lives. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung lights up an incense stick above a table of offerings during Cap Go Meh celebrations in Bogor on Monday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Tatung cuts his tongue during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 18, 2019 in Bogor, West Java. Tatungs who pray in Dhanangun temple in Bogor, West Java have to cut their tongue as a sin redeemtion and banish misfortune. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung tries to cut off his own tongue. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung writes in a mans chest using the tatungs blood during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 18, 2019 in Bogor, West Java. The man is believed that tatungs blood will gives him a good luck in the year of the pig. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung writes Chinese characters on a man's chest using his blood to bring good luck. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Tatung performs during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19, 2019 in Petojo, Central Jakarta. Tatung and tang sin usually show their power by piercing their bodies with knife and sword. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung with a bicycle spoke through his cheek in Petojo on Tuesday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Waraney (warrior) perform Kabasaran dance during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19, 2019 in Petojo, Central Jakarta. Kabasaran is a traditional Minahasan war dance from North Sulawesi. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Waraney (warriors) perform the Kabasaran dance during Cap Go Meh celebrations in Petojo. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Waraney (warrior) perform as a tatung during Kabasaran dance in Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19, 2019 at Petojo, Central Jakarta. Only Minahasan descendants can do this ancient dance. They bring a family heritage weapon. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A waraney uses an heirloom sword to cut his tongue. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Tatung from Lo Cia Bio temple performs during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19, 2019 in Petojo, Central Jakarta. Tatungs who pray in Lo Cia Bio temple in Petojo, Central Jakarta need to be paraded with Kabasaran dance to wish a whole neighborhood near the temple a good fortune. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A tatung being paraded at Lo Cia Bio Temple in Petojo. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Karel Ferdinand (30) performs as a waraney (warrior) during Cap Go Meh celebrations on February 19, 2019 in Petojo, Central Jakarta. As a Minahasan, he felt obliged to guard tatung as part of As a Minahasa person, he felt obliged to guard tatung as part of living peacefully side by side with his chinese neighborhood this year. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Only a native Minahasan like Karel Ferdinand, center front, can perform as a waraney during Cap Go Meh celebrations. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
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