Budaya-Tionghoa.Net | Dear friends, Victor’s and Ronni’s photos tell, more than any of my words can, of the energies of Capgome in Singkawang, West Kalimantan. But I will nevertheless share first impressions. Before I do that, there is first the important task I have to openly thank Ardian and his friends and our Victor Yue, without whom this trip would not have been what it was.
On our trip to West Kalimantan a small army of eager helpers came forward. They offered us hospitality – we had a feast in the home of Rudi – their clout in getting us rooms in a town which was spilling over with visitors, interviews was crucial. They shepherded us about, looking taking care of the banal but necessary aspects of living, like having our meals on time. This left us free to snap photos and talk to people. They supplied us theircars, bought us food and drink, gave us presents and did innumerable acts of kindness that recalled for me the stories of the network of xiongdi which would welcome and support new immigrants.
The trip to West Kalimantan was physically demanding. It is difficult to manage as a free and independent traveller, because, for example there are no taxis in Singkawang, no hotel rooms (at least during Capgome). We needed connections to get these basics that most of us take for granted when on a holiday. Of course Singkawang is not exactly inside a jungle, you can get there and move about on your own, but it’d have been impossible to cover what we did in the 3 days and nights that we were in that town. The FIT would have needed at least 3 weeks, a month or even more. What I am trying to do is not only to acknowledge the help of Ardian and his friends, but also to advise fellow TS friends that if you’re interested on such trips, that it would be best to key in with a group that has negotiated (in ethnographic terms) “access”.
For this I thank Victor Yue, who deserves every recognition for his leadership of TS. Victor was always there for us. He settled all the bills, made records, organised rooms, saw to the itinerary – and kept us in line with his dignified and generous authority.
Capgome in Singkawang town is remarkable for its gathering of spirit mediums. Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival will beat Singkawang’s Capgome hands down for gory spectacle (although I fear that as the name of Capgome, Singkawang grows, so to will follow the morbidity of its theatre), what gives observers room for pause is the syncretism. Many of the gods of the tatung (spirit mediums) were Malay Datoks or Dayak spirits (roh). It was difficult reading ethnicity from just looking upon faces, since there were Chinese as swarthy as Malays, and Dayaks and Chinese with the fair complexions that suggested European blood.
There was the element of killing chicken and black puppies and drinking the blood, and as an animal lover I found this difficult. I remind myself that if we kill to eat, so can people kill for their gods.
Also on display were the tensions of ethnicity. Capgome was an assertion of “Chineseness” with a Chinese mayor (apparently the first in Indonesian history) and Chinese Vice-Governor. So that Capgome Singkawang was (for the first time) an item in the official Visit Indonesia year, while at neighbouring Pontianak Capgome street processions were banned.