Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Black May 1998: 5th Commemoration (4 of 24)

Chinese New Year celebrations proceed peacefully nationwide
Jakarta Post (February 3, 2003)

Jakarta - Celebrations for Chinese New Year, known locally as Imlek, proceeded peacefully on Saturday in cities throughout the country, with people marking the holiday by visiting temples and watching barongsai (dragon dance) performances.

Chinese-Indonesians praised the government for declaring the Chinese New Year a national holiday. However, they regretted that numerous discriminatory legislations and regulations against those of Chinese descent were still in place, particularly a decree obliging Chinese-Indonesians to obtain a Republic of Indonesia Citizenship Certificate (SBKRI).

On Saturday, Chinese communities in Jakarta expressed joy during the festivities and prayed for the nation's unity and people's prosperity.

"We are happy to be able to celebrate the Chinese New Year after years of discrimination," said Muchtar, a priest at the Tri Tunggal Temple on Jl. Dwiwarna in Central Jakarta.

Shopping malls in Jakarta put on a festive mood for the New Year with red lanterns, colorful banners and other symbols characteristic of the holiday. Many of the malls organized dragon dances.

In Surakarta, where a racial conflict exploded in the early 1980s between Chinese-Indonesians and Javanese locals, celebrations also went untroubled, Antara reported.

The holiday was marked with the exhibition of a giant cake. The manager of the Indonesian Record Museum (MURI), Paulus Pangka, said the cake had been added to the museum's collection of records as the biggest one ever made in Indonesia.

Weighing 3.2 tons, the cake will be shared among people attending the city's dragon dance performance, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Chinese community in Banda-Aceh celebrated the New Year amid improving security following a peace deal between the government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Chinese-Indonesians in Banda-Aceh said they were happy for the peace, which allowed them to celebrate the New Year.

Traditions held in conjunction with the Chinese New Year are observed not only by followers of Confucianism, but all Chinese-Indonesians, regardless of their religious or social background.

People in Bandar Lampung, the capital of Lampung, flocked to the Thai Hin Bio temple to pray. Built in 1986, it is the oldest temple in the city.

Coa Kee Soen, a priest at the temple, said celebrations would last for 15 days. He said everyone of Chinese descent would celebrate the event, and not only Buddhists.

Chinese-Indonesians in the regency of Belu, West Timor, celebrated the New Year in modesty. They visited friends and relatives to ask for their forgiveness and enjoy meals together.

The Chinese population in the regency stands at 1,000 and they have mixed with the local community.

Jhon Atet, who was celebrating the New Year, said that the holiday meant the recognition of the Chinese community. He added that the government's move to declare it a national holiday would strengthen national unity.

In the North Sulawesi capital of Manado, the celebration was marked with heavy rain throughout Saturday. A Buddhist cleric at Ban Hing Kiong Temple, Edgar Karundeng, said the rains augured a sign of luck for this year.

Most shops belonging to those of Chinese descent in downtown Manado were closed for the holiday.

Ko Han, a resident of Manado, thanked the government for acknowledging the New Year and placing it among the other national holidays. He said the decision had allowed him to enjoy a special New Year's celebration this year.

In Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan, which is home to 4,000 people of Chinese descent, people visited temples and churches on Saturday to celebrate the New Year.

Candles standing two meters high were lit in the temples.

After praying at the temples, people visited the elder members of their family. Children and teenagers usually receive angpao, a red envelope that contains money, from elder family members.

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