02/11/2021, 16.46
INDONESIA
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COVID-19 halts Lunar New Year celebrations in West Kalimantan

by Royani Lim

This year’s Imlek will see few celebrations and family gatherings in Pontianak and Singkawang. Travel has been discouraged to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Matakin will stream celebrations live to facilitate participation. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Indonesia has reported 1.17 million cases with almost 32,000 deaths.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the people of Pontianak and Singkawang (West Kalimantan province) are preparing to celebrate Imlek, the Lunar New Year, in a low-key fashion.

The event, which starts tomorrow, usually includes decorated streets and family get-togethers with relatives coming from near and far.

The two cities represent the heart of Indonesian’s Chinese community, and Chinese languages (Teochew and Hakka) are usually heard more often than Indonesian.

The highlight of the festival is cap go meh, which falls on the 15th day of Imlek, a cultural event that draws large crowds of local and international visitors.

This year, however, celebrations will be toned down. Families cannot reunite and streets will be empty because of the coronavirus, which has seen a surge recently, with more 10,000 cases per day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Indonesia has reported 1.17 million cases with almost 32,000 deaths.

As noted, this year the atmosphere is very different. Gatherings at home are restricted, the dragon dance was cancelled, as was the Cap Go Meh.

Although inevitable, this decision has left many Sino-Indonesians disappointed, discouraged and sad, especially those living outside West Kalimantan province who were counting on returning, but cannot because of restrictions.

Widya hails from Pontianak, with family in Singkawang. For more than 20 years, she has worked at a bank in Surabaya, the capital of East Java. She did not hide her dejection when she spoke to AsiaNews about her inability to go home.

“Frankly speaking, I am deeply sorry for not being able to see my mom due to pandemic travel restrictions. There are important reasons for not traveling on Imlek” but this does not make it less harder.

Uung Sendana, president of Supreme Council for Khonghucu Religion in Indonesia (Matakin), agrees, not least because for Taoism celebrating the Lunar New Year is far beyond just a family gathering.

“It is a special day to present one’s best offerings to God, our ancestors and our respected older relatives,” he explained.

During this pandemic, Matakin has publicly urged its members to celebrate Imlek with greater simplicity. At the same time, to reach out to as many people as possible, temple celebrations will be streamed live.

Despite the pandemic with its limitations and restrictions, the desire to experience the festivity is quite alive, especially in the villages and towns around Pontianak, which have not been hit hard by the virus.

For many locals, the latter is not their main concern. For Lily, a teacher from Pontianak, “Many people come from neighbouring towns because of the good prices for harvested crops.”

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