The August 17th Celebration – the commemoration of Indonesia’s independence – is always welcomed with excitement. Why of course! In this celebration, Indonesian people would show unique cultural attractions and competitions. This unique celebration plays a significant role in nurturing the sense of togetherness and independence. These feelings produce some kind of emotional contagion that enhances the nation’s identity, mass cohesiveness and spirit. Each year in many regions many competitions, dances and unique cultural performances could be found, ND the traditions would vary from one region to another due to each place’s uniqueness.
In order to enliven the celebration of the Republic of Indonesia, Riau Island’s Batam people hold the Sampan Layar (Sailing Canoe) competition. This competition was first held in 1950’s and is still popular until today. Like its name, the sailing canoe uses the wind for its speed. During the competition, wrecked canoes or broken sails are normal scenes and actually become an entertainment of its own. Whenever this competition is held, thousands of people would flock the arena. Some participants would even come from abroad.
There is also the Telok Abang (Red Egg) tradition in Palembang, South Sumatera. Red eggs would be placed on a boat and paraded circling the Benteng Kuto Besak yard. People will try to get the eggs after the parade. And then they would hold a rowing competition to Bidar Island and a boat decorating competition in the Musi River.
Another unique tradition of the August 17 celebration is Peresean. Armed with a rattan stick and a hard-thick buffalo-skin shield, two Sasak tribe youths would go on a duel. The Peresean participants are not previously prepared, they would be randomly chosen from the audience. This means that the audience would challenge each other and he would loose only when he is wounded. In the past, this event was held to train the skill of the Sasak tribe in fighting off invaders.
And then there is also the Barikan tradition held from the afternoon until sunset on August 16 each year in Malang, East Java. Barikan begins with a cultural procession where the participants wear Javanese costumes. Everyone in the procession would bring food that would later be shared to everyone present equally. The elders of the village as well as public figures would pray and give emotional speeches about the meaning of independence. After the Tumpeng rice is cut, the atmosphere would change into festivity when children perform various dances and sing national songs. Usually Payung dance would be performed by dancers who wear costumes and properties made of used things.
There are still countless unique cultural events during Indonesia’s independence. But normally, we would see people decorate the gates to their villages, they would also put up banners, flags, and decorations on trees, they would hold competitions, as well as gatherings. The festivity usually begins three days from August 17.
When the month of August begin, each residential complex or village would begin their preparations. They would decorate the gates of their villages; every street or complex in the country would most probably do this. Some even go as far as holding a national gate-decorating contest.
The competitions would vary from cracker eating, tug of war, sack race, running while biting a spoon with marbles in, Panjat Pinang, etc. In these competitions, fun, not victory, is the goal. They also have performances such as dancing, singing, poetry reading, theatre, and so on.
According to historian JJ Rizal, the “August 17” competition began to flourish in the 1950’s. The competitions were absorbed from the Dutch and Japanese colonizers that were modified following the independence. Panjat Pinang for example, began since the Dutch era. The anniversary of Djawa Baroe – when Japan came in March 1942 – was also celebrated with competitions like weight lifting and equestrian.
Each competition has its own meaning. The sack race signifies the pain of colonization, especially during the Japanese era. The people of Indonesia were too poor to buy any clothing materials. They used sack for their clothing instead. So is with cracker eating competition. The hands of the competitors would be tied while they try to eat the hanging cracker, signifying the food scarcity at that time.
Tug of war gives the lesson of collaboration, togetherness and solidarity. It is not only about a contest of strength. Without a solid team, victory is almost impossible to achieve. Meanwhile, Panjat Pinang originated from the Dutch colonization. Then, the event was held as entertainment during the Dutch celebrations like weddings. The Indonesians would compete in getting the gifts hung on the top of the Pinang tree, and they became the laughing stock of the Dutch people.
The varied celebrations of Indonesia’s Independence represent the effort in preserving the tradition and valuable culture, which can be promoted nationally and internationally. It is possible that later it could create an economical value for the society. Also, we also need to keep searching for the meaning of each competition and event, and to remember their origins. Those festive events actually remind us of just how difficult it was for our forefathers to reach our country’s independence.