On a sweltering Sunday, happening a little farther north in Jakarta, there was a brewing air of worship found in the neighbourhood in Glodok. One could had easily assumed that this is how a Sunday routine looks like in Jakarta’s Chinatown, but as the sun begins to rise, the excitement visibly surpassed a regular Sunday feels. On 27 October 2019, for the Chinese community in Jakarta, the annual Gotong Toa Pe Kong was about to start, and it’s among the cultural events in Jakarta that’s worth experiencing at least once.
Taking place near Vihara Dharma Jaya Toasebio, a Buddhist temple, this ritual represents the honouring of the goddess Kwan Im Hud Couw, a deity known for her compassion and mercy, and one of the most adored by believers. A celebration of sorts, Chinese families and communities convened together in Glodok to partake in this traditional neighbourhood-wide walk. About 80 Chinese communities from all around Jakarta came together, and while the festivities themselves didn’t commence until noon, the morning brought a sense of tranquillity as prayers were delievered to the gods and prepared their carts for the much-awaited parade.
When the air was finally full of burning incense and the crowds doubled in size, the festival itself brought more than just beauty and energy, but also devotion and enthusiasm for worship was strongly present. As soon as the clock needle hits noon, people in their red-clad outfits gathered together around their ornately handcrafted chariots and palanquins where the various deities were placed, and ready to carry their gods for the parade that stretched from Sekolah Ricci and down the stretch of Gajah Mada Street.
Chinese Lion dance and traditional percussion music were constantly playing throughout the festivities. Gotong Toa Pe Kong is a religious festival where one can expect families, from grandparents to young kids, wholly partaking in the event and making sure to document every single happening there was. Of which, one particularly eye-catching ritual was a small group of dedicated believers who walked the parade with assorted sharp objects pierced through both cheeks. As bizarre and stomach-churning to see, this practice is a ritual performed by believers who were spiritually in tranced, granting them the ability and strength to bear the worldly physical pain.
As if Glodok isn’t bustling enough on regular weekdays, it was brimming with even more liveliness this past weekend thanks to the festival. The streets were lively with music and cultural performances of the festivities. While the weather was blazing hot, it did not deter the communities from partaking in this yearly celebration, and thus continuing the traditions of the believers.