Kampung Tugu is located in Semper Barat Village in Cilincing District, Jakarta, and is a community of Portugese descendants. In 1641 the VOC captured the port city on the Malay Peninsula from the hands of the Portuguese and the Dutch took the Portuguese to Indonesia as prisoners of war. The prisoners were placed in the area of Kampung Bandan and twenty years later approximately 150 people were freed and moved to Kampung Tugu. The Dutch referred to these people as De Mardijkers, which means ‘people who were freed’.
During this time, Tugu was a swamp land riddled with mosquitos and many people died from malaria and related diseases but the area was built up and many Portugese remained in the village. Portugese was the only language spoken there and although that is no longer the case, the residents retain their Portuguese names and their own unique customs and traditions, such as the bathing festival to welcome in the new year.
On the second Sunday of January every year, the locals gather together in the kampung and the ceremony begins with prayers and singing, not far from Tugu Church. The church was founded around 1678 by Al Melchior Leidecker and is the oldest christian church in Jakarta. Infront of the church is a graveyard for the original Portugese settlers and Leidecker is also buried there.
Once the prayers have finished, the locals gather together for the ritual mandi (bathing) ceremony. This involves bowls of a pasty powder being handed out and first up the children come to receive markings on their faces from their parents as a sign that all their wrong doings from the previous year have been forgiven. After this the ceremony moves up a notch with everyone frantically going around and marking each others faces… I hope the amount of powder is not a sign that people need a lot of forgiveness as my face was completely covered.. Then the most amusing part of the ceremony begins and the adults and children are meant to have a sip of beer to complete their bathing… I witnessed many children walking around with Anker Beer and it looked more like skulling than sipping to me..
Then the traditional Kroncong music begins and this consists of a flute, violin, melody guitar, cello, string bass and a female or male singer. Everyone, feeling cleansed and happy after ‘sipping’ their beer, starts dancing and having a wonderful time together… it is certainly evident that the Portugese love a good party and many foreigners make the journey to the kampung every year to join in the celebrations.
Happy New Year to all in Kampung Tugu and thank you so much for your warm hospitality and for allowing me to take part in your ceremony… I certainly feel cleansed now…..