Part I

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Tuesday, 21 May 2019

The fateful decision of the first Chinese migrants to leave their homeland behind and settle in Riau on the island of Sumatra is commemorated every year through the festival called Bakar Tongkang, meaning Torching the (last) Ship on which they sailed in.

Honoring their ancestors and preserving age old tradition, the Chinese ethnic group at Bagansiap-api will this year hold the Bakar Togkang Festival on 20th to 21st June 2016 in Bagansiapi-api, capital of Rokan Hilir Regency, in the Riau province.

Bakar Tongkang literally translated meaning "Burning the (last) Ship" is commemorated by torching a replica of the traditional Chinese ship, being the high focal point of the festival.

Also known as Go Gek Cap Lak in the Hokkien language, this is derived from the words Go meaning 5th and Cap Lak meaning 16th, so the ritual is celebrated annually on the 16th day of the 5th month according to the Chinese calendar.

The Bakar Tongkang Festival is the largest annual event in the Rokan Hilir Regency. During the festival, a range of rituals and prayers by participants, cultural processions, a variety of distinct oriental attractions such as the Barongsai (Lion Dance) performances are held, as well as an entertainment stage for performers from Medan, Singkawang (West Kalimantan) as well as from neighboring Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore rendering Hokkien songs.

At the pinnacle of the festival,which is the burning of a huge ship replica, the crowd anxiously anticipates where the main mast shall fall. Locals believe that the direction where the main mast falls (whether facing the sea or facing inland) will determine their fortune in the coming year. If the mast falls to the sea, they believe that fortune will come mostly from the sea, but when it falls on land, then fortune for the year will mostly come from land.

Believed to have originated in 1826, the festival is rooted in history when Chinese immigrants first set foot in the area. It is believed that the ancestors of Bagansiapi-api were Tang-lang people of Hokkien descent who originated from the Tong'an District (Tang Ua) in Xiamen, Fujian Province, in South China. They left their homeland and set sail south in search of a better life. They reached Thailand in 1825 but left due to arising conflict in the area. They sailed in ships that had a flat base which were used to transport sand and mined minerals which came to be known today as "tongkang".

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