Erau Traditional Festival of Kutai Kartanegara

The Dayaks dancing with their swords, spears and an orangutan skull were atough bunch from a long way up the Mahakam River. They certainly did not look like they had put on leopard skins, head-dresses with colourfully intricate beadworks, huge earrings and a plethora of accouterments for the benefit of gawking tourists. In fact, aside from myself, there were only a couple of foreigners around, wives of French oil workers from the nearby city of Balikpapan.

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The Erau festival was another example of how much there is to the country outside the overtrodden tourist tracks. Most visitors think of Indonesia only in terms of Bali with -perhaps – Yogyakarta and Borobudur. But as communications and facilities throughout the archipelago have improved tremendously, huge chunks of territory are becoming easily accessible to anyone wishing to see the unusual in this land of never ending wonders, contrasts and traditions.

This special cultural fiesta will feature 30 traditional art groups from Kutai Kartanegara itself besides delegations from 17 countries, namely: Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Germany, Poland, Italy, Russia, Egypt, South Africa, Malaysia, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea, Venezuela, and USA.

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The two festivals will feature an array of unique traditional cultural performances from the region and all over the globe. This is a perfect opportunity to enjoy traditional Kutai and Dayak ethnic culture and various cultures from other parts of the world. The pinnacle at the close of both festivals will be highlighted with the tradition of “Mengulur Naga” and “Belimbur”.

 In the local Kutai language, the word Erau is derived from the word “Eroh” which means festive or joyful. This tradition of the Tenggarong’s people has both sacred and entertainment connotations which involve the Kutai Sultanate royal family, the aristocrats and the general public.

There are three types of Erau within the Kutai Sultanate. These are: the Erau Tepong Tawar which is conducted by the royal family on specific occasions as ritual intended to bless specific endeavors; the Erau Pelas Tahun, conducted by the aristocracy involving  public activities and intended to repel and cleanse  misfortunes from certain areas; and the Erau Beredar which is marked by the rituals of “Mendirikan Ayu” and “Merebahkan Ayu”.

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The tradition of Erau involves several rituals including the opening of communication with the mystic realm and the cleansing of evil influences which are all conducted by the Sultan himself. The town of Tenggarong is also dubbed the “City of Kings” since it was once the capital of the Kutai Kartanegara Sultanate and where formers Kings and Sultans are now buried.  Tenggarong can be reached by a 40 minutes drive overland from Samarinda, capital city of the East Kalimantan Province, or  about a 2 hours’ drive from Balikpapan.

Garuda Indonesia has regular flights to Balikpapan from Singapore, Jakarta and other main cities in Indonesia.

 The best place to learn about the Kutai Sultanate is at Brubus Village which was once the center of the Kutai Kingdom. Here, you can observe various artifacts of the oldest Hindu Kingdom in Indonesia. If you wish to learn more, you can also visit the Mulawarman Museum at jalan DIponegoiro Street in Tenggarong town.

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