Destinations in Indonesia
Cuci Parigi: Magical Tradition of the Banda Island Community
Though the people of Indonesia have for centuries been converted to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity or Catholicism, which are the main religions in the country, the majority of the population still believes in and uphold some form of ancient traditions once practiced by their ancestors. These traditions are based on the belief in supernatural powers, mythology and myth, and are centered around the existence of spirits and magic – a belief that can never be separated from the Indonesian culture. Every tradition comes with a legend, and every ritual performs a specific function. One of the many magical and mysterious traditions still practiced today is the Cuci Parigi,which is an important ceremony held in the Banda Islands, Maluku. Translated directly, Cuci Parigi means Cleansing the well. Or rather, Parigi is the name of a specific well.
Cuci Parigi is held only once every five years, and is a series of rituals centered around two adjoining wells on the island of Banda Neira in the village of Lonthoir, the oldest village in the Banda Islands. These twin wells are considered to be sacred, and it is believed that if the wells should run dry, it is an omen of impending doom: a sign of an upcoming disaster, be it locally or globally. The wells are situated on a hill approximately 300 meters above sea level, with a depth of 4 meters. Locals believe it should be impossible for a well to exist at so high an altitude – another reason why the wells are thought to be magical. Another interesting fact, is that the wells do not run dry during the dry season, and although the two wells are connected, one is fresh water, while the other is brackish.
Cuci Parigi is also known as Rofaerwar, and is a mystical tradition with important cultural values that should be preserved. Cuci Parigi is so significant a festival for the indigenous Banda people that many who live abroad will return to their hometown just to participate. Chartered PELNI ships carrying thousands of Banda people grace the shores of Neira island during the time of this ritual, but the crowds that gather are not limited to only the original Banda people. This ancient tradition also involves communities from other parts of the Maluku province, Sulawesi and Java. Hundreds of tourists from other countries around the world also take part in the voyage to Banda Neira to observe this unique ritual.
The festival usually takes place between August and November. Before the actual washing of the well, many other events are held on Banda Neira, which lead up to the final Cuci Parigi ceremony. Some of the other activities include the Kora-Kora competition, which is a race between thin, extravagantly decorated, canoe-like boats, long enough to fit 30 rowers plus a helmsman and captain. These activities are carried out several days before Cuci Parigi.
Finally, the Cuci Parigi event begins by inviting all visitors to gather around the wells. Next, a sacred fabric called the “Kain Gajah” is brought out. The fabric is seamless and measures 1 meter in width and 100 meters in length. The fabric is slowly lowered into the well, until it is enough to stop up the water. It is believed that only the indigenous leaders of Banda can work the magic to drain the well. Once the well is dry, the well-cleaning activities are carried out in accordance with the customs and regulations of the land.
When the well has been thoroughly cleansed, the fabric is slowly removed from the well. The withdrawing of the fabric is accompanied by the sounds of traditional poetry and music which fill the air, bringing a sense of serenity and magic to the surroundings. After the fabric is removed, the village girls cut the cloth into pieces, and carry it down to the island’s shore, thus completing the Cuci Parigi ritual.
To get there
The quickest route to the Banda Islands is through the Pattimura Airport in Ambon Island, about 36 kilometers from Ambon City. This is a domestic only airport, with flights available from Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar, Kupang, and several other smaller cities.
From Ambon, you can charter a small plane to Banda Neira or catch the occasional Merpati flights, but these are quite sporadic. It is impossible to book round trip flights, so you would need to be sure to book your return ticket once in Ambon, and don’t forget to keep reconfirming, as flights are often cancelled due to bad weather, engine problems, and other unforeseen circumstances.
Alternatively, you can cross the Banda Sea by ferry, which is about 7 hours from Ambon to the Banda islands, but once again, these voyages are extremely unpredictable.
The Banda Islands are also a popular destination for cruise ships, and can be accessed via various cruise companies as well.
The Maulana Hotel is an upscale hotel boasting traditional colonial architecture with an expansive patio just feet from the crystal clear Banda Waters, and spectacular views of Gunung Api. All rooms are air-conditioned and equipped with bathroom facilities. Rates start at just 50 USD per night.
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