Malay culture and tradition are inseparable from Pontianak.
The West Kalimantan provincial capital, which is also called the Equatorial City, was established by the sultanate of Kadriyah, an old Malay kingdom, in 1771.
To mark the occasion of the 242nd anniversary of the city, Pontianak Mayor Sutarmidji ordered all civil servants working in his office and municipal agencies to wear typical Malay dress for a celebration on Oct. 23.
So the workers donned traditional Malay outfits called busana telok belanga for men and baju kurung for women. People attending the ceremony at City Hall were also caught in the spirit of the moment, appearing in similar guise.
'Well, I've heard that people have been thronging traditional dress rental shops for this auspicious day,' Sutarmidji said to laughter during his comments at the celebration. The mayor suggested that everyone buy their own traditional clothes, which he said might come in handy for special occasions.
Meanwhile, Sultan Syarif Abu Bakar Alkadrie, the heir to the Kadriyah sultanate, sat in the seat of honor not far from Sutarmidji, responding with an approving smile.
However, the mayor admitted he hadn't yet considered determining a particular day for the dress to be worn regularly, apart from requiring it for certain events. 'I wish to show our identity as citizens of Pontianak through Malay customs,' Sutarmidji said.
Following the celebration, the civil servants returned to the office clad in traditional dress, as opposed to the usual safari suits or batik uniforms seen on typical workdays.
The busana telok belanga comprises a long-sleeved shirt with an upright collar and trousers, adorned with a waist cloth. A traditional triangular headcover called the tanjak is usually worn, although these days the outfit is just as likely completed by a cap.
The baju kurung is an ankle-length underskirt combined with a knee-length blouse. A head scarf is generally put on to match.
One staffer working in the secretariat of the mayor's office, Jimmy Ibrahim, said that wearing regional dress had been practiced by civil servants in the office to mark the city's anniversary for the last two years. Before that, Malay dress was only sported by the heads of work units.
Pontianak regional secretariat chief spokesman Ana Suardiana said that an appeal had also been made to private organizations and residents of the city to erect traditional decorative poles called manggar in their offices or yards during October, again to preserve traditional Malay culture in Pontianak.
A manggar takes the form of a pole wrapped in colorful paper sheets with a pineapple on top. Palm-leaf ribs enveloped in showy ribbons are stuck to the fruit so as to look like twigs.
'For the Malay community, a manggar symbolizes a tree or umbrella that shelters and protects human life,' said Akang Kardi, another employee of the mayor's office.
Meanwhile, the sultan said that he appreciated the municipal government's efforts to preserve traditional Malay culture, including the renovation of Kadriyah Palace, which he said had been in a sad state.
'The Mayor has also requested my permission to use the name of Syarif Muhammad Alkadrie for a new hospital, for which I'm very grateful,' the sultan said, referring to one of his esteemed ancestors.
The regional general hospital bearing the former sultan's name was inaugurated by the health minister during last year's birthday celebrations for Pontianak. Without class division, the hospital was designed to provide proper treatment for people from all income groups.
Pontianak was established by Sultan Syarif Abdurrahman Alkadrie, later the first king of Kadriyah, on Oct. 23, 1771. Legend has it that at that time, the sultan and his followers were frequently disturbed by a kuntilanak ' the ghost of a woman who died while pregnant.
The spirits ' a staple of local horror movies ' are usually depicted with long hair, roaming the night with a wicked cackle.
Syarif Abdurrahman Alkadrie, who was going to set up a new settlement, ordered his followers to fire shells with cannon to drive the
The location hit by the shells is believed to have been the area where the Kadriyah Palace was built along with a Jami' Mosque. The historical site is situated on the bank of Kapuas River, in the eastern part of the city.
However, since 'kuntilanak' is so similar to the name of the city, many believe that Pontianak might have actually been named for the spirits.
To date, the tradition of firing cannon has continued on Pontianak's anniversary. Carbide cannon festivals have also often been organized during Idul Fitri.
The guns, made of wood, are up to 7 meters long.
Decorated with colorful paper, the guns are directed at the middle of the Kapuas River. Their explosions can be heard as far as 2 kilometers away.
Another Malay custom preserved is a procession of wedding couples dressed in traditional Malay clothing accompanied by local musicians and family members bearing gifts.
The music group, called a tanjidor, is generally comprised of senior musicians playing saxophones and drums.
One such wedding festival held during the anniversary celebrations attracted large crowds of people as it passed the city's main streets.