Let’s find out the festivities of Cap Go Meh celebrations in Kamaro Island. Since the 9th century, the ancient kingdom of Srivijaya became a prosperous trading power and an epicenter for Buddhist learnings. Therefore, Chinese merchants intentionally came to trade in Palembang and monks stayed here to study Sanskrit before continuing their journey home from India. In fact, many of them settled in the city so that through the centuries growing the Chinese population within the city. Hence, its culture and history became an inseparable part of the city of Palembang.
History and legend of Cap Go Meh Celebrations in Kamaro Island
In the 17th century, Chinese communities also got involved in the construction of the Kuto Besak Fortress when it was firstly built as the Sultan’s new palace.
As the time went by, Chinese celebrations and religious commemorations were introduced and acknowledged as part of the local culture. Today, the biggest annual highlight in the Chinese calendar is the Cap Go Meh, usually held 15 days after the Chinese New Year, here called Sin Cia. It centers on the Island of Kamaro, or sometimes spelled as Kamaru, located midstream in the wide Musi River delta where pagodas and Chinese temples exist here.
On this day, thousands of Chinese descents from Palembang and all across Indonesia, as well as from some neighbor countries. Yes, Chinese people from Singapore, Malaysia to Hong Kong and Taiwan gather on the island, traveling here by boat from Palembang city.
In fact, there are some versions of the legend about Kamaro. According to one version, the island becomes the evidence and symbol of the love and loyalty of Princess Siti Fatimah. She is the daughter of the King of Srivijaya who loves a Chinese prince called Tan Bun An.
As the legend went on, in the 14th century, Prince Tan Bun An arrived in Palembang in order to study. After studying and living here for some time, he fell in love with Princess Siti Fatimah. Moreover, he came to the palace to ask the king for her hand in marriage. Fortunately, the king and queen gave their approval on one condition, that Tan Bun An has to present a gift.
After that, Tan Bun An sent a messenger back to China to ask his father for such a gift to be presented to the King of Srivijaya. When the messenger returned back with pots of preserved vegetables and fruits, Tan Bun An was shocked and enraged because he had asked his father to send Chinese jars, ceramics, and gold.
Blinded by his anger he threw the ships cargo into the Musi River being unaware that his father actually had placed gold bars inside the fruits and vegetables. Being ashamed of finding out his mistake, he tried to recover what he had thrown into the river. Unfortunately, Tan Bun An never returned since he drowned with all the precious cargo.
When Siti Fatimah heard about the tragedy, the Princess ran away to the river and also drowned herself to follow her lover. Before leaving, she left a message saying, If you see a tree grow on a piece of land where I drown, it will be the tree of our true love.
Amazingly, at the place where the princess drowned herself, a piece of land appeared on the surface of the river. Hence, the locals believe that this new island is, indeed, the couples tomb. Therefore, they call it Kamarau Island that means that despite high tides of the Musi River, this island will always remain dry.
The local Chinese ethnics believe that their ancestor, Tan Bun An, lives on this island. As a result, the island is always very crowded during the Chinese New Year.
Now, an outstanding Chinese temple, the Hok Cing Bio, stands tall here. Built in 1962, it has attracted so many followers. On very special occasions, especially on what the Hokkien call as the Cap Go Meh Celebrations, the island is always filled with locals and visitors coming from Palembang and even overseas. In fact, you can feel something magical about Kamaro Island. Watching the crowds on this particular occasion is also quite an interesting attraction.
To reach the island, you can cross the river for free since everything will have usually been arranged by the Chinese community here. You can get on tongkangs, small boats called ketek, speedboats, or dragon boats. Then, you can even find your own spot in a crowded tongkang and walk along the walkways to locate the graves of the legendary Tan Bun An and Siti Fatimah, or watch the Chinese opera on the island.
Moreover, there is also a show of Barongsai and local Chinese bands. Usually, the event starts in the morning and lasts until midnight. With the flood of visitors to the island, therefore, food vendors, and those selling drinks, souvenirs, religious accessories, and even clothes, secure their own spaces too to perform their best, selling.
The vivid red and golden colors, the burning incense, and all the excitement around will make this Cap Go Meh day so full of joy. You can see great wealth during the event. If you do want to see it, just come here a couple of days before the actual events begin. Cap Go Meh has become an event for the Chinese and everyone else wishing to participate in these celebrations.
How to Get to Kamaro Island
Kamaro Island is situated within Palembang, South Sumatra. To go to Palembang, you can easily take a flight to Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport, located on Tanjung Api-Api Street. This airport is always accessible from many countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, China, and Thailand. Then, the distance you must take between the airport and the Musi River is about 6 km. Thus, you can get a taxi or a rented car from the airport.
In the central part of the City, there are nine means of public transportation including seven city buses from various destinations that can take you to Ampera at a cheap cost of only IDR 1,500 to IDR 5,000 (USD 15 to 50 cents).
From the Musi River, you can continue to take a boat or rent a speed boat locally known as a Ketek. It will take about 30 minutes from the Ampera Bridge at a cost of IDR 50,000 — 70,000 (USD 5 to 7).
With all the flares of Cap Go Meh celebrations in Kamaro Island, you will certainly have a lot of fun during the event. Check the available flight and book your holiday plan in this gorgeous island now.