The Localist

Jakarta Night Festival

For the last six years, I have been living between my hometown Bogor and Jakarta (Indonesia’s capital). Bogor is a city in West Java located very close to Jakarta (approximately 60 km, or 1.5 hours drive). Up until now I haven’t spent New Year’s Eve in Jakarta and experienced its big celebrations.

Before 2012, most Jakartans (urban slang for people from Jakarta) who have money would spend the changing of the year in fancy hotels, lounges, restaurants or even abroad. Others chose to spend it having dinner with close friends and family or driving around the city and lighting fireworks.

In 2012, the newly elected Governor Jokowi created a new tradition called “ Jakarta Night Festival ”. The idea was to turn the heart of Jakarta (City Hall – Monas – Jalan M.H Thamrin – Bunderan Hotel Indonesia (Monumen/Tugu Selamat Datang) – Jalan Sudirman) into one big traditional night market, like those that usually exist only in the outskirts of the city. 

For one night, this main street of Central Jakarta, which is usually synonymous with “traffic” and “headaches”, is closed off to cars. Only pedestrians, bicyclists and food sellers are allowed to use the center lane of the street, starting from 4 pm on 31 December until midnight.

Approximately 12 stages are set up to provide entertainment, from Jakarta City Hall to Jalan Sudirman. Live music from different areas starts around 8 p.m, and I managed to see many live bands and musicians playing pop, dangdut and jazz. I also saw traditional plays such as Wayang Kulit (traditional puppets made from leather, pictured below) and Wayang Orang (traditional plays).

Some people may see the event as a hassle, since Jakarta is a city that never sleeps and the main street is the easiest way to commute between different parts of the city. But others like me see this as an opportunity to work out (I have to walk about 5 km in total), learn about traditional culture and enjoy myself, all while leaving 2013 with a bang.

The main event, the countdown to the new year, takes place at the roundabout (Bunderan) of the Hotel Indonesia area, strategically located right in the center of Jakarta’s main avenue, Jalan M.H. Thamrin.  As you get closer to the main stage in front of Grand Hyatt Hotel facing “Monumen/Tugu Selamat Datang” in the center of Bundaran Hotel Indonesia, the crowd thickens. About 15 minutes before the countdown begins, the Governor of Jakarta approaches the main stage and contributes one dangdut song with The King of Dangdut: Rhoma Irama. When the clock hits midnight, everyone in Jakarta welcomes the New Year with open arms and shares the same dream and hope of a better life.


Images. All pictures by Meissy Sabardiah.

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