Islamic New Year in Ngebel

By Kylie Holland
March 27, 2017

On top of a mountain, surrounding a lake, lies a small village called Ngebel. 

Located in the regency of Ponorogo in East Java, this is a place where local tourists like to come enjoy the cool air and unwind, while drinking their favorite beverages and looking out to the rippling water. 

While normally a quiet village, Ngebel turns in to a crowded and full of life spectacle during the Islamic New Year (also known as Suro). The day before Suro, motorcycles can be seen and heard pouring in to Ngebel by the hundreds. Hotels are full, the cafes and restaurants are busily cranking out food, and the buzz of excitement can be felt everywhere. 

A male dancer representing the knight who led his troops to fight against their neighboring enemies.

The night before Suro is one of the only nights where men, women, and children alike are encouraged to stay out until 1:00 a.m.. Some night activities vary year to year depending on donations received and budget. For instance, some years the traditional puppet shows of Wayang Kulit make an appearance. Other years, tourists can just sit back and enjoy the mesmerizing sounds of traditional Gamelan music and singers. Although these acts vary, there are some activities that are consistent every single year.

Small torch lanterns decorate the banks of the lake creating a romantic and bright atmosphere. Around midnight, larger torches are put in the hands of about two hundred local teenagers dressed in black and white. These youths hold the torches up while walking the 5 kilometers around the lake. Spectators can see the line of lights traveling the perimeter of the lake as they relax and wait for the kids to make it back to the dock. Once all the torches have returned, they make way for the main event of the night. A designated member of the community plunges in to the water and swims out to the middle, pushing a wooden raft with the head of a goat strapped on it. Once in the middle, this person sinks the goat head to the depths of the lake as an offering and sign of devotion for the next year to come.

Gunungan, a resemblance of a mountain that symbolizes the cosmology of Java.

After a long night, events on the day of Suro get started around 10:00 a.m.. The mayor of the regency is always in attendance, as well as other prominent individuals in the community. Locals and tourists gather around to watch awards being handed out and elegant dancers dressed in beautiful costumes. Reog, the famous and traditional dance from this regency, is always performed with flare. 

After Reog, a massive cone of rice (nasi tumpeng) and a giant mountain of fruit (gunungan buah), both between 5-6 feet tall, are brought out. The gunungan buah is placed in the center of the road. A countdown begins, and on the mark, individuals start rushing towards the fruit to try and grab a piece! It is said that if you are able to grab a piece of fruit from the mound, your family will have good luck for the next year. As for the nasi tumpeng, this rice cone is placed in the water on a raft and pushed to the middle of the lake, just like the goat head the night before. The rice is sunk in the lake as an offering in hopes of prosperity. 

Once these activities take place, the bumping of Indonesian Dangdut music is played on stage for the rest of the afternoon. Tourists and locals mingle, happily dancing the hours away, laughing over coffee, and still watching that rippling water, hoping for a successful and joyful year until they can come back to Ngebel for the next Suro celebration.

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