Isen Mulang is a week long Dayak festival. This festival celebrates anything and everything Dayak, which is the native tribal culture here in Kalimantan. It brings in people from all over Central Kalimantan to participate and compete in cultural events and competitions. They compete in everything from food competitions to traditional sporting events.
The week kicks off with a huge parade that involves all of the local and non-local Dayak groups that participate in the festival. It showcases the cultural differences between each region's Dayak tribes. Each region's Dayaks have their own traditional costumes, dances, and food. It's the biggest thing to come to Palangkaraya and is the most interesting cultural event that I've seen take place here. The parade includes every group from every province of Central Kalimantan, which consists of 33 different provinces. Thousands of people flocked to watch it and be a part of the festivities.
Every event that took place during the festival was a competition. Each province had competitors competing for trophies, and bragging rights, to be the best in Central Kalimantan in several different categories. The winners from each competition move on to the national finals. The categories are Traditional Cooking (Malamang and Mangenta), Decorating Traditional Boats (Jukung Hias), Racing Traditional Boats (Jukung Tradisional), Fire Football (Sepak Sawut), Rowing Tug of War (Besei Kambe), Traditional Blow Darts (Manyipet), Traditional Fighting (Lawang Sakepeng), Traditional Singing (Karungut and Lagu Daerah), Chopping Wood (Maneweng, Manetek, Manyila Kayu), Traditional Dance from Jungle Villages (Tari Pedalaman), Traditional Dance from Coastal Villages (Tari Pesisir), Traditional Games (Balungu), Catching Mud Fish (Mangaruhi) and a few more. They also ended the week with a beauty pageant of couples from each province to see who would be crowned Putra Putri Pariwisata which is Prince and Princess of Tourism.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend every event since I work during the day and these events started every morning at 8am. They also scheduled several events at the same time in different locations so it was impossible to see everything. I was able to make it to a few events though. The decorating traditional boats was pretty impressive. It involved teams from each province decorating a boat and dressing in their traditional costumes.
Most of the events took place in the mornings and I was lucky enough to attend a few. I missed all of the cooking competitions and most of the traditional games. The rowing tug of war (Besei Kambe) was interesting. They had two 2-person teams rowing against each other in the same boat, in opposite directions. The team that moved the boat past a certain point in their direction, won.
Traditional fighting (Lawang Sakepeng) is a wedding tradition where the groom would have to fight the father of the bride to prove that he is capable of taking care of his new wife. The dancing competitions are split into two regions, jungle villages (Pedalaman) and coastal villages (Pesisir), because their dances are region specific. I was able to see a few of the dances of the Pedalaman.
The traditional blow darts (Manyipet) competition was like any target shooting event.
In the evening, the singing competitions took place followed by the dancing competitions. It seemed like the entire city of Palangkaraya showed up to these competitions. I've never seen this many people here in one place. It was really exciting to see everyone come out and be so supportive of the Dayak culture.
At night, they had the Sepak Sawut games, or fire football. It's pretty intense. They played a tournament between all of the provinces. I was only able to watch a couple of games. To prevent serious burns, the players cover their arms and legs in toothpaste. The ball is covered with fuel and then it's just a normal soccer game. It was very impressive to watch, and very difficult to shoot.
The week ended with the Putra Putri Pariwisata, which is a beauty pageant to choose who will represent Central Kalimantan in the national tourism competition. Just like pageants in America, this has three categories including talent, question and answer, and the tourism category in which each couple had to promote their province in a language other than Bahasa Indonesia.
I was extremely lucky to be able to witness, and be a part of, the Isen Mulang festival. It was exciting to be able to learn more about the Dayak culture, and to not just witness it, but the honor to photograph as much of it as I was able to. Dayaks have a beautiful culture and I'm very privileged to be able to see a small part of it.
Check out the gallery below for more images from the festival and feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!