Sawahlunto, the historic coal mining town of West Sumatra, celebrated its 127th anniversary on December 1st 2015. Last Tuesday, which was the peak of celebrations beginning last month, a community dine-out or makan bajamba with the people of the town was held in the Sawahlunto Triangle Park, better known by the local name Lapangan Segitga Sawahlunto.

Happy 127th Anniversary, Sawahlunto!

Makan bajamba is a Minangkabau tradition of dining conducted at traditional ceremonies and festivals, or important events. Women carry food trays on top of their heads and serve them to the people who are sitting cross-legged on the floor dining. Before the feast begins, community leaders take turns reciting a four-line verse (pantun). The philosophy behind this dining tradition is to bring a sense of togetherness among the people of the community, regardless of social status. The makan bajamba ceremony is conducted every year in Sawahlunto to commemorate the birth of this historical and multicultural town.

Prior to this ceremony, a range of activities had been held since the 24th of November which will continue until the turn of the year. These activities include a multicultural festival, a Tarung Derajat martial art attraction (originating from West Java), a Sawahlunto night run with over a hundred participants, a paragliding festival and fun fly, a body building contest, a book launch and photo display, a derby with 61 race horses, a dog race, and a bird-singing contest. The commemoration ends with the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Makan Bajamba ceremony on 1st December

Multicultural festivals which have marked celebrations each year reflect Sawalunto’s changing history from the ‘Kuali Town’ to the ‘Coal Mining Town’, and now  the ‘Tourism Town’. Sawahlunto used to be coined as the Kuali (wok) Town because of it’s inward shape that is surrounded by hills, resembling a wok.  During the coal hey day, Sawahlunto was a gem for the Dutch government who had built a successful coal industry in this town by bringing in workers from provinces around  the country, notably Java (read more on this in our previous post). Thus, the town was known as the Coal Mining Town.

This historical past has set Sawahlunto apart from other cities in West Sumatra in terms of cultural diversity, characterizing Sawahlunto with a mix and merge of different cultural influences. In this annual celebration, this is reflected in festive activities, such as the Kuda Lumping dance, which has its roots from the Javanese culture.

Kuda Lumping dance in Multicultural Festival

Some activities, however, are carried out with no relation to culture or tradition. The paragliding competition in Batu Tanjung is an example. As many as 70 paragliders entered the competition as well as seven Japanese paragliders. Paragliding competitions have been held as part of the government’s effort to boost the tourism sector through what is called ‘Sports Tourism’ events. Puncak Polan—which allows paragliders to enjoy a full view of the town from the skies—is also a landmark for paragliding activities which have attracted tourists from around the world. Since 2004, the Sawahlunto government has officially announced that the tourism sector will be the main driver of the economy and development of the town which over a decade ago had experienced a decline.

Besides sports events that are of international interest (read previous post on bicycle tournament), Sawahlunto is a town of historical heritage where old buildings and monuments of the colonial past are found. The government is currently making efforts to establish Sawahlunto as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage City.

Paragliding competition

Indeed Sawahlunto has come a long a way from being an abandoned town after its coal mine glory days. Now it is a vibrant town where cultural diversity meets historical heritage. Hence, the town’s anniversary is a celebration of cultural diversity and historical identity. Join the celebration, visit Sawahlunto and participate in upcoming events.


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Sawahlunto Derby

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