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"Les Paradisiers. Menado, Celebes" by Paul Jacoulet, 1937
The Indonesian constitution allows freedom of religion in a predominantly Muslim country and the state's "Unity in Diversity" motto is a symbol of the co-existence of the many cultures unified in on nation. These diverse cultures have given Indonesia a rich heritage of traditions and art resulting in festivities throughout the year in different parts of the country.
In the Minahasa area alone there are 8 indigenous languages spoken: Tonsea, Tondano, Tombulu, Tontemboan and Tonsawang, Bantik, Ratahan and Ponosakan. The first five languages form a genetic group called proto-Minahasan. They are more closely related to each other and cover the greater part of Minahasa. It is therefore reasonable to assume that they all derive from a common parent language which was itself spoken in Minahasa.
The other three languages have their closest links with languages spoken outside Minahasa. Ponosakan is closely related to Mangondow, spoken in the Bolaang Mangondow Regency. Ratahan, also referred as Bentenan, and Bantik have their closest links with Sangir, spoken on the islands of the Sangihe Talaud Archipelago and in the north of Minahasa District.
The use of these languages, however, is decreasing as many people are more and more switching to Manadonese, also known among the local people as Malayu Pasar or Manado Malay. It is Malay, mixed with words derived from the Spanish, Portugish, English, Dutch and local languages.
People of North Sulawesi love music, and they are famed throughout the country for their vocal skills, displayed to best advantage during their rituals, celebrations and gatherings.
The Kolintang music instrument originated from Minahasa. It is similar to a wooden xylophone and is popular nationwide. One version of local folklore states that the name Kolintang came from its sounds: TING (high pitch note), TANG (moderate pitch note) and TONG (low pitch note). In the local language, the invitation "Let us do some TING TANG TONG" is: "mangemo kumolintang", hence the name of the instrument, Kolintang.
In its early days, Kolintang originally consisted of only a series of wooden bars placed side by side in a row on the legs of the players who would sit on the floor with both of their legs stretched out in front of them. Later on, the function of the legs was replaced either by two poles of banana trunk or by a rope which hung them up to a wooden plank. Story says that resonance box was beginning to be attached to this instrument after Diponegoro, a prince from Java who was exiled to Minahasa, brought along the Javanese instrument Gamelan with its resonance box, Gambang.
Kolintang had a close relationship with the traditional belief of Minahasan natives. It was usually played in ancestor worshipping rituals. That might explain the reason why Kolintang was nearly totally left behind when Christianity came to North Sulawesi. It was so rarely played that it was nearly extinct for about a 100 year since then. It only reappeared after the World War II, pioneered by the blind musician Nelwan Katuuk, who reconstructed it according to universal musical scales. Initially, there was only one kind of Kolintang instrument which was a 2 octave diatonical melody instrument. It was usually played with other string instruments such as guitar, ukulele or string bass as accompaniment.
Bamboo Music: Bamboo trumpets were made and played for hundreds of years in North Sulawesi, particularly in Sangihe Talaud. High-quality, very old bamboo is shaped into elegant trumpets which produce a melodious sound. To ensure the trumpet will be durable and of good quality, the bamboo poles are steeped in flowing water, usually a river, for about three months. They are then dried by being placed on a board above a small flame for about four months. It is only then that the bamboo is ready to be made into trumpets. There are various models of bamboo instruments. A bamboo saxophone, for example, is called sesuho, while a bamboo trumpet is known as pepato. If all of the instruments in an orchestra are made entirely from bamboo, the group is called a bambu melulu music group. If some additional elements are brought to the instruments like brass or tin then it is called a bambu clarinet or bambu seng music group, respectively.
Bia music instruments, consisting of a sea shells, are less popular but still employed in some areas of North Sulawesi, usually at holiday celebrations.
Maengket is a dance drama from Minahasa. The dance is often performed on important occasions welcoming prominent visitors, as a prelude to competitions, or during local festivals. Maengket is accompanied by spirited harmonic songs in the form of Minahasan communal work. It is actually a variety of modernized and secularized dances consisting of three parts, Makamberu depicting the harvest time and in some parts of its choreography tell about romantic love poems; Marambak celebrating the building of a new house and passing on traditional values; Mah'laya is usually humorous and is generally full of merriment.
Kabasaran or Cakalele Minahasa: A war dance, effecting patriotism, heroic and courage. Usually performed by men wearing red war costumes with swords and shields, uttering cries to frighten the enemies. Cakalele is also popular in the Moluccas where it probably has its roots. However, there are also similarities with war dances in Portugal.
Tari Lengso is a dance derived from Maengket where the dancers use handkerchiefs in the dance routine. It slightly resembles dances from the Vietnamese and Kampuchean cultures, where Toar and Lumimuut, the descendants of the Minahasans came from.
Kabala is a traditional welcome dance performance in Bolaang Mongondow.
Tempurung is the local name for coconut shell. Many decorations are made from tempurung, and it is very useful in more remote places where the farmers use it as bowls, plates, cups and even musical instruments, as shown in this dance. The dance reflects the appreciation of the farmer's family for the harvest of kopra (copra). It is usually performed by pairs of men and women.
Katrili is an imported dance introduced by the Spaniards in the time of colonialism. The dance is performed by pairs of men and women and a leader. The commands are given in Spanish. The costumes are similar to those of the flamenco dance.
Polineis is a modification of the Polonaise. Like Katrili, Polineis is an imported dance originally introduced by the Dutch people in the colonial era. It is very popular among the older generation and is still seen in Minahasa, especially in the recreation part of a wedding party where it is usually followed by a waltz.
Pisok is the local name for sparrow, also known as Burung Gereja (church bird). This bird is considered holy in Minahasa. The Minahasan people believe that the Pisok bird always brings good luck. The Pisok dance is performed by an odd number of girls.
The indigenous dance repertoire of Sangihe Talaud includes the Gunde (worship dance), Salo (war dances), Bengko (war dance using spears) and Upase (to accompany the Saalo dance, perfumed by the king's guards). Others are Alabadiri (illustrating the cooperative spirit in work between the government and the people), and Ransa Sahabe (similar to the Alabadiri dance). Relatively new dances are Kakalumpang (illustrating cooperation among the people during the coconut harvest), the fisherman's dance Madunde (dance of the nine goddesses), Empat Wayer (youth dance), Toumatiti and Petik Pala (nutmeg picking dance).
Like for most of Indonesia the staple food in North Sulawesi is rice, except for Sangihe Talaud where it is Sago. However, rice is becoming more popular and affordable there as well. Fish features prominently in the diet: fresh, salted, dried, smoked or paste. It is abundant and of great variety: lobster, oyster, prawns, shrimp, squid, crab, etc. Coconut is found everywhere and besides being processed for cooking oil, its milk and meat is an ingredient for many dishes.
Spices and hot chili peppers are the essence of most cooking, and in North Sulawesi they are used generously.
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