Sri Aman

Malaysian Chinese boys throwing rice and making noise...

Sri Aman is a small village in Sarawak (which is a state of Malaysia on Borneo).

Sri Aman for me was really the embodiment of 'the middle of nowhere' and probably one of the most remote places I've ever been to. It's small and there's nothing to do. No cinema, no clubs, nothing to do for young people besides hang out at the KFC, the one 'foreign' establishment I could detect there.

School and church, temple and mosque... smack in the middle of the state, surrounded by green.

Sri Aman is not close to a big city. It's about three hours drive from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.

Not really an option when you're in your teens and growing up in Sri Aman.

I was invited to Sri Aman by E. in February 2008, who's born there, and he and his family were visiting relatives who still live there. They also went back to Sri Aman to witness and celebrate the last day of the Chinese New Year festivities, 14 days after the start of it - that was the year of the Rat.

Sri Aman is small and remote, but the end of the Chinese new year is not going by unnoticed. There's a huge festival going on (relatively speaking) and it's a bit of a strange one. It's a mix of nature religion, tradition and fancy fair and somewhat hard to describe. The religious aspect is about several gods, who come down on that evening to possess a few selected people. These people are then carried through the streets in the evening in a big parade, stopping at every Chinese shop to 'bless' it. For prosperity in the new year and all that.

Now, to an outsider like me, the whole parade seems a bit ridiculous: cute, but not to be taken too seriously. But when you observe it, you quickly notice this isn't taken lightly. The beliefs are strong and there's utmost respect for the people being 'possessed' and carried around. This whole process also involves self mutilation and 'torture' devices like seats with spikes, and pins being stuck through flesh. You can see that on some of the pictures I took (although close study of some of the photos do show some 'cheating', I'm not fully sure how far they take this).

And to top it all off there was professional fireworks going on at the end of the ceremony that lasted for so long that it almost became boring. Usually fireworks of that magnitude don't last for longer than 10 or 15 minutes. This one must have lasted for at least 45 minutes. Never ever would I have thought that I would experience the longest fireworks ever, in such a small place in the middle of Borneo.

Pictures were all shot with my 35mm lens, without flash. I make it somewhat of a point not to use flash in the evening. Besides the fact I hardly know how to use flash properly - flash photography basically is a study in its own - I like the pics better without. Of course the hit rate goes down quickly without flash. The percentage of blurry shots was quite high - it's impossible to freeze action without flash and with the resulting slow shutter times - but I managed to make a few ok ones nevertheless...

Also quite clear on some of the pictures is that they're not really used to tourists in Sri Aman. The curious looks I got are also quite visible on some of the pics and espcially kids seem to love to make the V-sign as soon as they spot a camera (much similar to kids in Cambodia, who did the same).

For more photos of this festival, see the album 'Sri Aman 2008 - End Of Chinese New Year' on the main page.

Canon EOS 40D with Canon EF 35mm f/2.0

Sri Aman, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia - 21 February 2008