Dieng Culture Festival and a mystical haircut

Dieng Culture Festival

The kid fixed her eyes firmly on the bicycle as the man approached, brandishing his scissors. He was ready to cut off her dreadlocks. She was ready to get the present of her dreams.  This was the highlight of the Dieng Culture Festival.

Why do they cut the hair?

When a kid gets sick here, the tossing and turning in bed, and the fever sweat, create dreadlocks, known locally as “gimbal.” These kids had been very sick, and were now recovered. The festival is a celebration of that recovery and to take part, the kids get asked what their heart desires. For some, it’s a new bicycle. Other’s want a cow, a kilo of grapes or a tray of sweets and candies. One even asked for a giant pink bear! The traditional request is livestock, but modern life is creeping in here and all the kids also got a ‘buku listric’ (we call it a tablet computer).  

Dieng Plateau

After the excitement of the Playparq and the drama of Yadnya Kasada in Bromo, it was nice to get to Dieng, a cool, dry, volcanic plateau in Central Java. As well as foul smelling sulphur lakes, roiling boiling geysers and active volcanoes, it’s the home of Javanese spiritual history. There are standing Javanese temples from the 7th century, but they have origins thousands of years ago. Some say they have been places of worship for over 3,000 years. 

The main temple is Candi Arjuna. It’s in active use, all year round, and people come from all over Java to receive blessings and make offerings. I was told that Javanese religion is practiced alongside Islam and Hindu, and a person may worship both religions simultaneously without experiencing any significant theological conflict. This surprised me a bit as I thought that this area was Hindu, and I had never heard of a different Javanese religion in this way before. 

High speed convoy

The journey to Dieng was, for me, an event in itself. We left Yogyakarta for Wonosobo at 5:00am, with a police escort because I had found myself in the VIP cavalcade. We bolted along increasing steep and winding roads, making the three hour journey into just 90 minutes! The police drivers were fantastically skilful and cleared the road ahead. The other people on the road simply pulled over at the lights and sirens, and we raced through the gaps they made. 

The aftermath of the music festival

Arriving in Dieng was like the aftermath of a rock festival. The previous night had climaxed with Dieng Jazz Festival, and lighting thousands of Chinese lanterns. Today, I was confronted with an empty stage area and a sea of trash. Behind this was the camping area where people were just rising after what had evidently been a cold night! Coffee and cigarettes is a common way to start the day after a night of music and camping. 

The religious part of the festival got underway with a procession of kids, dignatories, offerings, food, dragon dancers and a silat team all making their way to the festival ground. Interestingly, this was almost the exact moment that most of the Jazz festival campers has decided to leave, creating two competing waves of people in the narrow street! 

Gimbal hair cutting

I surged along with the group and got squashed through the gates into the temple area, where a bunch of kids were nervously waiting the blessing phase of the ceremony. They were doffed on the head with a bunch of leaves and splashed with fragrant water, while incense burned all around. 

Suddenly, the throng moved out of the first area and I was swept into the second, final area, in front of Candi Arjuna. The local and national dignatories lined up to cut hair, and the kids were introduced one by one and underwent their hair removal. 

This was the first event I had been to where drone owners were asked to retreat from the temple area. I wonder if this a sign of things to come at these sorts of events. Certainly, the number and boldness of drone flyers means it’s only a matter of time before there is a crash. Indonesia has light regulations compared to other countries and it would be a shame to see the hobby suffer from excessive legislation. 


Silat demonstration

Earlier, I’d asked the silat leader if they were going to demonstrate but I hadn’t expected them to enter into a trance state, mimicing animals, strutting, rolling on the ground and even randomly attacking each other! It was amazing! 

Dieng Culture Festival

Overall, this was highly entertaining. I cursed myself for missing the music and the lanterns because everyone I spoke to said it was exciting. I loved watching the ceremony. The look on the kids faces when they were approached by scissor wielding strangers, followed by the change of expression when they got the gifts was totally enchanting. The high speed ride through the Java countryside was exhilarating beyond belief. Finally, I need to say a special thank you to Pak Wawan for helping me to get enjoy this unusual and interesting event!


Fact File:

Dieng Culture Festival takes place in early August every year. You can get there by flying to Jogjakarta or Semarang, and then taking a winding car journey via Wonosobo. 



Did you go to Dieng Culture festival? Have you been to Dieng in normal times? I’d love to hear your story. Email mystory@hellomister.net, or leave a comment below. 

38 thoughts on “Dieng Culture Festival and a mystical haircut

    • Yeah. Good question. I would assume the local community raise money and also accept donations from the dignatories. Certainly, Pesona Indonesia sponspor the event overall as well. There is a music festival the night before the hair cutting, and quite a few bands play. I’ll try to find out.

    • Yes. It’s open to the public, but you need to get an entry pass, which is quite easy. If you contact the Dieng Culture Festival website, they will help you out. Thanks for the compliment on the photos. I’m still learning…but there is some progress!

    • There are lots of Javanese/Hindu ceremonies in Indonesia that receive next to no publicity outside of their local area. There really is so much to see in terms of cultural events it’s startling!

    • The religion and culture here is truly remarkable. Growing the ‘gimbal’ is considered to be a sign of great honour and really shows that the illness and suffering were quite strong. I’m always surprised by the way that religion, culture, magic and tradition are so alive and well here.

    • Yeah it really is worth taking the time to explore these places. I’ve been in Indonesia for 5 years now and I’m still scratching the surface of the cultural events that happen here. So many!

    • Yes. Not many people really understand the living culture here, even though Javanese rituals are embedded in the daily life of hundreds of millions of people! Really amazing to be so ‘off the radar’ You might enjoy some of my other posts about Java.

    • Thank you. I try to get as close to ‘the action’ as I can! I have a friend who lives in S.A. but he manages to travel around a bit more. I guess it depends where you are, and your gender…

  1. This is my first time to hear about a festival dedicated to haircut. In the Philippines, we have a lot of festivals also but nothing similar to Dieng Culture Festival. I’d love to immerse myself in different culture sometime in the near future.

    • Well it’s nice to think they will be around for the foreseeable future, despite the malls in every city, the underlying culture is alive and kicking!

  2. Sorry you had to miss part of the event. Would have been great to read all on your blog. Who’s money was used to buy the gifts for the children? It’s like having their Christmas wish list fulfilled.

    • It often happens in the entourage travel experience. It was more than compensated for by the high speed police escort to the airport! I don’t know where the money comes from. Probably the dignitaries.

  3. this is really an interesting culture..and to know that the kids were actually presented with whatever they wanted, kinda shows how much they are cherishing the youth.

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