Monkey skull ornaments, skewers in cheeks at Borneo parade

Singkawang (Indonesia) (AFP) - Hundreds of men and women with metal skewers pierced through their cheeks and wearing costumes adorned with monkey skulls Saturday took part in a colourful parade on Borneo island.

As they marched, the people in bright costumes - known as "tatungs" - struck themselves with machetes and swords and walked over nails, without apparently suffering any injuries.

Some appeared to fall into a trance as they marched to the sound of loud music.

The "tatung", who live around Singkawang on the Indonesian part of Borneo, are believed to possess supernatural powers that means they do not feel pain when hit with sharp weapons and are considered healers.

They are a culturally mixed group, and their members include ethnic Chinese and Dayak tribespeople.

The "tatung" tradition has been passed down for generations in the area.

"I am happy to preserve the culture of my ancestors, while also helping tourism," said 65 year old Khin Djung, who was taking part in the parade.

The event, which involved some 600 "tatung", was part of extended celebrations to mark Chinese New Year in predominantly ethnic Chinese Singkawang.

The festivities, called Cap Go Meh, mark the 15th day of Chinese New Year.

Participant Elvi Mutan, 15, showed no signs of pain as a metre (three-feet)-long skewer was stabbed through her cheeks -- or hours later when it was removed.

Tiny slit marks were visible on her cheeks but she said they would fade in a matter of days.

"It doesn't hurt," she insisted.

The parade attracts thousands of tourists and highlights the kaleidoscope of different cultures found across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

While 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, the country is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups and religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.