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Dukun, the master of black magic

October 28, 2008

One aspect of the Indonesian culture that you’re not likely to get to see is the practice of ‘black magic’ or witchcraft. When you talk to regular Indonesian people they might tell you they believe in black magic, although they don’t practice it. Generally Indonesians do not like discussing black magic, especially their own experience with it, but its all around.

Today black magic, together with white magic such as fortune telling, love magic, healing massage and countless other forms, continues to play a dominant role within Javanese cosmology. Many local people believe in it wholeheartedly. All disasters, be they personal or communal, are attributed to black magic. Unusual or sudden death, crop failure, death of livestock, and marriage problems are all caused by a local dukun santet. Elsewhere in Indonesia, people will often consult a dukun to learn about the source of a relative’s illness.

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Dangdut, the Indonesian popular music

October 23, 2008

Dangdut is a genre of Indonesian popular music that originated in the 1960s. The vibrant and constantly evolving musical form that draws on Arabic, Malay, Indian and rock influences exploded in the 1970s with acts such as Rhoma Irama and Elvy Sukaesih. Rhoma added Western rock to the music and political content — much of it Islamic — to the lyrics, earning him the ire of President Suharto but creating a unique sound; most other dangdut still sounds like Indian film music.

Typical of the mainstream is Elvy Sukaesih, the other great star from the golden age, or Camelia Malik. More recent years have seen a dizzying series of stars, including Evie Tamala and “disco-dangdut” by Ade Irma, Sendak Oriel and others. Especially since the late 1990s dangdut has reached a broader following in Indonesia.

Dangdut, once the music of the poor, is upwardly mobile these days.  Read more…

Dalang, The Puppet Master

October 22, 2008

Wayang Kulit shadow puppet performances are part of Indonesian village ceremonies. The tradition and plays are very old and come from the Ramayana. The dalang, the puppeteer, or the puppet master, manipulates the puppets, speaks their parts, and coordinates the puppets’ actions with the music.  He plays all the characters using many voices.

The puppets were complete artworks in themselves. Painted in minute detail, they also sported networks of intricate cutouts, adding depth to the projected shadows of stylized gods and demons. They moved at pivot joints, skillfully manipulated by the Dalang (puppet master). And being of leather, they were durable enough to show off near acrobatic moves in the fight scenes.

The dalang must be almost super-human. Performances can be up to nine hours long and for all that time the dalang sits cross-legged, telling the story and providing a voice for each puppet character; singing; moving the puppets; directing the gamelan orchestra and adding sound effects. The dalang must memorise lengthy dialogue and also be able to improvise about the local social and political situations. He may use up to 100 puppets in one performance. It is no wonder that the dalang is not only a respected and skilled artist, but is also thought to have a special spiritual dimension. Read more…

REOG, a ‘magnifique’ magical dance

October 16, 2008

Reog is an Indonesian traditional mask dance where the dancers carry a very heavy, ornamented tiger head with peacock feathers  in wide winged. This dance depicts a fight between a tiger and two noblemen on horseback. These masks are almost 50 kg heavy, worn by one man (called warok) by biting the wood inside the mask. It is impossible to normal teeth, that’s why all waroks are on trance conditions when dancing with this big heavy mask.


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Keris, the symbol of glory

October 13, 2008

The most famous pusaka or heirloom for Javanese people is keris. In the old days, keris was owned by almost everyone in the society and mostly used as weapons.  A man was not considered as a real man if he has no keris. Keris, considered sacred and contains specific magical powers, is highly valued, treated and respected with special care.

A keris or kris is a special knife, a double-edged assymetrical stabbing weapon originating in Java which is used in a close range combat. It has spread its influence far beyond its initial beginnings to Bali, Lombok, Kalimantan, and even to Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Mindanao. From a stabbing weapon it has developed into a social status symbol and a symbol of manhood. According to Javanese keris lore, the development of keris can be assumed to take a parallel course with the kingdoms of Java. Unfortunately myth and fact are also intertwined that it is sometimes difficult to separate the two.  Read more…

Bali, the Isle of Gods

October 11, 2008

Western travellers and scholars have long been fascinated with the island of Bali, its picturesque landscapes, and the richness of its music and arts practiced every day by ordinary people. They have been especially amazed by the fact that from daybreak the air in the island is filled with the sounds of complicated orchestral music requiring many hours of concentrated rehearsal.

The English playwright Noel Coward, visiting Bali together with Charlie Chaplin in the 1930s, said: “There is far too much music in Bali. … Read more…

Gamelan, Indonesian Traditional Ensemble

October 10, 2008

Gamelan stands out as intriguing and intricate symbol of nature and human creativity collaboration. Gamelan refers to any one of several types of instrumental ensembles found on the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia.  Indonesian traditional music that played using Gamelan called gending. It is the main element of the Indonesian traditional music. Gamelan has always existed in its instrumental form as well as in a supportive role when combined with dance, wayang kulit, wayang orang,  but there is no ‘concert tradition’ for gamelan music in Java.

In Indonesian traditional thinking, the gamelan is sacred and is believed to have supernatural power. Both musician and non-musicians are humble and respectful to the gamelan. Incense and flowers are often offered to the gamelan. It is believed that each instrument in the gamelan is guided by spirits. Thus, the musician have to take off their shoes when they play the gamelan. It is also forbidden to step over any instrument in a gamelan, because it might offend the spirit by doing so. Read more…