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WAYANG KULIT IN CIREBON

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W ayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) in Java does not refer to a unitary, monolithic art form. Many regional variants exist, or have existed in the recent past. In Java today, there are four main regional centres with vital shadow puppet traditions: Surakarta (also known as Solo), Yogyakarta (Yogya), Banyumas and Cirebon (Cerbon). The variants associated with central Java - the Surakarta, Yogyakarta, and Banyumas multiforms - are closely related in terms of puppet iconography, manipulation techniques, musical accompaniment, dramatic structure, repertoire, language, ritual features, and patterns of sponsorship.
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WAYANG KULIT IN CIREBON
by Matthew Isaac Cohen
The pockmarked Cungkring (right), one of the nine principal clown-servants of
Cirebonese wayang kulit, seeks mystical knowledge from an elderly sage
These articles appeared in Seleh Notes, The UK Gamelan Magazine,
Volume 9 Nos 1 and 2

history. It is believed that this genre of literature
to £150, and it is
first developed in 17th century Cirebon.
always incumbent
WAYANG KULIT IN CIREBON
There was strong interest among Cirebon’s
upon a sponsor to
royal court elites in wayang kulit in the 18th and
provide refreshments
Part 1 - Setting the scene
19th centuries. Each of the royal courts and
and cigarettes. Night-
houses owned one or more sets of puppets, some
time shows take place
of which still survive as sacred heirlooms. Village
between 8.00pm and
by Matthew Isaac Cohen
puppeteers were appointed as ‘court puppeteers’
3.00am. They are
and given titles, performance duties, and
commonly preceded
Lecturer, Theatre Studies, University of Glasgow
obligations for the care of puppets.
by daytime matinee shows running between
A decorated buffalo
Manuscripts closely associated with the
9.30am and 3.00pm (with a pause for the mid-day
head and other
performance tradition, such as the Old Javanese
Islamic prayers). If the event is communally
offerings on public
mores. A recent estimate of the number of
Bratayuda (owned by many Cirebonese dhalang
sponsored, it is normal for mandatory stories such
display during a
W ayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) in Java
does not refer to a unitary, monolithic art
Cirebonese is five million, including major
and quoted and translated in performance), were
as the birth of one of the incarnations of the rice
nadranan, thanksgiving
form. Many regional variants exist, or have existed
populations in the regencies of Krawang, Subang,
closely studied by noble elites and word lists were
goddess, or the origin of lightning and thunder, to
celebration, sponsored
in the recent past. In Java today, there are four
Indramayu, Majalengka, Kuningan, Cirebon, and
compiled to facilitate their reading. Mystical
be performed during the day.
annually by a fishing
main regional centres with vital shadow puppet
Brebes, and the municipality of Cirebon. The
poems of Islam, or suluk, containing numerous
Troupes are headed by a puppeteer, and might
community, featuring a
traditions: Surakarta (also known as Solo),
cultural region is bordered by the highlands of
allusions to shadow puppet theatre were
include 10 to 15 musicians and from two to six
day-time ritual wayang
Yogyakarta (Yogya), Banyumas and Cirebon
Sunda to the south, the Betawi area to the west,
circulated among the noble elite and other literati.
technical assistants, who are responsible for
kulit play entitled
(Cerbon). The variants associated with central
Interest in wayang
setting up, striking, and maintaining the
Budug Basu.
Java - the Surakarta, Yogyakarta, and Banyumas
kulit
in Cirebon’s performing equipment, including the sound
multiforms - are closely related in terms of puppet
royal court circles
system. The dhalang manipulates puppets, speaks
iconography, manipulation techniques, musical
diminished at the end
all the dialogue and narration, provides sound
accompaniment, dramatic structure, repertoire,
of the 19th century due
effects with a wooden knocker and metal plates
language, ritual features, and patterns of
to financial limitations,
suspended to his (or her) left, sings mood songs,
sponsorship. Surakarta and Yogyakarta wayang
decline of traditional
directs the gamelan, and acts as ritual officiant
kulit, in particular, are taught in conservatoires for
Javanese and the rise
when a ritual drama is being performed. He also
the performing arts, well-represented on national
of modern Western
announces song requests and communiqués from
television, enacted regularly for tourists, and sent
education, and the
the audience or host.
abroad to cultural festivals.
appeal of European
Some puppeteers and exegetes suggest that
Much less familiar to puppet enthusiasts
‘polite’ entertainments
there should ideally be 17 musicians in a gamelan
outside Java is the shadow puppet theatre of the
and pastimes, such as
group, as there are 17 rokaat (ritual actions and
Cirebon area, which differs from the better known
balls, among Cirebon’s
prayers) conducted by a practising Muslim in the
puppet theatres of central Java in many respects.
noble elite, most of
course of a day. Mulyaman, a cultural inspector for
There are no regularly scheduled performances
whom lived in the city
Palimanan, provides the following list of 17
for tourists; the art is not taught at conservatoires
of Cirebon. Today, musical instruments: kendang; gong; saron;
and never broadcast on national television. Until
few performances of
gender; kenong; jengglong; penerus (demung);
Taham performed this year in continental Europe,
wayang kulit, or any
gambang; beri (cymbals) kebluk (kempyang);
to the best of my knowledge, only one Cirebonese
and what people in Cirebon call ‘eastern Java’ to
other form of dance or drama, take place in the
klenang (two small kettles, rarely used); kemanak;
dhalang (shadow puppeteer) had ever performed
the east (people culturally oriented to the royal
royal courts or the city of Cirebon as a whole.
ketipung; bedug; bonang; kemyang (bonang
abroad - Sudarga Lesek (d. 1999).
court cultures of Yogyakarta and Surakarta as the
In contrast, wayang kulit in the densely-
panerus); suling. In addition a second saron might
The author performing
Some have assumed consequently that
standard-keepers for all things Javanese).
inhabited agrarian hinterlands, fishing villages,
be added to play saron imbal. Also unmentioned
a matinee show of
Cirebon’s wayang kulit is an archaic form, lacking
There are many distinctive art forms practised
and the small towns of the coastal plain has
are the ketuk, biol (fiddle) and titil (peking). The
Greeting Sri at a
Above right:
popularity or interest. Such could not be further
in the Cirebon area, as well as those shared with
remained of vital significance. Performances occur
auspicious number 17 is an ideal to conform to in
communal hall in
Heirloom puppets of
from the truth. For the last seven years, I have
its neighbouring cultural regions. The people of
in conjunction with the celebration of rites of
theory, but not generally in practice.
conjunction with a
the royal house of
been studying wayang kulit in the Cirebon area as
the northern littoral consider themselves Javanese,
passage (circumcisions, weddings) and communal
The musicians also function as the dhalang’s
rice-planting
Kacerbonan during the
a theatre anthropologist and a practising dhalang.
not Sundanese, although the proximity of Cirebon
events such as harvest festivals, village purification
interlocutors, responding to dialogue with
celebration. Hanoman
monthly isis (airing-out)
I would like to outline some of its contextual and
to Sunda, and many differences from ‘the eastern
rites, ancestral commemorations at cemeteries,
questions, interjections, and comments, often of a
(right) is shown
enacted by the court
generic characteristics, indicate what makes it
Javanese’, results in them being often typed by
and fishing thanksgiving celebrations. There are
scatological nature. One of the musicians in the
addressing the animals
puppeteer Kurnadi in
appealing to me and to other devotees and,
outsiders as Sundanese, or a mixture of Javanese
villages where, even with the competition of
troupe acts as the matinee dhalang, typically a
of the forest, to the
1993. Visible from left
finally, suggest some of the reasons for its relative
and Sundanese.
today’s modern media (television, radio, video
junior, aspiring performer or an older, semi-retired
rapt attention of
to right here are a
obscurity in Indonesia’s national puppetry scene
The oldest Cirebonese text describing wayang
and CD), 20 or 30 performances of wayang kulit
puppeteer related to the troupe’s leader.
youthful spectators.
variety of ponggawa
and abroad.
kulit in performance is the Suluk Wujil, which
are staged annually. Older folk say that in the
Performances also
(bold knight) puppets,
survives in a redaction dated by scholars to 1607.
performing season (March-November) in the
prominently feature
Wayang kulit in Cirebon: past
Gonjaka (centre),
The text describes the well-known play, Kresna
recent past, the sounds of wayang kulit in
one or more pesindhen
and present
Catrik, Togog, Curis
Duta (Kresna, the Envoy), being performed by the
performance could be heard nightly in some
(female vocalists), who
(with the long neck),
Cirebon, defined here as a cultural region, is a
puppeteer Sari for an audience that included two
towns.
are usually free agents
Temblem, and a female
stretch of Java’s north coast from Cilamaya in the
of Java’s semi-legendary Islamic ‘saints’ or ‘friends
Performances in connection with a
not attached to the
maid-servant. The
west to Brebes in the east, characterised by a
of God’ (wali): Sunan Kalijaga and Sunan Bonang.
circumcision, wedding, or other rite of passage
troupe, but hired
basket in the
particular dialect of Javanese (Cirebon Javanese),
Continued literary interest in wayang kulit and its
ensure good attendance and sizable donations of
separately by the host.
background is where
a shared historical tradition revolving around an
stories is apparent from Serat Kandha (Book of
raw rice and cash from guests. Performances for
There is, in fact,
parts of the royal
Islamic sultanate founded in the 15th century and
Tales) texts, combining wayang kulit mythology
communal events are necessitated by local
gamelan are stored.
existing to date, and distinctive customs and
with tales of the Islamic prophets and local
tradition. Hiring a troupe costs approximately £50
q Continued overleaf

not one ‘Cirebonese
performing equipment, including the sound
wayang kulit’, but
system and the diesel generator which powers it.
many local styles,
The panggung is normally rented by a host from
WAYANG KULIT IN CIREBON
centred in particular
a local service and is erected well before a
villages or regions. troupe’s arrival.
Part 2 - Plays in performance
The vast majority of
Setting up for the troupe takes about two
Cirebon’s puppeteers
hours. Along one side of the panggung, bamboo
by Matthew Isaac Cohen
are from puppeteer
battens are lashed rectangularly to form a frame
families, and skills for the white cotton screen. Banana logs are
Lecturer, Theatre Studies, University of Glasgow
and equipment are
arrayed horizontally in two adjacent rows about
transmitted generationally. One of the most
18 inches above the planks of the panggung.
A night-time
famous styles today is the Gegesik style,
Simultaneously, the gamelan instruments are
Plays, with extemporised dialogue in Cirebon well. Song requests
Javanese and Indonesian, are, as in most of
and social dancing
performance by a
associated with the agrarian town of Gegesik
unpacked and set up on the panggung. The
the rest of Java, based largely on the characters
normally peter out
Gegesik troupe in a
(population c. 20,000). This small town has 12
puppet chest is placed to the left of centre, the lid
and situations of the Mahabharata. Much less
around 2.00am or so.
communal hall in the
active professional troupes, including several of
taken off and placed to the right. Puppets in the
frequently, stories featuring Ramayana characters
The plot during the
town of Gegesik.
the most famous in Cirebon. Its musicians are
chest are taken out and arrayed along the left and
are performed, or stories featuring the
last hour progresses
Children of dhalang
renowned for their high degree of
right sides of the banana log in order of size,
descendents of Arjuna, a central protagonist of the
quickly, building
learn how to perform
professionalism.
leaving the central area blank except for a kayon,
Mahabharata. There is also an important set of
towards the final all-
from infancy; the son
Another well-known regional style is the
the spade-shaped ‘tree-of-life’ puppet icon. Some
stories featuring the ancestors of Divine Guru.
out violent confrontation. A non-canonical
Above
of puppeteer-musician
Southern style, associated with the southwestern
puppets are placed on top of the lid, a small
Some of these ‘old’ stories feature Islamic
carangan (branch) play always ends with
Arjuna and his wife,
Sudarso sits on his lap
part of the regency of Cirebon, in the vicinity of
number remain in the puppet chest. Arranged in
prophets, including Adam, Seth, Solomon and
unmaskings and transformations, as in a
the long-haired Dewi
as he plays
the industrial town of Palimanan. This style is
such a way, all puppets can be retrieved in an
Jesus.
Shakespearian comedy. A canonical galur play
Sumbadra, enjoy a
jengglong/kenong to
distinguished by the use of a gamelan tuned to the
instant by musicians or technical assistants at the
Most puppeteers today own commonplace
ends with a formulaic statement that all endings
moment of intimacy
accompany his elder
heptatonic (pelog) scale; nearly all other wayang
dhalang’s request during a performance.
books in which they write down story outlines.
are arbitrary and that the history of a certain
sleeping on their ‘bed’
brother, also a
kulit styles use the pentatonic (prawa) tuning
Microphones are placed inside or adjacent to
Some also own published plays from Central Java
character or kingdom is much longer than can be
(pegulingan) -
puppeteer. In Gegesik
exclusively. Southern puppeteers frequently
the musical instruments and the sound checked.
or comic book adaptations of wayang kulit stories.
depicted in a single night. Before the dhalang can
represented by the
style wayang the
perform Islamic plays, such as Semar Lunga Kaji,
Before night-time shows, the white cotton screen
But, until recently, stories were transmitted
recite customary words, blessing the audience and
kayon.
kenong and jengglong
in which the clown-servant Semar tries to make
is stretched tightly along the bamboo frame with
entirely orally and dhalang are still renowned for
sponsor, before the final musical piece rounding
are usually played by
the pilgrimage to Mecca, but is opposed by his
cord, and spiked into the banana logs; the light
their phenomenal memories.
off the show is played by the gamelan, the
the same person.
Hindu brother, Divine Guru (Shiva to South
source (traditionally an oil lamp, more frequently
Performance structure is flexible. Performances
audience is already dispersing and the vocalist
Asians). Villages tend to have preferences for
today an electric light bulb) is suspended screen-
always begin with an instrumental musical
counting her ‘tips’ and dividing a portion of her
certain regional styles over others.
centre by metal chains. (No screen or light is used
overture. Night-time shows are preceded by a
take among the musicians. No applause, no
for daytime shows.) The light is placed so that it
battle demonstration performed by a musician or
curtain calls, no bows.
Equipment
hovers above the head of the dhalang. It must be
junior puppeteer from the audience. The play
A night-time
A set of puppets numbers typically between 130
able to swing back and forth and rotate during
proper opens with an audience scene with a king
Appeal
performance by the
and 200. Puppets are made out of carved and
performances. Cirebonese puppeteers place
or queen, or a hermitage scene with a holy man.
Wayang kulit in Cirebon is a multi-dimensional art
Gegesik dhalang
perforated dried buffalo hide, painted on both
enormous stress on shadow effects and use the
A highly formulaic narration is recited and mood
that is simultaneously classical and popular. Its
Basari of the classic
sides, and braced by a central support rod made
light in various subtle and creative ways. A
songs sung. Ceremonial exchanges of greetings
combination of rough humour, high theatrics,
play, Arjuna Sasrabau.
from painted rattan or (less commonly) buffalo
dhalang goes to great lengths to ensure that the
are pronounced. An issue arises - a missing
Islamic philosophising, light music, and social
Somantri (left) is
horn. Puppet carving and painting tends to be
shadow of his hand is not visible as he
heirloom, an overly insistent suitor, a portentous
dancing appeal to a broad spectrum of people in
challenging his lord
more expressive in Cirebon than in Surakarta and
manipulates puppets before the screen.
dream, a mysterious plague. A guest arrives,
Cirebonese rural society. Spectators are familiar
A drunken spectator
and king Arjuna
Yogyakarta, though with less attention to fine
Performance spaces differ considerably; not all
sometimes an unwelcome one, and a fight breaks
with Java’s other puppet forms from television and
(standing) requests a
Sasrabau (right) to a
details. Cirebonese puppets tend to be more
panggung are the same size and trees and
out. The play proceeds in like fashion for the rest
radio broadcasts and Cirebonese puppeteers
song from a bemused
duel of chariots,
durable than those currently produced elsewhere
overhangs from buildings constrain the physical
of the night, alternating dialogue with battle. Some
occasionally imitate puppet acrobatics, jokes, or
vocalist, who covers
demanding the
in Java; one can find puppets in many sets dating
setup in certain ways. This means that the
scenes emphasise courtly protocol and diplomatic
stories from these media.
her mouth to hide her
puppeteer’s
back 50 or even 150 years. Few puppeteers are
arrangement of the equipment must be flexible.
intrigue; others, mystical philosophy, romance, or
During the colonial period, many among
laughter. Note the
simultaneous
themselves carvers, but most spend long hours
Many puppeteers carry bamboo battens and
rough humour. Dialogue and battle are introduced
Cirebon’s bureaucratic elite were from central Java
presence of a seeing-
manipulation of four
painting and doing minor repairs on the puppets
screens of different sizes to accommodate
by mood songs, which also serve to change the
and sponsored performances of central Javanese
impaired violinist, who
puppets. Note the
they own.
unknown performance conditions. Small spaces
musical mode of the gamelan (up to five musical
wayang kulit troupes in conjunction with
doubles as the group’s
improvised
Performances for communal events take mean that puppets not in use might be draped
modes may be used in a performance).
celebrations. Today, many are from the Sundanese
suling player.
electrification of the
place in a variety of settings, including cemetery
over strings instead of arrayed in banana logs, or
Audience members send cash and song
highlands, and may
oil lamp.
pavilions and open-air reception areas of town
that some musicians will be playing on a patio or
requests to the vocalist for the latest popular
occasionally sponsor
halls. Performances for
on an extension of the stage instead of on the
Cirebonese songs with titles like ‘Bumping’ and
Sundanese
wayang
private functions take
panggung proper. A downpour of rain means that
‘Too Much in Love’, and also request that their
golek
(rod puppet
place on panggung,
the speakers and puppets have to be covered with
names be cited in song by her. These songs
theatre). Cirebon also
temporary stages
plastic sheets. All of this is normal, and expected
interrupt the play frequently. While the song is
has its tradition of
elevated about four
by the troupe.
being sung, the dhalang may choose to sit silently
wayang golek, known
feet above the ground
in front of the screen, smoking a cigarette, or he
as wayang golek cepak
and covered with a
The second part of this article will appear in
may use the songs as background music for a
or wayang golek papak,
tarp. Troupes generally
the March issue.
battle scene. Male audience members, many of
in which plays from
arrive in the morning
whom are intoxicated, stand up and dance during
Islamic history and
in a truck which is also
Photographs: Matthew Isaac Cohen and
these songs. Some of them have brought female
local legend are
used to transport the
Aviva Kartiningsih Cohen
escorts with them and insist that they dance as
enacted. (Sundanese

rod puppet theatre
caustic remarks about one and all. Bagal Buntung,
dialect of Javanese is the Javanese taught in
Claire Holt and Helena Leodiman, studied dance
draws its stories from
who lacks one leg, delights in physical cruelty and
schools and published in books and magazines.
in Surakarta and Yogyakarta from noble dance
the Mahabharata and
practical jokes. Gareng speaks for youth; though
Cirebon Javanese, on the other hand, is limited
masters such as Tejokusumo. Around the same
Ramayana). But none
small in stature and with a body twisted in knots,
mostly to one stretch of Java’s coast, with a few
time, Jaap Kunst, considered by some to be the
of these enjoy a fraction
he never fears harm, even when he should.
pockets of migrant speakers elsewhere in Java and
father of modern ethnomusicology, initiated a
of the popularity of
Cungkring is always curious, sticking his nose into
Sumatra. Within this language area, there are
programme for teaching gamelan to foreigners in
Cirebon’s own wayang
matters that don’t concern him and questing for
numerous sub-dialects, for little effort has been
the Netherlands that was later widely imitated in
kulit.
mystical knowledge beyond his comprehension.
made to standardise Cirebon Javanese. This means
the United States. Devoted American students of
I have often asked
Curis is the butt of everyone’s joke, the last to
that Surakarta’s puppeteers speak a tongue
wayang kulit, including Roger Long and
Cirebonese spectators
catch on, but (like Semar) a god in disguise.
linguistically accessible to a large number of
Marc Hoffman, were
why they attend
Rotund Semar himself is a bundle of
Javanese, while Cirebon’s are more closely
attracted, beginning in
The quick-to-anger
wayang kulit performances. Everyone seems to
contradictions: god and servant, old and young,
associated with particular locales.
the 1960s and 1970s;
Baladewa (left)
have their own particular constellation of reasons.
wise and foolish. He accompanies, serves,
Another factor is Indonesian national aesthetics.
other nationalities
castigates his brother
The language used by puppeteers is readily
counsels, and defends his masters, the Pendhawa
The wayang kulit varieties of Surakarta and
followed. There are
Kresna (right) for
accessible to spectators, far more so than in Java’s
brothers (and their ancestors and descendents
Yogyakarta are heavily inflected by long
clear incentives for
failing to consult him
other shadow puppet theatres. Puppeteers make it
before and after them), through thick and thin.
association with the royal courts, which ran
foreign artists to study
about the upcoming
a point to gloss ‘difficult’ words and provide
Semar is not a trickster, as has sometimes been
training programmes for puppeteers and were
in Surakarta and
marriage of Kresna’s
thorough explanations of concepts in order to
suggested, but an ambulatory trick; the
active sponsors. This gives wayang kulit of south
Yogyakarta, including
daughter in the classic
communicate effectively with audiences. At every
incarnation of the droll god Munged (also known
central Java a classical aesthetic. Stories, which are
w e l l - e s t a b l i s h e d
galur play, Parta
performance, there is at least a handful of
as Ismaya), older brother of Divine Guru. In the
always in three acts, develop at a snail’s pace, with
training institutions,
Krama, The Marriage
spectators genuinely interested in following the
middle world of humans, his presence never fails
many scenes that are extrinsic to the basic plot;
text-books, and experienced teachers.
The clown servant
of Arjuna. A fight will
story as it unfolds. They will sit in relative silence
to foul up the most dastardly of schemes launched
language is archaic, flowery, and obscure; puppets
The performing arts of Cirebon, in contrast, are
Duwala (right) squares
shortly break out
from early in the evening until late at night,
against his masters.
are intricately carved but not easily distinguishable
not oriented towards teaching non-natives. Only a
off against a
between Baladewa
generally watching from the shadow side of the
The best puppeteers are able to weave stories
from one another from far distances; musical
handful of foreign students have seriously studied
ponggawa (bold
and the commander of
screen. Such devotees often talk of an interest in
that feature elements of interest to all. They allude
pieces are complexly stratified and highly
Cirebonese performance of any sort. Most of these
knight) in a 1994
Kresna’s armed forces
‘history’ (or what we would call mythology). Many
to contemporary politics, discourse on mysticism
polyphonic, but not very lively on the whole.
have been dance students interested in Cirebon’s
performance by the
Padmanegara (also
more enjoy the social ambience of performances:
or types of women, stage dramatic battles fought
Such an aesthetic suited the dominant ideology
distinctive topeng (mask-dance); as far as I know,
puppeteer Artadaya.
known as Secaki) who
the food stalls, drinking, and relaxed socialising.
over agonistic high ideals, and improvise
of the Soeharto period (1966-1998), when genuine
I am the first foreigner to pursue practical studies
Note the careful
is seated here
Others speak of their love of music or sexual
pornographic jokes at the spur of the moment.
political activity was banned and replaced instead
in Cirebonese wayang kulit. This means that
placement of the
respectfully behind
attraction to a singer. Children, in particular, enjoy
Well-trained vocalists can do all the latest popular
by the five principles of monotheism, just and
Cirebonese performance, and particularly wayang
shadows in this battle
his king.
the excitement of shows: the pounding rhythms of
Cirebonese songs and can sing in the regional
civilised humanity, national unity, deliberation
kulit, has far fewer backers for tours abroad,
scene.
The puppeteer is
the gamelan, the quick-paced battles.
styles of Sunda, Central Java, and Betawi, as well
instead of voting, and social justice, known
international recording projects, and the like, in
Grami and this 1993
Nearly everyone delights in the comedy of the
as in the national pop dangdut style.
collectively as the state ideology of Pancasila.
comparison with the arts of central Java.
performance is at the
clown-servants (panakawan, wulucumbu). There
Singers also know all the prominent spectators
Indeed, the idealised ordered and prosperous
Other factors can be identified as well,
house of Elang Djoni,
are nine main clowns in Cirebon’s wayang kulit:
by name, and flirt with many in the course of the
kingdom ruled by a just king described in the
including quirks of the recording industry, an
a high-ranking
Semar, his seven children and grandchildren
night. The tireless musicians, performing day and
dhalang’s opening narration (which can take
affinity between hippie and new-age philosophy
member of the royal
(Bagal Buntung, Bagong, Bitarota, Ceblok,
night, maintain a high level of energy to ensure
nearly an hour in central Java!) is precisely the
with central Javanese theosophy, the relatively
house of Kanoman,
Cungkring, Duwala, Gareng), and Semar’s brother-
the creation and projection of the appropriate
image activated by President Soeharto to represent
low number of high-placed government officials
dance instructor and
in-law, Curis (also known as Sekar Pandan). Some
ramé (lively) atmosphere. They sing, play their
his own regime. Cirebon’s wayang kulit, always
of rural Cirebonese descent, the low formal
a devotee of
plays feature only a subset of three or four of the
instruments with gusto, shout response cries to
oriented towards the contingencies of the
education of most Cirebonese performers, and the
Cirobenese art.
clowns, but a scene set in Karang Tumaritis, the
and zany comments on the dhalang’s dialogue,
performative moment, rowdy, unpredictable, and
location of Cirebon in West Java, a province which
hamlet where Semar is headman, will involve the
sometimes put on masks and dance, and are
highly oriented to the clowns, is antithetical to
is dominated by ethnic Sundanese.
whole lot, plus typically Sudiragen, Semar’s
constantly clowning it up for the audience -
such a project.
There are signs that the cultural domination of
devoted wife.
insulting each other and hitting each other on the
The fame enjoyed by the wayang kulit of
central Java is ending now, as Indonesia enters a
The clown-servants are readily distinguishable
head with their mallets. The total art is live and
Surakarta and Yogyakarta outside Indonesia is
new democratic era. We shall see if this political
Kresna (left) and
by their voices and deformities to all devotees,
immediate. Spectators don’t just sit and watch,
related as well to the large numbers of foreigners
shift potentiates increased visibility of ‘minority’
Semar (right)
and are commonly the central characters in
they approach the stage to request songs, ask a
who have engaged in practical study of the
art forms like Cirebon’s wayang kulit on national
discourse in a 1993
‘branch’ stories, clowning it up from the first scene
musician or the dhalang a question, and flirt with
performing arts of these court centres. Interest
and international stages. s
performance by the
to the last. Each has his own special proclivities.
the vocalist or the drummer (a virtuostic musician
dates back at least to the late colonial period,
puppeteer
The dwarfish Bagong usually speaks in
who is commonly a sex object for female
when a number of Europeans, including Photographs: Matthew Isaac Cohen
Darmabhakti.
Sundanese (barely understood by anyone else),
spectators). The atmosphere is intimate, and
while bent-armed
directly relevant and responsive to local concerns,
Duwala (sometimes
interests, and passions.
understood to be
Selected bibliography
Chinese) speaks in
Locality
highfalutin’ Indonesian.
The reasons why Cirebonese wayang kulit is
Basari (1998). Demon Abduction: A Wayang Ritual
Cohen, M. I. (1997). An Inheritance from the Friends
The pot-bellied Ceblok
relatively obscure outside of Cirebon are related to
Drama from West Java.
of God: The Southern Shadow Puppet Theater of
plays the cowardly lion,
why it is so popular in this area of Java. One
Edited and translated by M. I. Cohen.
West Java, Indonesia.
aggressive and angry
important factor is language. The dialect of
Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation.
Doctoral dissertation
but always first to run
Javanese originally associated with the court city
Cohen, M. I. (2000). The big man and the
Yale University. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI.
at the first sign of Surakarta spread throughout much of central
puppeteer: a transcultural morality tale from West
Wright, M. R. (1978). The music culture of Cirebon.
of danger. Hobbling
and eastern Java as ‘normative’ Javanese
Java, Indonesia.
Doctoral dissertation, University of
Bitarota mumbles
beginning in the colonial period. Surakarta’s
Puppetry Yearbook 4: 103-156.
California at Los Angeles. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI.

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