In an attempt to immerse myself a little more in Javanese culture, which I find a tad… dull, on Saturday night I attended my first proper, Javanese wayang performance. Technically, I had seen such a show in Kalimantan, but was informed by many a person that wasn’t a real one, for being outside of Java and all.
Javanese attire, it’s a step above shorts and a t-shirt.
The first thing I noticed, this wasnt a wayang kulit, probably the best known kind. I was expecting a shadow play, with the characters projected onto the screen, the dalang (puppet master) and gamelan orchestra hidden from view, and the audience in front. However, this was actually a wayang kelitik. The performers had their backs to the audience, and the flat, wooden puppets manipulated by the dalang were visable, not just shadows.
You’ll be sure to see me rocking one of these headpieces around Adelaide later this year.
The theme of the night was “dosenku, dalangku”, the idea being that various lecturers from UGM would be performing the puppet master role, manipulating the figures and narrating the story. After I arrived an hour late, the second story had just started, with a lecturer from Fakultas Teknik Mesin ndalang.
Wayang, in all its time-consuming glory.
I assumed that wayang performances generally depict stories from Hindu epics, but in this case, the story was about a deer who wants to be a tiger, is attacked by cigarettes and a bra, amongst other things, and eventually dies trapped in the skeleton of the tiger, having fallen in while mocking the corpse. It was pretty good, punctuated by bits of pop culture, and everyone seemed to get into it. One thing I didn’t realise going in was that it would be in Javanese, though it seems obvious in hindsight. Luckily, I was with Yoesman, probably the most fluent Javanese speaker I know, so I did get the story translated as it was going along. My Javanese is not quite at the level to appreciate this… yet.
While others are given but one drum to beat, this poor fellow was burdened with more than just a handful.
Before the next performance, there was a speech by current Minister of Education, Bambang Soedibyo, thankfully in Indonesian, about keeping the culture alive with the use of technology. Technically, ol’ Bambang and I are neighbours; he lives on my street, when he isn’t living the sweet life of a rich male in Jakarta. The closest I’ve come to him is asking permission of his guards to continue driving as I whip past by bike (so Javanese).
One of Bambang’s minions, puckering up to kiss his ring… I’m hoping.
Next, a dosen from Fakultas Ilmu Budaya, my nominal former faculty, stepped up to the plate. This show was everything I dislike about Javanese culture. First, he spoke in krama inggil, the highest level of Javanese, used mainly in the Sultan’s palace. As a result, few in the audience, including my translator, could understand without difficulty. Second, he decided to depict some obscure aspect of a Hindu epic, with a meeting of the Gods about some unknown problem. Third, for the first THIRTY minutes, the half dozen characters just sat there, their arms slightly moving to indicate the speaker. Finally, while the first play used the gamelan music to good effect, this one just went back and forth from a loud mess of competing gongs to absolute silence, to the point where I actually saw one of the musicians fall asleep at his sitar.
The long-haired gentleman below the big red drum buckled in the middle and nodded off more than a couple of times.
At this point, the audience, previously hitting about 250 at peak, was reduced to about 75 or less, mainly older Javanese men, donning Batik and Peci. It was kind of a shame really, UGM obviously went to a lot of trouble to put this shindig on, with free drinks (including ginger tea, awesome), bananas, and peanuts. The gamelan set and stage was impressive, with hundreds of gongs and puppets, various Javanese instruments, and a choir of elaborately dressed women. That it could draw so few attendees makes me think that Pak Soedibyo had a point indeed.
Considering how long she had been sitting there essentially motionless, and with the prospect of many more hours to come, this women was amazingly cheerful.