Music and Politics via Raja KirikBy Gunawan Maryanto, 2018-2020
This is the story of Jaka Umbaran. I don’t know if that's his real name or just a nickname. After all, Jaka means »young man« and Umbaran means »having the will to travel as much as one desires,« such that Jaka Umbaran is a name for a young man who isn’t particularly worldly and who seeks to get to know the way of the world through travelling and seeing what he is capable of. On his travels, he met Kebo Marcuet, the ruler of Blambangan (1). Kebo Marcuet was a renowned martial artist who was running amok trying to obtain the prize that he had been promised for his services to the Majapahit Kingdom (2). No one was capable of defeating him. »Kebo Marcuet« was probably also just a nickname that was used to make fun of him, as Kebo is the word for »water buffalo« and was used to refer to his stupidity, while Marcuet means »disappointed.«
The queen, known as Sang Ratu Kencana Wungu, felt threatened by Kebo Marcuet. So, she held a contest: whoever was capable of defeating him could marry her and become the Adipati (duke) of Blambangan. Jaka Umbaran was among those who challenged Kebo Marcuet. They fought for days on end until Kebo Marcuet was killed. His body was thrown into the Brantas River. Jaka Umbaran had won, even though he emerged battered and bruised. He immediately became the Adipati of Blambangan and was given the title, Menak Jingga: »The Noble with the Red Face.«
But just as with Kebo Marcuet, Menak Jingga also went into a rage as queen Kencana Wungu went back on her promise. She didn’t want to marry Menak Jingga, who had been beaten up beyond recognition. Jingga started to run amok and no one in Majapahit was capable of defeating him. And so the story repeated itself. Kencana Wungu held another contest.
I have vague memories of this story from my childhood, when I often used to watch ketoprak performances (3). I secretly admired Menak Jingga, even though he was framed as the antagonist. Despite the fact that his story ends tragically, he was a hero of mine as he fought to stand up for what he had been promised. It was only later that I came to know that the story was introduced in Mataram mythology in order to destroy the image of the people of Blambangan. Blambangan is represented by Kebo Marcuet and Menak Jingga, who have their hopes set on the impossible. Blambangan is a greedy dog that is never satisfied. Blambangan is a group of people with magical powers who are cruel and fearless. But rather than suffer defeat, what happened to these people was the opposite. Blambangan is a wealthy region that has been continuously fought over. The Majapahit Kingdom fought against the Balinese to conquer it. The Mataram Kingdom (4) and the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) also tried to take control of it. But Blambangan was never conquered, even though it suffered heavy losses – just like Menak Jingga.
I secretly admired Menak Jingga, even though he was framed as the antagonist. Despite the fact that his story ends tragically, he was a hero of mine as he fought to stand up for what he had been promised. It was only later that I came to know that the story was introduced in Mataram mythology in order to destroy the image of the people of Blambangan.
Ketoprak Damar Wulan performance recounting the story of Menak Jingga.
The artist Yennu Ariendra, born in Banyuwangi, has recently started to investigate various aspects of the region’s history and culture. I don’t know exactly when he started to explore these traditions and musics. My own engagement with the region, and that of Yogyakarta-based performance collective Teater Garasi’s, started in 2002 when we stayed in the village of Desa Kemiren to work on the theatre piece, Waktu Batu (Stone Time.) There, I learned a lot from my meeting with Gandrung Temu, one of the maestros of gandrung banyuwangi. Gandrung is not just a form of social dance, but rather it’s an important part of the identity of the Osing people, who are the indigenous people of Banyuwangi. Gandrung Lanang, the starting point of gandrung, was initiated by Mas Alit (the first Bupati (regent) of Banyuwangi), as a means by which to gather the people of Blambangan who had become dispersed after the war. As an art form, gandrung continues to develop. After gandrung lanang came a new incarnation, gandrung marsan, which itself was followed by a form with the first generation of female gandrung dancers, known as gandrung semi.
Gandrung dance performed by the Osing Folk Theatre in Banyuwangi.
As far as I know, as we are both resident artists of Teater Garasi, Yennu started to explore the traditions and art practices of Banyuwangi since we began working on the theatre piece, Yang Fana adalah Waktu. Kita Abadi (2015) (Time is Fleeting. We’re Eternal). At that time, Yennu was researching a history of violence based on his family’s experiences. He also started to trace this history through the songs which are usually sung in gandrung performances and by kendang kempul ensembles (5). These findings were adapted and refined in the process of creating the musical theatre piece, Menara Ingatan (Tower of Memories), which he developed throughout 2016–17.
Yennu Ariendra’s theatre piece, Menara Ingatan, performed in Jakarta.
»I started the creative process of Menara Ingatan when I thought of my grandfather, who was a victim of the 1965 tragedy (6). If I’m not mistaken, he was taken away by the army in 1968. He never returned home. One of his business rivals had spread the rumor that he was a member of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Communist Party of Indonesia). This story led me to think about several darker stories from the region in which I was born, Banyuwangi. These also include the petrus, or »mysterious killings« of the 1980s, and the killings of witch doctors and rumors of ninjas in the late 1990s.
»When I started to arrange and adapt these issues, I encountered gandrung once more. It is an art form that I have been interested in for a long time. This led me to study the history of Blambangan’s resistance, which in the 14th century had refused to bow to the authority of the Majapahit, Balinese, and Mataram kingdoms, and later also to the Dutch VOC. I read how the Osing people, who in a »perang puputan« (fight to the death) against the Dutch and the Mataram kingdoms, had lost 80% of their population. The Osing are a people who reject the authority of those who seek to conquer them,« stated Yennu during a showing of his aforementioned piece.
In Menara Ingatan, Yennu appropriates the structure of a gandrung performance to tell the story of violence in Banyuwangi from the Majapahit era until today. Yennu regards gandrung banyuwangi as a cultural tactic – it is said that gandrung was also used as a means of communication during eras of resistance. And Yennu doesn’t stop there. Together with artist J Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi, he reappraises Banyuwangi and has created a project named Raja Kirik. In contrast to Yennu’s Menara Ingatan, which was a vehicle for introducing Banyuwangi and its long history, Raja Kirik only relies on the performance of jaranan buto and the figure of Menak Jingga. While the compositions of Menara Ingatan lay out a long musical journey in the dramatic structure of gandrung banyuwangi, Raja Kirik is a wordless monologue by Menak Jingga, packaged in the style of jaranan buto.
Jaranan buto performance in Banyuwangi.
Jaranan buto is a form of the kuda lumping dance (also known as jathilan) which is found throughout Java. In Central and Eastern Java, the head resembles that of a horse (kuda), while in other areas it is more like a wild boar (celeng). In jaranan buto, the head of the kuda lumping is that of a giant. The representation of the giant (buto) is only found in the barongan (8), and not in the kuda lumping, and is the prop of the main performance. The jaranan buto dancers also wear costumes and are dressed up to match the giant which they are riding. Jaranan buto appears as a hybrid of the artforms barong bali, jaranan senterewe, and reog ponorogo, containing grander gestures and greater energy and intensity. For me, it is not too clear when a dancer is still conscious or is in a trance, as the music is loud and fast from the very beginning, and the dancers are already in a wild state the moment they enter the arena.
Jaranan buto was introduced to Banyuwangi in 1963 by Setro Asnawi, a newcomer from the Trenggalek regency in East Java. It is still practiced to this day. In contrast to other kuda lumping dances, which draw on narratives from the cerita panji (Panji tales) canon – classical Javanese-era tales, such as the love stories of Prince Panji Asmarabangun and his beloved Dewi Sekartaji – jaranan buto draws on the story of Menak Jingga.
Jaranan buto first emerged in the village of Cemetuk, where many Mataram Javanese lived side-by-side with the Osing peoples. As such, jaranan buto is a mixture of jathilan Mataram and Osing Banyuwangi traditions. As a peninsula and port, Banyuwangi has long been a meeting place for many different cultures. The mix of Mataram and Banyuwangi cultural forms has occurred in other artistic practices outside of music and dance as well, and interactions with Madurese and Balinese cultures have likewise produced other art forms unique to Banyuwangi.
About the Osing PeopleThe Osing (sometimes spelled Using) people have been shaped by a long history of violence. Their land has been sought after by the large kingdoms of Java, Bali, and Madura. The Dutch colonial government, via the VOC, also sought to control it. As such, Osing culture has developed as a strategy to withstand pressure and oppression. Banyuwangi is a strategic location for establishing trade connections with Eastern Nusantara (9), and also has fertile soil. The Osing people, in their struggle to survive, are people who interpret, absorb, and imitate other cultures to strengthen their own. Mixed cultural forms propagate new hybrids which continue to evolve into the present day.
The word Osing means »no« (»tidak« in Bahasa Indonesia), and is an expression of their difference from other Javanese societies. The Dutch scholar C. Lekkerkerker has stated that the Osing we know today are the descendents of the indigenous peoples of Banyuwangi who survived the wars of the Dutch colonial era. After the Perang Bayu, a war of resistance against the Dutch that annihilated Blambangan, the Osing people endured a long period of suffering. They were marginalised on their own land. Asserting Osing identity was a tactic to establish solidarity by marking themselves different from the Balinese, Mataram Javanese, Madurese, and Dutch who had previously attacked them (see Scholte 1927: 146). The character, language, and traditions of the Osing greatly diverge from other Javanese cultures. For example, kawin lari (elopement) is still a part of their tradition. They are known for their integrity, honesty, stubbornness, and their reluctance to work as household servants for Europeans (Lekkerkerker 2005; 78).
The history of the Blambangan region is tragic. Its population diminished over time given continued attacks by more powerful forces including the Mataram kingdom, the Balinese, the Bugis, and Makassarese, as well as the Chinese and finally the Dutch VOC. But the spirit of the Blambangan people has never been erased and their present-day descendants hold steadfast to their traditions while also accepting new and other cultures.
The word Osing means »no« (»tidak« in Bahasa Indonesia), and is an expression of their difference from other Javanese societies.
The above outline serves as an entry point for Yennu Ariendra and J Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi’s Dunia Raja Kirik (The World of Raja Kirik). The Osing people have continued to endure violence during the post-independence era, for example the »flood of blood« in 1995 and the killings of dukun santet (witch doctors) in the lead-up to the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998.
Raja Kirik: The album
Titled after their project, the album, Raja Kirik, is a part of a broader art project, Image of the Giant (War on Narratives). In this project, Yennu Ariendra collaborates with J Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi and continues to explore the history of violence present also in his earlier work, Menara Ingatan. The two artists adapt jaranan buto and the story of Menak Jingga as starting points for their creation. They also studied the gedruk merapi of Klaten, and jathilan from Bantul, Yogyakarta, and Purworejo.
Many experts regard cavalry training as the main source of the origins of jathilan, and many variations have emerged in accordance with regional cavalry differences. Jathilan narratives are also informed by regionally specific folk stories, however they all move towards the same conclusion: chaos and insanity.
Jathilan, like jaranan buto, is a popular art form. It didn’t emerge from the kraton (royal palace) or from a center of authority, but rather from the margins, and is an imperfect imitation of refined Javanese Kraton art forms. Jathilan is a dance form which represents horse-riding. Jaranan buto is the same. Both are dance forms that depart from an imitation of cavalry training, evoking rows of muscular soldiers who are riding horses. Many experts regard cavalry training as the main source of the origins of jathilan, and many variations have emerged in accordance with regional cavalry differences. Jathilan narratives are also informed by regionally specific folk stories, however they all move towards the same conclusion: chaos and insanity.
For some Javanese, ndadi, or »being in a trance,« is an attempt to engage in a dialogue with one’s ancestors or the past. The ancestors become present once more through the dancers’ bodies.
Apart from jathilan, Mo’ong also draws on the arts of gedruk merapi. Gedruk, or foot stamping, is a kind of folk dance form that has recently become popular in villages at the base of central Java’s Mount Merapi. It’s a mix of numerous folk dances, iconic modern figures, and cultural influences from all over the world. For example, performers wear costumes in the style of indigenous Americans. There is a kind of randomness, deliberate or not, that creates a very interesting new art form. Gedruk, like jathilan and jaranan buto, is a tactic for staying cheerful and for asserting identity. It is a kind of entry point that is similar in motivation to Yennu Ariendra’s interest in jaranan buto. It is from this that Raja Kirik is born.
Through the absence of lyrics, listeners are able to appreciate Raja Kirik as music or sound. Without explicitly stating the history of violence in Banyuwangi in verse, I was enveloped in cruel atmospheres and violent colors without having to understand the region’s history and traditions.
Raja Kirik performing at Nusasonic Yogyakarta, 2018.
The opening track, »O Sing,« a play on the word »osing,« introduces the listener to the world of war and the military that is jaranan. Metallic sounds predominate as if they are guiding soldiers into an arena. In jaranan performances, there is the sabet, where dancers enter the arena and dance in formation to introduce the main characters. »O Sing« serves the same function.
For me, Raja Kirik can be anyone: those who are marginalised, neglected, or disavowed.
I’m not interested in closing this essay with an interpretation of Raja Kirik. For me, Raja Kirik can be anyone: those who are marginalised, neglected, or disavowed.
(1) Blambangan is the region now known as the district of Banyuwangi. A major port on the Bali Strait, opposite Bali just to the east, Banyuwangi is located about 120 miles southeast of Surabaya, the capital of East Java.
(2) The Majapahit Kingdom existed from 1293 to circa 1517.
(3) Ketoprak is a form of Javanese popular theatre.
(4) Mataram, a large kingdom in Java that lasted from the late 16th century, until the 18th century, when the Dutch came to power in Indonesia. Mataram was originally a vassal of Pajang, but it became powerful under Senapati (later known as Adiwijoyo), who defeated Pajang and became the first king of Mataram. Senapati attempted to unite eastern and central Java without much success. (Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 1 January 2015.)
(5) Kendang kempul is ethnic music from Banyuwangi. It developed in the 1920s with the emergence of songs created to accompany the gandrung dance.
(6) The 1965–66 bloodbath was triggered by the murders of six generals and other officers on the night of Sept. 30, 1965 and in the early hours of Oct. 1. General Suharto put the blame on the Indonesian Communist Party, better known as the PKI. Helped by Muslim organizations and paramilitary groups, the Indonesian army led a massive witch hunt targeting PKI members and sympathizers, suspected communists and leftists, as well as ethnic Chinese. In many places in Indonesia, outside the city of Jakarta, the process of killing and capturing people who were thought to be involved with the Indonesian Communist Party continued for several years afterwards. Including Banyuwangi.
(7) Javanese trance dance performances have different names in different locations, among which the most common are jathilan, kuda kepang, and kuda lumping in Central Java, and jaranan in East Java. Both words – »jaran« in Javanese and »kuda« in Indonesian – mean horse, and refer to the flat hobby horses (generally made of woven bamboo) that are an essential part of the performances. Kuda lumping is performed in traditional village ceremonies for periods of transition: birth, circumcision, marriage, housewarming, and death. In the performance, dancers act out riding flat effigies of horses and fight each other, with some going into trance, possessed by the spirit of the horses.
(8) Barong is a character in Balinese mythology, known as Barongan on Java. Barong/Barongan is the king of the spirits, and also the symbol of good. The name Barong comes from the word of »bahruang« meaning bear, a mythological animal which has magical power and is considered as a protector.
(9) Nusantara is the Indonesian/Malay name of Maritime Southeast Asia (or parts of it). It is an Old Javanese term which literally means »outer islands.« In Indonesia, it is generally taken to mean the Indonesian archipelago, while in Malaysia the term has been adopted to mean the Malay archipelago. In 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (1879–1950), also known as Setiabudi, proposed Nusantara as a name for the independent country of Indonesia which did not contain any words
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