Indonesian Culture – The wealth and variety of Indonesia’s traditional arts and crafts are incredible. The artistry and creativity of Bali’s artisans are well known. In no way inferior to those of Bali, however, are the wood carvings of Jepara and West Sumatra, the traditional “ikat” textiles of East Nusa Tenggara, or the Batik cloths of Surakarta (Solo), Yogyakarta, Pekalongan, and Cirebon -to name just a few examples-. In many regions of Indonesia, artistry is part of the daily lives of the people. The simplest household utensils, usually made of plaited bamboo or rattan, are often artistically ornamented with a pattern that has been passed from generation to generation.
Again, musical expression in Indonesia is often thought to be identical to gamelan. The bamboo flute orchestras of Maluku and some other areas of eastern Indonesia, the Kolintang wooden xylophone ensemble of North Sulawesi and the Kroncong serenade music of Jakarta seldom come to mind. Angklung is a traditional musical instrument made of bamboo too, which is popular in a number of areas in Indonesia.
Some Indonesian cultures heritages are so rich and not found in other countries or places such as Gamelan, Angklung, Kroncong music, Keris, Wayang, Batik etc.
Gamelan is the music commonly associated with Java and Bali. However, while it is true that this particular kind of music has reached its highest levels of refinement on those two islands, gamelan orchestras in less elaborate forms are known almost throughout the entire Indonesia archipelago. The word gamelan is said to have been derived from Javanese expression “gamel”, which means “to beat”. The gamelan orchestra consists, with only a few exceptions, of xylophones of bronze of cropper bar suspended over bamboo or metal resonators.
The instruments are beaten with wooden mallets to produce layers of sound. A complete gamelan outfit consists of two sets of ensembles, each tuned to a different tone system. Ethnomusicologists have speculated that gamelan orchestra as it exists today may have developed from ancient “nekara” kettle drums which the oldest ancestors of the present-day Indonesians brought with them from the Asian mainland some two or three thousand years ago when they made their great migration from the Asian mainland.
The Gamelan orchestra of Java as it is known at present consists almost entirely of copper percussion instruments, plus a few drums, a flute, and one-stringed instrument. The name Gamelan, in fact, comes from the word “gamel”, which means mallet. Some scholars believe that the Gamelan has developed over many centuries from the “Nekara” or “Moko” kettledrums which the ancient Indonesian ancestors had brought from the Asian mainland. Initially used as signaling instruments during state events, more and more of the metal “drums” were needed as state protocol became more complicated. So, the Gamelan orchestra gradually evolved.
In the Javanese belief, the first complete gamelan set was called “lokananta”, which consisted of only five instruments: the big “Gong”, and the smaller, horizontally suspended “gongs”, “kemanak”, “ketuk”, and “kenong”, and a drum with buffalo leather heads, called “kendang”. Nowadays, a complete gamelan set consists of a least 25 different instruments. Teo different sets are known, each one tuned to a different tone system, slendro, and pelog.
The first, Gamelan slendro, is pentatonic and is believed to be the older. The second, the Gamelan Pelog, is septa tonic and is of a relatively more recent origin. Both sets are used in the Wayang Kulit puppets and the Wayang Wong shows. The Gamelan orchestra, in one form or another, probably already existed in as early as the 8th or 9th century A.D., which means at around the time when the great temples of Central Java were built. In its present form, however, the Javanese orchestra probably was not known until the 15th century, when the Hindu states of Java were already past their zenith and approaching the end of their existence.
Said to be Portuguese-inspired, the typical kroncong orchestra consists of a number of guitars, violin, a ukulele, a flute, and a small lute known as the kroncong guitar. It this the latter instrument with its jingling sound (kroncong means “jingle”) which has given the music its name.
The music has long been associated with TUGU, now a neighborhood in northern in Jakarta but formerly a village which up to the 19th century was inhabited exclusively by members of the Portuguese community of Jakarta.
The classic kroncong repertoire, including such highly popular pieces as Moresco and Kroncong Kemayoran, originated in Tugu.
As kroncong gained wider acceptance and popularity, the music became more and more infused with local influences. Some of the most popular modern pieces such as Bengawan Solo were written by the Javanese composer Gesang.
Angklung is a traditional musical instrument made of bamboo, which is popular in a number of areas in Indonesia. The tuned bamboo tubes are suspended vertically on a frame, made of the same material. The frames are shaken rather vigorously to produce the sound.
The word “Wayang” or “Wayangan” is presumably from Javanese expression for “shadow” (Indonesian: bayangan). The shadow or puppet plays of Java and Bali are called “WAYANG” because it is the puppets shadows which spectators seated on one side of the screen are watching. They are, however, actually various kinds of puppets, such as the ones carved out of leather, which is popular in Java and Bali, and three-dimensional wooden ones, which are favored in West Java.
Wayang or puppet shows traditionally last throughout the night, and the repertoire is always taken from the classic Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. The story is told by a “Dalang”, the puppeteer who manipulates the puppets while narrating the story. Java’s Leather wayang puppets differ from those of Bali in that the human characters are more stylized -a development attributed to Sunan Kalijogo, one of the Nine early Islamic leaders of Java.
The Sundanese, puppet art known as “Wayang Golek”. Unlike the Javanese, where puppets are made of leather, Sundanese puppets are made of wood that resembles dolls. “Wayang Wong” is the dance drama of Java, a theater which also derives its repertoire fro two Hindu epics, although the performers are dancers.
Although Islam forbids the description of human beings, the early leader and proselytizer of the faith apparently realized the wisdom of adapting the shadow play to his needs rather than forbidding it.
The best traditional Batik used to be made in the royal and princely courts of Java with superb artistry as well as lots of patience. It usually took months to finish a single cloth. Hand-painted Batik is very delicate, very beautiful and very valuable. First, the cloth is prepared. It is thoroughly washed and dipped in a thin starch solution. The fabric is dried and gently pounded with a wooden mallet. The outline of the pattern is then drawn in pencil on the cloth, then traced with was with a little-spouted container called a “Canting”. Then, in several stages, the details are filled in.
Finally, the colors are applied by dipping the cloth in solutions of natural dyes -one color at a time-. Each time in between the application of different colors, the waxing process is repeated to cover every single line or dot already dyed. The invention of stamped Batik considerably shortened the process, but at the price of quality. Surakarta (Solo), Yogyakarta, Pekalongan, Cirebon, Garut, Lasem are today among the best known modern centers of the art.
The Indonesian archipelago is one of the world’s richest storehouses of traditional textiles with a tradition of weaving that goes back thousands of years into history. Some of the most beautiful and highly artistic weaves are produced by simple village women throughout the country. Many of the traditional weaves were in the past attributed magical properties -and some case still is- and were used in the various rites related to the important milestones in the human life cycle, such as birth, adulthood, and the death.
Among the best known of Indonesia’s traditional textiles are the ikat cloths of a number of regions, the Batik of Java, the Songket or Suji textiles of Sumatra, Silk Sarongs from South Sulawesi and Kalimantan, the Ulos textiles of North Sumatra, and the Lurik handwoven of Yogyakarta and Surakarta.
The Silver craft
Kota Gede near Yogyakarta city, West Sumatra, and Kendari on the island of Sulawesi is that centers par excellence of Indonesia’s silver craft. From the hands of Kota Gede craftsmen comes the beautiful burnt silver objects and utensils that are on sale in most art shops in Java. West Sumatra, Bali and Kendari are known for their fine filigree work.
Keris or Kris
The Kris is a rather long kind of dagger with an either straight or wavy blade ornamented with patterns in a different metal or alloy.
Often attributed supernatural powers, the Kris is used more as a ceremonial object rather than a weapon.
The best Krises are handed down from generation to generation among the males of families as revered heirlooms and are never offered for sale.
Other traditional weapons with more or less the same traditional significance as that attributed to The Kris are The Rencong of Aceh, the Mandau of Kalimantan and The Badik of South Sulawesi. In the old days, Krises were forged by special smiths called “Empu”, who held in high esteem.
The Kris is a kind of dagger whose forging was in the past exclusive domain of the empu, a highly revered master craftsman. The Kris is not an ordinary weapon. More ceremonial than practical in nature, it is traditionally believed to be infested with supernatural powers, which could be either beneficial or disastrous to the owner or wearer. Ideally, therefore, a Kris should match and complement the personality of its owner.
The achievement of such a perfect match is an art which only a truly capable empu is believed to master, and is something that requires a thorough knowledge of the science of metallurgy as well as of the mystical powers of nature. Hence the empu’s exalted standing in society.
Collector even today place the highest value on ancient Krises, reputedly made by master craftsmen of the Majapahit, Mataram or Padjajaran periods, which are held to have produced the greatest Kris makers ever. There are two major types of Kris in terms of physical appearance: the straight-bladed and the way, with an undulating blade.
Some rare Kris blades have as many as 29 curves. Some blades are smooth and polished, others rough and dull. The alloys used have a bluish glow, others are reddish.
A typical feature of the Kris is the Pamor, ornamental pattern of different shapes that are found in the center at the base of the weapon’s blade, usually made of a kind of light-gray alloy or metal. Those patterns are believed to be associated with the weapon;s particular character, or “power”.
Forging a Kris is not a simple matter of shipping a metal alloy. The most propitious day and hour have to be selected. The precise number of curves for the blade must be determine, often through meditation and fasting.
The sheath, or “warangka”, is usually made of sandalwood or some other kind of fragrant or decorative wood variety. In the past, it also had to be tough because it was also used as a stick to fend off an adversary’s attacks. Two basic types of “warangka” are known: “ladrang”, and “gayaman” or “gandon”, the first curved and elegant, the second more blunt and rounded. The Kris, as a weapon, is known only in South East Asia, where different type exist.
In the Javanese culture custom, the keris is inserted in the back of the Javanese traditional dress.