Baritan ceremony at Progo river

“Baritan” is a general name given to ceremonies of thanksgiving and fertility. Often, they involve paying homage to a river or to the sea. While the fine details of baritan are not fixed, it always involves a blessing and a sharing of food. As part of a cultural live-in event (getting Yogya city-dwellers back to their village roots), I was fortunate to participate in baritan at Sejatidesa village.

map

The village of Sejatidesa sits on the edge of the Progo river, quite west of the city center. In addition to growing rice and sugarcane, Sejatidesa is a center for lurik, a woven cotton cloth with colorful stripes. Here, it is made the traditional way with manual-powered looms. While lurik is sometimes made into traditional mens shirts, most of the lurik produced in Sejatidesa is for use as stagen, a kind of abdominal wrap worn by women under a kebaya shirt.

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This loom produces one stagen-width piece of cloth at a time.

The baritan started around 6:30am. 3 cows were lead from their stable in the village to the river; all of us walked behind along a rough road through the forest. By the time we reached the river bank, a large tarp had already been laid out with platters of food. The man in charge of the cows led them one at a time into the river, splashing water over their muddy flanks. The master of ceremony performed a blessing with the food in front of him. The platters of food were then spread around, and all participants served themselves. In the end, all leftover food was “fed” to the river, as a sign of appreciation for water and a successful harvest.

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Truck #1 is loaded with food, and heads to the river as the walking procession gets going. Among the food items is nasi kenduri, rice cooked in woven cases of banana-leaf, made special for ceremonies such as this.
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Truck #2 carries some young plants (in addition to some young people). These are to be planted along the river bank to curb erosion and beautify the area. Planting is not typically a part of baritan, but the village took advantage of having so many willing participants.
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The cows are washed in the river. Part of baritan is to give thanks to the livestock and wild fish that sustain the community, and to pray for the renewal of these living resources. It was especially auspicious that one of the cows being washed was many months pregnant.
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Before any food is distributed, a blessing and prayer is given by the master of ceremony. This started in Indonesian, progressed to Javanese, and finished in Arabic. After a moment of silent reflection, the platters of food are spread out around the area. Notice: the men conducting the ceremony are all wearing lurik shirts.
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Participants select food from larger communal platters, first taking rice and then adding various vegetables, meats, and fried items. Always reach with your right hand!
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On the left, dukuh fruit and boiled peanuts. On the right, rice with boiled spinach, sprouts, friend tempe, and nangka (jackfruit)

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Jemparingan

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Jemparingan is a kind of meditation-archery that is said to date back to the Mataram Sultanate in the 1600’s. With the dissolution of the Mataram Sultanate and the creation of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in the 1750’s, jemparingan became the domain of royal soldiers known as Prajurit Kraton, as well as the nobility. Starting in the 1960’s, jemparingan went public, and can now be practiced by anyone.

Right on the edge of Alun-Alun Kidul, a royal plaza famous for its twin banyan trees, is the village of Langenastran. Historically, Langenastran was a housing district for the Prajurit Kraton, and consequently had a great deal of jemparingan activity. Nowadays, it is a typical village with a typical demographic. However, there remains a sanggar jemparingan, known as Langenastro. I had the opportunity to visit Langenastro, learn about jemparingan from the veterans, and try it for myself.

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Jemparingan is considered a separate discipline from the Javanese archery used for battle, or modern sport archery. The differences are both physical and philosophical. Physically, jemparingan is performed seated. The practitioner sits cross-legged, facing perpendicular to the target. This means the bow arm is held straight out to the side. The head is turned left to sight the arrow, and the bow string is released from the right cheek. The jemparing or bow is angled at a diagonal; it is too tall to hold vertical while seated.

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The target, known as bandul, is a rather small white and red rubber stick, suspended by ropes at neck height. The lower white section of the bandul is called awak or body, and the small red section at the top is called sirah or head. This gives the impression that the bandul is a miniature human body, that is to be shot and killed. However, the philosophy of jemparingan says something quite different. As the director of Langenastro explained, the bandul is the archer’s own reflection. To hit the bandul is to kill one’s ego. The arena, the bow, the arrow, the bandul, are a physical manifestation of one’s internal ego struggle. In fact, in the old style, the jemparing was held parallel to the ground, and the bow string released from the heart. The Javanese word for archery, manah, is also the word for heart. Practitioners would often shoot with the eyes closed, or at night. The idea being, success in the battle against one’s ego requires heartfelt intention and will.

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Equipment: The jemparing has a thick handle, carved from a single piece of hardwood. Each of the arms is a single piece of bamboo. Standing on-end, the jemparing should be as tall or slightly shorter than its user. They cannot be disassembled or folded, so carrying one around town is not particularly convenient. The arrows are also made from bamboo, with a 3-feather tail and a bullet nose. They should be slightly longer than the user’s extended arm. The jemparing is not an especially powerful bow, but then again it is not intended for use as a weapon. The bandul is set 30m away; it takes a clean and accurate technique to traverse the distance.

Practice: Although jemparingan is a spiritual exercise, it is also competitive. The standard format of a competitive meet is to shoot 20 sets, with 4 arrow per set. The white part of the bandul earns 1 point, while the small red part earns 3. After 20 sets, each participant’s points are totaled, and a winner is declared.

Personal observations: The posture of jemparingan is perfect for snapping the bow string right into the underside of the forearm. If it is correct, it is a near-miss. It requires a tricky rotation of the arm from the shoulder, while maintaining the hand’s position. There is also a natural tendency to lean back or twist when drawing the bow. The form, when practiced, is relaxed and elegant.

 

Langenastro info:

Jl. Langenastran Kidul
Gg. R. J. Noorhadi 18B
Kel. Panembahan
Kec. Kraton Yogyakarta

Telp. 0274 380 304

Open practice: most days 4pm-6pm, sometimes 8am-10am, but not if there is rain.

http://www.jemparingan.com/

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Lancaran Manyar Sewu

As part of my ongoing process of digitizing gamelan notation, I would like to present Lancaran Manyar Sewu (“One thousand weaver birds”). This is one of the most commonly played lancaran in Central Java, often used as an ‘ending tag’ to ladrang or ketawang. Although it appears simple, Manyar Sewu has some special structural properties. Consider the notation below, in laras slendro pathet manyura:

manyar sewu manyura

 

The entire form can be condensed into two primary cadences, 6532 and 1653. These are seen most clearly in the 2nd half of the 2nd and 4th lines of the Ompak. Condensed even further, we could conceive of the entire form as one linear, descending motive: 65321653. This is exactly the case if we look at only the last gatra of each line. The 3216 cadence in the 3rd line can be interpreted as 65321653; it is a sort of ‘average’ of 6532 and 1653, both prolonging and preparing the transition between the primary cadences.

 

Cadences within cadences within cadences. Lancaran Manyar Sewu is a perfect example of the melodic ‘nesting’ that characterizes many gamelan compositions. But wait, there’s more! Manyar Sewu can also be played in laras slendro patet sanga. Normally, the way to convert a composition from pathet manyura to pathet sanga is to transpose the entire thing down one step. Not so, for Manyar Sewu.

manyar sewu sanga

Rather than being transposed, the form is rotated. The 2nd line of the pathet manyura version becomes the 4th line of the pathet sanga one, with the other lines following suite. The actual sequence of notes stays the same; only the position of gong ageng has shifted.

However, the gong ageng and its preceding gong siyem are one step lower than in the pathet manyura version, as if they were in fact transposed (2 and 5 versus 3 and 6) Presumably, this is what creates the feeling of pathet sanga in what is essentially a pathet manyura composition.

It seems that in practice, the pathet manyura version is performed most often. Perhaps this is because is feels more direct or definite with its 65321653 movement towards gong ageng. The pathet sanga version’s overall contour is disjointed by comparison: 1653-5-6532.

Here is a group playing a basic Lancaran Manyar Sewu, laras slendro pathet manyura: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMYOTu8xQt8&nohtml5=False

(EDIT: The buka of the pathet sanga version should read .6.5 .6.5 2.2G, and is a direct transposition from the pathet manyura)

Hari ini hari apa (what day is it today)?

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In Java, calendar dates are a tricky business. This is because the Javanese recognize no less than 5 calendar systems. While the Gregorian or Western calendar is used for official business, the other calendars (and their intersections) hold spiritual significance. The calendars are as follows:

1) Gregorian, a 12-month solar calendar with 7-day weeks
2) Islamic, a 12-month lunar calendar with 7-day weeks
3) Javanese, a 12-month lunar calendar with 5-day weeks
4) Chinese, a 12-month lunar-solar calendar with 7-day weeks
5) Hindu-Balinese, a 210-day calendar based on concurrent cycles of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9-day “weeks”

The greatest attention is paid to the relationship between the Islamic and Javanese calendar. The days of the Islamic week, as they are known in Java, are:

Minggu (or Ahad) = Sunday
Senin = Monday
Selasa = Tuesday
Rabu = Wednesday
Kamis = Thursday
Jumat = Friday
Sabtu = Saturday

Officially, these day names are used along with the Gregorian day number and month. For example, today is Senin 11 April, 2016 AD. But on the Islamic calendar, today would be read as Senin 3 Rejeb, 1437 H. Jelas (clear)? Now onto the days of the Javanese or Pasaran week:

Kliwon
Legi
Pahing
Pon
Wage

Because the Islamic (7-day week) and Javanese (5-day week) calendars both belong to the same lunar system, they intersect consistently every 35 days. This period is called a Wetonan. Today’s Wetonan date is Senin Legi. The next Senin Legi, 35 days from now, is 16 Mei (May). The Wetonan date is important for planning rituals, events, business transactions, and for performing birth divination. For instance, one particular gamelan group in Yogya meets the Rabu (Wednesday) before every Jumat Kliwon. They would meet on the actual Jumat Kliwon, but there is some scheduling conflict. It is the thought that counts, anyways.

Additionally, 8-year cycles known as Windu and 120-year cycles (15 Windu) known as Kurup, contribute to the perception of particular dates as being especially important. While there is much less focus given to the Chinese and Hindu-Balinese calendar, rare intersections between these and the Islamic-Javanese calendar are noted.

Didik Nini Thowok

Born Didik Hadiprayitno in 1954, Didik Nini Thowok is a master of Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese dance. Since the 1970s, he has made a career dancing as female characters. His signature technique is ‘two-faced’ dancing; that is, wearing a mask on the back of the head along with what would be the front of a costume. Although decidedly a ‘he’ offstage, Thowok is an important figure among Indonesian LGBT. At one time, the government attempted to ban him from performing; this was met with enough public backlash that the issue was dropped.

Currently, there is growing wave of anti-LGBT sentiment in Java. This February in Yogyakarta, the well known Al-Fatah pesantren (Islamic boarding school) for waria or transgender women was closed due to ongoing pressure from the Front Jihad Islam. This and other Islamic political groups have been aggressively campaigning and gaining ground, at least on a local level. The Indonesian Psychiatrists’ Association recently declared homosexuality and transgender-ism to be psychological illnesses, contrary to current medical consensus (American Psychological Association, World Health Organization). Earlier this month in Yogya, ‘Lady Fast,’ a feminist/punk music and art gathering, was sacked by the Islamic Jihad Front and the Islamic People Forum with aid from the police. This was done without a police warrant, or clear evidence of any illegal activity.

http://jakarta.coconuts.co/2016/04/04/islamic-groups-allegedly-use-force-end-lady-fast-feminist-event-threaten-burn-down-venue

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35657114

If this sounds scary…well, it is. There has been an ongoing re-framing of “real” Indonesian culture as whatever aligns with conservative Islam. In fact, the “real” Indonesian culture includes a long history of gender non-conformity, both in social structure and performance art. For instance, the Bugis people of South Sulawesi recognize five genders (full male, full female, male-female, female-male and something like ‘neutral’).

I was lucky to see Didik Nini Thowok for the second a few nights ago. The first time, he was dancing Sundanese tayuban at Institut Seni Indonesia Yogya. This time, it was at Taman Budaya concert hall; Thowok did his crowd-pleasing two-faced routine, along with additional masks/characters (followed by a student group doing a lip-sync’d, auto-tuned, stage rendition of a Javanese folk tale, with re-worded musical tracks from Phantom of the Opera and Frozen…but that’s another story).

In the video below, Thowok does a short version of his routine, followed by a speech (the available subtitles are decent)…