Breathing New Life Into Indonesia’s Old Traditions

By webadmin on 08:19 pm Apr 26, 2012
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Abmi Handayani

About a year and a half ago, Toton Hutomi, the founder of QuantumConvex International, an organization that promotes tourism, arts and culture in Indonesia, was reading an article in his office about Indonesian arts maestro Suprapto Suryodarmo.

While he was reading , a guest knocked on his door: It was Suprapto himself, the founder of Solo-based arts institution Padepokan Lemah Putih.

Call it fate, because over the next year, the two men worked together to crystallize Suprapto’s ideas to create several art events embodying the philosophy of Indonesian culture. After much collaboration, Suprapto and Toton had their efforts realized on Saturday.

Under the starry night sky at the Pawon Temple courtyard in Borobudur, Central Java, candles were lit and the scent of incense filled the air, as a midodaren (Javanese salvation ceremony) was held to mark the start the Festival Seni Segara Gunung (Festival of Mountain Ocean Arts), which runs until Sunday

“Pawon means kitchen,” Suprapto said, “and it is a place where we cook, but also wish for blessings. Thus, we wish that this festival will run smoothly.”

Toton and Suprapto sought out four other organizations that have the same concern for the preservation of Indonesian culture, tradition and history to join them. Collectively, they’re known as the Six Pillars and include: Lembaga Pendidikan Seni Nusantara (Nusantara Art Education Institute); Dharma Nature Time; Rempah Rumah Karya; and Masyarakat Borobudur (Borobudur Community).

After much deliberation, the Six Pillars organized the current festival, as well as the Taman Srawung Seni (Sharing Art Garden). Organizers hope that the garden event will become an annual celebration each April, the month that includes Kartini Day, Earth Day and International Dance Day.

The Festival of Mountain Ocean Arts’ official opening was held on Sunday afternoon at Pawon Temple. The atmosphere was different from the stoic spiritualism felt the night before, as the temple’s courtyard was crowded and alive with children’s laughter, and later filled with local singer Oppie Andaresta’s cheerful voice.

As part of the opening festivities, the singer debuted her eighth album, “Suara Anak Bumi” (“Songs of the Earth’s Child”), on which she collaborated with renowned musicians including Dewa Budjana and Indra Lesmana. Oppie also introduced her environment-themed book, “Bumiku Lestari” (“My Sustainable Earth”).

It took her about four years to collect the material for the album and book, because “it is not easy to put environmental issues in a children’s song, and it is quite a challenge to make both beautiful and kids-friendly music,” Oppie said.

Through her recent work, Oppie expounded on the concept of the three R’s: reduce, recycle and reuse.

Nina Nurlina Pramono, the head of the Pertamina Foundation, which produced the book and album, said she was excited about Oppie’s new project.

“We miss this kind of creative work,” she said. “It’s simple but beautiful. This album and book are wonderful presents for Indonesian children.”

The Festival of Mountain Ocean Arts also presented a keris (Javanese dagger) and heirloom exhibition at Borobudur Museum, which was organized by Paguyuban Satriatama, a local organization for keris collectors and makers. The exhibition features pieces from Malang, Gresik, Balikpapan, Samarinda and Tuban.

Heru Susilarto, a keris maker, said that even though the ancient dagger was initially used as a weapon, it has become both a collector’s item and part of Indonesian history. The keris is often said to have spiritual powers. “It has become something mystic,” he said.

Heru is currently exploring the keris tradition of the Kedu region in Central Java, which has generally been overlooked because of a perceived lack of quality. But according to Heru, there might be hidden treasures to be found in Kedu, which was the site of the Mataram dynasty’s Hindu-Buddha kingdom.

“It is possible that perhaps Kedu has a distinctive keris,” he said. “We can’t forget the geographical process, because Kedu is surrounded by four mountains: Merapi, Merbabu, Sindoro, and Sumbing. There’s is a possibility that daggers from the old days are buried because of eruptions.”

Another of the festival’s projects involves building lincaks (Javanese bamboo benches). The finished lincaks will be used in set designs for various performances. Some 300 volunteers, most of them architecture students from universities throughout Java, have been collecting bamboo from around Borobudur that will be used to make the furniture.

Architecture professor Galih Widjil Pangarsa, from Brawijaya University, said the project was important for several reasons.

“Young people today don’t recognize bamboo anymore, but bamboo is the future of folk material because nature provides it,” he said.

“By engaging young people in this project, I hope they will be able to learn more [about bamboo] and use that knowledge in the future.”

Galih also drew comparisons between bamboo and Borobudur itself.

“Both bamboo and Borobudur are symbols of universality,” he said. “If Borobudur, with its mandala composition, unites in Arupadhatu, then bamboo also forms a unity with its every single fiber.”

In keeping with the bamboo theme, there will be a workshop on making musical instruments from bamboo and an exhibition showcasing the workshop’s results. The festival also includes discussions on topics ranging from art and archaeology to religion and myth.

The festival is being seen as a breakthrough for Indonesian arts and culture. Organizer Toton said he saw this festival as a valuable contribution to traditional arts. “I hope this kind of art festival will start a new trend for traditional festivals, not only in Indonesia, but around the world,” he said.

For further information on the event, visit