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Dance and music
Traditional contemporary art

Visitor of Lombok should not expect to see the lively dance and music from Bali or Java. In the few left traditional villages the performing arts are seen as an important addition to the community, but in modern, strictly Islamic villages it's not encouraged. Lombok seems to be culturally poor in comparison with the other islands of Nusa Tenggara (Lesser Sunda Islands). For such a small island, the variety of dances, music and theater is remarkable.

Many Influences

Dance and music are strongly connected with cultural identity on Lombok. Many rituals are thought to have religious powers. Several Sasak-traditions are connected with a minority which is known as Wetu Telo, the other with a majority of strict Muslims, the Wetu Lima. Religion and performing arts are strongly mixed. This sparkles strong arguments about art, Islam and tourism, since the strict population wants to destroy the culture of the Wetu Telu.

The Sasak have undergone several artistic influences over the last millennium, first from the Javanese, which introduced Hinduism, Islam, wayang (shadow puppets_ and poetry. Later, during the period of the Balinese Colonization (1740 - 1894), the Balinese brought dance, new music instruments and a new stream of music. Together the Balinese and Javanese influences form an important stream which also has influenced the architecture, agrarian habits and adat on the island.

A later stream came from Sumatra, the Malay and Arabic world; this formed the base of other forms of religious literature and theater. The two streams still exist. The Balinese influence is seen in the new music and dance-forms, and the influences from the Middle-East still produces new forms of music, which are connected with Islam. Almost all music- and dance-traditions of the Sasak mirror these two streams, which adapt a different shape on Lombok than their place of origin. Lombok's performing arts are often described as 'traditional' and 'fashionable', in which the last means 'Islamic'.

The traditional art is related with the former religious habits which had elements of ancestral worship, animism, Hinduism and Buddhism, mixing them with Islamic influences. Among strict Muslims this art has deteriorated rather quick. They would probably have disappeared entirely when the government didn't support the cultural identity, and the tourists which now come to Lombok as well. The traditional music contains several forms of gamelan and sung poets, the tembang Sasak.

The big Balinese minority in West-Lombok maintains to it's temple festivities and performing arts. The most important of them is the ritual canga sari-dance which is only performed on temple festivities, and the gamelan gong kuna, a ceremonial orchestra which can't be found on Bali.

Pre-islamic Gamelan and Dance

The instruments of the Sasak-gamelan - a collection of big drums, two-sided drums, cimbalen and more - represent the influences from Java and especially Bali. The names of the instruments, the style of playing, the musical parts the used sounds and even the costumes of the musicians look like those on Bali, but are not identical.

The traditional gamelan of gamelan oncer, also known as kendang belek. These orchestras play instrumental pieces, guide singers and plays, but are especially famous for their tari oncer or kendang belek-dance, in which two musicians dance together and play a big drum. The dance is non-telling, but the dancers have some dramatic poses while they walk around with big steps, like in the powerfull Balinese dance. When the intensity increased, they play fast connecting pieces on the drums until the big drum, after which the energy decreases and the dancers start moving slowly again.
Picture: Kendang Belek
In the distant communities several ritual gamelan have resemblances with the gamelan oncer. In villages of the Boda - former Sasak - the holy gamelan jerujeng is used on religious parties to call for ancestors. In Bayak, a village in the northern part of the island, is known for it's rich adat (cultural rules), the dedicated gamelan maulid is only used on Maulid (Maulud), the birthday of Mohammad. These ensembles, which play slow music, can't be places outside their religious context. The gamelan tambur or gamelan baris from Longsar, on Western Lombok also is a religious ensemble, which used the tambur-drum and guides the ritual batek baris dance.

Formal Processions

Batek baris is a military procession, kept in Lingsar and other villages in which dancers wear old Dutch army uniforms and wooden guns. The dancers are guided by a 'strict' general which gives loud orders in a mix of Sasak and Dutch. They lead a procession, with batek-and telek-dancers among them, to sacred sources.

The telek-dance, however originally based on a legend about a prince which falls in love with a civilian, most of the times is non-verbal and shows the simple movements of hands, eyes and feet which are a brand to the Sasak-dance.

Ensembles which were used more often during processions are gamelan tawa-tawa and barong tengkok. They are used to start ceremonies which are related with the cycle of life (birthdays, circumcisions, weddings), village festivities and national holidays. The gamelan tawa-tawa has eight cimbalen, as well as drums, kettledrums and smaller ones.

The gamelan barong tengkok used a kettle-bell, placed inside the body of the barong, a mythical feature which looks like the one from Bali (representative of the good and protector of humans), but without it's symbolic charge. This ensemble is used for marriage-processions in Central-Lombok, in which the bride and groom are put on wooden horses and carried through the village.

Love, Trance and Liquor

The gandrung (lit. 'love') is a dance in which female dancers pick male partners from the audience for short duets. The gandrung dances and sing solo and then ticks a male with her fan which does a spontaneous dance with her, which can be theatrical or erotic, depending on the dancer. The male gives a small amount of money to the gandrung, and the audience laughs out loud about the dance. However religious leaders are against it, the gandrung is still performed all over the island, and tourists see is more and more.

Two other dances which are worth while seeing are the tandang mendet and the paresean. The first is a military procession-dance which is performed in Sembalun Bumbung, a village in the high valley on Gunung Rinjani which is known for it's early islamic traditions. The powerful and well-choreographed dance, performed during the spectacular alip-festivities - which takes place once every three years - leads a procession to the grave of a Majapahit-ancestor. The paresean is a ritual fake fight between two warriors with sticks and shields.

The Sasak know two other trance-dances, but they are only performed on a very rare occasion. The suling dewa from North-Lombok is a traditional dance on the sounds of a flute-orchestra, meant to call the gods and to give them a place un the medium which blesses the village. The pepakon is a trance-dance from East-Lombok, which is performed when someone is ill. The ill are possessed and walk on a fire, after which their illness is forced out with some violence.

Pre-Islamic songs

Cepung is an unique Balinese and Sasak-form of 'singing', in fact a combination of performing and songs from the lontar monyeh ('monkey manucript') in which the East-Javanese prince Panji plays an important role. The lontar is written in Kawi - the old Javanese royal language - as well as in Balinese and Sasak. The singers are guided by two instruments, a bamboo flute (suling) and a bent lute (redeb), and by a group of men which imitates the sound of a gamelan. When the members of the choir get a little drunk of the palm-wine (tuak), they start to dance wild as well. It's obvious that the religious leaders never have approved the cepung.

Tembang Sasak, Sasak songs, mirror the Javanese-Balinese influences. Many of these songs use Javanese poetic stories and languages. Another form, pantun, rhyming couplets, are used all over Lombok, especially in love songs during the annual bau nyale-fesitval in South-Lombok. This festivity, starting with the annual mating of the colorful sea-worms (Eunice), attracts over 100,000 people, visitors for a modern dancing drama, which is based on a legend: a princes with many candidates for marriage drops herself into the sea where she changes into nyale-seaworms.

Pepausan, groups which sing tembang Sasak from lontar-manuscripts, often meet on several ceremonies to give the event a somewhat official character and to tell about old facts, put in traditional literature.

A similar tradition, which mirrors Sumatran and Arabic influences, is hikayat, in which lontar, based on the stories of '1001 Night' are sung and during the ceremonies they are translated from Malay to Sasak. Other forms, based on forms from the Middle-East, conclude tellings from the Barzanji, a book with Arabic poetry about the lives of Muhammad ans Islamic saints. Some pieces of the Barzanji are put in zikrzamman, a song of question and answer. The solist is supported by the religious, which stand close to each other, often with their eyes closed to they can better concentrate on Allah.

Islam and Forms of Art

In strict Islamic villages, the Islamic courteous songs have replaced the tembang Sasak and sometimes also the hikayat

New orchestras have also pushed away the traditional gamelan. Religious leaders banned traditional music groups because they used bronze instruments - sometimes called the 'voice of the ancestors' - because of their connection with non-Islamic habits. In their place there are now orchestras without any bronze instruments.

The gamelan rebana, which was developed about 100 years ago, was the first example of an 'Islamic' ensemble which uses rebana-drums. Since it was only the bronze and not the music that caused problems, the repertoire of the traditional gamelan rebana is adapted, and sometimes up to 20 other drums imitate the sound of a bronze drum. Many gamelan rebana-groups even play Balinese pieces. Another ensemble which was formed because of this restriction, is the more rare gamelan klentang, which only consists of iron instruments.

Two other ensembles which are developed bij local Islamic artists are kecimol and cilocap, almost identical orchestras with singers which perform popular Sasak-poetry. They can be found in many villages in Central- and East-Lombok, as well as similar ensembles which guide the rudat. The unique rudat-folklore music ensembles concluse violins, gambus-lutes, a big jidur-drum which gives the pace, and even congat-drums. The music is happy and the musicians sometimes dance. There are two theater- or dance-forms which have some Islamic influences. Kemidi rudat, based on the tellings of 1001 night, used the typical stereotypes like good and bad kings, princesses and clowns. This dance originates from Sumatra and is written in Malay. Kemi rudat once was forbidden by the religious leaders but is now reviving all over the island.

Wayang Sasak, a shadow play with flat leather puppets, from the Javanese wayang kulit, is based on the serat menak-stories. These tell about the uncle of Muhammad, which was sent to prepare the world for slam. Among both Javanese and Balinese wayang there are refined and non-refined kings, princesses, demons and giants, and off course clowns. The performances last about five hours. Wayang Sasak, in which abstract puppets are used, apparently was introduced from Java in the 17th century to encourage the spread of Islam. Ironically this was one of the forms which was later forbidden by the fundamentalists because the human characters, which is forbidden by Islamic habit.

The other theater forms of the Sasak are mainly local, with several conventions from the Balinese. Among them are the Cupak Grantang, Amaq Abir, Amaq Darmi, kayak sando en wayang wong.

Most of these forms use masks, which only rarely display the true characters and are often carved roughly. They are often called teater kayak, named to a form of poetry (kayak) which is used to express experiences of grief. Most of the songs and poetics is in fact kind of sad, a brand which separates the Sasak songs from those of the Javanese and Balinese.

New Creations

Due to tourism the Sasak arts are reviving; they can be seen during ceremonies, regional competitions, special performances, the weekly performances in the Narmada gardens and in the big hotels. The regional government does about the same as the Balinese: dedicated art - like pepakan and suling dewa - should not de performed outside it's context, but performances of secular art are encouraged.

New Sasak-creations, dances as well as musical compositions kreasi baru) with colorful costumes and interesting musical parts, have many similarity with the modern arts from Bali. New forms which have influences from the Middle-East are the hadra-performances from sung poetry, and teater Arab, 'Arabic Theather', in which transvestites appear.

A modern music industry ha evolved on Lombok, mainly based on dangdut, rhythmic music from Sumatra, which is especially popular among Islamic youths. Also musik pop, popsongs, stripped from all ethnic elements and sung in Indonesian are getting more important. In city areas like Cili Naya in Mataram, dance-clubs are founded in which the youths spend their time on modern music.

Last revised on December 14, 2009
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