Final Curtain Call for Maestros?
  No. 51/XI/August 17-23, 2011

Art & Cultures

Final Curtain Call for Maestros?

They are the last master craftsmen of the traditional arts in their respective fields. Many of them live in abject poverty but, nevertheless, have somehow not lost their enthusiasm for performing on stage. However, the stage has now been replaced by television and the organ tunggal, a single keyboard electronic organ, which usually includes a singer and the organ player. Their demise is the sound of the death knell for the traditional arts of the archipelago. Here we provide a portrait of their last moments.

WHAT are the maestros of the traditional arts doing now? Sawir Sutan Mudo, the most famous saluang singer fills his time helping his wife sell women’s clothing and accessories. Mimi Rasinah, the great supporter of the Cirebon mask dance, is partially paralyzed as the result of a stroke, nevertheless, she still manages to teach dance at her home to 300 children. Guti Jamhar Akbar, spokesperson for lamut, a form of oral literature originating from Banjarmasin, has opened a small shop in his house to help make ends meet. Amaq Raya, the master of Sasak dance in Lombok, collects firewood at the edge of the forest while waiting for requests for him to dance, which never come.

They are among the 35 artists who were declared maestros of the traditional arts by the Ministry of Culture & Tourism in December of last year. Their names were selected from among 60 candidates nominated by the Cultural Services of the various provinces and regencies, the Council of the Arts and NGOs in the traditional arts that exist in various provinces.

Maestros have been chosen since 2007. At the time the Ministry of Culture & Tourism only chose 25 maestros. The number has increased by 10 more names since 2008. Every year the composition of the selection team changes. Members of the selection team last year, were Mudji Sutrisno, a professor of philosophy from the Driyarkara Philosophical College who was also its head; actor Nano R. Riantoro; Sapardi Djoko Damono and Ida Sundari Husein who are both lecturers at the University of Indonesia; and four officials from the Ministry of Culture & Tourism.

“The recognition as ‘Maestro’ is only given to artists who are over 50 years of age and actively help spread the performance of the traditional arts,” says Sulistyo Tirtokusumo, Arts Director of the Ministry of Culture & Tourism and also a member of the selection team. Besides selections as ‘Maestro’ the government also provides new awards every year such as the Arts Award, the Preservation and Development of Cultural Heritage Award and the Cultural Satyalencana Award.

Those people who have been selected receive assistance from the government in the form of about Rp1 million per month which at times is sent in one lump sum for several months in a row. This amount is clearly insufficient to cover living expenses let alone the medical expenses of artists who are ill or unwell. Mimi Rasinah for example, receives the funds once every seven months which are then used to defray her medical expenses that add up to about Rp1 million per month. “The medical expenses can only be paid when the money arrives. It’s always like that,” says Rasinah’s daughter, Maci.

General poverty and a lack of invitations to perform mark the lives of the maestros. Unfortunately, usually their only skills are performing the traditional arts. “We have not performed for over 20 years,” says Tusiran Suseno, head of Suara Bintan Atelier, the only aristocratic drama group still in existence in the Riau Archipelago.

Fortunately, the fate of other maestros is better. They are still able to perform although the invitations to do so are rare. What is worrying is the advancing age of many of them and the fact that many of them are now unwell. In fact at the time of writing, four of them have died, namely Ismail Saroeng, Ki Sugito Hadiwarsito, Mbah Karimun, and Ibrahim Ahmad who had already passed away at the time his name was announced as a “Maestro.”

However, their enthusiasm and spirit in reviving these traditional arts has not wavered. They also try hard to teach their art to whoever is interested including their own children, even though they are often left disappointed when these candidates are also forced to discontinue the traditional arts they have learnt. From the 21 groups established by Saidi Kamaluddin, who is a Maestro of the dulmuluk peoples’ theater in Palembang, only one or two have survived. Despite having taught other people, including his own child how to play the sampelong, Islamidar, a Minangkabau sampelong musician, has finally been deserted by all of them including his own child.

This is a pity because the period of training required in order to master the skills of the traditional performing arts is quite long, especially for classical dance. Sulistyo Tirtokusumo who was formerly a dancer of classical Javanese dance explained that people intending to become classical Javanese dancers have usually already received training from a very young age and for girls that starts already before they begin menstruating. “Because during this time in their lives their bones can still be shaped,” he said. He himself, had to train at the Surakarta Keraton (Palace) before being ready to perform.

If these maestros die without anyone following in their footsteps, their art will pass away with them and increase the list of traditional arts that have died out in this country. Last year, Tom Ibnur, a dance choreographer from Langkan Budaya Taratak in Jambi announced that 60 percent of 220 types of performing arts in his province alone are said to be extinct or nearly extinct as for example the Sumbe dance (performed in order to present offerings to the gods), Mumkin music (a type of music performed by the blind), Lesung Gilo (a performance of the lesung instrument accompanied by chanting) and Bakisa (a dance performed when beating the paddy husks).

The artists’ enclave of Banyubiru reports that 52 types of traditional arts from the Banyumas area of Central Java have died out. Up to 45 of 391 types of traditional arts of West Java are also reported to have disappeared. As for Surakarta classical dance, Sulistyo states that several types of bedoyo dance such as Bedoyo Anduk, Sumreg, Ela-ela, Semang, Gandrungmanis and Kabor, have disappeared.

The maestros that Tempo met with in general said that these traditional performing arts which used to be the main form of entertainment for the community have now been replaced by television and the modern arts. The traditional performing arts that used to be part of required wedding entertainment in villages have been replaced by the organ tunggal.

The government claims that it is unable to do much; the excuse being that it does not have enough funds. Since the start of the era of regional autonomy, the responsibility for preserving traditional arts now also rests with them. The central government can only support the provinces by organizing festivals and competitions on a national level.

Another method used by the ministry to encourage preservation of traditional performing arts, is by revitalizing the arts that have nearly died out which they do by working together with Tourism Services in the various provinces. “Because of a lack of funds, we are only able to revitalize three types of arts every year,” says Safron Rasyidi of the Directorate of Arts of the Ministry of Culture & Tourism.

In 2008 they revitalized the Dalang Jembling from Central Java which is a sort of Banyumasan music by mouth using no musical instruments; the lamut of South Kalimantan and the kentringan in East Java. In 2009 they chose Phek Bung music which is made by using bamboo and ceramic instruments, that is found in Bantul, Jogjakarta; the Dalling dance of the Bajau people along the coast of East Kalimantan and the Gamelan Ajeng which is the music used to greet visitors that accompanies the Soja dance in Karawang, West Java. According to Safron, such revitalization of a traditional performing art consists of several stages which include gathering research material, seminars, and finally the performance of that specific part of the performing arts in its place of origin.

Nevertheless, revitalization or any of attempts to preserve the traditional performing arts will only carry it so far if there is no response from society. “All the traditional performing arts will disappear if the younger generation is not prepared to learn it and society has no need for it,” says Sulistyo.

Kurniawan, Ivansyah, Rumbadi Dalle

Indonesian Maestros

  • Ismail Saroeng (Aceh)
  • Abdullah Abdul Rahman (Aceh)
  • Alistrar Nainggolan (North Sumatra)
  • Zulkaidah Boru Harahap (North Sumatra)
  • Ibrahim Ahmad (Riau Archipelago)
  • H. Ali Ahmad (Riau Archipelago)
  • Sawir Sutan Mudo (West Sumatra)
  • Islamidar (West Sumatra)
  • Chan Umar (West Sumatra)
  • Djalaluddin (Bengkulu)
  • Sahilin (South Sumatra)
  • Saidi Kamaluddin(South Sumatra)
  • Encim Masnah (Banten)
  • H. Bodong (Jakarta)
  • Bonang (Jakarta)
  • Dalang Taham (West Java)
  • Mimi Rasinah (West Java)
  • Tan De Seng (West Java)
  • Enoch Atmadibrata (West Java)
  • Ki Sugito Hadiwarsito (Jogjakarta)
  • Suyati Sumo Tarwa Sutargia (Jogjakarta)
  • Mbah Kandar (East Java)
  • Mbah Karimun (East Java)
  • Wayan Oka Granoka (Bali)
  • I Made Sidja (Bali)
  • I Made Taro (Bali)
  • Bernard Ginupid (North Sulawesi)
  • Hendrik Julieus Mantiri (North Sulawesi)
  • Serang Dako (South Sulawesi)
  • Mak Coppong (South Sulawesi)
  • Abdul Muin Daeng Mile (South Sulawesi)
  • Jumhar Akbar (South Kalimantan)
  • Amaq Raya (West Nusa Tenggara)
  • Jeremias A Paah (East Nusa Tenggara)
  • Sermalina Maniburi (Papua)

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