Indonesian Art of Textile

Although the process of decorating cloth through the process of batik is found in several regions in Africa or India and even in some South East Asian countries, the batik of Indonesia is unique and unequaled. Indonesian Batik is made in several regions, but the center of the art is Central Java, in cities like Yogyakarta, Solo, Cirebon, Pekalongan and Indramayu.

The pride of Indonesians to wear batik till the present day has preserve this art of textile.

The beauty of Batik is a tribute to the patience, creativity of the woman of Java, the main island of Indonesia. Credit should be also given to men who prepare the cloth and handle the dyeing and finishing process.

Batik is generally thought of as the most quintessentially Indonesian textile. Motifs of flowers, twinning plants, leaves buds, flowers, birds, butterflies, fish, insects and geometric forms are rich in symbolic association and variety; there are about three thousand recorded batik patterns.

Culture of Indonesia

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Indonesian culture has been shaped by long interaction between original indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. Indonesia is central along ancient trading routes between the Far East and the Middle East, resulting in many cultural practices being strongly influenced by a multitude of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Islam, all strong in the major trading cities. The result is a complex cultural mixture very different from the original indigenous cultures.

Examples of cultural fusion include the fusion of Islam with Hindu in Javanese Abangan belief, the fusion of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism in Bodha, and the fusion of Hinduism and animism in Kaharingan; others could be cited.

Indonesian art-forms express this cultural mix. Wayang, traditional theater-performed puppet shows, were a medium in the spread of Hinduism and Islam amongst Javan villagers. Both Javanese and Balinese dances have stories about ancient Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, while Islamic art forms and architecture are present in Sumatra, especially in the Minangkabau and Aceh regions. Traditional art, music and sport are combined in a martial art form called Pencak Silat.

Western culture has greatly influenced Indonesia in modern entertainment such as television shows, film and music, as well as political system and issues. India has notably influenced Indonesian songs and movies. A popular type of song is the Indian-rhythmical dangdut, which is often mixed with Arab and Malay folk music.

Despite the influences of foreign culture, some remote Indonesian regions still preserve uniquely indigenous culture. Indigenous ethnic groups Mentawai, Asmat, Dani, Dayak, Toraja and many others are still practising their ethnic rituals, customs and wearing traditional clothes.

Gamelan in Balinese Life

Gamelan in Balinese life has many essential functions; the gamelan’s primary function is to assist in the myriad of ceremonies required during each 210-day cycle of the Balinese Pawukon cycle, as well as those involved with the lunar calendar. These activities range from private family observances such as weddings or the dedication to new buildings to massive, village-wide temple ceremonies. The musicians must be able to play at any hour or night or both, as demanded by the ceremony in progress. They may accompany a priest in his devotion, or they may accompany entertainments, such as temple dances. Tourism creates the secondary function of any gamelan that is entertaining Bali’s visitors. There is no such thing as professional musician in Bali. The gamelan players are rice farmers or village artisans or work at some sort of job – they are musician during their time off.

A marching band that must accompany any religious procession is performed from a small group within the main gamelan, consisting of the percussion and gong players. Nearly every ceremony calls for a procession somewhere, often more than one. The cremation procession, the hallmark of Balinese ceremony, one of most often seen by the visitor to Bali, is accompanied by the Balaganjur marching gamelan as it follows the bearers of the bade ( decorated sarcophagus tower) to the cremation ground or accompanies the ashes of the deceased to the sea, to be thrown therein so that the soul can be released. The music is nothing like a dirge.

The sound of gamelan accompanies the daily life of Balinese from dawn until late at night. Early in the morning, the sound of gender gamelan that accompanies the morning prayer (Tri Sandya) will fill the air through the big loudspeakers installed in every Bale Banjar (public hall). In the afternoon, the sound of gamelan from various ceremonies held by the Balinese is the dominant sound of the day. Early in the evening until late at night, the hypnotic sound from gamelan’s rehearsal will accompany the Balinese enjoying their lovely evening and be a good “going to bed” music.

The gamelan is generally owned by a village neighborhood organization called banjar. Though many temples or brahmana family also own a small set of gamelan, played for ceremonial purpose only. Usually a club that desires to play forms within a banjar, a group of instrument is obtained, if there is none, and a teacher or a good leader is chosen to see all the required music is perfected and memorized. This is accomplished through endless rehearsal, often several times a week. Music is not written down in Bali. Nothing in a gamelan play is spontaneous or improvised. Everything is always performed in the same way one a piece is committed to memory. There is no variation. New pieces, yes- many. But once a new piece is learned it is always played the same way.

A banjar gamelan club may break up, however, leaving a gamelan, unused, to fall into terrible disrepair. The trend, to one might imagine, would be for the form to disappear. But gamelans are extremely competitive, and most groups actively seek to improve their skills and maintain their equipment. This competitiveness is actively fostered by the Indonesian government, which sponsors yearly festivals or competitions in which groups or individuals compete to be best or among the top three winners. The rapid growth of female gamelan club also bring a new breath in gamelan club activities and competition in Bali. In every gamelan competition, the female gamelan category is always full with competitors.

Traditional Performing Arts

Indonesia is home to various styles of music, with those from the islands of Java, Sumatra and Bali being frequently recorded. The traditional music of central and East Java and Bali is the gamelan.

In 1966, a law was passed (Panpres 11/1965) banning Western-style pop or rock music. On June 29, 1965, Koes Plus, a leading Indonesian pop group in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, was imprisoned in Glodok, West Jakarta, for playing Western-style music. After the resignation of President Sukarno, the law was rescinded, and in the 1970s the Glodok prison was dismantled and replaced with a large shopping mall. The new mall in Glodok is now the centre of recording, production and distribution of modern Indonesian pop and rock music.

Kroncong is a musical genre that uses guitars and ukuleles as the main musical instruments. This genre had its roots in Portugal and was introduced by Portuguese traders in the fifteenth century. There is a traditional Keroncong Tugu music group in North Jakarta and other traditional Keroncong music groups in Maluku, with strong Portuguese influences. This music genre was popular in the first half of the twentieth century; a contemporary form of Kroncong is called Pop Kroncong. In addition, there are regional variations such as Langgam Jawa, which is most popular in Central Java and Yogyakarta.

The soft Sasando music from the province of East Nusa Tenggara in West Timor is completely different. Sasando uses an instrument made from a split leaf of the Lontar palm (Borassus flabellifer), which bears some resemblance to a harp.

There is a continuum in the traditional dances depicting episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata from India, ranging through Thailand, all the way to Bali. There is a marked difference, though, between the highly stylized dances of the courts of Yogyakarta and Surakarta and their popular variations. While the court dances are promoted and even performed internationally, the popular forms of dance art and drama must largely be discovered locally.
During the last few years, Saman from Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has become rather popular and is often portrayed on TV.

Drama and theatre
The Javanese and Balinese shadow puppet theatre shows display several mythological events; and more. Randai is a folk theatre tradition of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra, usually performed for traditional ceremonies and festivals. It incorporates music, singing, dance, drama and the silat martial art, with performances often based on semi-historical Minangkabau legends and Love Story.