Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Cultural festival celebrates Indonesia's pluralism

By Rita A. Widiadana

TIRTAGANGGA, Karangasem, Bali (JP): The rare Joget Pingitan performance of the 79-year-old venerable Balinese artist Ni Ketut Cenik marked the opening on Thursday night of the Milleniart Cultural Festival and the Nusantara Cultural Festival. The occasion was held at the Tirtagangga water palace in Karangasem, about 60 kilometers east of Denpasar.

For about one hour, the living legend Ni Cenik mesmerized thousands of viewers seated surrounding the amphitheater of the historical Tirtagangga palace. The palace was one of the seats of the Karangasem dynasty, one of the most influential aristocratic families in Bali.

More than a folk dance, Joget Pingitan is a tool and an alternative way to record local history, myths and legends, as well as the study of human characters. All these events and characters are related by the artist in her dance.

"The dance actually expresses Her-story as opposed to that of the male point of view -- His-story -- a trademark of the second millennium society," said Dr. Bulantrisna Djelantik, a descendant of the Karangasem dynasty.

The opening ceremony was also highlighted by a variety of traditional performing arts from Sulawesi, East Nusantara Tenggara, North Sumatra and Bali.

The performances on show included Uning-Uning, a folk song from Samosir Island in North Sumatra. Uning-Uning is usually performed to accompany a rare Batak opera.

The performance of Nyanyian Berasi, the Berasi Song Tanjung Bunga, East Flores, received a standing ovation from the audience.

Traditionally performed during harvest time, this folk song has a unique position in ethnomusicology. It resembles traditional folk songs from the Balkan region (Bosnia and Croatia). It remains a mystery how this Balkan-style song developed in the remote village of Tanjung Bunga in East Flores, whose community presumably never experienced cultural contact or cultural interaction with the Balkan people.

Tarian Bissu, the centuries-old travesty dance of the Bissu traditional community in Sulawesi, offered a rare opportunity for the Balinese people and other viewers to observe the beauty and sacred traditional art form of this secluded community.

Cakepung, an oral tradition from Budakeling, Karangasem, reflects intercultural interactions from various regions in Bali.

The event presented a true picture of this pluralistic nation, going beyond the paper cutouts in Jakarta to present pieces of Indonesia, which most people seldom have the chance to experience.

The Milleniart festival is a part of the Nusantara Cultural Festival which will present from Sept. 9 through Oct. 19, 1999, the myriad cultural delights of Indonesia at four different venues: Karangasem (Bali), Pontianak (West Kalimantan), Tanjung Pinang (Riau) and Jakarta.

Pudentia MPSS, chief coordinator of the Nusantara Cultural Festival, said at the opening ceremony that the one-month long festival is a telling reminder to us all of the richness and importance of Indonesia's ethnic diversity and culture.

"Over the years, the country has pursued its relentless march toward economic growth and material gain, and it has deliberately ignored its cultural wisdom," maintained Pudentia.

Social and political tensions currently occurring in several places in Indonesia such as Aceh, Ambon (Maluku), Irian Jaya and East Timor partly stemmed from a lack of tradition and cultural understanding.

"The government's rigid and bureaucratic policies regarding every aspect of the lives of Indonesian people, traditional communities in particular, have always been based on economic and political interests," Pudentia said.

The government has failed to adopt cultural and traditional approaches in dealing with various social issues in the country, she added.

"The nation's motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), remains just a slogan," she noted.

In reality, the diversity of our culture, ethnic groupings and traditions has never gained acknowledgement from the central authorities.

"This is the possible root of disintegration of Indonesia as a united nation," she added.

In the dwindling days of the 20th century, the fate of these cultures and traditions hangs in the balance, and their survival will continue to be a vital issue for Indonesia's thousands of ethnic groups in the next millennium.

The festival also promotes intercultural dialog and cross- cultural exchange and understanding, which are the stepping stones for the nation to march into the new millennium.

The festival is jointly organized by the Indonesian Performing Arts Society in Bandung, the Institute of Dayakologi in Pontianak, the Center for the Study of History and Traditional Values in Tanjung Pinang and the Indonesian Manuscripts Society and Oral Traditions Associations.

Daily events will include a series of seminars, workshops and discussions involving prominent scholars from local and overseas countries. Participants include Umar Kayam, Edi Sedyawati, Pudentia MPSS, Ishadi SK, Sardono W. Kusumo, Anderson W. Sutton, Bondan Winarno, Rahayu Supanggah, Mohamad Sobari, and also film director Garin Nugroho, actress Christine Hakim and playwright W.S. Rendra.