Tue, 09 May 2000

Preserving 'reog' Ponorogo through festival

By Sulistyo Budi N

PONOROGO, East Java (JP): Besides being known as a city of santri (students of traditional Muslim schools), Ponorogo is also famous as the city of reog (traditional masked dance).

Reog is well known across Indonesia, and a number of regions have their own reog groups. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah in Jakarta regularly features Ponorogo reog shows for tourists.

If you happen to find yourself in Ponorogo, take the time to go and see the reog show. The dance is so impressive, the East Java provincial administration has made Ponorogo reog one of the province's recognized tourist attractions.

Reog has been featured in a number of activities held by the organization Cultural Relations between Indonesia and the United States, including one in California in 1991. It also was part of a cultural expo in Sevilla, Spain, in 1992.

From March 31 through April 6, 2000, the Sixth National Reog Festival was held in conjunction with Ponorogo's 504th anniversary.

The East Java provincial administration included the festival in its tourist packages for the province. This year's festival was participated in by 35 groups from Ponorogo and around the country, including from Balikpapan (Singo Manggolo), Riau (Lancang Kuning), Kutai (Korda), Malang (Singo Lodra), Surabaya (Singo Mangkujoyo), Jember (Sardudo Anurogo), Semarang (Singo Barong) and Wonogiri (Singo Wiyono).

Each group performed its own masked dance in the city square. Some of the groups winning the audience's admiration were Singo Krido, Sardulo Birowo and Singo Mulangjoyo -- all from Ponorogo -- and Sardulo Anurogo from Jember, East Java.

The audience was mesmerized by the agile movements of the dancer from Sardulo Birowo, who was wearing a three-meter tall peacock mask weighing some 40 kilograms.

A reog dancer requires great strength to be able to dance while wearing such a heavy mask. During this festival, which featured some of the top troupes from the country, the dancers had the skill and strength to carry off their performances with few difficulties.

According to Sudarmo, 40, a reog dancer from Ponorogo, before performing the dance he, like any other reog dancer, must first fast for a couple of days to prevent any possible mishaps. He also said a complete reog troupe consisted of between 20 and 40 people with one of them, called the Singobarong, being called on to perform the peacock dance.

"This dancer represents a knight whose face is that of a tiger, and on whose head a peacock, with its wings fully extended, is perched," he said.

Formidable strength

A Singobarong must have formidable strength to be capable of dancing with the peacock mask, which weighs from 40 to 100 kilos.

Besides the peacock dance, a reog troupe traditionally features a dancer playing the role of King Klana Sewandono, who is depicted as a person with magical powers and a magic whip called Pecut Samandiman. There is also a dancer assuming the role of Bujangganong, the king's chief minister, usually depicted as an ugly faced knight with comical gestures, and two or more dancers as the king's cavalry soldiers. These roles used to be danced by male teenagers called gemblak, but now female teenagers fill the roles.

Then there is an escort group comprising dancers donning costumes usually worn by warok, ascetics who are martial arts experts. They are fiery-looking men with thick moustaches and beards, wearing belts which nearly reach the ground. A reog performance is usually accompanied by music played on traditional instruments known as kendhang, kempul, kenong, angklung and slompret (a flute which produces notes unique of a reog dance).

According to a well-known legend, the reog dance depicts a procession of the entourage of King Klana Sewandono, who is traveling to Kediri Kingdom to ask for the hand of Dewi Sanggalangit in marriage.

A version of this legend says the reog dance originated during the Kediri Kingdom in the 11th century.

The story goes that in the days of yore there stood a kingdom known as Batarangin, which was ruled by a wise young king called Klana Sewandono. His chief minister, Pujangga Anom, possessed magical powers. (In a reog dance he is known as Bujangganong.)

So one day the king dreamed that he had met a beautiful princess of the Kediri Kingdom, Dewi Songgolangit. At once the king fell in love with the princess and sent Pujangga Anom to Kediri to ask for the hand of the princess in marriage.

Dewi Songgolangit accepted the proposal on the condition that the king present to her a show that had never been seen by anyone before. Hearing this request, Pujangga Anom remembered how King Singa Barong, who had the head of a tiger with a peacock perched upon it, was defeated by his king. The chief minister made use of this battle as the material for a performance to be presented before the princess. The show was a success and the princess agreed to marry the king.

Another version of the origin of the reog has it that this dance was first performed to mock King Brawijaya V, a Majapahit king married to a Chinese princess. The mighty Majapahit king had been subdued by the beauty of the princess.

It is for this reason, so this version goes, that the peacock dancer is depicted as a knight whose face is that of a tiger and on whose head a peacock is perched. The tiger represents King Brawijaya V, while the peacock symbolizes the Chinese princess.

Toward the end of the reog festival, there was a round-the- town procession of the town's heirlooms in remembrance of its founding. Before the procession, the participants paid homage at the grave of Bathoro Katong, believed to be the town's founder.

The procession commenced at the grave of Bathoro Katong in Setono village, Jenangan subdistrict. The heirlooms carried during the procession were the Songong Tunggul Wulung, Tunggul Nogo, the spear of Kyai Baru and Cinde Puspito.

The procession was led by Markum Singodimejo, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the regency. Interestingly, all Ponorogo regency officials and participants of the procession donned costumes unique to Ponorogo: black shirts with jarit wiron and loose black pants. They also carried a keris, a Javanese wavy double-bladed dagger. Some participants were attired in penadon, which is also unique to Ponorogo, with udheng gadung headbands and loose black pants.

Now that the festival is over and all the participants have returned home, one question remains: "How long can this national reog festival last?" Can the festival help preserve reog as part of our national heritage?