Fri, 30 Jun 2000

Pujiono: 'Kendang' maker with a modest life

By Singgir Kartana

BANYUWANGI, East Java (JP): To many, the kendang, a small drum covered with leather at each end, is just another musical instrument. To Pujiono, 44, however, it signifies life itself.

Thanks to this musical instrument, which is made of wood and cow hide, he can feed his family. So when a kendang is played in the morning, his life spirit soars to welcome another day.

Thick-set Pujiono lives in a small village in Jepit, Genteng, Banyuwangi. He spends his days absorbed in the kendang and he is well-known in Banyuwangi not only as an outstanding player but also as an excellent kendang maker. Not only are his products used by arts troupes in East Java, but they have also been exported to such places as Malaysia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Brazil and Australia.

"Every week there are always some tourists coming to my house to purchase or order kendang. At present I am making 12 which a Dutchman has ordered," he said.

The kendang made by Pujiono are known for their neat and fine workmanship and durability. A buyer can ask him to make a kendang to his/her own taste. Pujiono does not set a high price for his products which may be part of the reason his drums are so popular among tourists.

"I love this musical instrument. The sound it makes is loud and shrill. I will take it home as a souvenir for a friend of mine, a choreographer now creating a blend of Indonesian and American dances. She would love to have this," said Rob van Renn, a Dutch tourist.

Pujiono has won acclaim from Banyuwangi traditional dancers and musicians as an outstanding kendang player. He has played his kendang for nearly all the traditional arts troupes in Banyuwangi.

"It is true that Puji is not the only kendang player in Banyuwangi. However, no other kendang players can compare with him in terms of technique and improvisation and the dynamics of his playing," said Edy Purwanto, an artist who is also a senior at secondary school in Banyuwangi.

Puji has a lot of experience as a kendang player. He may be asked twenty times a month to accompany a musical or dance performance. During the season of festivities, such as the Besar or Maulud months of the Javanese calendar, he plays his kendang for a performance practically every day.

An elementary school drop-out, Puji says that he learnt how to play kendang at the age of 16. Before this he used to frequently join troupes of gandrung dancers in their performances. After some time, he began to feel like playing all kinds of musical instruments and to accompany gendhing, Javanese gamelan musical compositions.

In less than a year, thanks to his great love of the traditional musical instruments and his perseverance in learning how to play them, Puji could play various traditional musical instruments such as rebab, a two-stringed musical instrument, saron, one of the metallophone instruments of gamelan, as well as the violin and kendang.

Play it with feeling

In May last month, he was asked to perform in a number of hotels in Bali over the course of a week. Apart from playing music unique to Banyuwangi and Bali, he was also asked to play kendang to accompany Western songs along with the hotels' musical bands. Funnily, he did not even know what Western compositions the bands were playing when he began to accompany them. No wonder, since he is completely ignorant of Western music.

"I felt a bit nervous because there were quite a lot of tourists in the audience. In the end, I had to fully rely on my feeling when I played my kendang. Unexpectedly, the audience loved my performance style. The performance became enjoyable and everybody in the audience started dancing to the tune of my kendang," said Puji, a father of two.

His intimacy with kendang means that he knows practically everything about this musical instrument. One day in 1989 his favorite kendang fell off the cupboard and the drum's wooden tube was broken. This was a great disappointment because he needed the instrument for a performance at the office of the ministry of education and culture in Banyuwangi. Not knowing where to find a replacement, he became bewildered. It struck him, however, that he could always try to make the wooden tube himself. And he succeeded.

This success later encouraged him to make his own kendang. With only about Rp 100,000 on hand, he bought the raw materials: wood, cow hide and rattan. He was quite lucky because he found a buyer for his initial products.

Today Puji can make an average of four kendang a month. He only makes kendang to order. If there are no orders, then he will have nothing to do. In fact, a kendang can take only three to four days to make. And orders keep arriving, although not as frequently as before. Most of his buyers come from abroad. They are either tourists on holiday or those who have just returned from Bali.

He completes every stage of the drum-making process himself, with the exception of cutting the wooden logs for the tubes. He relies on a specialist to do this.

Puji's kendangs are sold for between Rp 350,000 and Rp 600,000. The price depends on the type of wood used for the tube and the size. The most expensive kendangs are those with teak wood tubes.

Apart from making kendang, Puji also repairs them. He will provide the raw material and charge some Rp 150,000 a piece.

According to him, the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of kendang making is to make a round hole and tube from one end of the log to the other and then smoothen the surface of the inside part to create the right shape. The inside part is removed by scraping it with a carving instrument until the wooden tube is about 3-4 cm thick.

Despite his success, Puji and his family do not lead a life of luxury, even though he always sells his kendangs and accepts invitations to play the kendang. Although not poor, their lives remain very modest and their house reflects this as well. The walls are yet to be plastered. The windows are covered with dull bamboo plaited pieces. And the floor is still without floor tiles.

Where have his earnings gone, then? He says that part of his earnings from making and playing kendang are set aside to help his fellow artists who lead poorer lives than him.

Despite his modest living, he always feels happy making and playing kendang. Puji is a genuine artist faithfully devoted to his life in the traditional arts community of Banyuwangi.