Mon, 23 Oct 2000

Theater groups strive to save Sundanese

BANDUNG (JP): The latest effort to preserve the Sundanese language is to perform traditional plays.

And the most recent theater group to perform these plays is Kiwari, a Sundanese theatrical group combining traditional and modern elements. For its maiden performance to help push the campaign to save the Sundanese language, the group has chosen a play by Hidayat Suryalaga titled Tatangga (Neighbors).

In September, the group staged the play several times and this month they perform it every Sunday. In later months, the group will perform other plays.

There used to be several similar groups in West Java, particularly in Bandung, such as Sri Murni and Miss Cicih. The latter used to be famous and idolized by the community. However, these groups have virtually disappeared because of their inability to innovate.

Some former members of these groups told The Jakarta Post that they could not continue because of financial problems and reluctance from the local administration to sponsor their performances, let alone extend financial support.

Other traditional or folk theatrical forms such as longser, pantun (a kind of dialog in poetry), dance dramas, terbangan, tarling and so forth have also disappeared from Pasundan, the Sundanese Land.

Since its establishment in early 1988, Kiwari Theater has staged Sundanese plays and tried to revive longser in their performances. Kiwari Theater chairman, R. Dadi P. Danusubrata told The Jakarta Post recently that Kiwari Theater was obsessed about cultivating the culture and language through theatrical performances.

This obsession conformed to the regulation of the West Java provincial office of the national education ministry which requires all students in West Java to use Sundanese every Wednesday.

To Kiwari Theater the compulsory use of Sundanese was taken as an expression of great worry about the fate of the language because, unlike speakers of Javanese, Batak and other regional languages, Sundanaese speakers are greatly reduced in number.

In light of this situation, Kiwari Theater tapped this opportunity by performing lighter plays easily understood by school students.

On Oct. 1, Kiwari Theater performed Tatangga (Neighbors) under the director of R. Dadi Danusubrata at Rementang Siang Arts House in Bandung. After the performance, Dadi said apart from preserving Sundanese folk theater, Kiwari Theater intended to cultivate the language through its theatrical performances. Kiwari Theater's performances are not purely traditional as it incorporates a blend of Sundanese traditional and modern theatrical elements.


Tatangga was chosen for its easy plot, its black-and-white depiction about human traits and advice of not to forget the regional languages spread throughout Indonesia's provinces.

Tatangga has been performed over the last several months and will continue to run in the coming weeks. The play has earned a warm welcome from students, teachers and parents.

The performance is only an initial step toward preserving and popularizing the Sundanese language. Of course, Kiwari Theater will later perform high-brow plays.

The play revolves around two girls, Neng Elsye and Neng Emmi, who are both very fond of showing off their wealth and their parents' positions in society.

To cultivate and preserve the Sundanese language, there are some art forms other than theater, such as kecapi suling (string instrument and flute), reog (singing comedy group), calung (bamboo xylophone), degung (gamelan), pantun (traditional poetry), angklung (suspended bamboo tubes which make a sound when shook) and a host of other art forms and genres, which may be on the brink of extinction or have, perhaps, become extinct.

Meanwhile, the only surviving Sundanese mass media publication, Mangle, is read by the elderly. It is almost unknown among the young. (matdon)