Sun, 28 May 2000

Yogyakarta lures tourists with 'bekakak'

Text and photos by R. Agus Bakti

YOGYAKARTA (JP): A bride and the groom are always treated in a special way. Everybody gives them privileges and spoils them with attention and gifts.

In Ambarketawang, a village in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, bride and the groom dolls also receive special treatment -- but not in a nice way. They are "slaughtered" as offerings to avoid calamity.

The doll slaughtering is an annual traditional rite that has become an attraction to both domestic and foreign tourists.

The rite is also known as Wilujengan Saparan - or an offering in the month of Sapar - because it takes place on the second Friday in the Javanese month of Sapar every year. This year it was held on May 19, starting at about 3.00 p.m. and ending at dusk.

According to Zaenuri, an administrator at Ambarketawang village, the dolls, known as bekakak, have been slaughtered as a symbol of sacrifice to ensure that the people living around Mount Gamping will be spared from disaster.

"The instruction to slaughter the dolls has been a tradition passed on by the first Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono, the founder of the Yogyakarta Sultanate," he said.

The order was made around the year 1756 when Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono I, the ruler of the Yogyakarta Sultanate still resided in Ambarketawang, and not in the Yogyakarta Palace.

In Ambarketawang, locals earn their living by quarrying limestone from Mt. Gamping.

One of the locals, Ki Wirosuta, was unlucky. He was killed when huge stones fell on him. This man was a royal servant to the sultan. Reportedly, he was killed by a spirit believed to guard the mountain.

The sultan told the locals to make a pair of dolls with glutinous rice to represent a bride and a bridegroom. The dolls were filled with fluid of palm sugar with the color of blood.

The dolls were taken near to Mt. Gamping and ceremonially slaughtered. Since then, it has been traditional for the locals to slaughter bekakak.

Although quarrying has left only remnants of Mt. Gamping, a part remains as a place where bekakak are slaughtered. This limestone site is estimated to be 57 million years old. It is now a cultural and natural reserve under the control of the administration of Yogyakarta Special Region and the Directorate of Geology and Mineral Resources in Bandung, West Java.

Although the mountain is only a memory, the tradition is still observed. Besides, the rite provides an opportunity for uncommon economic activities.

One week prior to the ritual at Ambarketawang Square, a night bazaar is set up for vendors to sell their wares, and a week of arts performances commence.

The festival of the slaughtering the dolls in the year 2000 was seen by thousands of locals and tourists lining the five kilometer processional route around the village.

The walking procession, causing significant traffic congestion, began at the village hall in Ambarketawang. Wearing traditional Javanese dress, an entourage of kyai, venerated scholars/teachers of Islam, led the procession.

Locals applauded and cheered as the bekakak passed, carried on a joli, sedan chair.

Apart from the dolls, the procession included traditional performances such as jathilan, plaitwork-horse dance and reog, whose dancers performed along the road in time with the accompanying gamelan music.

Another popular attraction was the appearance of giant figures depicting a couple of gendruwo (bad spirits). These giant creatures also danced and were enthusiastically applauded when the performers inside made the gendruwo appear to go into a trance.

Dewi, 21, a student from Bandung said: "These gendruwo dolls are really great. They remind me of the ondel-ondel dolls unique to Betawi, Jakarta."

Before joining the procession, the gendruwo dolls attracted the attention of many people, especially children. Their curiosity made people smile. Some even tried to open the dolls.

Since the bekakak traditional rite has become a popular tourist attraction, a number of local administration officials also came to witness it. They wore Javanese costumes and rode in a horse-drawn carriage behind the group carrying the bekakak dolls.

After walking for about two hours, the bekakak arrived at the site of Mount Gamping. The dolls were carried away, running as if fleeing, before they were slaughtered.

When the neck of each doll was slashed, the palm sugar fluid oozed, like human blood. Then the dolls were cut into small pieces and distributed to the spectators.

The rite is considered sacred by some locals. They will take home their small piece of the bekakak.