indonesia corners

indonesia corners

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jember Festival Carnival, an Extravaganza from Easternmost Java

In the easternmost Java, in the small city of Jember, an annual event called the Jember Festival Carnival (JFC) has attracted thousands of spectators from around the country and becomes one of the world-class carnivals during the last five years or so.

Jember, located around a thousand kilometers eastward Jakarta, is an agricultural regency with numerous tobacco plantations at the lowland and coffee plantations in the surrounding mountainous areas. It can be reached by road or railway at around two hundred kilometers southeastward of Surabaya, or at a closer distance but with a bit extra efforts from Bali by crossing the strait separating the two islands. 

This low economic growth area suddenly becomes famous because of an initiative and determination of Dynand Fariz, a motivated son of a local peasant who decided to convert himself from a lecturer to become a fashion designer.

Back in his little hometown, which once he was ashamed of, he founded a fashion house and short after launched what is now known as the famous JFC. He asked his 30 employees to wear simple costumes and almost no makeup marching around the Jember square. His passion for fashion and his love to the hometown, make his dream materialized and slowly grew bigger to the size we know today.

Last Sunday, July 24, the city held the tenth JFC with an eye-catching theme, the “Eyes on Triumphs”. Hundreds of photographers, as well as national and foreign media, covered the event witnessed by thousands of spectators sitting in tribunes, not mention a large amount of crowd viewing along with the 3.6 km runway carnival.

The JFC Live Performing Arts Marching Band and hundreds extravaganza carnival participants with costumes, accessories and unique makeup, music illustrations and choreography were beautifully presented in 10 parades colorizing the styles of Punk, India, Athens, Bali, Butterfly, and others.

It is amazing to see a person with barely nobody support can dramatically change the spirit of people and the "sleeping" city he lives in. Some other regions follow imitating the success of JFC, such as Solo which holds a similar event, the Batik Carnival. 

Congratulations to those brave people who manage to realize their obsessions, which the country may take benefits!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Krakatoa, the Super-Volcano

In August 1945, a couple of atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused a half million people killed and promptly ended World War II. However, hardly anybody was aware that a much stronger explosion, around 30,000 times than the said atomic bombs, blasted from the Krakatoa volcano sixty years earlier.

As high as 40 meters of tsunami waves caused by the eruption swept away everything around without mercy. A big steamship harboring at Anyer, the coast of West Java, was thrown away 3 kilometers inland. The explosion was heard to faraway lands at a radius of 5,000 kilometers from the eruption. Around 36,000 people perished.

The global impact was staggering. Around 100 billion tons of materials were projected into the atmosphere up to 80 kilometers altitude. The stratosphere was covered by the ash of the volcano and only a slight amount of sun rays capable to reach the earth causing Europe missed its summers for 3 consecutive years.  

The historical record indicates that much bigger eruption of Krakatoa took place in 535 CE, as pointed out in the Javanese King’s Chronicle, caused a huge flood propagated eastward and destroyed the whole area of Sunda Strait. A gigantic storm and rain of volcanic ashes darken the whole area for a long time.

In the other part of the world, a Syrian bishop in Ephesus reported in the same year: “The sun stops signing well for 18 months and the weather becomes extremely cold. We are afraid the sun will never shine as usual again. Many people die because of the coldness and of the bubonic plague following the eruption.” Other documents from the Ming Dynasty in China pointed out: “The extremely loud sound of the explosion is heard from thousand miles away.”

Those documents matched with the finding of enormous sulfuric deposits frozen deep inside the ice block of Greenland and Antarctica which was dated to around 500 CE. It was the remnant of the Krakatoa eruption concordance with the report from Los Alamos National Laboratory, USA, entitled “Were the Dark Ages Triggered by Volcano-Related Climate Changes in the Sixth Century?” which pointed out the Krakatoa as the culprit.  

The eruption in 535 destroyed a greater part of the ancient volcanic creating a big caldera in place of it. Some of the caldera’s remaining walls had grown bigger to become what was then the Mount Krakatoa. After having dormant for centuries, the 1883 explosion created Anak Krakatoa, the daughter of Krakatoa, which emerged and grew up at the pace of 20 feet per year.  Today its mountain top is 230 meters above the sea level far below of that of the ancient Krakatoa which was 2000 meters.

Indonesia is sitting on Ring of Fire. No wonder that the biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded in the human history also took place in Indonesia i.e. Mount Toba, North Sumatra, around 74,000 years ago. The explosion catapulted one trillion tons of materials to the air, reducing the human population on earth to only several thousand. Compared to the Toba explosion, the sound caused by the Krakatoa eruption was just like a couch of a sick old man.

The Krakatoa newly eruption in 2010 generated 100 times regional earthquakes but causing no serious damage. Some volcanologists said that the mountain now keeps collecting its energy and predicted that the catastrophic eruption might happen again sometime in the next 3 centuries.

Nowadays, the vegetation of Anak Krakatoa grows well establishing greenery areas along the mountain slopes and become the den for birds, snakes and various kinds of insects. Tourists can go there from Canti, a small port near Bandar Lampung, or from Merak, Banten Province, taking speed boat or local sailing boat, the latter is much cheaper though takes much longer time.

So, welcome and have a nice day sailing, and fishing if you wish, to and around Krakatoa, the super volcano.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Javan Rhino, Another Endangered Species in Extinction

In the westernmost cape of Java Island there live rhinos of a rare species having a single horn out of 30 species once lived on earth. Rhinos are the animals witnessing tertiary period, started appearing on earth since 65 million years ago. Unfortunately, most of all those species perished already leaving behind just five species roaming on earth.
Of those five, two species live in Indonesia, one of which is Javan rhino, the most endangered mammal living on earth today. Their population is estimated at around 40 and could be in the brink of extinction. Other species with two horns live in Sumatra, with a population of around 300 and in the other part of the world in India and Africa with a population of more than 30,000.
Forest fire, catastrophic disasters, destruction of the ecosystem as well as their safe habitat, the difficulty of their breeding process and more recently illegal hunters, all are the causal factors. They lead to the extinction of the majority of them and today the remaining 5 species are trapped in the narrow protected forest as their habitable areas have been taken over by human beings.

The difficulty in their breeding process is caused by the fact that the female just bears a baby, after the 19-month gestation period, while waiting for the next 5 years to bear another one. In addition, under a small population, the interbreeding will take place making them vulnerable to various kinds of diseases.

The life span of rhinos can be 45 years in their sanctuary, but usually less than that figure in zoos. Roaming area of a male is around 20 square kilometers and it marks the areas with feces and the scarves on earth or young trees. Violation of the territorial boundaries might result in a clash between the owner and the intruder.

Illegal poachers are intensively searching for rhino horns as the price of the horn is quite expensive around US$ 30,000 per kilo at the black markets. As a consequence, if it is not handled properly the damage might lead to non-repairable limit and the extinction of exotic species is only a matter of time.  

Javan rhino was protected by law stipulated in 1910. In 1921 Ujung Kulon became the sanctuary of the animal and today it is named Ujung Kulon National Park has an area of 380,000 hectares. In 2006, the census held by the authority of the park using automatic camera and sample of their feces provided a smaller figure, 27. During the last 75 years, the total number never hit the figure of 60.

Today, Indonesian WWF tries to breed the rhinos at Halimun National Park at Mount Salak, West Java, and if possible make use of the only 7 Vietnamese male and female Javan rhinos to prevent interbreeding. On the other hand, the government is planning to build an electric fence around the 3,000 hectares of Javan Rhino Study and Conservation  Area in Banten's Ujung Kulon National Park. The area was established in June last year by the Ministry of Forestry and is managed by an NGO, the Yayasan Badak Indonesia. 

The proposal includes the construction of 20 kilometers electric fences at the eastern boundary separating the conservation area from the densely populated village areas and 2 kilometers at the western boundary separating from rhino population area. As the northern and southern parts of the conservation area are bounded by the sea, the fences enclose totally the area which is converted into a sanctuary for Javan rhino.

The plan is inspired by the sanctuary for Sumatran rhinos in Way Kambas, Lampung, but the fence there encloses a smaller area of 200 hectares. Under the action plan, the government is looking to boost the population to 80 by 2015 and hoping to reach 1,000 by 2075. The project raises pros and cons as its effectiveness is still questionable, even more, when roads for patrol activities of 30-meter width are built along the fences across the protected jungle.

Wayang, the Ancient Way of Disseminating Knowledge and Wisdom

Long before Thomas A. Edison invented cinema, in Indonesia especially Java, people had watched a sort of primitive cinema, shadow puppet called wayang, displaying stories aiming to enlighten the spectators with moral teaching, heroism and wisdom. 

Like cinema, the wayang mainly consists of a screen and one or two lamps functioning as the projector put in front of the curtain on which the shadows of the puppets are projected. But unlike in cinema, the spectators sitting behind the curtain watching the shadow from behind.

The wayang performance depends on the player, known as dalang, who sits in front of the screen displaying a series of leather puppets with different scenes of dialogues, duel, war,  and actions related to the story being told orally, accompanied by gamelan music as a background. 

Obviously, the dalang should have a talent being able to speak in many voices and intonations to represent different figures and characters. When the dalang breaks telling the story the pesindens, usually good looking ladies, will sing themed songs. The lyrics of the songs are still related to the central theme of the performance.

Wayang was known to be played far in the past, at night lighted only by palm oil lamps or just by moonlight in the first centuries of our era when Hindu was flourished. This traditional show was continued to the early Islamic era but slightly modified to include some Islamic religious teaching. The wayang show persists up to our modern era but not as intense as in the past. 

The most popular stories performed in the wayang are Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Indian folklores which have been transformed and adjusted here and there to reflect the local conditions, especially in Java and Bali.  

The technique of play has evolved for centuries and now comes to a standardized model, even though invention in the techniques and addition of stories can be done by creative dalangs. They even insert various happenings found in modern society, either criticize the government for being negligent to support low-income families or congratulate any government policy leading to a prosperous and just society.

Just recently, a Japanese humanist Ryoh Matsumoto played wayang scene entitled Beast and the Beauty in Solo, Central  Java. He said that the last 40 years of his life was dedicated for wayang world.  Many of his researches on wayang in the form of knowledge and stories have published in Japan. 

He performs wayang in Japanese language and creates 7 new figures, including the giants and fairies.  Collecting more than 1500 kinds of leather puppets, he knows well and keeps in mind the names of more than 600 wayang figures.

In some other countries, wayang attracts more youngsters because of its deep philosophy guiding people for having better moral and characters. In the Netherlands,  the Delft Museum keeps all kinds of wayang complete with various fragments of stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana. With the aim to let the youngsters know more about wayang, certain workshops are always held at Leiden.

Due to the uniqueness of the leather puppets with its elements such as dalang,  thousands of shadow puppets with different characters and set of  traditional gamelan as well as in the dissemination of the ancient philosophies and wisdoms told in the wayang story, UNESCO has recognized wayang as masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity in November 2003.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cultural Heritage Title for Indonesian Angklung

Indonesia soil and climate make the bamboo trees easy to grow. Everywhere we can see bamboo trees grown in almost unused land and at the edge of every garden in the villages. People make benefit from those trees for various uses such as its sprout for foodstuff,  its tubes for the house structure and wall materials as well as for furniture. Last but not least … material for a musical instrument.

Angklung is such a music instrument which made of two bamboo tubes attached to a bamboo frame. However, it is not like other kinds of music instruments it jingles only one specific tone.  The number of persons required to play angklung music is therefore minimum 12, to make sure that each musical tone is played. But for better performance, orchestra players are usually more than 40.

A good technique is required to shake up the instrument to get better musical sounds. We can shake it up a little bit long or short of moments, a little bit strong or weak and all of those different shakes might result in various colorful sounds.

UNESCO pays special attention to this traditional bamboo music instrument under the consideration that for an orchestra is able to play a good melody requires coordination and good cooperation among the players. In November 2010, UNESCO has an honor to award angklung as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity because of its related philosophical value such as cooperation, respect, and harmony.

The bamboo music instrument has been well-known here since the Hindu kingdoms around 1000 years ago. When the Islamic religion was spread in this archipelago around 500 years ago, angklung was used as a signal of five-time praying. During the era of Demak Kingdom in Central Java around the 16th century, people spread Islamic religion by means of badeng music art, where angklung was the main instrument.

Since then the local tradition to play angklung music sustains mainly in West Java. The local people living around Mount Halimun, Banten, and the traditional Baduy people who live in isolation have a tradition to celebrate the rice planting and harvesting seasons in which angklung is the main musical instrument. 

It was Daeng Sutigna who popularized angklung in 1938, by combining this music instrument with piano, organ, guitars, drums, and banjo. A momentous event happened in 1955 when the music players were invited to perform angklung music in front of the delegations of the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung.

More recently an event hosted by the Embassy of Indonesia as a part of Indonesia Festival in Washington DC on July 9, 2011, busting the popularity of the angklung music instrument.  A total of 5,200 people of various nationalities used angklung to play the popular song “We Are the World”.

Daeng Udjo was the maestro behind the event, who instructed and guided the novice players to deal properly with the instrument. Voice of America reported that the audiences in standing ovation cried rhythmically his name as the applause for the maestro. No wonder, the event was registered as a new record in the Guinness Book mainly because of the number and the national variety of the players involved.