Utami Diah Kusumawati, Contributor, Jakarta | People | Fri, May 23 2014, 1:36 PM
Most shadow or leather puppeteers in Indonesia portray characters based on the classic Mahabarata and Ramayana epics.
However, there are some puppeteers in Tegal, Central Java, who use wooden golek cepak to explore diverse local characters.
“Each village in Tegal has its own fascinating tale,” Sri Waluyo, a Tegal-born dalang, or puppeteer, said at the Jakarta Arts Building (GKJ) last month.
The 36-year-old often manipulates his golek cepak puppets to tell tales of Tegal that were originally compiled by his great-grandfather, Pahing, a dalang from Balamoa, Tegal.
Recently, however, golek cepak performances can only be seen in two villages in Tegal, Balamoa and Pagiyanten.
According to Waluyo, Pahing collected stories from different villages in Tegal, interviewing local residents, writing down their tales on paper and later reenacting the stories with a group of fellow artists.
Pahing’s bundle of transcripts eventually made their way into Waluyo’s hands.
Waluyo is a seventh-generation dalang. His grandfather Ki Seba, and his father, Ki Gunawan Suwati, were also golek cepak puppet masters, while his mother is a traditional Javanese music singer.
Suwati introduced him to traditional Javanese gamelan music when he was still a baby, Waluyo said.
He would also take all his children with him on stage when he gave a performance.
Waluyo eventually went to study at the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) in Surakarta, Central Java, before studying at the Pasinaon Dalang Mangkunegaran, a school for traditional puppeteers, in the same city.
“Up to now, I have created performances based on three tales: Jamaluddin the Robber, the Kayusida Gurih and the Merah Delima,” he said. The three tales were the most popular and familiar to people in Tegal.
Waluyo said that golek cepak performances could be found in Cirebon, West Java; and Yogyakarta, although only in Tegal the stories were local. Performances in the other cities frequently adapted parts of the Mahabarata and Ramayana as well as the Muslim story of Menak.
In Jamaluddin the Robber, the titular hero, the son of the chief of Dukuhsembung village, falls in love with Siti Sutijah, the daughter of the king.
The couple becomes star-crossed when their love is stymied by class differences.
Kayusida Gurih, meanwhile, is a mystic tale of a man from Selong village who hunts for a special type of wood to become rich and Merah Delima tells about of a king and his magic stone of power, the Merah Delima.
“It’s not only a tale. The people believe that the incidents really occurred,” he said.
Besides taking inspiration from local stories, a distinct feature of golek cepak puppetry involves the shape of the puppets’ heads, Waluyo said. Most golek puppets have removable head covers while golek cepak have straightened cover.
Despite its uniqueness, golek cepak is at risk of extinction, he said. The popularity of live performances sexy gyrating dangdut singers, often accompanied by full bands, has lead to the decline of golek cepak.
“Right now, only seven golek Tegal puppeteers, including my brother and me, are surviving,” he said.
Realizing the threat, Waluyo along with his wife, Cahwati, a choreographer and singer, created Cing Cing Mong, a community to preserve and encourage innovation for golek cepak puppetry. “Cing cing mong” means holding hands or being in sequence.
To make performances more attractive, Waluyo has adopted techniques used by dalang in Cirebon and Bandung, West Java, into his shows, leading to puppets that blink, laugh and even eat.
Waluyo also adds elements of the festive kebumen golek performance style into the show. Using this style, puppets must dance while accompanied to gamelan music before greeting the audience. In traditional golek cepak, the dancing and music are absent. As a puppet comes on stage, it talks directly to the audience.
Waluyo said that in the future he planned to create more plays and scripts based on his great-grandfather’s collection of stories.
“I want to revive Tegal’s local stories and make people more familiar with their own history,” he said.
Waluyo will perform Jamaluddin the Robber at GKJ on May 24 at 8 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit gedungkesenianjakarta.co.id.