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Yogyakarta Day 3: Friday, August 4, 2017

David with actors

Actors in the Ramayana Ballet with David Black at Prambanan in Indonesia.

We returned to Prambanan after our excursion to the hilltop palace of Ratu Boko. It was almost dark as we parked in the lot near the Trimurti outdoor theater. Haru gave my tour ticket to the people at the gate for my regular admittance. There were performers in costume standing near the entrance and I took my photo with them. I also purchased a couple of snacks – a Happy Cow and another ice cream treat. I was starving, but didn’t want to buy a whole meal.

Gamelon players before show

Gamelon percussion orchestra playing before the show.

Haru had to return to the hotel and said another driver would meet me after the performance, so I went in. There was a small gamelon orchestra playing as I found my seat. It was on a stone bench, but we were given seat cushions. Even so, the bench was hard. There weren’t many people there, and some of the seats that were more expensive were vacant. I thought of moving, but I could see the stage well and the temple formed a perfect backdrop. I waited a few minutes for the show to begin.

Gamelon orchestra and temples

The main gamelon orchestra and stage with the Prambanan temples in the background. It was quite a setting, with the dramatic temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu lit up behind the stage.

The Ramayana is an ancient Hindu epic and one of the longest pieces of literature ever written at 24,000 verses. It rivals the King James Bible and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in sheer size. But the Mahabharata is still longer. Take the Bible, the Illiad and the Odyssey, and the works of Shakespeare and put them together, and that is still short of the size of the Mahabharata. When I had researched this ballet, I had seen that this night’s performance would not be the whole story but only the first half. I figured that would be about right.

Gamelon instruments close

The main orchestra, consisting of gamelon percussion instruments including gongs, cymbals, and drums.

A large gamelon orchestra with many gongs and bells and xylophones was located behind the stage on both sides of a central staircase. They began to play and a group of singers acted as a backup band. Two people came out to introduce the performance, and then it began.

Cheap seats

Most of the audience sat in the more expensive seats in the middle. I took a seat in the moderately cheap seats, but the view was really all the same. The benches were stone with pads to sit on and became a bit uncomfortable after two hours. And they only performed half of the Ramayana.

The Ramayana tells of the romance of Rama with Sita and his struggle to rescue her after her kidnapping by the demon king Ravana. The ballet began with Ravana and his demons and demonesses (is that a word? The spell checker liked it, so it must be) plotting to overthrow the goodness of Rama, his mortal enemy. Rama was the seventh avatar, or incarnation, of the god Vishnu, which is why Ravana hated him. I didn’t understand the singing, but the dancing was easy enough to follow, although very stylized. Then Rama, while hunting, spied the beautiful princess Sita (an avatar of Lakhsmi) walking with her father and fell in love. Their love was mutual, although her father was against the idea. To convince the father to let him marry Sita, Rama took him hunting.

Demon dance

The ballet began with the dance of demons as their king, Ravana revealed his desire to destroy Prince Rama, who is really an avatar of Vishnu.

Ravana spied on all of this and saw a chance for his revenge. He transformed into an old man walking with difficulty leaning on his cane, and when Sita was alone she saw him stubble and fall down. Rushing to his aid, the fake old man tied her wrists and led her away. Garuda, the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu, spied all of this with his eagle’s eyes.

Hatching an evil plot

Ravana, the Demon King, hatches his evil plot.

Meanwhile, Rama and Sita’s father were out hunting and encountered a herd of deer (the dancers had deer horns on their heads). After an encounter with the Queen of the Deer (what was said here I don’t know but there appeared to be some disagreement going on), Sita’s father relented to have Rama marry his daughter. I think. At least their dancing appeared more friendly.

Good vs evil

Rama arrives in a confrontation of good versus evil.

I was growing tired about this time and lost the thread of the story a bit during the dancing deer. Somehow Garuda was shot by an arrow but managed to tell Rama and Sita’s father that Sita had been kidnapped before dying and ascending into heaven in a blue fog.

Rama and Sita

Rama falls for the beautiful Sita, but her father isn’t so sure about this.

Somewhere in here Hanuman, the Monkey God, and all of his monkeys did a dance – I think Rama tried to fight Ravana but was defeated, so he enlisted the aid of the monkeys. Then the ballet ended rather abruptly. That was when I remembered that tonight’s performance was only the first half of the story. Probably a good thing, as I was falling asleep even on the hard stone bench.

Kidnapping Sita

Ravana pretends to be an old man who stumbles, and when Sita tries to help him, he kidnaps her and binds her with cords. Garuda the eagle tried to warn her, but he was shot down.

It was an interesting spectacle to watch but it was difficult to stay up on the story since it was sung in stilted Javanese with the performers only dancing. This is a ballet, after all. It is a classic tale, going back over 2000 years and was probably first written as early as 400 BCE by the sage Valmiki Muni. It is carved into the walls of Prambanan temple itself. The gamelon instruments were a bit loud to handle for the two hours of tonight’s performance, but it was a fascinating experience until my exhaustion got the better of me. I took some great photos from my vantage point with the temple lit up behind. I also got some good videos of it.

Back, evil temptress

Meanwhile, Rama is attempting some male bonding time by going hunting with his future father-in-law, but they are warned of Sita’s kidnapping by the Queen of the Deer. Notice the little horns.

Afterwards, we went down on the stage to take photos with the performers and I got some close ups of the gamelon instruments. My replacement driver met me at the gate as I exited and we drove back to the Hotel Jambuluwuk. I was tired and slept in the car much of the way back, then woke myself up enough to get my bags packed as much as possible for my flight to Bali the next day. I had arranged for a cab to pick me up at 6:15 so that I would have 15 minutes for breakfast.

A little bird told us

Garuda is revived just long enough to tell Rama where Ravana has taken Sita before departing into a blue fog.

This had been quite a day. There are still more things to see and do in Yogyakarta, but in three days I’ve done many things and gotten a feel for the city and its surroundings. I’ve done as much as could possibly be expected without driving myself to complete exhaustion, and I pretty much did that today. I kept thinking that my wife would love it here, since she was a humanities major in college. I hope some day to return here with her.

Monkey dance

They enlist the help of Haruman the Monkey God and his army of monkeys. This is where the performance ended for tonight, only half way through the Ramayana. The whole performance takes four hours.

Posing after

Posing with the audience after the show.

Gamelon cymbals

Gamelon cymbals. Each brass kettle creates a unique tone, like a bell.

Temples at night

The dramatic backdrop of the Prambanan temples at night, with the temples of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu from left to right.

 

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Jakarta Day 8: Monday, July 31, 2017

Sticky notes

One of our activities was to write down our guiding questions on a large poster paper, then write sticky notes to add observations or suggestions to each other’s questions based on our own experiences in the field.

Now that we had completed our field teaching experience and had returned to Jakarta, it was time for reflection and evaluation. What had we learned from all of this? How will this impact our teaching going forward? How will we answer the guiding questions we chose at the beginning of this experience?

We met in a conference room near the elevators on the second floor after having breakfast. It was nice having the larger buffet at the Le Meridien Hotel.

We started by reflecting on our guiding questions through writing them up and conducting a gallery stroll. My own question was: How do different human cultures approach the common problems or needs of humanity? This is a very general question, so I further defined it through some sub-questions:

1 – How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

2 – How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

3 – How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

Let’s look at each of these as I have answered them so far. I will add more and create final reflections after my five day extension, where I will be exploring these ideas further.

Question 1: How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

Sasirangan swatches

We saw how humans have a desire to decorate and design through art. We we don’t need to dye cloth, but all cultures do it as these samples of sasirangan testify.

This has been an ongoing quest of mine over the last ten years as I have created the Elements Unearthed project and this website. I have explored how the chemical elements and materials were discovered, how they are made, how they are mined, refined, and turned into finished products. I continued this project while in Indonesia, although more will come later this week. I’ve brought my students along for the ride.

I took students to record video of a tour of Novatek, a synthetic diamond manufacturing company in south Provo, Utah. I had an adult student at the time that worked there and organized the tour. He acted as our tour guide and explained the history of how Tracy Hall invented the process at Bell Labs. He showed us how graphic dust is compressed and heated to form industrial diamonds for oil drills. He showed us the tetrahedral press I had seen in operation as a high school student. My students turned the footage into a short video that is on this website under the Videos tab.

Dyeing green cloth

Dyeing cloth green to make Borneo sasirangan.

But that was only part of the story. Now I have been to the Cempaka diamond mines to see have natural diamonds are recovered from deposits laid down millions of years ago. I have written about it on this blog site, and my chemistry students will turn the photos and videos into a final product for YouTube.

Dyed cloth

Dyed cloth hanging up to dry in Banjarmasin at the sasirangan factory, although it won’t dry very well in this rainstorm.

Through my batik class in Jakarta and seeing the sasirangan made in Banjarmasin, I have continued to research how fabrics and dyes are used for make clothing, following up on what we’ve been doing in my chemistry and STEAM it Up classes. This will also continue later this week.

This is all to say that this question is still being answered and will continue to be. My quest to understand materials isn’t over yet.

Question 2: How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

This is probably the most culturally unique question, as every culture has its own methods of self-expression. However, there are some common threads that I have observed here in Indonesia compared with American or western culture. We all have a need to self-express, despite it taking different forms.

Batik pattern

A batik pattern ready for dyeing. The wax (called malam and a brownish-yellow color) is applied to a penciled pattern on both sides of the cloth, then the cloth is dyed leaving the dyed portion white.

All cultures and people have a sense of the beautiful. The batik I’ve seen at the Museum Tekstil Jakarta and the sasirangan in Banjarmasin is beautiful to me, even though I don’t understand the origin of the patterns. We all have a love for colors and textures, and although the details change with culture, this love is ubiquitous in all societies.

Nikki and Jen doing batik

Nikki and Jennifer practicing batik. The small wax pen, or canting, is held at a 45 degree angle to apply the wax resist. This is definitely an art form and takes great practice.

All cultures include physical art (painting, carving, sculpture, fabrics), music, dance, puppetry, drama, etc. These take uniquely beautiful forms in different cultures – for example, the gamelon orchestras popular here that use percussion instruments, xylophones, cymbals, and drums. This might not be your particular taste in art, but the more you research its history and meaning, the more interesting it becomes. I didn’t much care for Beijing Opera in Taiwan, but that is because I didn’t understand its symbolism and history. The more we study other cultures, the richer our appreciation of their art becomes. Yet despite the differences, I am amazed at the similarities. I can enjoy and recognize harmonies and melodies from a traditional Banjarese band without ever having heard one before.

Traditional band

Traditional Borneo band in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin.

Another form of self-expression is in the stories and jokes we tell that describe and explain the human condition. I found the Indonesian people to be ready with a smile and a joke, to be a humorous and kind people and the sort of people I would like to hang out with if I could understand their language better. We might have different beliefs and life experiences, but we are more alike than different, and we have the same goals and desires in life.

I often think that the best thing that could happen to humanity would be to meet a truly alien intelligent species, whether they are hostile, friendly, or indifferent. Seeing that we are all humans, all brothers and sisters in a very real sense, would unite us more effectively than any international movement ever could.

Question 3: How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

I saw directly from my experience teaching science and engineering lessons in Banjarmasin that science and math are the truly universal languages. I was afraid of a communication breakdown as I attempted to teach my lessons, but with the help of Nazar’s excellent English and our universal understanding of scientific principles that the students were able to understand. I was able to teach them despite cultural and language barriers.

Laying down planets

Laying out the planet rings for the human orrery activity.

This was the question I most wanted to explore, knowing that I would be going to a largely Muslim country. I tried to observe the daily lives of my host teacher and his family as well as the people around us – the other teachers at our school, the people we met daily, the students at the schools we visited, etc.

I am a Christian. I have studied world religions and lived for two years as a missionary in Taiwan, where I experienced the religious practices of the people (and myself) every day. I have been to Israel and Jerusalem where I saw Judaism and Islam practiced. But this was the first time I saw Islam closely and on a daily basis, and try to build some bridges of understanding.

Buddha-s

A statue of the Amita Buddha at the Fwo Gwang Shan monastery near PingTung, Taiwan.

As I have found elsewhere, people of all faiths have much in common. The first is their faith itself, the desire to believe in something beyond themselves, a truth higher than themselves. Religions, if practiced purely, should teach people to do good and to be better citizens of the world. They should teach us to respect each other. It is only when people misinterpret their religions and see hate where they should see understanding that we get the extremists that cause so much damage.

Duomo-s

The cathedral and baptistry in Florence, Italy. The large dome (called the Duomo) dominates the skyline of the city and was designed by Brunelleschi.

This can happen in any religion. Back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders were the terrorists of their day, slaughtering innocent people in the name of their supposed faith. In one horrible case, they killed Armenian Christians in Jerusalem just because they didn’t look like the sort of Christians they were used to. Whenever we start treating people in other cultures as “foreign” or “other” than ourselves, we start thinking of them as less than human, and it becomes all too easy to justify persecution or prejudice or worse.

This can only be overcome by understanding the others – getting to know them personally and seeing that we are more alike than different, that we have much in common. This trip to Indonesia has had that benefit for me, as I hoped it would. I tried to see all the people I met as potential friends if I could just learn how to communicate with them. We have common ground to build on.

Large temple-s

A large Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan.

This journey is not over, and I will continue to explore Buddhism and Hinduism as I travel to Yogyakarta and Bali later this week. I will report more fully on these ideas once my trip to Indonesia is over.

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