Friday, November 6, 2009

Traditional Indonesian Dance Calls Angel to Earth

Arriving at Lara Djonggrang restaurant in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on the evening of Halloween, I was surprised to see a traditional market occupying the courtyard.

Illuminated with torches and oil lamps, open bamboo huts showcased traditional delicacies from Cirebon, West Java, such as tahu gejrot (crisp-fried tofu bathed in a thin, dark sauce flavored with green chili and shallots), empal gentong (tender beef in creamy turmeric and coconut soup) and nasi lengko (steamed rice served with marinated tofu, soybean cake and vegetables).

Hawkers dressed in traditional clothes shouted out the names of their offerings to passersby. Guests — Indonesians and expatriates alike — sat together chatting at long wooden tables. The atmosphere made me think of the Kasepuhan night market in Cirebon.

“We want to bring the history and culture of Indonesia back to life by showcasing local culinary delights and almost-forgotten traditional cultures,” said Annette Anhar, the general manager of Lara Djonggrang.

To this end, once a month the restaurant presents a cultural night featuring traditional dishes and a dance performance from a different region of the country.

On the evening of Oct. 31, the focus was on Cirebon and the performance was “Tari Turun Sintren” (“Dance of the Descending Angel”), a mystical show traditionally danced by a beautiful young virgin in a trance.

Cirebon, a quiet town on the northern coast of West Java, has a unique history and traditions. A sultanate, it was founded by Sunan Gunung Jati, a 16th century Muslim religious leader. It later became an important port town during the Dutch colonial era. Although the people of Cirebon are generally devout Muslims, most still maintain ancient Javanese traditions and mystical beliefs.

“Tari Turun Sintren” originated from a traditional game among Cirebonese fishermen and is considered both sacred and magical. In the old days, fishermen’s wives and children played the game on the beach at night as they waited for their husbands and fathers to return from the sea.

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