Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aceh’s Saman Dance to be recognized as World’s Intangible Heritage

The traditional Acehnese Saman dance is set for recognition as intangible cultural heritage by Unesco, an Indonesian Culture and Tourism Ministry official said on Tuesday.

Tjetjep Suparman, the ministry’s director general of art and film culture, said the dance was currently in the process of being certified by Unesco.

“The government has consistently lobbied Unesco to officially recognize the Saman dance as an Indonesian contribution to the world’s intangible cultural heritage,” he said.

Tjetjep was speaking during an event in Banda Aceh to inaugurate a new office building for the city’s Historical and Traditional Preservation Society.

He added the government was also trying to get angklung, the bamboo musical instrument from West Java, onto the list.

Already on the list are wayang, batik and the keris, the traditional Javanese ceremonial dagger.

Tjetjep said he hoped that once Saman was recognized by Unesco, it would continue to be cherished by all Acehnese.

Muhammad Nazar, the Aceh deputy governor, previously said his administration had tried for the past two years to get Unesco recognition for the dance.

Speaking at Tuesday’s event, Nazar said the Aceh administration appreciated the central government’s seriousness in lobbying the UN body to get the dance included on the heritage list.

The Saman dance comes from the Gayo highlands of central Aceh, and is popularly known as “the dance of a thousand hands” because of the rapid and dizzying hand movements involved.

It is performed by several dancers (always an even number) kneeling in a row and carrying out in near-perfect time an elaborate series of hand movements and shoulder- and chest-slapping.

The pace starts out slow, then picks up as the performance proceeds, and ends in a rapid staccato of synchronized movement.

Other traditional dances unique to Aceh are the Seudati and Rapa’i Geleng, which, unlike the Saman, have an Islamic rather than cultural origin.

Also unlike the Saman, the other two are religious dances, while the Saman is a celebratory one. The Seudati is often performed as a war dance.

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