Solo Batik Carnival – The People’s Festival of Expression

Submitted by mumunmumun on 12 September 2012   •  Java   •  Central Java

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I love carnivals! From all the carnivals I’ve seen on TV, in magazines, online, and that one Mardi Gras in Sydney where I got to dance and see people three quarters naked on the streets full of happiness and love, I can’t help falling for them. How could anyone not? It’s dancing on the streets, second best to Lionel Richie’s dancing on the ceiling! (that would be radical *rawk) Now, it’s time to head to the Solo Batik Carnival, one of Indonesia’s own festivities.

The Solo Batik Carnival 2012 (SBC) was the fifth this year and we were invited by the Explore Solo Community to enjoy the fiesta. Reject? I think that would be just rude to the whole universe of carnivals.

After roaming around the outskirts of Solo and seeing some freaky stuff, I became more and more excited to see the carnival. I was ready to close up a great day with a fun and beautiful carnival. Sadly, initially I was disappointed. (First) Because the SBC started in the Sriwedari Stadium Surakarta (Solo), people had to pay a mere amount of money to then sit far from the parade area. By then I wish I brought my binoculars. Cos we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take great pictures,we joined the mob of people with cameras that had acquisition-ed a spot closer to the ‘catwalk’.

Solo batik carnival

That didn’t help much since, (second)probably only a quarter of the whole parade passed our area. Turns out, that quarter was enough to make me feel overwhelmed to numb. I got the whole Metamorphosis theme but (third) I missed the story telling of the parade. It was a bunch of beautiful costumes divided into colors schemes. No more. Already annoyed by the Notosuman Surabi cake box that I held on for hours since there wasn’t any trash can around and my disappointment with the carnival, I (by that I mean we) still had faith to stick around a little longer, hoping for a doorprize (fourth, never gonna happen of course, LOL!).

Somewhere along the blur of the ‘formal show’, people managed to get closer to the participants. As soon as you know it, spectators were amongst the finale lining of costumes without any authorities stopping them. We too, took the opportunity and scattered through the glitter and the flickering lights on costumes. Did I mention some of the costumes were battery powered?

Solo batik carnival

We stroke conversations with the blank-stare kids dancing like zombies. I guess they were shy or tired after a long prep and it was gonna be an even longer night cos they still had to do a 3 km parade through the town. It was that or they were taught well not to talk to creepy strangers that wanted to dance with them.We only got simple ‘yes, no’, answers. I swear we tried to cheer the crap out of them, but they were like ‘Dude, you’re breaking up my cool’.

We moved on to a friendlier much older girl who seemed nice(r). She was a dancer and was part of the ‘black and white’ line. She was a multicorn-being and had sparkles near her eyes (as you can see that was a literal description ). ‘How are things?’, ‘Do you like the carnival?’, ‘Must be fun in a costume’, ‘Who was the designer?’, ‘Is he/she nice?’ and ‘Is it heavy?’ were some of the questions we threw randomly at her. She patiently answered these loud curious tourists.

Solo batik carnival

Solo batik carnival

“It’s not heavy. I made it myself, with my mom”, she explains.

“Oh it’s not heavy… wait! What???” I shouted.

“You mean, your mom was one of the costume makers of the carnival?” I had to confirm.

“No, I made this costume along with my mom. Everyone here did the same with their families and friends”, I kinda dropped my jaw.

Turns out, participants of the SBC made their own costumes. Each attire was a about each individual and not about some hot shot designer making a masterpiece from his single brain. Every bead, horn, wing, feather, button, flap, and sticky pointy things coming out of the outfit, were made by the participantswith their family and friends. It was a carnival of collective expressions from the people of Solo. Pre-carnival, the community had proposed designs to be filtered by the committee.Later on, the committee provided workshops to teach the people how to make these selected costumes come true from top to bottom, including make-up classes and I’m guessing also how to install the battery powered flickering lights.

Each participant funded their own costumes. THEY FUND THEIR OWN COSTUMES! That’s … WOW! Developed country citizens might think it’s no biggie, but this is in a developING country. In our kind of economy, spending about a month salary of the average middle range employee in Solo on a costume is a WOW sacrifice! As I’ve come to understand, people invest a lot in their costumes in hopes that they will be offered a chance to participate in other gigs including international events. It’s a price worth paying.

Solo batik carnival

My impression of SBC suddenly turned upside down doing summer saults and landing perfectly different than it initially was. By then, I saw each and every costume differently and I became the weirdo looking too closely at things. I couldn’t do this for too long. The parade hit the streets to be amongst its makers, the people of Solo.

In the end, I kinda wish I had known this earlier. It would have changed some of my perspective towards the whole carnival. But it’s good that I finally got to know it. Comes to show, it’s always good to dig a little deeper when traveling. That also means I know which city to contact if I need some freaky Halloween costume. Woot!

Note: Last I heard, SBC was to represent Indonesia in the Pasadena Flower Festival in California. So proud. *teary


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