Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 9 October 2014 • Opinion
With 13600 islands, 300 ethnic groups and more than 700 local languages, surely you can expect very rich traditional culture when visiting Indonesia. The highlights of these cultures can be seen in festivals celebrated by local communities. This August, I visited two festivals held in Java Island; one has a long traditional root while the other is quite new but has already reached international fame. Here’s a sneak-peek of what I experienced…
Formerly a known only as a small town in East Java, Jember became famous for its carnival of dramatic costumes. The inspiration of this carnival is actually a traditional procession called Reyog Ponorogo, where performers wear very heavy costumes and do acrobatic acts while walking down the main road of Jember, every year during the town anniversary (id.wikipedia.org). In 2001 a local fashion designer, Dynand Fariz, started the seed of fashion carnival by doing “Dynand Fariz Fashion Week” – at first an opportunity for his fashion school students to produce and exhibit their own designs. The models walked around main streets and kampongs, drawing lots of attention from Jember people. In 2003 the first fashion carnival was held in collaboration with local government to celebrate Jember anniversary – along with the Reyog I guess. It then grew bigger and bigger, with more creativities and techniques poured in costume making, more participants and sponsors, even inspiring some other areas in Java to make their own carnivals (such as Solo Batik Carnival).
The 2014 Jember Fashion Carnival that I visited was a colossal one. On the main event, over 400 participants from 7 provinces walked down a ‘catwalk’ of 3.6 kilometers from Jember town square to Kaliwates sports hall. The costumes were categorized into ‘defiles’ (themes) emphasizing Indonesia’s nature and culture, such as Majapahit, Borobudur, Kites, Pine Forest etc. Looking at the costumes reminded me of peacocks. Don’t you think so too? Well it’s not a coincidence, since the inspiration came from Reyog Ponorogo. The Reyog costume – the enormous head piece to be precise – describes a peacock sitting on top of a tiger’s head.
I tell you, not just the costumes were amazing, the models – local people from Jember – were also awesome. I used to think that modeling was easy profession, but walking 3.6 kilometers in those high heels and heavy costumes, not mentioning stopping here and there to smile and pose… well, it totally changed my mind. There, traveling is indeed eye-opening!
When to visit and how to get there
Jember Fashion Carnival is an annual event held every August. For detailed information about schedule and date of events, you can visit their official website www.jemberfashioncarnaval.com. To get to Jember, the alternatives are:
From the west (Jakarta/Bali/Surabaya)
From Jakarta or Bandung, there are many buses, trains and planes to Surabaya. The train offers various classes from economy to executive, but since it will be a very long journey to East Java, I recommend taking night trains with executive class (IDR 350K-550K).
Economy trains to Surabaya are much slower and uncomfortable; but if you are on a tight budget or you want to mingle more with local people, I recommend you to have a transit in Central Java such as in Purwokerto or Yogyakarta. You can take economy train from Jakarta or Bandung to Purwokerto or Yogyakarta (the lowest price ranges IDR 35K-50K), and from there take another economy train straight to Jember (IDR 50K).
Because Jember is located in the eastern part of Java, it’s closer to Bali than to Jakarta. From Bali you can go by plane to Surabaya, then rent a car or take a train to Jember. There are trains from Surabaya Gubeng Station to Jember Station (IDR 50K economy, IDR 100K-160K business).
From the east (Bali)
If you travel on a budget and have more time to spare on journey, the less expensive alternative is to travel overland from Bali. From south of Bali, travel to Gilimanuk Harbor. There are public busses that do this route, or you go with a private arrangement. Take a ferry from Gilimanuk to Ketapang harbor in Banyuwangi (IDR 8K), then take a train straight to Jember (IDR 4K economy).
Sleep, eat, get around
When in Jember I stayed in Hotel Cendrawasih, a hotel located in Jl. Cendrawasih no 22, around 2 km from Jember town square. It feels homey thanks to its leafy garden and friendly staffs. Hotel rate ranges from IDR 60K to IDR 350K – for detailed info about booking and room rates you can contact (0331) 412222. They serve yummy breakfast of traditional dish, but be careful not to eat the sambal or chili sauce if you can’t stand spicy food! East Javan people like to have their food so spicy it burns your tongue.
There are “becak” (trishaws) and “ojek” (motorcycle taxis) to get around town. They will charge you IDR 15K-20K for every ride, higher than the local fare of IDR 10K-15K. I also tried walking from hotel to town square – it was not very pleasant because of the hilly contour and not very good pedestrian.
Indonesia is a warm tropical country, but the next cultural event I visited was held at a place where you can see frost in the morning: Dieng Plateau, Central Java. With an altitude of 2000 m above sea level, temperature in Dieng may drop below zero at night. Actually this height gives Dieng its name, which originated from the word “Di Hyang” or “the abode of Gods.”
As mystical as its name, Dieng are known for its curious phenomenon called “bocah gembel” or “children with tangled hair.” These children were born normal, but after reaching certain age, they will get high fever and their formerly normal hair becomes tangled. This hair cannot be straightened, and when cut without rituals it will grow tangled again. There are no scientific explanation for this yet. Dieng people believe some spirits reside in the child’s hair and they perform rituals to get rid of these spirits.
It is said that before cutting the children’s tangled hair, Dieng people must grant each child’s wishes or else the spirit won’t detach. The wishes were various and sometimes funny. Some were very child-like such as “bicycle” and “a basket full of chocolates”, some others were strange like “goat with tangled hair” or “a giant snake” – local people believe these kind of wishes came from the spirits in the child’s hair – and the funniest wish I heard was “my neighbor’s lolly ice” LOL!
After all presents for the children and offerings for the gods are provided, the ritual process can be started. The whole process of ritual consists of traditional parade; hair-cutting ritual; and the releasing of tangled hair to a lake or river. On traditional parade, the children with tangled hair were ushered to a sacred well called Sendang Sedayu to be bathed by an elder that is believed to be the shaman of Dieng. The procession continued to the court of Arjuna temple where the children have their hair cut by the shaman or local leaders. The hairs were then wrapped in white cloth and taken to Serayu River or Talaga Warna – a crater lake in Dieng – to be released. The rest of it was celebration, where various traditional dances and music being performed for the people.
This tradition held annually became the origin of Dieng Culture Festival. The festival itself was an initiative of Dieng youths who wanted to add more colors to the yearly ritual. They creatively add short-movie screenings, a jazz performance named “Jazz above the Clouds”, and a floating-lantern-and-fireworks show one day before the ritual takes place.
When and how to visit
Dieng Culture Festival was held every mid-year on different month following to the local elder’s instruction (he decides the date using a traditional method, so the date varies every year). The festival is open for everyone to see, but the local organizer also sells tickets. I recommend buying tickets because you will have better seats to watch the ritual. You will also get free access to Dieng tourism spots such as Arjuna temple and Talaga Warna, merchandise and a lantern so you can participate in the lantern-and-fireworks show… not to mention helping the locals raising fund for the festival.
In 2014 Festival, tickets were sold for IDR 125K-250K. For detailed information about next year’s Culture Festival, you can visit their official website www.dieng.co.
Guest writter: Kandi Sekarwulan. She’s one of our travel mates, and had made this journey on 2014.
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