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Traditional dance brings together diverse communities in Indonesia

Traditional dance brings together diverse communities in Indonesia

Published: June 22, 2011
Balija performance dragon

More than 1,000 spectators crowded into the venue to watch Balija's 80 performers.
View the slideshow.

Photo: AFSC / Rella Johan

[Updated] A standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 people packed the Vredenburg Fort hall in Yogyakarta, Indonesia recently to enjoy the results of a unique collaboration by disparate groups who synthesized traditional cultural arts.

The Balija show resulted from four months of collaboration, fostered by AFSC, between two youth groups involving street children and transvestites in a space where these very different communities learned to appreciate their strengths and celebrate their differences. The performance showcased arts of the Chinese and Javanese ethnic communities, blending the Central Javanese Jathilan art dance, with Barongsai, or lion dancing, considered an exclusively Chinese art form.

The two-hour show on June 1 was opened by the Jogya Mayor, who delivered a spirited oration on Indonesian nationalism. Balija told of a community of street kids’ rejection of the village head’s decision to allow a group of transsexuals to appear at the village’s “Market of Diversity.” The street kids together with their Jathilan (Javanese horse dance) allies were antagonizing the transsexuals and their Liong (dragon dance) allies. The conflict spiraled and ended in the death of all of the street kids and the transsexuals and their respective allies. This dire situation inspired the Barongsai or Chinese lion dancers to Chinese lion dancing perform its duty of bringing them back to life again. This second chance prompted all sides to forgive, respect and support one and other for the sake of village unity.

Designed to resemble a village market, the stage featured mural banners bearing peace messages that had been created by youth working in another AFSC-initiated project.

 The show was punctuated with applause,  praise and cheerful laughter  from the audience. A shared security presence by police and public security officers, local youth and Jogja city officials ensured the audience’s comfort. Many observers praised the show as an important accomplishment in valuing and highlighting the spirit of unity and diversity which inspired the establishment of Indonesian as a nation.

“There must be a creative way to disseminate the concept of diversity. The Balija performance was a result of creativity to help people understand it,” said Mohammad Sikh Ridho, coordinator of the LSIP (Lembaga Studi Islam dan Politik or Institute of Islamic Studies and Politics).

“ I had goose bumps from the start watching how big the crowd grew and how diverse they were. It was great to see how each group could share their character with the audience from the street kids busking, to the acrobatics of the liondancing, to the strength and power of the dragon dancing and the color and sassyness of the transgender dancers, all right in front of the mayor!” said Jiway Tung of AFSC’s Indonesia staff.
The street kids, transsexuals and Chinese and Javanese ethnic communities who performed previously had never dreamed of creating such a show. Through patient mentoring, the Wiridan Sarikraman community  and Al Damai, which is part of the  LSIP, helped them become aware that they are unique individuals and that they could be better known and understood by others through a collaboration.  

The performers kept their stage costumes. The Liong dragon costume, which they made together, is being looked after by the Chinese ethnic community and the Jathilan braided horses are being kept at the Javanese community.

 The group now plans to reflect together on this amazing experience and how to proceed. How will they respond to the positive response and invitations to perform from various government agencies and the community? What changes have occurred in each individually?

 What is certain is that the existence of the Balija community has proven that in Yogyakarta, Indonesia’s national slogan, ”Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (Unity in Diversity)”  is not just a slogan, but rather a shared pride regardless of differences.