I am now in Cirebon, busy doing ground work for a grant proposal on wayang golek cepak, an endangered form of puppet theatre, and also meeting with old friends. It has been 5 years since I have last been here, and it is a great pleasure to see everyone here.
I went to visit my old friend and research assistant Purjadi at his house in the village of Kerandon on Friday and was invited along to two consecutive wayang kulit performances. I have seen Purjadi many times in the past - but it has been a while, and there are many signs of real progress. His musical skills have improved, his puppet movement is more refined and most importantly perhaps he is less dogmatic in his ideology.
The first performance was in a village shrine in Cengkoak -- on a hilltop surrounded by wild vegetation, without electricity (except that provided by a generator) and isolated from the houses of inhabitants, a world removed from the world. Yet of course people camke - not only villagers, but also fans of the pesinden Iwi S - who went on the hajj last year and is now Haji Iwi. One of the fans, who arrived on a motor cycle ojeg and danced enthusiastically throughout the night at the side of the panggung, claimed he was 80 years old (from the jaman Jepang).
Purjadi performed a recently created lakon carangan Cungkring Nyaleg (Cungkring Runs for Office) in which the clown servant Cungkring is one of a number of characters vying to get a wahyu. Through this Purjadi (who is himself heavily involved in the attempt to get create a Propinsi Cirebon) commented on various strategies used by candidates, and the necessary qualities of leadership.
The second performance was in Bodesari, a village adjacent to the rattan furniture centre of Tegalwangi. This was a much more densely inhabitted area, in the middle of a kampung. Again the sinden Iwi S guaranteed spectators would show from near and far. The lakon (based on a lakon carangan by Abyor - and performed at the request of the tuan hajat) was Kitab Sucieng Manusa. This concerned a ponggawa returned from the dead in search of an answer to the question that hounded him in life - what is the kitab sucieng manusa (the holy book of humanity). Notably Bathara Guru (Shiva to South Asians) answered that there is no singular holy book valid for everyone. It depends on one's religion. The Qur'an in Guru's interpretation was placed as just one holy book valid for Muslims. (Just as the Hindus have the Vedas, the Jews Taurat, Christians Injil etc).
Wayang remains a space and time for dialogue and exchange of viewpoints - the discussion with Purjadi goes on....