Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cembengan at PG Madukismo

Yesterday (24 April) I attended parts of the Cembengan ritual celebration at Pabrik Gula Madukismo, a factor that processes sugar and spiritus (a kind of alcohol) located in Bantul, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, just south of the ring road. The factory is in fact owned by the kraton, but Cembengan is very much a rakyat affair, and a legacy of colonialism.

The ritual is meant to insure a good harvest of sugar cane and the proper functioning of equipment in the processing (gilingan) into refined sugar. A sugar cane bride and groom are symbolically married, a buffalo head is decorated and buried near the factory, various offerings (including flowers and burnt honey) are given and prayers in Javanese and Arabic offered. Various performances also happen before or after the ritual. A machinist I spoke to said the ritual appeases spirits of the land associated with rice plants and disturbed by the transformation of sawah to sugar fields. My colleague Wisma Nugraha Christianto describes this ritual (known by different names in other parts of Java) as a conscious effort of Dutch colonials to insure that Javanese workers invested in their work, treated the machines (which were given lofty Javanese names) with respect and were conscientious and docile labourers.

Madukismo has only been operating since the 1950s but the ritual of cembengan is very much alive. The factory is one of the largest in Java, with over 500 permanent employees (and a larger number of seasonal labourers) producing 40,000 tons of sugar annually.

This year there was a lively pasar malam complete with stands (where I purchased a copy of an Enthus Susmono VCD) and a ferris wheel, various cultural performances (ketoprak, wayang kulit, campursari, band) staged over a period of 4 or 5 days and a festive procession. I attend the start of the procession, which featured a number of floats on agricultural themes, a small jathilan troupe, a colonial army marching platoon with gongs and drums, a host of people in Javanese costumes and so on. One of the participants spoke with pride about how the buffalo head is decorated in HIS village before being transported to the factory. There was a real sense of popular participation.
The wayang performance by Seno Nugroho (Yogya's most popular puppeteer) was a major event. Invited guests sat in rows of folding chairs underneath a canopy. Behind the screen there was a buffet dinner for them. Thousands watched the wayang from a distance and on large projection screens. I was tired and only managed to stay until the end of the Limbukan (which ended after 12 midnight!). In the opening jejer Duryudana spoke with force against the inadequacy of his senior advisors - blaming Astina's problems on their ineptness and holding up Amarta as a model of development. One sensed behind his words Seno's passion for reform and justice. But the audience seemed more interested in the Limbukan. One of the nicest moments was an interaction between Seno and his own daughter - a sinden-in-training who sung one song. They joked about her payment for participation. There was clearly lots of affection there, and also the hint that she was more than just her father's daughter but also an aspiring artist.

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