Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fatwa banning kuda kepang in Johor

Kuda Kepang, the horse trance dance, is today the most significant performing art associated with Javanese and people of Javanese descent living in Malaysia. There is no official count of Javanese in Malaysia, but most scholars agree that it is the largest population outside Indonesia, numbering several million perhaps. Most of the majority Javanese kampung (rural communities, hamlets) are to be found in the state of Johor, where there are also many migrant Indonesians working kelapa sawit plantations.

I learned earlier this month from a colleague teaching in Johor that the state of Johor has issued a fatwa banning all Muslims from 'being involved' with the performance of Kuda Kepang. A google search confirms this.

The fatwa ( state that kuda kepang is haram (forbidden) as it runs against Islam. The fatwa's 'explanation' or keterangan ( indicates that this is due to performers using non-Islamic magical formulae (jampi), being possessed by jin, going into trance (mabuk, the same word used for being drunk) and also cites as well audience behaviour, including not wearing red clothing.

Similar fatwa issued in the past in the northern state of Kelantan banned Muslims from performing or watching wayang kulit, mak yong and other traditional arts. These bans seem now no longer to be in place. A series of wayang kulit performances I attended at the Gelanggang Seni cultural centre in Kota Bharu attracted a mostly local audience.

So far, there has been very little attention paid to the kuda kepang fatwa. One blogger points to a TV9 television show broadcasting a local carnival with kuda kepang post-fatwa (

A kuda kepang troupe leader I spoke to said that the fatwa doesn't concern him - he believes that what he is doing is consistent with Islam, performing an art form introduced by the wali sanga that led to the conversion of millions of Javanese.

However, the fatwa has meant that all instruction of and about kuda kepang has ceased in Johor schools and universities. The future of the art form here in Malaysia is uncertain.


Fadhio said...

it is actually Wali Songo (means wali sembilan in Indo Language)...sorry to bother,but i am doing a research on this too...focusing on the visual elements of kuda kepang...or,surface design of the kuda kepang...

can i know bout your research, plz email me once u read got this

thanks for the info btw!

Fadhio said... fadh ( doing research and thesis writing about kuda kepang....can u share ur info sir? i really needs help bout this..

btw,it is wali songo,not sanga (wali sembilan in Indo Language)

thanks for the info!

Matthew Isaac Cohen said...

Glad to hear of your research, Fadhio. Sanga is the correct Javanese spelling for Songo. The word is pronounced Songo in most of Central and East Java but it is written Songo.