Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Golek Taboos

My studies of wayang golek cepak with Ki Dhalang Calim in Pegagan Kidul continue. I have been trying to set up a performance for the week of 19 August at the end of my stay here in Cirebon.... so far without much luck. The process has, however, been interesting.

I went today with my friend the wayang kulit puppeteer Purjadi today to the village of Pekantingan where he is performing on Friday at an annual graveside unjungan rite to see if I could perform wayang golek instead of wayang kulit in the siang show preceding Purjadi's night-time show. We met with the kuwu, a sympathetic village headman whose small sitting room was decorated with Islamic texts and a modern lukisan kaca of Gatotkaca. He said that wayang golek was absolutely taboo in Pekantingan- and had been since he was a small boy. The story was that the stage collapsed at a show in Pekantingan many years ago and a vow was made never to sponsor golek again in the village. The kuwu said that golek summons the spirits of the ancestors and that any variance from the 'correct' story would cause their wrath. Sandiwara has the same stories as golek, but is not a true representation like golek and so does not have magical repercussions. He pointed out that the taboo against golek was not the only taboo in Pekantingan - it also had taboos against certain crops, for similar historical reasons.

Purjadi mentioned to the kuwu that other villages - including Kerandon - had similar taboos against golek. The kuwu said that Kerandon, the location of the ancient Cirebon Girang kingdom, was united with Pekantingan by shared ancient customs and connections to the sultanate - Pekantingan's Muludan celebration  for example falls on the 12th day of the month, the same day that Muludan is celebrated in the royal courts. Purjadi then gave a list of other reasons why golek is taboo. In santri villages, golek figures are said to be statues of people - forbidden according to orthodox Muslims - in contrast to wayang kulit which is just a picture of people. In the village of Cengkoak people said that they simply disliked golek for aesthetic reasons - "Even if someone donated a performance of golek, we would not accept it, let alone if we had to pay for it." The kuwu said that this was probably just an excuse - and that in Cengkoak like in Pekantingan there were likely ritual reasons for why golek is not performed there.

Golek's heyday is long past in Cirebon. While puppeteers in the past were commonly engaged to perform at hajatan, almost all performances today are in graveyards, and these are decreasing annually. The repertoire is shrinking too it seems. Figures are still named after Menak and Panji characters, but only stories set in Cirebon since the arrival of Islam are today performed. "Too distant," say audiences about Menak stories, according to Calim. Purjadi says that golek simply has not kept up with the times - its lagu prang are monotone, the characters are not known to audiences (unlike wayang kulit or Sundanese wayang golek, with its iconic figures), puppeteers are old and not good storytellers.

Call me old-fashioned - I like wayang golek cepak and its stories and would like to see the form maintained in Cirebon. But I see that it faces formidable challenges.

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