Monday, December 24, 2012

Visit to Swara Insani and Al-Mutawally

I am here in Cirebon with the primary intention of scoping out possible new collaborations with two higher education institutions, Institut Studi Islam Fahmina (ISIF or the Fahmina Institute for Islamic Studies) and the state college for Islamic studies, IAIN Syekh Nurjati. In addition to on-campus discussions and meetings, lecturers associated with both institutions have taken the opportunity to bring me out to institutions outside of the city to participate in a number of events of cultural interest.

Yesterday (23 December) I went by motorbike to the village of Mayung, where I met up with ISIF lecturer Opan Safari (one of my closest friends in Cirebon) and my former typist Santoso and visited the private FM radio station Swara Insani, where I was interviewed in Cirebon Javanese about my academic interests in Cirebon. I also used the opportunity to plug my upcoming wayang golek cepak performance in Pekandangan, Indramayu on New Year's Eve. The focus of Radio Insani, as the name suggests, is on Islamic education, and I also spoke about the close connection of Islam and traditional culture in Cirebon, and the importance of supporting local arts and culture.

After, we stopped by a multi-purpose educational centre run by the same foundation that owns the radio station. On Sundays, this is being used for a lukisan kaca course under the tutelage of my friend Opan. Opan said that a number of the students showed real talent. He was planning on doing the course in three phases. During the first two phases the students would receive sketches and execute these on glass, while in the third they would make their own sketches.

Today (24 December) I got picked up by my old friend Didin Nurul Rosidin at my hotel and taken out to the pesantren he runs, al-Mutawally, located in Kabupaten Kuningan, in the hills over Cirebon, not far from Pasar Cilimus. I first got to know Didin when he was doing an MA in Islamic studies at Leiden. I helped him unofficially with his MA research on Madrais, and he hosted the sandiwara actor-manager Wartaka when he was doing a residency at Leiden, working with me on sandiwara history and the play Pusaka Setan Kober. 

The pesantren in Kuningan has about 300 students, boy and girls, and was founded about 100 years ago by Didin's great grandfather or possibly great-great grandfather. It went under in the 1950s after the founder's death and then was revived by Didin's father in the early 1990s. Didin is a lecturer in Islamic history at IAIN, and heads up the Centre for Culture and History there, but also devotes much of his time to running the pesantren and making sure the students have both an excellent religious as well as secular education. I was asked to do a short talk in English to the students and spoke with them about santri lelana, a talk I gave to the IAIN student society in 1994 about the internet and the importance of networking and contributing to society. 

I was entertained in turn by drum playing by the boys (which greeted my arrival and escorted me out when I left the main reception hall), short dramatic skits in English by the girls, poetry readings by the boys accompanied by guitar and the singing of salawatan accompanied by hand drums and tambourines (see above). The lead singer in the salawatan group had a very pleasing voice. I learned that she also could sing with degung. Her father, who was wearing a biker leather jacket when he came to pick her up after the event (it was the last day of term and many students were going home), was obviously quite proud of her.

While the younger students might not have understood much of what I had to say, they were well behaved, and responded well to a summary that Didin offered at the end. Some of the questions asked by students were very intelligent. These included:
  • How to deal with stage nerves when performing
  • What it means to perform theatre in a style that was originally foreign
  • How can one do theatre when men and women can't perform together
  • Is it necessary to get a BA in Indonesia before studying abroad
  • What can theatre and drama do for the conflict in Palestine
  • What drew me to studying drama
  • What is more important in education, skills or opportunities
  • How did I get promoted to professor
In my talk and answers to their questions, I encouraged students to do voluntary work, apply themselves in what they do, maintain blogs (a number of them already do, and Didin has an excellent blog himself) and learn how to use email. 

On the drive back, Didin spoke about how he hoped to acquire a gamelan degung for the pesantren. He said that there are many stereotypes about pesantren and that performing arts not normally associated with Islam such as guitar and degung could help to create bridges and mutual understanding with the surrounding community. I encouraged him to continue in his efforts. 

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