Basic movements of male style Javanese dance
Yuni was shouting her support for Bowo, he was coming first place in the sack race, just a few more centimeters and he would reach the finish line.
“Put your back to it!” She yelled, “Hurry! Come on! You can do it! Make us proud.”
The Independence Day[i] celebrations is one of the things she looks forward to every year. Yuni likes to participate in the races and competitions. Most of the times she comes out victorious.
“Yun, I’m so excited!” Ika shrieked from a distance as she ran up to her friend.
“Pak Lurah announced that they will hire the dancers from Pagguyuban[ii] Sanggar Wisanggeni for the Independence Day celebration party.
“That’s nice,” Yuni replied unimpressed. “Bowo, go….go!”
“How could you be so cold about it? It’s not like we can see an entertainment like this every day, or even every month, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Ika stood at her side while putting both hands on her waist. ”Besides, who hasn’t heard of Sanggar Wissangeni? Especially their star dancer Mas Koeswanto, I heard that not only is he a good performer but he is also very handsome.”
“Bowo…! You stupid fool, you were about to finish frit, why did you have to move like that?” Yuni shouted at her friend who was lying on the ground on the make shift race track.
“Are you even listening to me?” Ika was beginning to fell annoyed.
“Yeah…yeah, Wisanggeni the handsome performance dancer, send him my regards.” She said while running into the field and taking her place in the starting line.
Ika shook her head, “What a hopeless girl.”
“Yun, what were you doing all day to come home at this hour?” Bu Nining scolded her daughter. “It’s almost dusk and you haven’t showered or anything.”
“Bu, today I participated in some races in the field. Can you believe that I won all of them? I’m the best!” She said praising herself.
“Yun, you should stop acting like that. You’re a young woman now, it’s time to act more like one and less like a child.” Bu Nining told her patiently, “Now hurry up and go take a bath before your father gets back from the city. If he sees you like this, he’ll be upset.”
Koeswanto flexed his neck to the rhythm of the gamelan music playing in the background, he got up from his one knee kneeling position and stood up with both knees bent, swaying his body back and forward, lifted his right leg, then flipped the end of the sash that was fastened to his waist with his left hand. Swaying back and forward again, he began to slowly advance in a rhythmic movement, he moved back slightly, lifting up his left leg, then moved left and right like waves on water. He grabbed both ends of the sash, placing his right hand beside his head and his left hand to his side, he walked in a small circle, before ending his routine with a stance.
He turned around as he heard a clapping sound coming from his right hand side. It was Pak Atmojo the dance group leader, he smiled in satisfaction seeing his star dancer practicing. Their group might not be the biggest and most famous group in the province, but he certainly can’t deny that his number one lead man was an attractive sales pitch to include in any conversation, due to his rising popularity, especially with the younger female viewers.
“Everybody, gather around,” He called out while waving his hand up in the air. “I have a very important announcement to make.”
Sounds of chatter in the background as the members of the group moved towards him forming a circle.
“Okay, okay, pay attention.” Pak Atmojo said again, “For our new job this weekend at Desa[iii] Sumber Rejo, they changed the request, instead of performing Anoman Obong[iv], we will be performing Arjuna Wiwaha[v].”
The group began talking among themselves, “So I suppose Koes will be playing the role of Arjuna.” Parman said.
“Of course, Sitawati will get the role of Dewi Suprabha, Parman, you will be Niwatakawaca, and Budi you get to be Dewa Siwa. As for the other parts, Winoto will announce it after this.”
Koeswanto nodded his head, “No problem.” He said.
“Okay, let’s call it a day, we will practice again tomorrow at the same time.” Pak Atmojo said again.
Koeswanto took off his sash and walked to his bag, he placed the sash in his bag and released his hair bun. His long black hair reached his mid back, he left it lose and headed for the door.
“Mas Koes.” A woman called out to him.
He stopped and turned around, “Oh, Sita, what is it? He asked.
“Let’s go home together can you take me on your bicycle?” She said, “Our house is the same way any way.”
“Okay, let’s go.” He replied.
She sat behind him sideways, putting her right arm around his waist. Koeswanto took a deep breath, he knew too well what her aspirations towards him was, but he couldn’t seem to find it in him to respond to the feeling she had for him.
He peddled the bicycle towards the direction of her house. She gathered her hair to on her left shoulder to avoid the wind from blowing in all directions.
They arrived in front of her house, she jumped off the seat, “Do you want to come in?” She asked.
Koeswanto smiled and shook his head, “Maybe some other time, I promised my mother I’d help her deliver some mangoes to my grandmother’s house.” He lied with a straight face.
“Ah, okay, then send her my regards for me.” She smiled.
She waited until he was out of sight before entering the house.
Koeswanto continued to his house. Hi mother was sweeping the front yard with coconut leaf stick broom. “Ibu, good afternoon,” He greeted.
“Koes, did you just arrive from practice?” She asked.
“Yes Bu,” He replied.
“Ah, okay. Why don’t you go inside and wash up. I’ll finish sweeping the floor here, and then I’ll serve you some kolak pisang[vi] that I made earlier.”
“Okay, Bu” He smiled.
Koeswanto entered the house, he entered his room, putting down his bag. Tying his hair in a ponytail he headed to the well in the back yard to fill bucket of water before bringing it to the bamboo walled bathroom to fill the water container there, he needed to rake several buckets before the water container was completely full. He looked into the water smiling at the two Koi goldfish that was released there to eat any mosquito larvae, before taking his clothes off to wash himself.
Koeswanto finished washing himself, he felt refreshed and revitalized. He entered the kitchen ready to claim the treat that his mother had promised him. His aging mother was squatted in front of the wood stove, blowing on the wood through a bamboo pipe. She grabbed her chest and began to cough.
“Ibu, why don’t you let me do that?” He said gently.
“I’m cooking some rice for our dinner.” She replied. “I’ve already fried the salty fish, the chili paste and vegetables are also ready.”
“Bu, you should go and rest in the living room. I’ll finish cooking the rice and I’ll bring you some warm tea in a few minutes.”
Bu Karto took a deep breath, “You know, my life wouldn’t be so hard if you would marry already. If I have a daughter in law, I would have somebody to help me in the house.”
“Bu, stop talking nonsense. You should leave the kitchen now, so you won’t inhale any more of the smoke. Otherwise your cough will just get worse.”
Bu Karto sighed and got up, she left the kitchen. Koeswanto immediately placed himself in front of the stove, blowing on the wood to increase the flame. Feeling satisfied with the intensity of the flame, he got up and took the kettle to the well, filling it up with water. He then put it on top of the stove to bring the water to boil.
“Bu, here’s your tea.” He said while holding the metal cup in his hand.
“Koes, why don’t you sit down for a minute,” His mother said, “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“What is it, Bu?”
“Koes, I’m worried, I know that you love your career as a dancer, but the land that your father left for us has been neglected, since you don’t have enough time to tend to it. That land is very fertile, and very productive, but these past five years after your father had passed away, we don’t see the same amount of harvest as we used to anymore.”
Koeswanto sat in silence, playing with his fingers.
“Koes, I’m getting old and weak, how many years do I have left in this world? Should I leave this world without even getting a chance to meet my grandchildren? You’re already at the marriage age, why don’t you at least make an effort to make your mother happy.”
“Bu, there are just something that can’t be rushed, and marriage is one of them.” He replied.
“But I don’t understand what else are you waiting for? Sitawati is a very good girl, and she adores you and loves you. Why are you still doubting? Why don’t you just get married, dedicate yourself to our land and start a family? If you wait too long, you might end up with the wrong person instead of a perfect woman like Sitawati.”
“Let me think about it first,” he replied solemnly.
“You should do that.”
“Tomorrow I have to go to Desa Sumber Rejo to help set up the stage for the performance. I’ll probably be gone for three days, so I will ask Bu Lik Nuri to come here and accompany you while I’m away.”
Bu Karto nodded her head, “See, this is another reason why you should find me a daughter in law soon. That way if you have to g to another village to work, I wouldn’t be left at home alone.”
“All the more reason why I doubting to marry Sitawati, because when I travel, she would be travelling too.” Koewanto’s eyes suddenly beamed.
“Go back to the kitchen, you have to make sure that you don’t burn the rice!” His mother said.
“Why are there so many bamboo poles in the field?” Yuni complained.
“That’s what happens if you ignore me.” Ika said, “Those poles are for the stage that they are going to build for the Wayang Wong[vii] performance.”
“Ah….I see. When are they going to have the performance again?” Yuni asked.
Ika took a deep breath, “It’s for tomorrow night.”
“Hey, come on let’s go closer.” Ika whispered, “I want to see if Mas Koeswanto is there.”
“Who? Oh, never mind! Let’s go.”
They walked towards the group of men who were working with the bamboo poles. Some were cutting it with a machete, another group was weaving bamboo walls, and there were others who were dedicated in building a structure out of the material.
“Yuni squatted near a man who was weaving the bamboo, “Good morning, Mas. What are these bamboo walls for?” She asked.
“These? Oh these are to build a wall around an area that the dancer will use as a changing room. We need to make plenty of these, because obviously the changing room for men and women have to be separated.” He explained.
“Ah…how interesting…..” Yuni nodded.
“Psst……Yun, why don’t we walk around there, who knows we can find something interesting,” Ika whispered.
“Okay, let’s go.” Yuni stood up, “Mas, see you later.” She said to the man who is still weaving.
“See you later,” He replied.
“Hey look, over there, isn’t that Tatiek, Susi and Kesih,” Ika pointed to a group of girls who were making a semi-circle around one of the workers who was concentrated on cutting bamboo poles.
“But I want to go to that side of the field.” Yuni said while looking at the opposite sight. Her eyes had caught site of Pak Dahlan who was walking past the field with a stick on his shoulder. On both end of the stick were two big baskets filled with round green fruits that Yuni knew were mangoes.”
“Huh, that stingy man had just harvest his mangoes, his probably bringing them home to eat them all to himself.” She thought.
Pak Dahlan was the father of her friend Bowo, their family owned the most land and were the richest family in the village. Only their family owned a motorcycle, while everybody else had to remain happy and satisfied with walking everywhere, or when lucky, own a bicycle. Around his rice field, Pak Dahlan had planted several mango trees. Every mango season, he would dedicate himself to wrap the mangoes in teak wood leaves so the fruits wouldn’t fall prey to bats who sneak into the trees to suck their nectar at night. In addition to his anti-bat measures, he also counts the number of fruits that grow into a full size before it ripens. He would always know if anybody stole some, and the bitter old man will take the time to investigate who it was and shame them in front of the whole village.
“I can’t call myself Yuni, the champion of Desa Sumber Rejo if I don’t succeed in taking a mango or two from that cranky old man.” She said to herself. She observed the old man carefully as he walked into his yard and entered mango baskets and all. He put the baskets down on the left side of his porch, covering it with sacks.
Yuni smiled mischievously, “Huh, don’t think a few sacks would stop me.” She whispered. She looked around her, but she noticed that there were too many people around. “Right now is not a good time, I should wait till everybody is distracted with the performance to make my move.” She planned.
She turned around to get back with her friend Ika, her eye was still on Pak Dahlan’s yard. She focused to find her friend who she found was with the other girls surrounding someone, they watched as the person stood up and picked up another bamboo pole, carrying it over the shoulder.
She walked towards them, her mind was half wondering on her plan of execution for tomorrow’s mango heist.
“Yuni, watch out!” She heard Ika scream.
Yuni looked up and saw the end of a bamboo pole a few centimeters away from her face, reflectively she used her hand to block the bamboo pole and push it away from her.
“Ouch!” The sound came from the person who was carrying the pole, Yuni saw as he fell to the ground and the bamboo pole fell after him, hitting the man on the head.
“Oh no…Oh no….” The girls screamed, moving forward to help him.
The man stood up and turned to look at Yuni. His hair bun came lose leaving his hair down to his back, his eyes beamed with anger, and he was holding his head with his right hand. “What do you think you are doing?” He growled at her.
“Sorry, I didn’t see.” She replied, smiling awkwardly while walking over to him.
She observed his head, moving his hand away briskly with her hand, “At least it’s not bleeding,” She said, “You’re probably only going to get a lump on your head, but it will be gone in a day or two. That’s why it’s not a good idea that a skinny, pale, and weak looking person like you try to do real men’s work.”
“What did you call me?” Koeswanto asked while staring at her.
[i] Indonesia Independence day is on the 17th of August.
[ii] Pagguyuban is dance group
[iii] Desa means village
[iv] Anoman Obong, part of Ramayana about the burning of Hanoman in front of the Alengka palace by Rahwana
[v] Javanese spin off of Mahabharata telling the story of Arjuna during his seclusion in Mount Mahameru.
[vi] Kolak pisang is a typical dessert, consist of plantain and yucca, in sweet coconut milk.
[vii] Wayang Wong, Javanese theatrical performance. Usually performing stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.