Centuries of Javanese cultural heritage in Selangor

Centuries of Javanese cultural heritage in Selangor

Dubbed as the economic powerhouse of Malaysia, Selangor is well-endowed with diversity in natural and cultural heritage, which has defined the state as a melting pot of cultures and made Selangor a destination to visit and explore.

Rentak Selangor – “Beats of Selangor” – is a showcase of Selangor’s vibrant cultural and musical heritage.

Gamelan Medley

It involves a two-day tour to the Javanese settlements in Kuala Selangor to witness first-hand the ethnic traditions handed down over generations and still practised until today.

Day One showcases a live performance of three popular musical and theatrical sights and sounds – Gamelan, Kompang Jawa and Wayang Kulit – staged at the main hall at The Kabin hotel in Pantai Remis, Jeram.

The next day the tour proceeds to Homestay Kampung Haji Dorani in Sabak Bernam for a live show of the mythical dance of Kuda Kepang.

Gamelan (Gamelan Medley)

The word Gamelan originated from Jawa and loosely means “being pounded upon” – in physical reference to the way its musical instruments, such as Gong Agong, Gong Sawokan, Gendang Ibu, Gendang Anak, Saron Pekin and Saron Baron I & II, are played.

These instruments are commonly made from bronze and wood, but there also variants made from iron and bamboo. Gamelan is played during formal and informal ceremonies, like weddings and circumcision rites, respectively.

The typical Gamelan musical ensemble comprises nine male musicians and six female dancers, and the Javanese version is popularly performed in Selangor, Johor and the Federal Territories.

Kompang Jawa (Beats of Rhythm)

Kompang Jawa, also known as Kompang Tiga, is differentiated from other traditional Kompang performances by its musical instruments, songs and compositions, of which the latter two were based on the book of proses in praise of the holy Prophet Muhammad.

It is said that Kompang Jawa originated from “Wali Sembilan”, or the revered nine saints in Jawa, who used traditional music in their missions to propagate the teachings of Islam to the local communities way back then.

Beats of Rhythm

Historically, the musical performance was brought in to Selangor by Javanese traders in the early 1900s and it is performed at mosques during religious festivities, as well as at traditional Malay weddings.

Kompang is a type of small drum, usually made of goat-hide. Present day kompang are also made of other animal skins like cow and buffalo, and to a certain extent, synthetic rubber.

Shadows of Mythical Tales

Wayang Kulit Jawa (Shadows of Mythical Tales)

Wayang Kulit, or shadow play, is a prominent Malay theatrical art form that utilizes light and shadow. Some claim it originated from Jawa (Indonesia), but others profess it to be from Patani (Thailand).

A wayang kulit performance is led by a Tuk Dalang, or puppet master, who strategically maneuvers the puppet in front of a hanging light bulb or kerosene lamp, to create shadow plays on the white cloth screen.

Made from cowhide, the puppets are based on Hindu characters, and their stories revolve around tales of Ramayana and Mahabrata.

The credibility of the Tuk Dalang not only lies in his ability to master the play, but also on mimicking the different voices of the puppets’ characters.

A musical ensemble of seven to eight persons, playing instruments such as gong, geduk, gedombak, serunai, canang and kesi, accompanies the many voices of Tuk Dalang.

Kuda Kepang (Night of Mystical Trance)

Kuda is the Malay word for a horse while Kepang means braid. When formed together, Kuda Kepang is literally braided horse, which is reflective of its physical form, created from braided strips of rattan, or alternatively, leather.

Kuda Kepang is a pre-Islamic Malay traditional folk dance, said to have been created by the nine saints in Jawa in the 15th century as a medium to spread Islam to the rural areas. Faced with difficulties to propagate the teachings of the religion, the saints resorted to the innovative idea of dancing while riding on a horse to tell a religious tale.

Over the centuries, Kuda Kepang dancers gradually replaced the real horses, with the present flat braided ones, made of animal skins and bamboo.