Pasar Kangen Yogyakarta 2014 and a Ritual

As a 90’s kid, I would sometimes get a little bit nostalgic of all the things I used to love like  food, music, toys, movies and so much more. A recent event reminded me of this nostalgia and I realized that we can’t dwell in the past but we can look back on it to appreciate the present and reflect. It was Pasar Kangen Jogja 2014 which was held in Taman Budaya near Malioboro. “Kangen” in Bahasa means “to miss” something or someone, and during the 18th to 24th of last month, it was all about re-experiencing Yogyakarta back in the old days.

A lady selling traditional Javanese food
A lady selling traditional Javanese food

It wasn’t a big event like arts festival but it spoke to the people and is close to their hearts. The event includes over 40 stands that sold food that the people of Yogyakarta, their parents and even grandparents used to enjoy (and still do), local handicraft products, vintage items, along with traditional art performances unique to the city.

Vintage Items
Vintage Items

This event that has been held for 6 times was held in order to preserve traditional values which is becoming even more vital and important in our society. Amidst the fast paced era of globalization, Jogja never ceases to remind its people of their roots. It was great fun to walk around the venue happily filling my stomach with old-school snacks, traditional sweets, cake and a cup of coffee whose beans originated from Toraja brewed right then and there.

As I browsed through the stands, this constant beat and music coming from the stage installed in the area was ringing in my ears. A man was singing along to a Javanese melody accompanied by Gamelan and even non-traditional instruments like a drum set and electric guitars. People were surrounding the stage and I thought it was just a traditional performance like no other, but the melody grew on me and sparked my curiosity. I walked over to the stage and realized that there were dancers moving along to this beat and people stood to watch them in fascination and curiosity. I asked a lady beside me as to what it was all about.

I found out that it was called Jatilan. It is the oldest dance ritual in Java which includes a group of dancers to dance to music in a constant, somewhat monotonous beat. This kind of rhythmic unison lead to a trance and their bodies entered by spirits. This ritual usually shows a soldier’s valor while in the battlefield on horseback and wielding a sword which is represented in the ritual by using an artificial horse made by woven bamboo or animal skin.

- the 'dalang' is the man wearing black on far left.
Jathilan – the ‘dalang’ is the man wearing all back on far left.

When achieving a trance, dancers will reach to whatever they can find, may it be broken glass or a sharp knife to “torture” themselves. The most important person in a Jathilan performance is the dalang, alternatively called pawang and ___ who acts as a kind of spiritual leader and a “director” of the ritual. He is seen as someone who can help induce a trance in the dancers as well as having the ability to communicate with Queen Roro Kidul; Goddess of the Southern Seas that rings true to the mystical and spiritual life the people of Central Java. When I went there, the ritual wasn’t done to an extreme but it succeeded in keeping people’s eyes fixed to the whole phenomenon.

Besides Yogyakarta, Jathilan is referred to as kuda lumping in East Java. Despite the “extremes” and drama of the ritual, l people do enjoy it. But what I learned is that Jathilan is not just a mere spectacle, it can express and represent a culture. It can be the belief that there is spiritual presence, and a way of community building that helps maintain social control in a specific culture.

Rituals like Jathilan are done in villages to appreciate and respect those greater, invisible forces to promote harmony to their environment (thanks to Foundation of Humanities class for this!). This is because they believe that both a fast entrance and exit in a possession will give them good fortune during the year. Therefore, it once again expresses the importance of communal life in Indonesian culture which I realized during the few hours I spent at the event. The whole experience of being at Pasar Kangen refreshes my mind about the aspects of culture shown through these beliefs and traditions of the people in it. Not only did I enjoy, but I learned and to that, I raise my glass.