Sunday, April 4, 2010

'Ronggeng’ and the mentality of the Malays

In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessing and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

Establish worship
and pay the poor due
and obey the messenger,
that haply ye may find mercy. (Nur 24:56)

RECENTLY I was glued to TV3’s ‘Cerekarama’ (a Malay drama) entitled ‘Sepat Ronggeng’. It is rare for me to sit patiently in front of the box for two hours for such a show; but the title of the drama, ‘Sepat Ronggeng’ attracted me.

The word ‘ronggeng’ was not unfamiliar to me. In the 1970-s, when I was a young boy, I often heard that word plus a few others that almost have the same meaning; they were ‘cak gun cak’, ‘joget lambak’ (free dancing) and lately an ‘ustaz’ (religious teacher) told me of an another term that was ‘hamlau’.

‘Ronggeng’, ‘cak gun cak’, ‘joget lambak’ and ‘hamlau’ are all ‘dances of the past’; they were favourite among Malaccan Malays who held them during the night after joyous weddings. The difference might be the type of dance and the time they were held. For example ‘cak gun cak’ was held after ‘hari berlangsung’ (the actual marriage day) while ‘hamlau’ was held during ‘malam berinai besar’ (one night before ‘hari berlangsung’).

During ‘cak gum cak’ or ‘joget lambak’, the ‘pengantin’ (the newlywed couple) begin the ‘joget’ and would be followed by youth and their partners and those who were young in heart.

Sometimes there were fights over female partners but the ‘joget and dondang sayang’ celebrations kept on going until the wee hours.

They were top and hot events before independence, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, but nowadays I have not heard of any Malacca Malay weddings accompanied by fiesta of ‘ronggeng’, ‘cak gun cak’, ‘joget lambak’ and ‘hamlau’ so when TV showed a ‘ronggeng drama’, I had my eyes open for it.

First of all what is ‘sepat ronggeng’. In consists of two words ‘sepat’ and ‘ronggeng’. ‘Sepat’ is a fresh water fish with small climbing perch, is often found in rivers, swampy areas with a lot of weeds and paddy fields. Ronggeng is a type of dance. There are a few types of ‘sepat’ - ‘sepat ronggeng’ is a small type of ‘sepat’ that make beautiful movements like dancing in the water.

The old Malays were brilliant in using words. The word ‘sepat ronggeng’ had a double meaning. It could be the fish itself and also could describe a female who was hot on ‘ronggeng’ stage.

Wikipedia defines ‘ronggeng’ as a type of Javanese and Malay social dance in which couples exchange poetic verses as they dance to the music of a rebab or violin and a gong. ‘Ronggeng’ might be originated from Java, but also can be found in Sumatra and Malay peninsula.

In Java, a traditional ’ronggeng’ performance features a traveling dance troop that travels from village to village. The dance troop consists of one or several professional female dancers, accompanied by a group of musicians playing musical instruments; rebab and gong. The term ‘ronggeng’ also applied for these female dancers.

During a ‘ronggeng’ performance, the female professional dancers are expected to invite some male audience or clients to dance with them as a couple with the exchange of some tips money for the female dancer, given during or after the dance. The couple dances intimately and the female dancer might performs some movements that might be considered erotic.

In the past, the erotic and sexual nuance of the dance has gave ‘ronggeng’ a shady reputation as the prostitution disguised in the art of dance. ‘Ronggeng’ is the main theme of Ahmad Tohari's novel ‘Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk’, tells the story of a dancer girl whom also a prostitute, in a remote village in Central Java. ‘Ronggeng’ is closely related to Sundanese Jaipongan dance.

‘Sepat Ronggeng’ is about an unsuccessful preserved fish seller Khatijah who devises a plan to attract customers by using her beauty and the beauty of her young daughters, Zaiton and Zainon. Khatijah managed to sell all her ‘sepat ronggeng’ to a widowed singer of a ‘ronggeng’ group while her daughters were successful in coaxing the man’s two sons to buy their products. They soon fell in love with their partners.

Not long after that they were invited to a wedding in the ‘kampung’ where the singer’s group performed. In that drama, men and women including those wearing ‘tudungs’ (headscarf) took part in the ‘joget lambak’ or ‘ronggeng’. A woman who was wearing ‘tudung’ was shown being ‘high’ in doing the dance.

Some women including the ‘sepat ronggeng’ seller and her daughters were shown sitting on chairs waiting for men to invite them to dance. When some men approached the ladies, they gave their hands to be held and then were seen guided to the dance floor. There they danced with their partners in tune with ‘ronggeng songs’.

While watching the scene, I couldn’t help thinking of those involved in the drama such as its producer, script writer, director, actors and actress on what message they wanted to send wanted to the masses. Even though, it was true that ‘ronggeng’, ‘joget lambak’, ‘cak gun cak’ and ‘hamlau’ were among favourite past times of the older generations, but I believed the younger generation have no idea about them. I and perhaps those of my age too had faint ideas about them.

Years ago, to stop this ‘adat’ (way of life), some imams (religious leader or imam who lead prayers) threatened not to ‘nikah’ (married off) brides. They succeeded and nowadays as far as I know there are no more ‘joget lambak’ in Malacca during weddings.

So, what’s the motive in showing this ‘jahiliah’ (period of ignorance) way of life to public especially the younger generation? Did those involved intentionaly want to give life to the old practices of the Malays?

The ‘ustaz’ who introduced the term ‘hamlau’ to me said all the said practices were ‘haram’ (forbidden) in Islam. First of all, its ‘haram’ to organize an occasion where male and female mixed freely. What’s more, in such an event, some women took opportunity to show off their bodies by wearing tight body fitting attire such as kebaya and ‘kain belah’ (slit sarung).

It was also an insult to women where they were seated in rows for the men to choose them to dance. After being chosen, they offered their hands and the men led them to the dance floor. On stage or in the open, some couples were high as they ‘berjoget’ (danced) as though there was ‘no tommorrow’ to the tune of the music and ‘dondang sayang’ songs.

The ‘ustaz’ said those who taught and introduced things that were forbidden in Islam, not only would they be punished for it; they would be receiving the ill rewards (dosa) of their followers even after their death.

Those who associated themselves too had the share to it. If the ‘haram’ activities they taught were copied and practiced for tens or hundreds of years, just imaging the burden he or she would have would have to carry in the Hereafter.

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