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Malay Culture

Kuda Kepang Game (Johor)


1. The Origin

The most favorable traditional game amongst Johor society is Kuda Kepang in which flat cowhide horses are the main props. The game was originally brought by Javanese who migrated to Malay land. At the onset, the game was intended to combat boredom, to create interlude, and to kill spare time. However, as the respond from Johor community increases, the game gradually develops and mushrooms among the society. Moreover, several organizations are initiated to organize the players of Kuda Kepang. One of those organizations is “Persatuan Kuda Kepang Pt Kemang Muar”.  

2. The Player

The Kuda Kepang performance requires 25 people: nine dancers, five musicians, 15 yard keepers, and 2 people of Bomoh Pemulih (mystical guide who resuscitates the possessed player with holy water, incense or incantations). Usually, the organization of Kuda Kepang consists of 40 people, and headed by a leader called Danyang. In the Kuda Kepang performance, the participants wear the same uniform. 

3. The Place and the Tools

The Kuda Kepang is usually performed in house yards to enliven the marriage ceremony and other auspicious occasions. The tools needed in the Kuda Kepang are:

  1. Whip made of several spun bamboos. The whip functions to trap the entranced dancers, to direct them, and to keep them remaining in the stage.
  2. Imitation horses made of cowhide. The horses are decorated and ornamented with paint, usually red paint, white or grey one.
  3. Rope measures 30 meters which is used to form rectangle fence so that the trance dancers will not roam around and not create harm for the spectators.

Besides the above props, the Kuda Kepang uses music to invite good spirits. The music instruments used are:

  1. Angklung: a wooden percussion instrument made of bamboo pipes of differing length and pitch. Usually the performance uses five angklungs.   
  2. Gendang (Drum): a percussion instrument made of cowhide and wood which are tightened together by rattan. The gendang size is about 3 feet.
  3. Gong: a metal disk with a turned rim, giving a resonant note when struck

Those tools are stored in a sacred place on which the shaman casts spell. It is intended to avoid the spirit from being angry and to keep them helping the players during the Kuda Kepang performance 

4. The Rule

Prior to the kuda kepang performance, a ritual ceremony is conducted to invite the spirits of ancestors, and to bless the performance. It is through providing several offerings to the spirits such as incense, incantations, box for burning the incense, holy water, rice (rice mixed with meat and vegetables), and sum of money. Usually, the ceremony is leaded by a troupe leader called Tok Bomoh.

This particular performance is commenced by emitting beautiful sounds through the music instruments: angklung, gendang and gong. Accompanied by the angklung orchestra augmented by a gendang trap set, the dancers, who ride the imitation horses enter the stage one by one, is headed by a danyang. The dancers then posture and do certain movement around the spectators. The usual types of dance performed during the Jaran Kepang are Tari Solo, Tari Selendang, Tari Pucuk Rebung, and Tari Kuda Kepang. Along with the music and magic formula recited by bomoh, the dancers gradually enter the phase of trance, called naik syeh, and become unconscious for two hours. During the naik syeh phase, the dancers are able to do much more sophisticated movements such as silat (self-defense) movements, jumping to about six feet, etc.     

The tempo of music will speed, as the dancers become more trance. The more speed the tempo the more aggressive the dancers. It is said that the dancers will be angry if the tempo of music starts slowing by kicking, and springing over the musicians. The strange behavior of the dancers looks like an angry horse. However, if the situation starts becoming out of control, the tok bomoh will pull the dancers out of trance by reciting jampi jampi (magic formula) 

5. Cultural Values

The Kuda Kepang encompasses the value of sacredness and harmony. The acceptance of Johor society to this particular art of Java, to certain extent, indicates the harmonious relation of the two cultures. The value of sacredness can be seen from several ritual ceremonies conducted for maintaining the tools used and in the opening of the ceremony. In addition, the ceremonies convey an important message that mankind should be in harmony with surrounding living environment (both natural and supernatural).   


Reference : www.geocities.com
Credit photo : www.allmalaysia.info

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