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Performing Islam

By: Sadiah Boonstra

Enthus weaving his magic
Sadiah Boonstra

It was around midnight when I arrived at an Islamic secondary school after a sweaty nine-hour bus drive from Yogyakarta to Tegal. A big event was taking place to celebrate the school’s thirty-second anniversary. Music got louder as I walked through a large gate and passed by mobile food stalls. A stage rose high above a large crowd watching a wayang golek performance, played with three dimensional wooden puppets.

As I had seen countless wayang performances, I expected to see a dalang (puppet master), a number of pesindhen (female singers) and a large gamelan orchestra of some thirty musicians all dressed in traditional Javanese costume. The dalang was there, but he was dressed in a non-traditional white outfit. Although he was wearing a blangkon (a traditional Javanese cap), it was white, not batik, and had the appearance of a turban, giving it a religious twist. There were only two pesindhen, also dressed in white instead of a kain and kebaya and wearing headscarfs. There were just ten musicians in the gamelan dressed in black and wearing kopiah (fez) instead of blangkon. The story was a local story about Muslim daily life and not derived from the wayang golek repertoire. There were two synthesizers used to play electric guitar and other non-gamelan instruments, and the songs being sung were Qasidah,

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