Darivisual Province: West Nusa Tenggara Regency/City: North Lombok Subdistrict: Pemenang

Mr. Emy and the Kids of Karang Baru

Written by Otty Widasari

This article is part of the Eleven Stories from the Southeast written by Muhammad Sibawaihi, Otty Widasari and Manshur Zikri, published by Forum Lenteng in 2016. We re-upload it on the AKUMASSA website in the framework of the “Darivisual”.

Every two days, a small alley in front of the office of Pasirputih Community in Karang Baru Village was filled with a loud roar of motorbike exhaust that had been very well recognized by the people and children around. It replaced the echoes of afternoon call to prayer that just had reverberated. Mr. Emy who was burly, dark-skinned, had long hair that was always tied at the back of his head, usually got off the bike and then replaced his shoes with borrowed flip flops, and went to the mosque to do the Asr prayer. After that, a small yard beside Pasirputih office would be filled with children with noisy voices which responded to the shouts from Mr. Emy who just returned from the mosque.

Preserving traditional arts in a very technological time like now seemed not easy. The traditional artists had to found a way to stay up-to-date in order to keep the traditional arts alive. Muhaemy, which was usually called Mr. Emy, was an art activist of Wayang Sasak tradition. Mr. Emy was a puppet master, a flute player as well as a wayang (traditional puppet) craftsman. He made a quite hard effort. He even opened Sekolah Pedalangan Wayang Sasak (Sasak Wayang School of Puppetry) in Sasela Village, West Lombok.

Mr. Emy trained the children around the Pasirputih’s headquarters at that time to play musical instruments from used goods, on February 5, 2016. (Foto: AKUMASSA’s archive).

Mr. Emy indeed looked a little frightening. His appearance did not match his voice which was little and hoarse, as if he was almost out of breath, shouting to organize the extraordinarily noisy children. In an instant, the chaotic noise turned systematically rhythmical. The sounds came from various used items that were beaten with wooden handles, irons or twigs, broken buckets, glasses, bottles, pots, cans of paint, and more. All sounds that were produced by those things were bound together with the sound of bamboo flute that was played by Mr. Emy. The tones were long, floating, filling the air. It sounded joyous but at the same time also gave mystical nuance along that small alley in front of Pasirputih office. Some children played the music with the used items. Some others became the dancers. One child became a referee, two children acted as fighters. The pot lids became the shields, while the banana-leaf midribs became the fighting sticks.

Each afternoon Mr. Emy taught the children Perisean traditional art. Perisean, or in Pemenang was known as Sematian, was a typical game from Lombok that brought two men who would fight using a rattan stick and a shield each. The game was quite scary because it was a free fight that was not played by professional athletes, but by anyone from the audience who was willing to volunteer. This fight would be stopped after one of the fighters bled, or stopped by the referee called pekembar. And then the fight would be ended peacefully where both fighters would hug each other to show that this was just a game. Perisean was always accompanied by Sasak gamelan music (traditional ensemble music).

Traditional music and dance training between the children of Desa Pemenang Barat and Timur residents and Muhaimi, in the yard of Pasirputih’s headquarters, on February 12, 2016. (Photo: AKUMASSA’s archive).

Previously, some of members of Pasirputih Community had been a bit worried when Mr. Emy had expressed his intention to make this Perisean project for AKUMASSA Chronicle: Bangsal Menggawe. They had worried about none other than the scene of violence in Perisean game that would be played by children. Mr. Emy had ensured that it would be fine. There would be no real hit. They would just pretend to fight in the form of dancing. The goal had just been to make the children not to forget their own traditional art and after Mr. Emy had also expressed his idea to use the used items and to make the rattan whip from safe material, all members of Pasirputih had just then agreed.

The kids practicin traditional dance, facilitated by Muhaimi on February 14, 2016. (Photo: AKUMASSA’s archive).

The kids practicin traditional dance, facilitated by Muhaimi on February 16, 2016. (Photo: AKUMASSA’s archive).

So, the noise that afternoon happened almost every few days in the side yard of Pasirputih’s office. It was so fun to see Mr. Emy who had a scary body begin to routinely go around the village with a bunch of children to collect used goods. It was fun to see the routine scene every afternoon, where the presence of Mr. Emy was always awaited by the children, and they were happy welcoming the loud deafening roar from Mr. Emy’s motorbike exhaust, then the noise turned into an orderly joyous rhythm. The big Mr. Emy sat upright, playing his flute while being surrounded by children who were playing music made of used items. They reminded us of the tale about the flute player and the mice.

Two days before the Bangsal Menggawe event, Mr. Emy invited children to practice in Bangsal Port. This time, Mr. Emy gave them a chance to use the real instruments. On D-Day, they would perform with real costumes and instruments too. A man, who was happy to see the children’s activity in Karang Baru Village, remembered that he had Sasak gamelan musical instruments. He came from the next village. Even though it was rusty and dusty, that set of instruments still worked well. He then lent it to this group.

Sharing experiences, this was the most important thing of Mr. Emy’s project. Lately people liked to campaign for movement of the utilization of used items. That was certainly very good for the purpose of energy security. The problem was, the movement was often only the packing, infiltrated by other interests which were also commodified by the commercial world. In Mr. Emy and children of Karang Baru’s action, there was no romanticism about the use of used goods. The sensitivity of the children to that had been sharpened by Mr. Emy since the beginning, to be aware of their own environment, from hunting, collecting, processing, to using the used goods. Holding on to undergo a process of using used goods gave meaning to the non-consumptive life. They were also required to store them well in one corner of Pasirputih’s office yard after they practiced, taking care of them, to be used again the next time. The sensitivity was maintained with enough intensity during that process of their practice within a month. The sensitivity of Mr. Emy who was indeed the Head of Sekolah Pedalangan Wayang Sasak, and that it was common for him to go into the children’s world, also accommodated Pasirputih Community’s worry about the violence in Perisean Traditional Art.

The lesson about the utilization of used goods was done without alienating the ideal form of the traditional art itself. At the general rehearsal, and finally when performing, the children were given another different experience. Once they knew their own local tradition, they got the chance to experience the use of the real material. They played the real Sasak gamelan which produced beautiful sounds of their local music. They were excited to be able to hit the real gong, to play the real gamelan, to strike a pair of real cymbals, while being accompanied by the mystical sound of Mr. Emy’s flute which howled like his motorbike exhaust when entering their small alley every day. Small fighters danced with beautiful real rattan sticks to slash the air, and defended themselves with real wooden shields. Children learned to appreciate the traditional art without having to feel antipathetic towards the establishment.

Muhaemy, the keeper of the traditional art survival, gave an alternative experience that we did not need to have a conventional viewpoint toward the alternative discourse itself. We did not need to be inflexible. Children who played music using used goods every day never felt awkward when they had to perform at a folk festival event using the professional instruments. Perisean became a beautiful negotiation process among modern viewpoints in addressing the traditional art, and vice versa.

About the author


Otty Widasari

OTTY WIDASARI is an artist, writer, director and curator. Currently, she is the Director of the Media Education and Empowerment Program (AKUMASSA) at the Forum Lenteng.

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