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Home » Old Batavia » Ondel-ondel: The Dancing Giant Puppets of Betawi

Ondel-ondel: The Dancing Giant Puppets of Betawi

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While the National Monument or Monas is the icon of the metropolitan city of  Jakarta, the icon of its indigenous “Betawi” people is undisputedly the 2,5 meters tall  giant puppets that are never absent from any celebration or folk fiesta: called the Ondel-ondel.  The term ondel-ondel itself refers to both the puppet as well as the performance.


The Ondel-ondel puppet is made on a bamboo frame of up to 2.5 to 5 meters high with a diameter of ± 80 centimeters. It is constructed in such a way so that it can be easily lifted by one person from the inside. The puppet is usually dressed in brightly colored garments or traditional Betawi clothings. The puppet's face is a mask made from wood and is its hair made of dried palm tree leaves that have been shredded lengthwise. The wooden mask of the male ondel-ondel is traditionally painted red, while the female is white.


Ondel-ondel is generally performed in pairs, resembling a couple of husband and wife. To enhance its visual appearance, the male is usually decorated with long moustache, beard, thick eyebrows, and sideburns. To make the female prettier, usually bright red lipstick, curled eyelashes, pointed eyebrows, and sometimes a mole are added.  Occasionally, child ondel-ondel are featured.


The Ondel-ondel performance is complemented with an entourage of musicians and occasionally a showcase of Betawi style of Martial Art of Pencak Silat. Its musical accompaniment may vary, many use the Tanjidor, while others use the gambang kromong, Rebana Ketimprung, and Ningnong.


However the most common musical ensemble of ondel-ondel consists  of Gendang Tepak, Gendang Kempul, Kenong, Kemong, Krecek, Gong, and Tehyan or Trumpet. The band usually plays Betawi’s traditional compositions and cheerful songs, but they always play the anthem of ondel-ondel which is sung in traditional Betawi’s dialect:”Nyok Kite Nonton Ondel-ondel, Nyok Kite ngarak ondel-ondel” or “Let’s watch ondel-ondel, let’s follow the ondel-ondel parade”.


Initially, ondel-ondel was performed to provide protection against calamities or for warding off wandering evil spirits. It is often thought of as a spiritual representation of the ancestors who safeguard the village residents and their descendants. Similar art performances are also found in other parts  of the country. In the Priangan part of West Java ( in the land of the  Sundanese) it is called Badawang, in Cirebon it is called Gendruwo, in the regency of Banyumas in Central Java it is called Barongan Buncis, and in Bali it is known as Barong Landung. However, the Jakarta Ondel-ondel is recognized as the one having the best, distinctive character.


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Ondel-ondel: The Dancing Giant Puppets of Betawi

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