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Angklung : Harmony in a Bamboo Orchestra
For most Indonesians, bamboo is an inseparable component from daily life. House wares, tools, and building materials are among the few things associated with bamboos. There is even a culinary delight made of young bamboo shoots, locally popular as rebung. Bamboo once played an important role in the struggle for Indonesia’s independence as a symbolic weapon known as bambu runcing, or bamboo spear. The creative and artistic hands of Indonesian artists also carve bamboo into several musical instruments, among them are suling, calung, munsang, clempung, rengkong, and the one Inscribed in 2010 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: the Angklung.
Angklung is an instrument made from joint pieces of bamboo. It consists of two to four bamboo tubes suspended within a bamboo frame, bound with rattan cords. The tubes are carefully whittled and cut by a master craftsperson to produce certain notes when the bamboo frame is shaken or tapped. Each angklung produces a single note or chord, so several players must collaborate in order to play melodies. The instrument has been known since ancient times in some parts of Indonesia, especially in West Java, Central Java, East Java, and Bali. The word ‘angklung’ was originated from Sundanese “angkleung-angkleungan”, that means the movement of angklung player and the sound “klung” that comes from the instrument.
In the past, angklung was an instrument that had religious ritual function. It serves as medium to invite Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice or prosperity, to come down to earth and give fertility to the crops. Some villages still includes angklung in the Sundanese ritual traditions such as harvest rituals, ngaseuk pare, nginebkeun pare, ngampihkeun pare, seren taun, nadran, helaran, turun bumi, or sedekah bumi.
Although generally identified as Sundanese art, the origin of angklung may have been even broader and older, dating back many centuries ago. One of the references on the Samanyata bulletin Edition II/2009 published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism mentioned that according to Dr.Groneman, angklung had already been a favorite of the entire archipelago even before the Hindu era. According to Yaap Kunst in Music in Java, angklung is also mentioned to exist in South Sumatra and Kalimantan. Lampung, East Java and Central Java are also familiar with the instrument. In Bali, angklung is also played in several rituals, including cremation ceremonies or Ngaben. Some even claim that the word angklung came from Balinese “angka” and “lung” which mean an incomplete tone.
In West Java or The Land of Sunda, angklung is said to have been played since the 7th century. The people of Baduy, Kanekes ethnic group, still play the traditional angklung called angklung buhun in some of their ceremonies. Baduy’s angklung set consists of four “ancak” or parts, namely: King-king, indo, panempas, and gong-gong. In the bordering area of Cirebon and Indramayu, in a village called Bungko, another type of angklung is found and named Angklung Bungko. The first angklung bungko was believed to be 600 years old and still well-kept and preserved, although it’s no longer in use. Angklung bungko was created by Syeh Bentong or Ki Gede Bungko, a renowned religious leader as a musical media of spreading Islam.
The harvest failure in Cipining Village, Bogor illustrates the origin of angklung gubrag. It was said that the village was threatened by starvation, since the rice crops were failing. The people believed that the calamity happened because the rice goddess Dewi Sri was angry. Efforts were tendered, including offerings, various rituals, and art performances, but unfortunately none succeeded. One day, a young boy named Mukhtar and several young men went to Mount Cirangsad to tear down a particular surat bamboo tree. After meditating for 40 days, he came back to the village and started making angklung. He subsequently taught the villagers how to play the angklung, and later on the villagers conducted a ceremony featuring the angklung music. The ceremony was proven to be effective, since crops grew better afterwards. The people believed that the sound of angklung had caused the rice goddess to descend from heaven and bless the entire crop. Hence the angklung was given the name gubrag, meaning ‘falling’ or ‘descending’. Angklung gubrag has always decorated every traditional ceremonies in Bogor ever since.
In 1938, Daeng Soetigna, a teacher of the Hollandsch Inlandsche School (HIS) in Kabupaten Kuningan, West Java successfully re-invented angklung as a modern musical instrument. He converted the pentatonic pitch into a more complex form of diatonic pitched angklung. This angklung later came to known as Daeng Angklung or Padaeng Angklung.
The passions and spirit of angklung preservation were passed on as Daeng Soetigna passed away in 1984. His trusted apprentice and assistant, Udjo Nalagena stepped into his shoes and continued preserving and developing the angklung. Along with his wife, he established the Saung Angklung Udjo or Udjo’s house of angklung. In Saung Angklung Udjo, the art of angklung flourished and continues to be dynamically developed. Not only does the instrument play traditional music, but it also plays modern songs from all over the globe. Visitors wishing to watch the performances and learn more about angklung can visit Saung Angklung Udjo.
There is more to angklung than its soothing harmony as angklung also symbolizes human life. Angklung is not truly an angklung if it consists of only one tube. It symbolizes that humans cannot stand solitary; one needs others in life. The large and small tubes also illustrate the development of human life. The small tube illustrates that every person has dreams and desires to become someone ‘greater’, as symbolized by the large tube. As the angklung is shaken, both tubes create a harmony illustrating life (as it should be).
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