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Debus, The Ancient Martial Art and Culture of Banten


The province of Banten which was once part of the vast West Java province, was formed in the year 2000, and is today the youngest province on the island of Java. However, its people are long known in history to have their own distinct culture. One of its cultural traits that is definitely most spectacular and breathtaking is the ancient art of Debus. Debus is the traditional martial art unique to Banten that is imbued with supernatural powers.

Debus is a fusion of skills that require super-human inner strength, martial art but also music and dnce. It is a competition of prowess in invulnerability of performers (known as jawara) that is both scary and mesmerizing to watch. Through the art of Debus, the jawara can pierce sharp nails through his tongue, cheeks or other parts of the body.

This extraordinary art is said to have been developed in the 16th century during the reign of the first sultan of Banten, Sultan Maulana Hasanudin (1532-1570). During the reign of Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa in the 17th century, Debus was used as a method to galvanize the spirit of resistance against Dutch colonial powers. The term Debus is said to be derived from the Arab word ‘dablus’ which is a sharp iron lance that has a round handle at its base. This is believed to be the object used in the art of Debus. Although other such feats are also found in a number of other Indonesian provinces, including in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, North Sumatra, West Sumatra and Singkawang in West Kalimantan, yet most respected and feared is the Debus of Banten.


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