What is in Indonesia that resembles the Carnival of Venice in Italy or Paro Festival in Bhutan? The answer is masks. The piece of lifeless matter frozen in its expression that is brought to life when placed over the human face has become an integral part of many traditions in Indonesia. Over centuries they have developed skills in creating beautiful masks, mostly for ritual and royal entertainment purposes. Made from wood, carved and painted by hands and carefully decorated to symbolize good or evil or wisdom, these masks showcasing what is in Indonesia that are both interesting and mystical.
When traced by its history, in this case is closely related to the history of religion in Indonesia, the mask was originally used as a means of ritual offerings. At the early period, the Indonesian embraced dynamism-animist beliefs. The mask was the embodiment of ancestral spirits. Mask was a means of communication between people who were still living with their ancestors. When dry season, they ask for rain to their ancestors or gods. Also at harvest time, they showed their gratitude.
Masks are believed to contain magic, which is transferred to the dancer who wears it. Old masks are particularly valued since through age they are believed to have more powerful magic, and the dancer who wears it will thus give a more powerful perforrmance. Dancers can be either male or female
Cirebon – West Java
Located in the northern part of Java Island, the area is not just famous for its batik culture but also for mask tradition. Believed to be as old as the Sunanate of Cirebon, masks were especially created for dance performance during religious events, ceremonies and festivals. There are five main characters in Cirebon masks tradition: Rahwana, Tumenggung, Rumyang, Samba and Panji, all have different characters that symbolize good and evil. According to local belief these masks can be used as protection from evil forces.
Masks in Bali are made for dances during celebrations and holy ceremonies. Carved only by the Brahmins (the highest caste), dancers in masks show epic stories about their religion, various stages of life and the victory of good over evil. There are four types of Balinese masks; human masks, animal masks, god masks and demon masks and those could be whole or half masks. Masks of Barong and Rangda (two mythical creatures) are lavishly painted and decorated with real hair, making them one of the most coveted souvenir items from the island of Gods.
Dayak – East Kalimantan
Beside long houses and tattoo traditions, hudoq (mask in Dayak language) with their elaborate carvings and colors that represent beasts, pests and deities are also what Dayak culture is famous for. They are very important especially at the beginning of the harvesting season where they hold Hudoq stomping dances to protect their crops from pests. You can find this ancestral ritual in the villages of Bahau and Busang, located deep in the rainforests of East Kalimantan. Be prepared as these dances could last up to 5 hours. Hudoq is major part of what is in Indonesia that needs to be preserved.
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