I have always wondered and curious of the traditional dance – Kuda Kepang; a famous Johor dance that involve 9 players/dancers riding a horse (kuda kepang), Tok Batin and musician (playing traditional musical instruments such as gong, gamelan and gendang (it varies by state and countries). The part that most of us are curious about will be the trance part as told by the elders and I am fortunate enough to be invited to watch it live in Kuala Selangor during #RentakSelangor.
The History of Kuda Kepang
It is said that the Kuda Kepang or Flat Horse originated from West Java, Indonesia, and it is known there as Kuda Lumping. Study has shown that Kuda Kepang or Kuda Lumping dance was made popular Diponegoro's war against the Dutch during colonialization, it is a source of entertainment where the dancers reenact the battles. Another version stated that it is based on Mataram period of the same nature; the local Indonesia fighting during Dutch encounter. Due to the landscape of Indonesia, Kuda Lumping also existed in few other main island and it is known by different name ie. Jaran Kepang in Central Java, Jathilan in East Java and in Bali, it is famous by the name Sang Hyang Jaran.
It then migrated to Johor in 1800 and has been localized to local flares since there, having said that, the main elements are well preserve and still practice here. Aside from Johor, Selangor is the other stated with strong influence of Kuda Kepang dance and ritual, this is ascertain in areas such as Tanjung Karang, Sabak Bernam, Kuala Selangor, Kelang, Banting and Sepang where large population dominating the areas are of strong Javanese descendants. This migration happens as the Javanese faced economic difficulties back in home countries. With this, they brought in their custom and culture of which as assimilate into the local culture and this includes Kompang Jawa, Wayang Kulit Jawa (as written HERE and HERE) as well as Kuda Kepang Jawa.
The art of Kuda Kepang
A traditional folk dance assimilate with Javanese culture as well as Islamic influence has settled and grounded well in a few states in Malaysia, and Selangor is one of them. This was mentioned when in 15th Century, a spiritual Islamic leader Wali Songo from Java in his effort to expand Islam is having difficulties to engage with the locals; thus morphing it via culture; folk dance and music.
The Kuda Kepanng Music
Kuda Kepang (Flat Horse)
Flat horse made of cowhide (all this while I thought it was made from straw).
Kuda Kepang comes in 3 colours - red, white and grey, signifying different character (Red symbolizes the courage and spirit, while white represents purity and black; follower guided by white).
Musical instruments range from Angklung, Gendang, Gong, Gamelan (Bonang/Chaklempong) and others (depending on states and countries)
The Dancers and their characters
9 players/dancers riding a horse (kuda kepang)
2 Tok Batin
From my experience during #RentakSelangor, in order to buka gelanggang (stage officiating ceremony), the Tok Batin will burn the kemenyan (incense) and chant a mantra to call upon the spirit from kayangan (fairyland) for the horses. Raw eggs raw, flowers , grass , and water are being used during this ritual.
Once the ritual in complete, the dancers will ride and imitate the horse movement to the music, during this time the spirit will enter the dancers body (so they say) and they will be in trance. The speed of the dancers galloping are determined by the pace and rhythm of the song. At this point, some has said that the dancers can even do acts that are impossible to normal human being such as bersilat, jumping as high as six feet, eating the flower or glass offering. There has been told that sometimes the dancer can dance for hours non-stop. For them to stop, Tok Batin are required to chant as spell to restore them from the trance state.
It is interesting to know that our younger generation still motivated and practicing this traditional folk dance hence keeping and preserving it to for our next generations. Despite that Kuda Kepang is not a popular dance, it is still being showcased during official and opening ceremonies.
Unity of Kuala Selangor is form by our culture and heritage.
The Breathing Pulse of our land.
Rentak Selangor Fam Trip is in collaboration with UPENS (Unit Perancangan Negeri Selangor), Tourism Selangor and all its sponsors with #GayaTravel as media coordinator.