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Jathilan is a popular trance ritual performed in central and east Java, Indonesia. Stemming from animist and spiritual beliefs, this ceremony has been performed for many centuries. The name, Jathilan, refers to the horses which the performers gracefully ride and dance.
In this recording, the musical ensemble composes of two singers (a male and a female) and a gamelan orchestra accompanied by western drumkit. The melody and rhythm is largely repetitive which contributes to maintaining a trance-like state and enable the dancers to fluidly pass between the physical and spiritual world.
The ritual is led by shamans who manipulate the dancers into spiritual trance. The ceremony commences with simple choreography, using the wooden horses as props. After approximately twenty minutes, a few dancers wearing masks join the performance. These masked performers represent the different spirits. As the performance continues, dancers begin to loose control of their bodies, succumbing to the power of the spirits. Meanwhile, the three shamans supervise the whole procession. The role of shaman is believed to be socially important and extremely powerful.
As the dancers perform with the spirits using their body as a physical puppet, the dance becomes chaotic. Fluid and rhythmic movements are replaced with convulsive, jerking, trashing, falling and animal-like behaviours. A nearby table with offerings of food and water for the spirits is destroyed by the dancers, as they mimic feeding on them by the spirits. The dancers possess absent gazes, seemingly unaware of the physical fatigue their bodies have had to endure during this 2-3 hour procession.
The ritual closes when the shamans successfully expel the spirits from the dancers.
Performance by Bekso Kudho Mataram, in Desa Wisata Krebet, Yogyakarta.
Recorded by Julien Hairon.
12 March 2016.
Many thanks to Rangga Lawe for the invitation, the performers, the organisers, and Tiffany Mahon for her support.