Indonesian Cultural Night celebrates diversity of country through dance and music

Sunday, April 7, 2019 - 4:15pm

Vellayati Rafsanjani and Lani Krispin perform a traditional dance at Indonesian Cultural Night in the Modern Languages Building Saturday.

Vellayati Rafsanjani and Lani Krispin perform a traditional dance at Indonesian Cultural Night in the Modern Languages Building Saturday. Buy this photo
Cameron Hunt/Daily

Students, faculty and community members gathered in the Modern Language Building Saturday night to celebrate Indonesian Cultural Night, an annual event featuring traditional Indonesian dances and performances. Though music, dance and comedy, the event highlighted the diversity of Indonesian society and the significance of cultural traditions.

The theme of the night was Majapahit, one of the strongest Javanese empires that ruled between the 13th and 16th centuries. The Majapahit empire traded frequently with other major powers in the region, like China and Cambodia, and made what is currently known as Indonesia one of the most powerful kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

The event was hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapter of PERMIAS, a national organization representing Indonesian students studying at American universities. At the University, PERMIAS hosts events such as the cultural night and Indonesian potlucks to develop a sense of community among students with Indonesian heritage.

Though the performance aimed to unite Indonesian students around shared cultural traditions, it also emphasized the ethnic and religious diversity in Indonesia, which is the fourth most populous country in the world with about 260 million people.

During the performance, members of PERMIAS told the audience the more than 300 ethnic groups and 750 languages and dialects make Indonesia a uniquely diverse country.

PERMIAS President Adysti Kardi, a Rackham student, said the night was intended to celebrate Indonesian culture and educate the community about the many different ethnic traditions that exist among the country’s 10,000 islands.

“This event is to showcase the richness of our culture because Indonesia is a country with a lot of islands and a lot of different ethnicities and we have a lot of different dances and performances — there’s a lot of variation,” Kardi said. “Definitely for this event we wanted to take pride in what we show people and wanted to raise awareness so that people know that Indonesia is a nice place with a lot of diverse cultures.”

The cultural night began with two popular Indonesian dances, Tari Gambyong and Tari Zapin, which were performed alongside a gamelan ensemble comprised mainly of percussive instruments such as gongs and metallophones. Gamelan is a traditional style of music native to the islands of Java and Bali that is usually played during rituals, ceremonies and dance performances.

Lydia Zhang, an LSA sophomore, said the slow and calm nature of the dance performances spoke to her because they allowed her to focus on the performers’ movements.

“I think everyone was enjoying the show, but for me the dance part (I enjoyed the most),” Zhang said. “... When I look at the lady and look at her expressions and how she moves her clothes and fingers, I feel like it’s actually really beautiful.”

Members of PERMIAS also performed a modern adaptation of the story of Ken Arok, the first leader of Singhasari, who ruled from 1222 to 1227 C.E.. During the play, Arok, a man of humble origins, fell in love with the queen Ken Dedes. Arok eventually kills the king with a keris, a dagger commonly associated with Indonesian culture, but is cursed by the king and is told he and his seven descendants will be killed by the same keris. When Arok has a son with the queen, the curse takes hold.

Raymond Surya, Engineering junior and member of the University’s gamelan ensemble, played the saron, a percussion instrument with six keys, during the play. Surya said the more comedic aspects of the performance showed how these cultural nights are meant to be celebrations of a culture that is important to the organization’s members.

“I think performances like this in general are really good as a way to highlight and learn other people’s cultures — I don’t think it needs to be anything more than that,” Surya said. “It is like, ‘I want to go to this thing and laugh at this stuff that my friends have been working hard on and enjoy it.’ And it’s a coming together of all of these other Indonesian things.”