Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

The Saman Gayo Lues Sitting Song-Dance and Its Recognition as an Item of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

The Saman Gayo Lues Sitting Song-Dance and Its Recognition as an Item of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Article excerpt

The saman song-dance of the Aceh Gayo Lues people, who inhabit the central mountainous areas of the province of Aceh, is one of the most dramatic and famous of Indonesia's performing arts and a key symbol of Gayo cultural identity, yet it has not to date been a subject of ethnomusicological research.1

Due largely to the political unrest and military conflict in Aceh (1976-2005), the once extensive level of saman activity declined in large parts of "the land of a thousand hills" (negeri seribu bukit (Ind.)) or Gayoland2 from around the 1980s. In 2011, UNESCO recognized the saman Gayo Lues genre as an item of intangible cultural heritage that needed urgent protection; this stimulated a high degree of euphoria among the Gayo people, but with mixed results, as will be discussed below.

Traditional saman performing groups are still operating in villages and towns of the Gayo Lues area (now known as the Gayo Lues regency), Gayo Deret (now the Aceh Tengah regency), and Gayo Lot (now the Bener Meriah regency) (figures 1 and 2), as well as in the neighbouring Serbejadi subdistrict of Aceh Timur regency and the Beutong area of Nagan Raya regency. Descendants of Gayo Lues immigrants in Serbajadi tend to perform saman in the Gayo Lues style, while artists in Gayo Lot tend to perform in the slightly different Gayo Deret / Tengah style, the main differences being the different Gayo dialects of their song lyrics, some of their songs and movements, and the colours and embroidered designs on the costumes. Some celebrations also feature male guel, female bines, or other traditional Gayo song-dances.

Saman performances are presented by a single row of sitting singer-dancers or, if in a competition, by two rival rows in succession. Performances combine solo and group singing with bodyclapping (tepok beden) 3 dance episodes called lagu- lagu. The bodyclapping techniques and songs are ingrained in the people's motor memories. Sometimes a group of men and boys sing and play simple bodyclapping rhythms and movements to kill time in the evenings before going to sleep in the surau (male sleeping quarters) or huts in the rice fields, in which case the activity is referred to as saman jejunten (lit., "dangling saman"). An informal group of guests may also present an unplanned performance after feasting and before the formal ceremony at a wedding or circumcision, in which case it is called saman ngerje (lit., "ceremonial saman") or saman umah sara (lit., "wedding saman"). However, formal performances by a host team against an invited team from another village- called bejamu besaman (lit., "guests playing saman") or saman jalu (lit., "saman competition")-are usually organized at the behest of a family head, village host, or local government chief at family weddings, circumcisions, on religious holidays such as Idul Fitri (end of the fasting month) and Idul Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice), and at government celebrations, including national holidays, such as Indonesia's Independence Day (17 August). In addition, brief modern performances lasting between four and ten minutes. like the one that UNESCO honoured, are often presented by a single-row (saman tungel, "single saman") at urban and rural functions today, especially on occasions commissioned by government and tourist agencies, or at festivals and media shows (see figure 3).4

Each team (aronen) comprises an odd number of male singer-dancers, who "sit" (kunul; Ac. duek)-or actually kneel-in a row to perform.5 While rehearsing, its members devise questions, riddles, and puzzles to sing to standard or new melodies for the other side to answer when their turn comes to perform. They also devise complex bodyclapping rhythms that the other team has to imitate exactly if it wants to win, and it must avoid repeating the other side's rhythmic codas (anakni lagu) and invent their own. The teams are expected to have rehearsed diligently until they can present a disciplined and interesting performance that complies with the tenets of Gayo Lues or Gayo Tengah style and the rules of competition. …

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