Happy New Year…Again! Gong Xi Gong Xi!

Here we are (or, to be exact, here I am) again in another new year, the Chinese New Year. I consider this special since Indonesia is a country with more than 3 million Chinese descendants. Not long ago, public celebration of CNY was still officially banned. Now it is an official holiday, and this year, it falls on Monday, February 8, meaning every citizen of Indonesia finds themselves in a long weekend.

I remember some time ago I used to play Vanessa-Mae’s version of Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto. I love it because I love the sound of violin and the album sounds lyrical and grandeur. It’s a beautiful marriage of Chinese-style music and Western orchestration. The violin, of course, is the king.

One morning Fiona asked, “Whose music is it?”

Vanessa-Mae’s, the Butterfly Lovers.

“Oh, I know, it’s Sampek-Engtay!”

I had no idea of what (or who) Sampek-Engtay was, so I consulted a book. And here’s how it goes: Long long time ago in the Middle Kingdom, Engtay, like Fa Mulan, cleverly disguised herself as a boy in order to get formal education. In the dormitory, she met Sampek. Long story short, they fell in love. Sadly, they got separated because Engtay’s parents forced her to marry their colleague’s son. Sampek, heartbroken, fell ill and soon, died. On her wedding day, Engtay passed by Sampek’s grave. She took some time to pray. Hearing this, the sky thundered, then a lightning stroke the grave open. Seeing this, Engtay jumped into it. Then a pair of butterfly emerged from the grave….

Years later from the conversation, I managed to get a ticket to Sampek-Engtay show at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta. It was staged to celebrate Chinese New Year holiday by the famous Teater Koma. Watching the show (Teater Koma’s version was not accompanied with The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Orchestra. They have their own musical pieces), I realized why most of the Violin Orchestra sounds so melancholic. The way the violin sounds like a woman cries in agony. And near the end of the third composition, it roars grandly, I bet it’s when the grave breaks open. What music indeed!

Chinese_New_Year_Sampek_Engtay_By_SemSa2013-03-17 23.10.36
Minutes before the Sampek Engtay show began.

According to the show’s booklet, that year celebrates the 25th anniversary of Sampek-Engtay’s show. Back in 1988, the show caused a (national) stir. The regime accused Teater Koma for portraying Chinese culture in public, something whic was banned by law. It lasted about three decades until the New Order regime ended (officially). For (y)our information, Chinese people had come to settle here hundreds of years ago, long before the independence of Indonesia was declared in 1945.

The director, Nano Riantiarno, was interrogated by police for hours. He explained that the (centuries old) love story is set in Indonesia. Sampek came from the town of Pandeglang, Engtay from Serang, both located in Banten! He also explained that the letterings in stage decoration were not in Chinese but in Indonesian, only styled in Chinese calligraphy. It proved to be a clever move and Teater Koma was allowed to stage Sampek-Engtay in some cities.

It was a great and, being a Teater Koma show, funny and witty as well. The show is a friendly reminder of what a regime could do and also a celebration of what freedom can inspire.

So once again, here we are in another year. Happy Lunar New Year! Selamat tahun baru Imlek! Gong xi, gong xi!


Butterfly_lovers_changi_by_SemSa
Kupu-kupu di Bandara Changi.

Intisari: Ada yang spesial dengan perayaan tahun baru Imlek di Indonesia. Aku mulai menyadari keistimewaannya ketika menonton Sampek-Engtay yang dilentaskan Teater Koma menjelang Imlekan tahun 2013. Menurut buku acara, debut pementasan kisah, yang disebut-sebut mirip Romeo & Juliet, pada 1988 tidaklah mudah. Sutradara Nano Riantiarno diinterogasi berjam-jam karena kisahnya dianggap berakar pada budaya Tionghoa. Kita tahu, rezim Orde Baru (1965-1998) diskriminatif, membatasi ekspresi budaya warga Indonesia keturunan Tionghoa. Pada akhirnya, Sampek-Engtay boleh dipentaskan karena kisahnya memang berlatar Indonesia:

Alkisah…. Sampek (lelaki) dari Pandeglang, Engtay (perempuan) Serang (secara legal, keduanya warga Banten). Engtay menyamar jadi lelaki agar bisa sekolah, di Glodok. Di sana, keduanya jatuh cinta dan berencana menikah. Nahas, mereka tidak dapat restu orangtua, sehingga Sampek jatuh sakit dan meninggal. Tetapi, pada akhirnya, mereka bersatu juga dalam rupa sepasang kupu-kupu….

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