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Pentul Comedy Mask from Solo, Central Java



Pentul trance dances originate from pre-Hindu culture (before the sixth century AD) and survived in Java, throughout the Hindu Buddha period (600 AD - 1400 AD), the Islamic period (1300-1600), and Dutch colonialism (1700-1942), as a popular peasant (as opposed to court) performance. To this day Pentul trance dances are still performed to celebrate harvest thanksgivings, circumcisions, weddings, or even the Indonesian independence day. However, with the advent of chemically intensive rice farming (in the 1970's planting local rice seeds was made illegal), rice farming villages have been impoverished and most celebrations now make do with blazing audio-cassettes of Indonesian pop music or recitations of the Qur'an.

This Pentul mask shows signs of wear and repair, and from the few tool marks that remain, it is obvious that it was made using a pangot, a sharp stubby knife which often is the only tool used by a village carver. The fact that most of the pangot marks have disappeared indicates that this mask would have been old even in the 1970's when Pentul performances began to fade away. It is possible that this mask was made and used before the WW II.

The actor would be a martial artist and skilled in verbal improvisation. In trance, the actors do all sorts of feats like eating glass, climbing down coconut trees head first like squirrels, or chasing the terrified audience like a wounded boar. In dialogue, Pentul has the audience laughing when he plays the comedian and uses contemporary issues as his material. Pentul usually shares the act with his brother mask, Tembem.

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