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Banyuwangi Naga Barong with horse hair in teak



Banyuwangi has a unique culture distinctly different from the mainstream East Javanese and Maduran culture. Historically, Banyuwangi was the last stronghold of Hinduism in the 15 - 16th century, before Islam became the dominant religion of all Java. The ancient kingdom of Banyuwangi, Blambangan, is mentioned in Portuguese documents of that time. The people of the region do not call themselves Javanese, but refer to themselves as the Osing. Traditional artists from Banyuwangi claim that the famous Balinese art actually originated from Banyuwangi. The region itself is just across the Bali straits and although now predominantly Muslim, still shows much of its Hindu and pre-Hindu roots through its rich ceremonial arts some of which involve trance.

This particular mask was collected by Thierry Durieux in Banyuwangi in the early 1980's. It appears to have never been used, as the hinges show no sign of wear at all. The fact that that there are no nail marks for where the mane and the cloth body of this Naga would have been, suggests that this mask was not completely finished, probably because the maker was abruptly halted by some force outside his control. Why would an obviously skilled carver, knowledgeable in the classic forms of art not finish what he set out to make?

During the 1950's through to the 1960's the Indonesian Communist Party was a strong supporter of traditional theatre but after the massacre of the Communists in 1965-66, most traditional artists were either killed or were to scared to continue work. This might well be the story behind this unfinished, unused, but superbly carved classical Naga Barong.

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