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(H033)

Tembem Comedy Mask from Central Java

120

H033

Tembem is a very popular character in Javanese folk theatre and originates from pre Hindu times. It always appears alongside it's brother mask, Pentul, in the Jathilan hobby-horse trance performance. Tembem and Pentul are also named Sabda Palon and Naya Genggong, who are the spiritual guardians of Java. One legend says that they were the clown servants of the last king Brawijaya of the Majapahit empire, who refusing to accept Islam as their religion, vanished into the void, promising to return some time in the future when justice would reign in Java and people would be Buddhist once more.

To this day Jathilan trance dances are still performed to celebrate harvest thanksgivings, circumcisions, weddings, or even the Indonesian independence day. However, with the advent of chemically intensive GM 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.

The marks of the pangot --a sharp, stubby knife--the carver left in the inside of this mask suggests it probably was part of a village troupe. It has not been used much and the wood has been eaten by bubuk. 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 wounded boars. Tembem has the audience laughing when he uses contemporary issues as his jokes material.

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