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Panji Prince from Cirebon, West Java



Cirebon was founded by Sunan Gunung Jati one of the nine Islamic holy men who spread Islam in Java. The port city was visited by the Ming Dynasty Eunuch Admiral, Zeng He, known locally as Dampo Awang in the 15th century and by the 17th century Cirebon was a major port kingdom in West Java. To this day there are still royal courts in Cirebon though their status and power and wealth has diminished. The once sophisticated and vibrant arts in Cirebon are now dying out. In 1980, only two master dancers were dancing in Losari, aged 60 and 70. Now, although there is a revival of topeng Cirebon, much secret knowledge has been lost.

Cirebon mask dancers are women, who begin dancing in childhood and can continue way into old age. A master dancer of 70 years old can become a young prince of 19 years old, as soon as she steps on to stage. The philosophy is; the stage is the world. Apprenticeship of topeng dancers is long and difficult, and involves travelling on foot from village to village and a lot of fasting and meditation. Dancers' physiques are strong and supple, and often they dance low on one leg. The masks are endowed with sakti, magical powers from the prayers and the meditation of the mask maker and the dancers. Many topeng dances are considered sacred and are only performed for specific purposes. Dancers perform special rites and give offerings at specific times to ensure the powers in the mask stay benevolent.

This particular mask is an original Cirebon mask that was once used by a dancer. Cirebon masks are handed down through generations of dancers, from master to pupil. This mask probably came to the last owner who died without an heir to her art, thus it ended in the antique market.

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