Indonesia in Focus
Benjang Tradtional Game: Bandung, West Java
Benjang is a traditional game that is believed to have been developed in the Islamic boarding schools of Ujungberung, Cobolerang and Cinunuk districts in Bandung regency. Benjang players usually pray to have fun and for fair play before a game. The instruments used in benjang include the terbang gendang (a conical-shaped drum resting on crossbeams and beaten with the hands), the bedug (a large drum suspended horizontally) and the trumpet. Sundanese songs are also performed. Benjang is a form of sumo-like fighting in which the main aim is to push your opponent out of the arena using your shoulders as you are not allowed to use your hands.
According to historical records, the art of benjang was already popular as far back as 1820. In those days, famous benjang fighters were, among others, H. Hayat and Wiranta of Cinunuk village, Bandung. According to Ki Maman, one of the founders of a benjang group called “Ki Sunda”, benjang originally came from Ciwaru village in Ujungberung. Some other people also say this game originated in Cibolerang, Cinunuk. Even today, these two places are home to noted benjang players including Adung, Adang, Ujang Rukman, Nadi and Emun. All of them are endeavoring to preserve benjang.
Benjang is unique to West Java but shares similarities with gedou in Aceh; marsurangut in Tapanuli, North Sumatra; atol in Rembang; patol in East Java; bahempas in Banyumas and sirroto in Bugis/South Sulawesi.
In its development, benjang has undergone a slight change. Some benjang players maintain benjang as a form of traditional wrestling while for others it has become a type of entertainment featuring dancers wearing sarongs and dancing to the accompaniment of traditional music. In the latter case, some of the players might perform feats like eating broken glass or live chickens or setting red-hot coals upon their heads. When benjang players fight, they still use traditional benjang techniques such as nyentok (head butting) and ngabeulit (locking).
A benjang group usually comprises about 20 to 25 people including a referee. According to Abdul Gani, the chairman of the Bandung Benjang Association, a number of benjang players have become professional wrestlers.
Currently there are about 30 benjang clubs in Bandung municipality and its surroundings. As many as 20 benjang groups are found in Ujungberung and the rest are spread across various places in Bandung municipality and regency, including Majalaya, Cikutra and Rancaekek. As for benjang players, there are still hundreds of them now.
The benjang club led by Ki Maman in Cikutra now provides only folk entertainment. Does Ki Maman deviate from traditional benjang conventions? “Of course not as we still use the old principles of benjang as our guidelines,” he said.
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