The Mask of Life

Season 2 Episode 9 special edition during COVID-19 pandemic

Saya lahir di Temanggung, Jawa Tengah, dari keluarga yang sederhana. Ayah saya keturunan Cina dan ibu saya orang Jawa. Kakek saya dari ayah saya beragama kong hu chu, sedangkan nenek saya dari ayah beragama kristen. Sedangkan di sisi keluarga ibu, mereka beragama Islam. Saya sendiri, dibesarkan secara kristen. 

Mempunyai latar belakang yang multikultural, sebenarnya kekayaan, tapi sayangnya, sejak saya kecil hingga sekarang, saya hidup menjadi orang minoritas, yang seperti orang minoritas lainnya, saya pun mengalami diskriminasi. 

Sejak saya kecil, saya sudah harus mengubah nama Cina saya menjadi nama Indonesia. Sejak zaman penjajahan, Belanda menggunakan ras cina dan agama untuk menjadi bahan pemecah belah bangsa Indonesia. Dan strategi ini, terutama suasana anti cina, hingga sekarang pun masih dipakai oleh sesama orang Indonesianya sendiri, yang menginginkan kekuasaan baik di bidang politik maupun bisnis.

Beranjak waktu saya kuliah di tahun 1974 di sekolah seni tari (akademi seni tari Yogyakarta), saya pun awalnya sering diremehkan dan dianggap saya tidak akan menjadi orang yang sukses. 

Selain karena ras dan agama, karir saya sebagai seniman pun menjadi bahan olokan orang, pada waktu itu.

Mereka memanggil saya dengan sebutan banci. 

Padahal saya lahir utuh dan masih utuh hingga sekarang.

Panggilan itu dikarenakan saya menari tarian cross-gender.  Akan tetapi setelah saya dianggap sukses dan menjadi dikenal di dalam dan luar negeri, maka tanggapan masyarakat mulai berubah sampai saat ini. Bahkan saya sering dianggap panutan dalam berkesenian dan melestarikan seni tari tradisi Indonesia.

Padahal sejak dulu, Indonesia  mempunyai berbagai macam tarian cross-gender dari daerah yang berbeda-beda, misalnya di Jawa Tengah kesenian ketoprak pada zaman dahulu semua pemainnya adalah laki-laki, Jawa Timur dikenal dengan kesenian yang bernama Ludruk, di Bali ada Arja Muani. Muani itu laki-laki, Arja nama kesenian yang seperti opera karena menggunakan lagu atau tembang dalam berdialog. Di Sumatra ada kesenian yang disebut Randai yang pemainnya adalah pria untuk karakter wanita, sering disebut sebagai Biduan. Kemudian di Sulawesi juga ada komunitas Bissu, yaitu pendeta-pendeta waria sakti.

Bahkan di Jepang pun, ada istilah Onnagata yang artinya pria yang memerankan wanita di dalam kesenian Kabuki. Ada juga yang disebut Takarasuka yang semua pemainnya perempuan yang memerankan karakter wanita dan laki-laki. Selain di Jepang, di India juga ada kesenian yang sejenis cross-gender yaitu dalam kesenian Kathakali, dan Kuchipudi, juga Seraikella  kemudian di Tiongkok di Cina pun, Opera Cina atau (Peking Opera) ada salah satu tokoh yang menjadi panutan dan menjadi maestro yaitu Mei Lanfang yang museumnya ada di Beijing, juga laki-laki yang memerankan wanita. 

Di tahun 1980, saya mulai menciptakan konsep tarian cross-gender dengan dua muka, namanya sekarang disebut Dwimuka. Saya menari membelakangi penonton dengan kepala saya yang bertopeng. Penonton berpikir itu adalah muka saya, sehingga saat saya berputar menghadap ke penonton, akhirnya mereka sadar selama ini yang mereka lihat hanyalah ilusi bagian belakang. Dan saat penonton sadar, biasanya mereka akan kaget dan tertawa bahkan memberikan applause tepuk tangan.  

Begitulah kehidupan manusia, banyak kita temui kelucuan dalam kehidupan seperti komedi yang saya sajikan di panggung. Manusia pun mempunyai dua muka selama menjalani kehidupannya dengan berakting seperti aktor-aktor. Karena dalam diri manusia sebenarnya ada dualism ada si maskulin dan feminin, ada yang baik ada yang jelek.

Saya juga berakting dan melakukan komedi untuk mencari sesuap nasi di panggung kesenian. 

Tapi, bagaimana orang yang tidak bekerja di panggung kesenian seperti saya yah? 

Kadang saya juga berpikir, bila orang-orang yang mendiskriminasikan saya atau yang memanggil saya banci itu, mempunyai wawasan yang cukup mengenai kesenian atau filosofi kehidupan, apakah mereka masih akan mengolok-olok saya atau kaum minoritas yang lainnya? 

Ojo sok gampang janji wong manis 

Yen to Amung lamis

Becik aluwung prasojo nimas

Ora agawe cuwa

Lagu ini menceritakan tentang sikap yang hanya manis di mulut tapi pada dasarnya berbohong. 

Jangan mudah janji kalau hanya di bibir saja

Sebaiknya jujur saja dan tidak mengecewakan. 

ENGLISH VERSION

Didik was born in Temanggung, Central Java, from a humble family. His father was of Chinese descent and his mother was Javanese. His paternal grandfather was a Confucianist and his paternal grandmother was a Christian. His mother’s side of the family were muslims. He himself was raised as a Christian.

Having a multicultural background, something that is supposedly unique and enriching, unfortunately caused him to be a minority, ever since he was little. And like any other minority, he experienced discrimination. 

Since Didik was little, he had to change his Chinese name into an Indonesian name. During the colonial times, the Dutch used race and religion to divide the nation of Indonesia. This strategy, especially the anti Chinese sentiment, can still be felt at the present day, used by the Indonesians themselves who want to have power and control especially in the political and business arena.

When Didik went to study in the dance academy in 1974, he was often underestimated and was already judged that he would never become successful. 

Besides his race and religion, his career as an artist also made him a source of ridicule at that time. People called him a pansy, a transgender. He used to make jokes to laugh off those cruel remarks by saying that he was born “whole” and is still “whole” until now.

Those remarks were made because he danced in cross-gender roles. But after Didik was considered a success and became renowned both locally and internationally, people’s perception of him shifted. He was even often  considered as a role model who preserves the art of Indonesian dance tradition.

Actually, since a long time ago, Indonesia has a rich repertoire of cross-gender dances from different areas, such as in Central Java, they have the art of Ketoprak where in the old days all the players were male. East Java is known for its Ludruk. Bali has the Arja Muani. Muani itself means man, Arja refers to the art itself which is similar to an opera where the dialogs are sung. Sumatra has Randai where males play the part of female characters, and they are called Biduan. Then Sulawesi has the community of  Bissu, androgynous and revered shamans or community priests.

Even Japan has Onnagata which means that men play the role of women in the art of Kabuki. There is also Takarazuka where the all female cast play the roles of both female and male. Besides Japan, India also has a type of cross gender art in the form of Khatakali and Kuchipudi and also Seraikella. In China, the Chinese Opera or Peking Opera has a role model figure who became a maestro, Mei Lanfang, whose museum is in Beijing; he also played the role of the woman in the opera.

In 1980, Didik started to create a concept of a cross-gender dance which displays 2 faces, which is now titled Dwimuka. He dances with his back to the audience, with a mask covering the back of his head. The audience is fooled by thinking that the mask was Didik’s covered face so when he turns around to face the audience, they realize that what they saw before was only an illusion. And when they realize this, usually with the surprise, comes laughter and also applause. 

Hence, that is life and people, we find many hilarity in life like the comedy that Didik performs on stage. People have two faces when they go through their lives, acting like actors. As there is a dualism in each person, both masculine and feminine sides, and both good and bad sides.

And that is also how Didik is. He acts and does comedy to earn his living in the art stage. But how about those who do not work in the art stage like him?

Didik sometimes thinks about those who discriminate against him or call him pansy. If only they had enough insight and understanding on art and the philosophy of life, would they still ridicule him or other minorities?

Ojo sok gampang janji wong manis 

Yen to Amung lamis

Becik aluwung prasojo nimas

Ora agawe cuwa

The song is about sweet talk which is based on lies

Do not make promises that you cannot keep

It is better to be honest and not disappoint*

This is a story from Kwee Tjoen An or Didik Hadiprayitno, who is more widely known as Didik Nini Thowok. He is originally from Temanggung, Central Java and currently resides in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Throughout his life, Didik has studied dance extensively not only from various regions in Indonesia, but he also learned traditional dances from Japan, India and Spain. His talent and dedication in preserving dance as one of Indonesia’s rich culture, has made him widely known as an Indonesian maestro in dance and character make up.

His latest work is one that combines the art of makeup and dance with creative visual media as part of the currently trending Lathi Challenge. Lathi is the title of a song which was created by the band Weird Genius, which combines hi tech and traditional Indonesian music. Didik’s interpretation of the music has garnered a lot of praise, where he depicted the changes in a woman in a toxic relationship through makeup, face expression, and subtle dance movements. This is one example of his ability as a dance maestro to keep up with the modern style while still staying true to his roots.

Vocabularies

Beranjak: Starting from

Banci: Pansy

Panutan: Role model

Dwi (muka): Two facesMengolok-olok: Bully

Additional information regarding Bissu: The Bugis people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, are mostly muslims, however many pre-Islamic rituals are still honoured in their culture, including the view that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum. By this influence, Bugis society recognizes not 2  but 5 genders, one of them being Bissu. Bissu itself refers to androgynous or intersex and revered shamans or community priests. Bissu may enter the dwelling places and villages of both men and women in daily social life.

Reference: Wikipedia

*The name of the song: Ojo Lamis by Ki Nartosabdho (Composer & Shadow Puppeteer)

Photo credit: collection of Didik Nini Thowok

Indonesian language used here is in the daily-conversation format, that has influences from the local culture and custom. Should you have questions on the more formal version, please consult with your guru Bahasa Indonesia.