Transformation of ludruk performances: From political involvement and state hegemony to creative survival strategy


This article discusses the transformation of ludruk performances, from Soekarno to Reformation era. In discussing the problem, we apply a cultural studies perspective. From our analysis, there are three findings related to the discursive transformation of ludruk stories. Firstly, in the era of Soekarno, many ludruk groups joined Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (Lekra/Institute of People’s Culture), which had many ideological similarities with Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI/ Indonesian Communist Party). Consequently, ludruk groups performed some provocative stories that exposed the problems of lower-class people and criticized Islamic religious beliefs. Secondly, after the bloody 1965 tragedy, the regional military apparatuses controlled ludruk groups and their performances, including the stories. In this era, ludruk stories supported the New Order regime’s national development programs and raised people’s consensus on the significance of militarism through popular stories about people’s resistance to colonizers. Thirdly, in the Reformation era, some ludruk groups make newer, interesting stories about many complicated social problems in contemporary society. Finally, we conclude that this mode of transformation through creating newer, social problem-based stories that intertwine with historical conditions has deep historical roots in ludruk performances. In addition, during the Reformation period in whichmarket capitalism becomes a dominant ideology and practice, such newer stories and breakthroughs of staging may become a suitable creative survival strategy for ludruk groups in the midst of techno-cultural popularity as the dominant taste and orientation in societies.

Keywords: creative survival strategy, hegemony, ludruk performances, political involvement, transformation

At 1930s, Gondo Durasim (Cak Durasim) and his friends found the first ludruk organization in Surabaya, Ludruk Organisatie. In this pre-independent revolution times, ludruk performance—a popular folk drama in Surabaya and some regions near it—became medium to disseminate some critiques toward the cruelties of colonial regime. They who came from common people knew well social and economic injustice in society caused by colonial systems, which gave more beneficiaries for the colonizers. Such conditions were discursive arena from which Cak Durasim and his friends might create thematic narratives and performed them on the stages. Although they did not negate the entertaining function of ludruk, they always tried to represent people’s miseries in the performances—through kidungan (introductory song using Javanese language), comedy, and the main stories—as endeavors to awaken audiences’ revolution spirit. Because of the critiques and subversive offerings, the Dutch regime, before 1940, banned ludruk performances and liquidated ludruk organizations as their curative policy in blocking the wider spread of revolution spirit. The coming of Japanese colonizers in 1942 seemed giving a new opportunity for ludruk artists to exist, because this new regime re-legalized ludruk organization and performance. However, Japanese regime used ludruk performances as medium of propaganda, particularly for disseminating the spirit of the Great Eastern Asia under their control. Nevertheless, in a live performance, Cak Durasim criticized the Japanese colonizers openly through parikan (humorous-rhymed song) in his very well known kidungan: “pagupon omae doro/melu Nippon tambah sengsara (pagupon is the home of doves/following Nippon is more sorrow). Because of this parikan, Japanese apparatuses imprisoned Cak Durasim until his dead.

Based on the above cases, in ludruk’s early popularity as a folk performing art, the artists absorbed many social issues and problems in society as critique materials—through arek language (a Javanese dialect uses in Surabaya and some regions near it that has no linguistic level based on social strata)—toward the injustice of ruling regimes. Through kidungans, the audiences easier caught humors, and realist narratives in arek language, the social critique and revolutionary message of ludruk performances. In other words, it was not only the politico-intellectual leaders as Soekarno, Hatta, Dr. Sutomo, Tan Malaka, Sjahrir, etc., who took role in empowering people’s consensual awareness on the importance of independence. Cak Durasim and his friends also took important-direct role to awaken the spirit of folk resistance toward the colonial regimes who exploited natural and human resources of this nation.

Indeed, there are some previous studies, which take ludruk as their object. Peacock (1968), for example, researches ludruk and its relation to socio-economic conditions and the dissemination of modern values, but his time focus had not reached the post-Soekarno period. With the different accentuation, Supriyanto (1992) pays attention on the history, stories, and aesthetic aspects in ludruk performances. He also states the significance of resistant stories in colonial settings as public learning, particularly to criticize the repressive authority that brings misery to the lower class. Nevertheless, he does not criticize why the resistant stories against colonizers were very popular in the New Order period. In communication perspective, Sulistiyorini discusses some important function of ludruk, namely (a) educating people, (b) fertilizing solidarity, (c) as escaping mechanism from the real-complicated problems, and (d) controlling people from moral deviations. Unfortunately, the emphasizing on such ideal functions tends to negate ideological implication of ludruk performances. Those previous researches, at least, indicate the absence of academic investigation of ludruk from critical standpoint, which focus on the operation of power through performances and its relation to the wider political and cultural milieu.

This article discusses a genealogy of stories in ludruk performances in post-colonial times, from the periods of Soekarno regime to the period of Reformation regime, and its relation to historical context, namely socio-economic conditions and politico-ideological formations. We will analyze, firstly, the appearance of social critique discourses in ludruk performance under Soekarno periods. In this periods, Lekra (People Cultural Institution) incorporated many ludruk organizations in East Java as their endeavor to awaken people’s critical consciousness in cultural domain and to disseminate communist ideology. After the 1965 bloody tragedy, the militaristic regimes took over many ludruk organizations and controlled their performances, particularly the stories as their attempts to prevent the coming-back of people-oriented-themes as the characteristic of communist ideology. Based on the historical context of these two periods, we will explore the characteristic of social critique discourses in ludruk performances and their relations to particular power operations in each period. At the recent times, the Reformation period, ludruk organizations are free from the state regime’s control, both in their managerial and performance activities. In this period, it is interesting to discuss the transformation of ludruk stories and survival strategy conducted by ludruk groups in the midst of technological-based-cultural industries popularity. It is possible for ludruk artists to create newer stories talking about the contemporary socio-cultural, economic, and political problems in the societies.

Method of Research
As the material base of this article, all-important data were collected through qualitative research, which combined field, and library/documentary research. We conducted field research in Mojokerto regency, a place where some famous ludruk groups with their artists still exist and gain popularity in the midst of cultural change and transformation today. In collecting data, we applied in-depth interview to explore information from senior artists and viewers, while participatory observations were useful for knowing the real condition of ludruk performances, including the public perception in the recent time. For library research, we read and analyze some important data from the previous books, journal articles, newspapers, and on-line media.
Foucaulidan discourse (Foucault, 1998, 1989) and Gramscian hegemony (Gramsci, 1981; Williams, 2006) are useful perspectives for analyzing the collected data. The first perspective provide important concepts and operational framework to criticize the transformation of particular discourses mobilized in the ludruk performances in each period and its historical context, including political, social, and economic condition. The latter perspective gives us significant viewpoint in understanding the relations between ludruk stories and particular power operation in each period. By using these two perspectives, we analyze the collected and selected data based on the goal of this study namely the transformation of post-colonial ludruk stories and its relation to historical condition and the politico-ideological necessity. Since there has been different historical condition in the Reformation period, particularly the rapid growth of technological-based-cultural industries as the dominant color of cultural milieu driven by the neoliberal expansion, we will analyze the characteristic of the recent ludruk stories and creative-survival strategy conducted by ludruk artists and groups. It is very possible for them to create contemporary-social problems-based-stories to attract their viewers. By this strategy, at once they may handle economic problems and negotiate ideal conceptions of contemporary problems to the viewers.

Social Critique under Communist Doctrines
After independence in 1945, in the midst of national spirit to solve many social, and economic problems, Indonesia political atmosphere was colored by the contestation of many parties with their particular ideology—traditionalist and modernist Islam, nationalist-secular, socialist, and communist. Each party tried to mobilize popular issues such as poverty, education, and progress of life for the sake of their political interest and goal, particularly in winning people sympathy and voices as the first step to take a role in the state governance. Cultural domain was one of important keys, which could support the political parties’ attempts in reaching their goal. Consequently, each party found cultural institution as their (semi-) autonomic organization, which can play important roles in both entertaining and raising people’s likeness to the parties.

PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia/Indonesia Communist Party) was the party, which was very actively in mobilizing mass based on some crucial issues such as poverty and land reform. In cultural domain, PKI always articulated the importance of people cultural development as one of strategic ways to build strong national identity. As its implementation, some PKI’s leader such as Njoto and D.N Aidit contributed to the founding of Lekra as cultural institution, which emphasized in empowering folk arts and artists in their programs. Immediately, Lekra gained popularity among folk artists in Indonesia because of its promise for developing folk arts. In East Java, many ludruk artists from various groups in Surabaya, Mojokerto, Malang, Jombang, and other regencies joined this institution. This reality could not be separated from the commitment of ludruk artists to revolutionary movement and lower-class-people’s daily problems that in many cases matched to Lekra’s constitution and programs.

As the consequence of this process of involvement, many ludruk organizations in East Java were much influenced by Lekra’s politico-ideological interest; not only in the way they managed and mobilized their members, but also the narratives that were performed on the stages. Following the guidance of Lekra, particularly on the way of creating narratives in the sense of socialist realism, ludruk artists began to have a participatory observation into the people’s daily problems in order to find interesting themes, which might raise popular sympathy. Susanto (2012) states that ludruk performances became the proletariats’ idol because they presented stories carrying social critique towards “not-pro-public” governmental policies. Through the stories, the people were satisfied because they felt their daily problems being represented imaginatively. It means that ludruk artists who were affiliated into Lekra found precise formula for incorporating the proletariat’s misery through social stories. Therefore, for PKI such cultural condition was giving political advantage because the public sympathy increased. Besides the social stories, they also adopted some national issues such as the regional-military rebellion in Sumatra and Sulawesi. Because of its commitment to the revolutionary ideology regime, Ludruk Marhaen, one of popular group under Lekra guidance, was invited 16 times to perform in Istana Negara. This group also entertained soldiers under TRIKORA command who would have a war to take over Papua from the Dutch. Besides the two themes, they created some sensitive stories on religious affairs. By these three dominant thematic stories, the performances of ludruk organizations that tied institutionally to Lekra got popularity in public cultural spheres, although in many cases, their performance often emerged controversial responses, particularly from oppositional-ideological factions.

Some provocative stories were stories performed religious sensitive themes correlating with acute social problems. For example, ludruk artists reinterpreted sacral discourses in Islamic teaching, such as Allah as the One, in secular way.

In Jombang, a basis region of NU mass, Lekra performed a story entitled Gusti Allah Ngunduh Mantu (God Get Child-in-Law). This story performed by the most famous group in Jombang, Arum Dalu. Allah, the One for Muslims, was perceived having child. There was also a story entitled Kawine Malaikat Jibril (The Marriage of Gabriel)… During 1965, ludruk groups…in East Java were braver and more critical. The provocative stories, such as Gusti Allah Dadi Manten (God Get Married) and Malaikat Kimpoi (Angels Fuck), were often performed in some regions, which became the basis of art groups under guidance of Lekra. The people of East Java, who have been more expressive…in their cultures, performed ludruk with a story Malaikat Kipo. The word “kipo” means “pipe” which functioned as channel. This story told about the rebellion of people against landowners under the land-reform program. The kyai (Islamic religious teacher) was the symbol of noble-upper-class (priyayi) that owned larger land. Angels became the defender of lower class people for gaining their right of land. (“Gusti Allah Pun Ngunduh Mantu”, Tempo, 30 September 2013.p.98-99, our translation)

The more controversial story, of course, was Matinya Gusti Allah (Dead of God) that made many Muslims in East Java, angry. Although there was no precisely data about it, for many Muslims Matinya Gusti Allah was active propaganda from PKI, which provoked their religious belief on the almighty of God. Indeed all the controversial stories performed by the ludruk groups under communist doctrines were creative and critical reactions toward acute social problems in the societies, which were still tangled by feudal and strict-religious discourses and practices. For Lekra, the later conditions might make lower class people lived in misery atmosphere and never found the progressive way in reaching economic welfare because they always followed the kyai’s religious words without having comprehensive understanding about life.

We read the boldness of ludruk groups to perform the religious-sensitive stories as creative breakthrough which had the ideological goal, firstly, to teach the mass for having secular thinking, particularly for detaching earthly complicated process, such as economic and political activities, from heavenly ideal as taught by religious teachers in village areas. To empower people culture as the main source of national culture which could enlarge revolutionary ideology in the midst of proletariat mass, it was important at those times to “fertilize” common awareness on the crucial necessity of having radical thinking towards many feudal-religious dogma and power. Secondly, such early mental indoctrination of the proletariats through ludruk performances could be a starting point for preparing massive political actions under the control of communist force. In other words, the ideological involvement of ludruk groups and performances in East Java gave a cultural benefit for PKI, particularly in empowering their proletarian bases in villages as a strategy for winning political vote nationally.

Popularity of Resistant Stories in the New Order Era
As a way to cleanse communist ideological traces in cultural spheres, both in cities and villages, the New Order regime banned ludruk groups and their performances for several years in East Java because of their involvement in Lekra. Many ludruk artists who saved from the mass killing stopped their stage activities and experienced deep trauma. However, this new regime knew the potential contribution of folk arts in disseminating ideological discourses. As a residual culture, following Williams’ terminology (2006), ludruk actually still had public aura because of its historical roots which could made peasants coming to the performance. Hence, the regional New Order regime incorporated ludruk into their cultural. But, according to Kartolo, one of famous and senior ludruk artist in Surabaya, for clearing the rest of communist ideological traces, the regime apparatus required the artists who wanted to join in some newer ludruk groups “self-purification ritual”. One of the common forms was signing a declaration letter of non-partisan (Tempo, ibid).
The military apparatuses in East Java merged many artists of some popular groups in Soekarno periods into newer groups under their control.

In Surabaya, Ludruk Wijaya Kusuma Unit I and Wijaya Kusuma Unit IV were founded to accommodate the artists of Ludruk Marhaen and Ludruk Tresna Enggal. In Malang, the artists of Ludruk Anoraga Malang were merged into Ludruk Wijaya Kusuma Unit II and the artists of Ludruk Uril A were merged into Ludruk Wijaya Kusuma Unit III. Beside those mergers, in some regency, the military apparatuses also found some newer groups by undertaking many leading artists in the previous period (Ishommudin, 2013). In Jombang, the apparatuses found Ludruk Putra Bhirawa and Bintang Jaya. In Madiun, the air force apparatuses in Madiun found Ludruk Trisula Dharma. The giving of the Javanese and Sanskrit names, which were commonly used in the military institutions, indicates at once the discursive control of the state regime towards popular-folk culture and the positioning of the artists as the “messengers of new national consciousness” under the New Order authority. Despite like or dislike perceptions, the artists must follow the rule if they still wanted to continue their creativities and to get a little economic beneficiary from cultural activities.

One of the implications of such control was that ludruk artists in their performances, whether for commercial events in the houses of rich families in villages or state-sponsored performances, should present dominant-cultural discourses idealized by the state regime. Fertilizing nationalism in the midst of modern development programs in the whole aspect of societies was one of the discourses. Nationalism in the hand of the New Order regime became the important ideological discourse, which was mobilized through educational institutions from elementary level to higher level, indoctrination activities for the common citizens and public servants, televisions programs, newspapers, and films. Interestingly, the state apparatuses tended to expose anti-colonial nationalism, which always posited the colonizers, particularly the Dutch colonizers as the common enemy of the nation since their authority in the past resulted national misery; from economic, political, and cultural aspects. Such misery became rational argument for raising national sentiment and creating binary opposition between Indonesian people versus the Dutch, although administratively they have got independence since 1945.
Because ludruk groups had revised their ideological and creative orientation—beginning in 1970s—the artists must follow the military direction in conducting their performances, including the kind of preferable stories and other political messages through kidungans and parikans. Resistant stories in colonial settings were one of the characteristics of ludruk performances. The resistance against the Dutch colonizers—in local term called as kompeni—in the New Order period indicates the mobilization of anti-colonial nationalism through ludruk performances. For us, what interestingly to discuss is the appearance of civil-folk-heroes in the resistant stories that play dominant roles in the rebellion against kompeni.

In a story entitled Sogol Sumur Pendekar Gemuling (Sogol the Warrior of Gemuling Well), for example, the main character Sogol individually conducts “Robin Hood” actions, robbing the wealthy families—both from the Dutch and the native—and giving the robbed materials to the poor families in his village. The colonial exploitation raises the poverty of the villagers because they should give their harvest to kompeni via the village’s apparatuses. Driven by his anger to see such injustice and poverty experienced by the poor natives, Sogol decides to do the robberies, though such actions make him as public enemy, not only in the eyes of kompeni, but also in the eyes of the native-haves. How can Sogol have such bravery? He has a supernatural power which will make him cannot be injured or killed by gun shoot. Indeed in the end of the story Sogol can be killed by kompeni after his mother arrested, but the resistant spirit against the colonizers become the dominant discourse told to the ludruk audiences. Interestingly, there were some similar popular stories, which brought the resistant discourse, such as Sarip Tambak Oso, Sawunggaling, Pak Sakerah, Joko Sembung, etc.

The question, then, is why ludruk artists in this period performed the resistant stories. There are some reasonable answers for the question considering historical context of the rebirth of ludruk in the New Order Indonesia. The control of military apparatuses toward ludruk groups and artists in 1970s was not merely in the administrative and political sense, but also in the meaning production. As the ruling class in the formation of the state regime, the military apparatuses might also manage and command the ludruk artists to disseminate particular discourses. The resistant stories against kompeni were chosen because, though they did not carry the military struggles as represented in many films narratives, still represented and mobilized the issues of colonial revolution which emphasized physical fighting as conducted by the military troops in the past. In other words, although the civil-folk-heroes played dominant role in the stories, the discourse implemented in them was militarism. This discourse was very significant for the state regime because they wanted to negotiate their authority. Hence, negotiation of militarism became consensual-base that might emerge the people agreement toward the operation of the regime.

The further consequence of the state’s control was the less critique of injustice in the societies through ludruk performances. Eko Edy Susanto, the leader of Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, says:

‘Ludruk in the New Order period was indeed becoming “the loudspeaker” of the government. Ludruk performances articulated the regime’s propaganda, particularly the promotions of the government’s programs, such as family planning (KB), the five years development plant, etc. Such condition caused the people’ enthusiasm toward ludruk was beginning to decrease. They felt ludruk performances did not accentuate social problems and emphasize the voices of proletariats. There were not the sharp critique to the government policies and programs. Everything related to the regime was sounded in good manners. The humor scenes and kidungans had no more critical senses and merely seemed becoming the formal speeches of information agency.’ (Interview, 12 November 2013)

Indeed the popularity of ludruk as the folk-art, which brought critical voices on the stage, changed into the state’s important cultural medium to disseminate their policies and programs. This discursive intervention had intention to widen the political acceptance among people the superiority of the new regime with their promising authority, particularly in deserving economic welfare through various modern breakthroughs namely ‘pembangunan nasional’ (national development). Under such condition, the ludruk artists could not gain independent voices because administratively and ideologically they were controlled by the regime. In this subordinate position, what they could do was following the preferable discursive tendency, exposing and mobilizing the importance of moral and cultural teachings, which supported the establishment of hegemonic power.

Although all ludruk artists in East Java needed to obey what the regime wanted, they actually also could negotiate their necessities, particularly in the context of surviving the existence of ludruk as folk-art in the midst of modern cultural atmosphere. By getting the permission from the military apparatuses, although without the freedom of expression, they could continue their creative activities; entertaining the audiences and gaining a little economic beneficiary. At least they might have ideal dream that this folk-art could compete the massive popularity of cultural industries, such as television programs, films, and music products, although it was too hard to have similar position and achievement since the regime gave industrial creators and capitalist more opportunity to develop their commercial-cultural-products. Further, the ludruk artists also might dream that one day the regime would give them a little chance to develop and empower ludruk performances.

In 1980s, the dream came into reality when the military apparatuses pulled back their administrative position in controlling ludruk performances. As the implication of such policy, some ludruk groups in Surabaya, Mojokerto, Jombang, and Malang were allowed to create strategy, both in managerial skills and discursive patterns, although it did not mean reaching a totally freedom in representing the crucial-negative problems in the societies. In managerial and creative sense, some famous ludruk from Surabaya, Mojokerto, and Malang began to find newer strategy of performance to enlarge their audiences into villages when pop cultural products were being dominant in the cities such as Surabaya. Gedongan, a model of performance in Soekarno era in which a ludruk group performed in city public places in temporal times (commonly in a week or a month) by selling tickets to its audiences as well as theatre model (Samidi, 2006), was not suitable anymore because the city people preferred to view films. Considering such unfortunate condition, some ludruk groups from Surabaya (Baru Budi, Susana, and RRI), Mojokerto (Karya Budaya), and Jombang (Kartika Jaya) began finding breakthrough to widen their targeted audiences by bringing their performances into village areas. They, then, formulated tobongan, a model of performance for two or three months in villages’ squares that were encircled by using gedhek (walls made from bamboo) and the audiences should buy one night ticket.
In tobongan, the resistant stories were still being very popular and developmental discourses were still becoming dominant elements. Indeed the stories told and taught the audiences about the primacy of resisting the colonial authority as the base of seeding nationalism. Furthermore, the mobilization of binary opposition between the heroes and the enemies, in this case namely colonizers, might internalize and indoctrinate the importance of taking a strict position under the label of national belonging. By this politico-aesthetical construction, people would always be aware on the dangerous- negative effect of western cultural values as symbolized by the Dutch colonizers. The question then is why the New Order regime via ludruk artists and performances needed such kind of anti-colonial nationalism while in the previous period many thinkers and creative persons had fertilized dynamic concept of nationalism, which enabled them to “import” various ideological discourses as its foundation. For us, it is crucial to understand the national development programs as a historical context of cultural process, which particularly involved folk-arts.

One of typical characteristics of national development programs was the industrial revolution in the big cities such as Jakarta and Surabaya in which the regime invited as many as possible the foreign and national investors to invest their finance capital in the name of progress. The regime also allowed the coming of foreign-pop cultures, particularly from USA and European countries, which were banned in Soekarno era, through import mechanism. Unavoidably, the ideological consequence of the policies was the growth of capitalism as the dominant determinant in all aspect of life of Indonesian people, from cities to villages. Its further implication was the widely spreading of individualism, which emphasized individual freedom in the midst of societies. For the state apparatuses, this freedom, particularly in thinking and cultural expressions, might raise critique to the government that would disturb their power. Hence, the discursive practices of communalism, morality, and anti-colonial nationalism via residual-but-still-popular arts, such as ludruk, were preventive strategy to block the blossoming of resistant spirit. In other words, the state regime used traditional cultures, in this case ludruk performances that were renewed and reinvested with politico-ideological discourses through resistant stories as their endeavor, at once, to prevent the raising of unsatisfactory, critiques, and resistance, which were naturalized as national threat, and to secure the consensual base of their hegemonic authority.

Indeed ludruk directors began creating stories about love and daily social problems, but the solution of all conflicts in them always backed into moralistic conclusion or harmony among the characters. We can find the similar resolution in Indonesian film narratives in the 1980s, in which the higher tense of conflicts between individuals with their families or societies were finalized by their coming back into the warm hold of families as the metaphor of integration (Khrisna Sen, 2010). However, despite of such morality and integrative discourses, love stories can be read as an aesthetic tactic, both for appropriating modernity as the dominant culture and negotiating the existence of ludruk as one of residual-folk-arts in the midst of cultural changes as a direct impact of the rapid growth of popular culture. At least, in the minimum degree, the ludruk artists still could posit themselves and their traditional-based-creativities with modern orientation in cultural competition.

Creative-Survival Strategy in the Era of Market Culture
The booming of ludruk happened in 1984 that was signified by the existence of 789 groups in East Java. It was a euphoric response of the New Order regime cultural policy, which allowed the ludruk artists to have performances. However, the rapid advance of popular cultures made the number of ludruk group decreasing gradually; 771 groups in 1985-1986, 621 groups in 1986-1987, and 525 groups in 1987-1988. The radical diminution happened in 1994; there were only 14 groups in East Java. The increase of accessible private televisions in village regions contributed to that radical diminution because most of villagers preferred watching various and colorful programs in televisions. In the middle of 1990s, ‘ludruk tobong’ was disappeared from villages’ cultural sphere, replaced by ‘layar tancap’—open-air movie shows. Since this period, ludruk groups have performed in ‘terop’ model in which particular groups have been performing in terop—temporal stage—to serve rich villagers’ familial ritual or in villages’ communal ritual.

The booming of the cheap Chinese VCD players in the 2000s fastens the radical cultural change in villages. The suppression of time duration, the more various programs, and the more colorful of techno cultural products contribute to the marginalization of some folk-arts in East Java, including ludruk and ketoprak; a Mataraman Javanese drama. Besides it, the less attention of regional state regimes in their cultural policies also gives contribution to the death of many groups in Mojokerto, Jombang, Surabaya, and Malang (Susanto, interview, 12 November 2013). In Surabaya, a city where Cak Durasim popularized ludruk as medium for revolution, the state apparatuses negate the historical traces of ludruk and give no attention (Kompas, 4 June 2002). Of course, the absence of the state regime in developing folk-arts, including ludruk, shows their inconsistency in positioning the national cultural assets, which are said bearing sublime moral values as national identity. Ironically, the state regime also issues cultural national policy namely, ‘creative industries’ and performing arts become one of the important sectors in the policy. Indeed, in ideal concept, creative industries will generate creative economy, which may give economic beneficiary, both for their actors and the state. But, they require constructive programs, particularly preliminary researches to find suitable models based on the cultural and creative-human resources, and the state’s initiatives which will drive social actors, intellectuals, capitalist, and creative communities to succeed creative industries policy that will produce welfare for all (Tomic-Koludrovic and Petric, 2005; Primorac, 2005; Miles and Green, 2008). Unfortunately, in Indonesian context, the government—central and regional—still does not have definitive programs to improve folk-arts-based-creative industries.

However, there are some internal factors, which make ludruk groups dying in the Reformation period. Firstly, ludruk performances fail to fulfill economic necessity; so many artists leave this folk-art (Musyawir, 2013). Secondly, there are many groups which have no fixed members and make them hiring amateur artists with lower capacity when they got invitation to perform. According to Hengky Kusuma, a researcher, these “name-board ludruk” only can survive in short times period and will disappear sooner because there is no commitment from their members (Radar Mojokerto, 31 December 2010). Thirdly, the narrative structure of ludruk performance with its long duration seems too traditional compared to modern-popular arts. Fourthly, the slowness of ludruk artist regeneration causes the difficulty in finding new and young talents, so the viewers are not too interested to come to ludruk performances, which are played by the old artist, 50-70 years old. The traditional management in ludruk groups makes their leaders/managers taking serious consideration when they want to substitute an older artist with the younger one (Surabaya Post, 20 September 2008). Sixthly, the less of intellectual figures in ludruk groups who can handle managerial business and create innovative breakthroughs, relating to stories and stage managements, may cause ludruk seems conventional and not interesting to watch, especially for young generation.

As creative-survival strategy in facing and solving the above problems, some ludruk groups are finding some breakthroughs, both in production management and stories. Consequently, these groups still can survive and get many performance jobs, both from the rich villagers and cultural institutions. According to Hengky Kusuma’ notes, there are top-five ludruk groups in East Java based on their performance intensity, namely (1) Ludruk Karya Budaya Mojokerto; (2) Ludruk Budhi Wijaya (Mojokerto); (3) Ludruk Mustika Jaya (Jombang); (4) Ludruk Karya Baru (Mojokerto); dan, (5) Ludruk Putra Wijaya (Jombang). The five groups are very popular because of the ability and the capacity of their managers in formulating organisational managements based on modern knowledge and of their creative directors in creating new or up to date stories and state innovations.

In the context of managerial and staging breakthrough, according to Susanto, Ludruk Karya Budaya has applied some innovative as its serious attempt to have contestation in market era today (interview, 12 November 2013). The first is revitalizing the classic mechanism of regeneration, namely nyebeng (observation activities done by the younger artists or trainees when the senior artists are performing on stages), sepelan (an agreement to speak or to act between the younger and the senior artists when they play in the same scene), and tedean (a mandatory for the younger artists to ask advices and critique from the senior artist about the action in particular scenes that they will do or they have done). Through this revitalization, ludruk groups may find suitable solution for regeneration problems. The second, contradictory with the classic methods, is having acting and staging workshops that can enrich the creative skills of the artists. Through workshops, they can create new dances, technique of acting, and technique of directing, etc. The improved skills through workshops, at least, will make ludruk performance better and more creative, so it will make the viewers to come. The third, still relates to the second, is recruiting creative persons who can give more knowledge on the world of staging, from sound system, lightening system, and other aesthetic elements. The fourth is improving ludruk managements by combining traditional and modern system, so, at once the ludruk artists can experience the impressive of communal atmosphere during the performances and can find maximum beneficiary, especially financial income, through the better managerial mechanism. The members of Karya Budaya, for example, always get two kinds of bonus in each year—before Idul Fitri and in the year-end—because their manager, Eko Edy Susanto, always save a part of their honors in each performance. It can happen because, through creative and innovative breakthrough, Karya Budaya can get 150 jobs invitation in a year; a marvelous quantity for folk-art.

Nevertheless, the creation of newer stories relating to contemporary social problems also takes important role as survival strategy because ludruk’s number one competitor is sinetron (Indonesian soap opera in private televisions) and films which have more interesting and complicated stories based on the real problems. Genealogically, ludruk has been a tied relationship with social conditions and historical context as we have discussed in the previous subchapters. It means it is not difficult for ludruk directors or scriptwriters to compose the newer stories based on people’s daily problems, although most of them are more interested, driven by their pragmatic thinking and the traces of popularity of colonial stories in public memories, to perform Sarip Tambakoso, Pak Sakera, Joko Sambang, and other resistant stories. In critical sense, the creation of the newer stories is important to clear gradually the hegemonic effects of militarism and to regain the closer relationship of ludruk with their viewers that commonly come from the lower class people and villagers.

In this Reformation era, people experience many various social, economic, political, environmental, and cultural problems. All of them may be imaginative and creative base for ludruk artists and directors that can be transferred into kidungan, humors, stories, and other staging actions. Although they cannot give practical solution for the problems, the articulation of them may make the viewers feel being represented in ludruk performances. Paring Waluyo and Happy Budhi conceptualize a simple mechanism to have such creation as follow:

By recognizing and understanding the viewers’ daily habits, the ludruk artists can create stories, humors, and kidungans that intertwine with some values and events that are understandable and memorable…By such understanding, the ludruk artists often insert kidungans or humors with social critiques. (Surya, 8 May 2007)

Some ludruk groups actually begin creating contemporary social problems-based-stories in their performances to attract the viewers. Karya Budaya, for example, in some occasions has performed Juragan Dhemit (The Devil Employer) and Warisan Mak Yah (The Heritage of Mak Yah); two stories which depict the complicated real problems in our societies.

The first tells about the misery of Saodah, a female housekeeper, who is raped by her employer and, finally, getting pregnant. But, the employer does not acknowledge his child. The story actually represents the struggle and the dread of many lower-class-women who want to reach economic welfare by working as housekeepers in Indonesia or abroad.

Saodah backed to kampong with strange appearance. Her parents saw Saodah more quite than before. Three years ago, she often sent money from her wage as a housekeeper in Mr. Brojo Utoyo’s family. It was not taking a longer time; his father realized what happened to Saodah, she was pregnant. Before her home coming, her two male mates, Supali and Trubus forced Mr. Brojo to acknowledge the infant as his child. But, promise was only promise. Until her child became a boy, Mr. Brojo never acknowledged him. What was suitable name for such kind of inhuman employer? … The artists together shouted “Juragan Dhemit”. (Kompas, 18 March 2006)

According to Kompas’s notes, the story got incredible appreciation from the viewers in Malang. Moreover, the lower and middle class viewers seemed finding their subjectivity in the story. That reality shows that the viewers may become appreciative to the story, which is very close to their daily problems. It means that the class-conflict-based-stories can be an expressive explosion that may awaken the viewers’ consciousness, although cannot help them to solve their complicated problems. What interesting from this story is its narrative gives a newer accentuation on a class-conflict in which the dominant figure does not experience a tragic ending because of his cruel affairs. However, the shout, “Juragan Dhemit”, at the end of the story offers the audiences a memorable discourse and gives a critical warning that in our own societies there is still “colonizers” need to resist.

The second story, Warisan Mak Yah, negotiates anti-thesis of the stereotype viewpoint on prostitution, which positions female prostitutes as “social rubbish”.

Mak Yah was a daughter of a mestrous (a Dutch navy) and a whore from Kupang, Surabaya. His father came back to Netherland and his mother dead in younger age. Practically, her mother’s mates who also work as prostitutes cared the child Mak Yah. Living in the midst of prostitution made the adult Mak Yah followed the profession of her social mothers, becoming a prostitute. Because of her mixed-blood, Javanese-Dutch, made her face and body more interesting than another whores did. She became an idol of men costumers…When she was getting old; Mak Yah lived alone in a silent kampong. Nevertheless, she still worked hard, although some serious diseases infected her body. She also became victims of negative social stigma in her community. There was nobody who might visit and give empathy to herself. However, before dead coming, she made legacy written by the local apparatuses: they might sell her house and land. Then, they should use a half of the money for renovating the broken kindergarten building. Moreover, the other half was for buying “a vehicle for dead-body”. (Radar Mojokerto, 4 October 2004)

This story clearly criticizes the stereotype and stigmatic public opinion on prostitution without considering seriously its historical root. As the culmination of the critique, the story offers a different perspective in which Mak Yah makes constructive-positive-visionary decision related to crucial problems in her community. Through the renovation of the kindergarten building, for example, Mak Yah, firstly, wants to show her neighbors the importance of educating children for the sake important knowledge. Secondly, she wants to give a kind of teaching that in “the darkest side” of a prostitute there may be “the shining sun” which can improve the poorer social condition.

Those two stories indicate the bravery of Karya Budaya in representing contemporary social problems in its performances. Of course, the freedom atmosphere in the Reformation period contributes to critical imaginary and discourse, which pass beyond the established moral-codes in societies. The less of the state regime apparatuses’ control in cultural expressions—although not totally, especially relating to communism issues—makes cultural actors—including ludruk artists—start creating stories that are forbidden in the previous period. Indeed in the New Order period, many ludruk groups performed the stories about prostitution, as well as the same stories in films, but the resolutions of the conflicts always emphasized the important of harmonious ending in which the prostitutes were re-integrated to the established moral-codes, means becoming a normal person. Similarly, in the context of class struggle, we can find a critical-aesthetical assessment, which reminds the audiences about the danger of human exploitation by the same citizen from the upper class. In other words, although in the Reformation time, the slogan of equality in human right and democracy echoes in every moment, both in television programs and academic forums, the problems of ordinary colonization conducted by the dominant class are still happening.

Despite of the above ideal-critical functions, once again, the intertwining between narratives and contextual conditions may become a suitable strategy in re-popularizing ludruk in the midst of techno-cultural expansion. Indeed this strategy entails the popularity of sinetron and films as the products of huge-capital-cultural industries, but since ludruk performances have their distinctive staging aspects, it does not matter to absorb and appropriate the similar strategy. In the context of production, some ludruk groups have associated with recording industries from Surabaya to record their performances and distribute them in VCDs. In one side, this choice suppresses the long duration—5-6 hours—to the short one, 1 hour, and, in other side, it may reduce the complicated stories and discourses. But, in the context creative industries, the choice is understandable because the recording of ludruk performance means giving the ludruk artists additional income from the payment of contract. In each contract, commonly for two stories, Karya Budaya gets 25 millions rupiahs and this payment will be shared to 60 members proportionally. Further, the distribution of VCDs may reach the larger viewers, from cities to villages, and may attract some of them to invite the group in their familial or communal rituals. However, live performances still become the major orientation of ludruk groups because the artists can experience direct and dynamic communication with the audiences, so they will get different psychological satisfaction. And, economically, many live performances mean more money for them.

Concluding Remarks
The coming of market capitalism in regional and local context as well as in national and global context emerges new challenges for folk-arts and their artists. The strict competition with techno-cultural products and the metropolitan orientation of local people need the newer strategy if they want to survive. Actually, in its historical process, ludruk—through its creative persons and managers—has have transformation as strategy to survive in complicated social, economic, political, and cultural condition. In the era of Soekarno regime, when revolutionary ideology under guided democracy became the dominant discursive practice and formation, many ludruk groups and artists involved in Lekra because this institution committed to empower proletarian cultures. This politico-ideological involvement, truly, might make ludruk a prestigious and critical folk-art, but it also caused them coming into misery. Under the New Order regime, indeed ludruk groups grew up in a large number, but they transformed their performances as the state’s cultural announcer, giving support to national development programs, although since 1990s they also became victims of the rapid economic growth that caused the wide dissemination of pop-cultures. It means, in the recent market era, ludruk’s creative persons and managers can apply the principle of transformation to find suitable breakthroughs, by operating mixed-managerial system—combining the traditional-communal values with modern-professional mechanism—and creating innovation in stories and staging.

By the transformative strategy, ludruk groups, in one side, can continuously spread contextual-critical stories that represent the recent social, economic, and cultural problems in more interesting performance. In other side, ludruk artists may gain economic benefits when they can have many terop and recording performances. Truly, some ludruk groups in East Java have transformed themselves into creative industries, but without completely leaving pakem, a traditional pattern for staging stories, although they do not get support from the state regime that is propagating the importance of folk-arts as national identity and sources of creative economy. With or without the state regime’s programs, ludruk groups will continuously seek more precisely creative-survival strategies for their existence in spreading discursive and entertaining formations that is intertwined with the recent and the future historical condition. The transformative strategy, once again, can become a starting and continuing point for ludruk artists in positioning and empowering their groups in the market capitalism era that is colored by industrialization of cultures, whether traditional, modern, or experimental.


*Penelitian saya bersama dengan Prof. Dr. Ayu Sutarto. Versi jurnal dari artike ini dimuat dalam Jurnal Humaniora UGM, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2014. Bisa diunduh melalui link berikut:

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About Ikwan Setiawan 200 Articles
Ketua Umum Matatimoer Institute. Pengajar di Fakultas Ilmu Budaya, Universitas Jember. Anggota Dewan Pakar Dewan Kesenian Jember. Aktif dalam penelitian sastra, budaya lokal dan media dengan fokus kepada persoalan poskolonialitas, hegemoni, politik identitas, dan isu-isu kritis lainnya. Email:

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