Amid the advancement of digital technology, the culture of indigenous Jakartans, known as Betawi, is slowly fading away. The Ondel-ondel puppet dance as a Betawi cultural icon is entering a period of being wiped from the collective memory of contemporary Jakarta.
The pair of large puppets, which used to be called Barongan, ferocious mythological creatures, have now changed in appearance and are widely popular as Ondel-ondel. The new name was adopted after the late Benyamin, arguably the greatest Betawi artist of all time released his song titled “Ondel-ondel”.
So, the puppets were given a facelift to get with gentle expressions, in an attempt to preserve their cultural legacy in Jakarta society.
The Ondel-ondel studio of Al-Fathir is one of the many workshops striving to keep the culture alive by producing at least a pair every three days. Body frames are made from bamboo, as it is flexible and light, while their faces are made from molded and painted fiberglass.
Finished faces are fitted above their draped body frames, with palm fibers fastened to the back of the heads to which stalks of coconut flowers are stuck as headgear adornments.
Ondel-ondel puppets primarily serve as part of Betawi traditional ceremonies. But today various studios are parading their pairs as far as the Jakarta outskirts for extra income. Ondel-ondel groups, each with five members, hire public vehicles to take them to their destinations for road shows.