Monash University
Masks of sumatra, ATJ 2015.pdf (1.33 MB)

Masks of Sumatra

Download (1.33 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2017-11-08, 00:26 authored by Karen ThomasKaren Thomas

In this article I focus on the performance practices of one of Sumatra’s little-known mask varieties, that of sakura theater, performed in the southernmost province of Lampung. I also draw attention to four other Sumatran mask types, namely, those used in funeral ceremonies of the Karo Batak in North Sumatra, mak yong theater of Bintan, gobang ritual of the Anambas islands, and mendu theater of Natuna. In order to gain a greater understanding of the Sumatran mask images and to illuminate their use in performance, I first trace the history of Sumatran mask design, sourcing relevant iconographical and archeological data dating back to the migrations to the island in the Dongson era (500– 1000 bce) and the subsequent Hindu-Buddhist period (first to fourteenth centuries ce). The masks’ facial features and their functions in Lampung personify animals, gods, demons, and humans and resemble carvings of supernatural beings on Buddhist temple remains throughout Sumatra. The ancestors are believed to have traveled along South Sumatra’s and Lampung’s extensive river system to Skala Brak in West Lampung along the southwestern Bukit Barisan mountain range, bringing with them their cultures and artistic skills. Moreover, the later interethnic contact between southern Sumatrans and the Benanek Dayak community in Kalimantan may have influenced the designs of the masks, given the similarities between them in the two areas. Today Lampung sakura masking in its various forms, dating back to the pre-Hindu-Buddhist period in Skala Brak, takes place in mystical healing and village cleansing ceremonies, at pole-climbing festivals, and in street processions on the Muslim feast day of Idul Fitri. As an indirect means of affecting the people’s mindset, sakura processional performance practices and their allure affirm the Lampung worldview.