Pencak Silat in the Indonesian Archipelago
Rapid Journal, Vol 4, No. 2 (Book 12, 1999: 38 – 39)
© O'ong Maryono
Many of the readers may wonder what pencak silat actually
is. In the Philippines, with its many martial arts forms, pencak silat
is still relatively unknown. And yet, pencak silat is part of our common
Malay culture which covers Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam,
the Philippines and some small islands close to them. In all these countries
pencak silat can be found although its name may vary. In Malaysia, people
talks of "bersilat" to indicate their self-defense techniques
comprising more than 260 different styles. The same term is also used
in Singapore and in South Thailand, while in Brunei Darussalam and the
Southern Philippines people use the shortest version of "silat".
In other Philippine regions, the term "pasilat" is also used.
According to Mark Wiley, pencak silat entered the Philippines from Riau
and together with the Chinese martial art of Kuntao influenced the development
of "Kali", which he and other martial arts experts consider
the "mother art of the Philippines" or the source of all martial
arts in the country.
In my country, Indonesia, the official name used to indicate more than
800 martial arts schools and styles spread across more than 13,000 islands
is "pencak silat". However, this is actually a compound name
consisting of two terms used in different regions. The word "pencak"
and its dialectic derivatives such as "penca" (West Java) and
"mancak" (Madura and Bali) is commonly used in Java, Madura
and Bali, whereas the term "silat" or "silek" is used
in Sumatra. The ambition to unify all these different cultural expressions
in a common terminology as part of declaring Indonesia's unity and independence
from colonial power, was first expressed in 1948 with the establishment
of the Ikatan Pencak Silat Indonesia (Indonesian Pencak Silat Association,
IPSI). However, it could only be realized in 1973 when representatives
from different schools and styles finally formally agreed to the use of
"pencak silat" in official discourse, albeit original terms
are still widely used at the local level.
The richness of terms reflects a wide diversity in styles and techniques
across the regions due to the fact that pencak silat has been developed
by different masters who have created their own style according to their
preferences and to the physical environment and social-cultural context
in which they live. Lets take as example West Java, Central Java and West
Sumatra. West Java is inhabited by a specific ethnic group with specific
cultural and social norms. For them, pencak silat is part of their way
of life or as they say is "the blood in their body". In their
language they say "penca" or "menpo" (from "maen
poho', which literally means play with trickery) to indicate their main
four styles Cimande, Cikalong, Timbangan, and Cikaret and all the schools
and techniques which have derived from them. The Sundanese people have
always utilized penca/mempo' for self-defense and recreation, and only
recently have started to use it as a sport in national and regional competitions.
In its self-defense form, using hands fighting techniques combined with
a series of characteristic footsteps such as langka sigzag (zigzag step),
langka tilu (triangular step), langka opat (quadrangular step) and langka
lam alip, penca can be very dangerous. Therefore it is kept secret and,
especially its magic (tenaga dalam or inner power) component is only taught
in phases to selected students.
Penca as art (penca ibing) has been a source of inspiration for traditional
Sundanese dances such as Jaepongan, Ketu'tilu', Dombret, and Cikeruhan
and actually it resembles dance in its use of music instruments. These
instruments, called "pencak drummers" (gendang penca), are devoted
exclusively to penca performances and consist of two sets of drummers
(gendang anak dan kulantir), a trumpet (tetet) and a gong. Pencak performances
also use standard music rhythms such as tepak dua, tepak tilu, tepak dungdung,
golempang and paleredan. Penca as art is not considered dangerous and
can be openly shown to everyone. From generation to generation until today,
penca performances animate wedding parties, rituals of circumcision, celebrations
of the rice harvest and all kind of national festivities.
Differently from West Java, in Central Java, Javanese people have traditionally
used pencak only for self-defense and are not inclined to show it in public.
Furthermore, the spiritual aspect (kebatinan) is much more dominant. This
is probably related to the fact that pencak silat in Central Java developed
from the Sultanate of Yogyakarta and later expanded to surrounding neighborhoods
after the kingdoms lost their political role in the XV and XVI centuries.
In the keraton (Sultan's palace) pencak silat had undergone a transformation
from pure martial art to be used in combat, to an elaborate form of spiritual
and humanistic education. In this later form it spread outside the keraton
walls where it developed the use of self-defense techniques to reach spiritual
awareness as well as the use of inner powers to attain supernatural physical
Again pencak silat in West Sumatra is a different cultural expression
in both its forms and meaning. Similarly to West Java, in West Sumatra
a distinction is made between self-defense, called sile' or silat, and
the related art version called pencak which has influenced many traditional
dances such as Sewah, Alo Ambek and Gelombang. The ethnic group of Minangkabau
who lives around the Merapi Mountain in West Sumatra regard silat as their
village's heirloom (pusaka anak nagari) which is meant for the youth to
defend themselves while traveling ashore and it is not intended for outsiders.
Instead, pencak as a dance is accessible to everybody. In this region
almost every village (nagari) has a different style (aliran) of silat
as reflected by the many names, some of which refer to the founders (like
Silat Tuanku Ulakan, Silat Pakik Rabun, Silat Malin Marajo) and some to
the original locations where the style was developed (Silat Kumango, Silat
Lintau, Silat Starlak, Silat Pauh, Silat Painan, Silat Sungai Patai and
Silat Fort de Kock). These styles can be classified into two main groups
according to the foot-stands (kuda-kuda) they use. In the coastal area,
silat styles use a very low kuda-kuda and prefer hand techniques whereas
in the mountain area the kuda-kuda is higher and foot techniques are dominant.
This is due to the different environments in which silat has developed.
On the sand, a high kuda-kuda would not be stable and in the mountain,
where the ground is oblique and uneven, a low kuda-kuda would be impossible
to practice. As a Minangkabau proverb says: "Alam takambang menjadi
guru" (the surrounding nature is our teacher).
These styles and regional diversities are only few arbitrary examples
to show what a rich cultural phenomena pencak silat is in Indonesia. Much
more needs to be said about its origin, history, techniques and social
role, but this will be for another time
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