Scholarships help spread Sundanese culture
Sandra Siagian , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 10/02/2009 2:23 PM | Java Brew
Cultural heroes: Young students of the Saung Angklung Udjo (SAU), a traditional performing arts center in Bandung, hold their musical instruments. Money from performances for tourists is used to pay for scholarships so local students can learn traditional Sundanese arts and culture. JP/Sandra Siagian
While visitors flock to Bandung every day to discover Sundanese culture, little do they realize they are paying for more than just a show.
At Saung Angklung Udjo (SAU), a traditional performing arts center, money raised from tourism is plowed back into the community, providing local students with free scholarships to learn traditional Sundanese arts and culture.
According to Satria Yanuar Angganasastra, the operational director at SAU, the purpose of the scholarship is to preserve Sundanese culture by passing on the foundations to the next generations.
“We are trying to maintain our founder’s vision, who would always say, *how can we provide advantages for our community?'” said Satria. “We pick students from surrounding communities who attend the classes in the afternoon, following formal school.”
Since the founder Udjo Ngalagena opened his doors to the community in 1966, local students have had the opportunity to master the arts integral to Sundanese culture. Starting with a handful of students, the center has more than 500 local children from surrounding communities in 2009.
Taufik Tidayat Udjo, director and son of the late Udjo, who died in 2001, said he continually strives to keep the real character of his father within the school, by implementing better management to help the company grow.
“I want to continue the legacy of my father through community-based tourism,” said Taufik. “We need to keep the old and make room for the new to promote the development of the school and culture within the community.”
Potential students must go through a selection process not only to test their talent, but also to test their willingness and desire to learn. Satria said that parents are the first ones to go through the screening.
“We have to make sure that the parents want the best for their children and not just using us as an after-school day care program,” said Satria.
“After we feel the parents have their child’s best interest at heart to learn, we then check the child’s talent and interest level before accepting them as art center members.”
Students at SAU range in age from two to 17 years, with the older students having the option to become senior leaders.
The scholarship students must complete four compulsory classes a week, each lasting around three hours, covering traditional Sundanese culture and learning to play musical instruments.
In a typical year, students from SAU will perform 1,024 times, with shows all over the world. The center shuts down only three times a year: during Idul Fitri, on Aug. 17 for Independence Day and at the end of December, when the whole team of students, teachers and managers go out fishing and have a team bonding day.
For the rest of 2009, the local students will complete 24 more performances, in 17 different countries.
The scholarship program has reached international shores, with the Indonesian government awarding art and culture scholarships in Indonesia to 50 candidates. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has been providing the scholarship since 2003, with a mission to create awareness and to educate the candidates about the indigenous cultures of Indonesia – an education they will hopefully to take back to their country and share with their compatriots.
With placement opportunities in West Java, Central Java, Bali and Yogyakarta, 11 of the students from nine different countries are currently completing the three-month program at SAU.
The international candidates aged between 18 and 35 years, are immersed in Sundanese culture and Indonesian language, completing seven hours of classes a day.
Ellen Mesibene from Papua New Guinea discovered the program while working with the national cultural commission. The 32-year-old said she was lucky to have been nominated by her country after undergoing a selection process through the local Indonesian Embassy.
“The program is very educational and culturally orientated through and through,” said Mesibene, who had never spoken Indonesian before this trip. “It gives me the opportunity as a visitor to really experience the different dancing, music and arts and understand what Sundanese culture is about.”
The international candidates at SAU enhance their skills by studying traditional Sundanese dance and martial arts and learning how to play traditional bamboo instruments such as the angklung and arumba.
One of the candidates eager to share her experiences back home is Aziela Rahim from Singapore. The 21-year-old said she has enjoyed the variety and flexibility between learning and leisure, mixing up classes while exploring the streets of Bandung meeting the locals.
Rahim said she was ready to spread the culture among her colleagues and friends when the program ended on Oct. 29.
“I have been able to learn things here that I wouldn’t be able to learn back home,” Rahim said.
“The music, culture and language are so interesting and nice, which I really think the rest of the world will appreciate.”
At the conclusion of the program, the candidates from all four destinations will come together at Surakarta in Central Java for a collaborative performance with national and community musicians. At the concert, to be held Oct. 24, the international students will demonstrate what they have learned.
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.