Living Heritage of Palm Karinding in Rural Village

Ilham Nurwansah
(published on IJHS Newsletter Issue 14 p. 4-5, 2012)

Warmest greeting for all!

In  Newsletter  12  I  wrote  about  two  types  of  Sundanese  mouth harp, the bamboo karinding and the palm one.  Here I  said  that  the  palm  (midrib)  karinding  or  Karinding  Kawung has spread to several places in West Java, such as  in Regency of Tasikmalaya, Garut and Cianjur. This article focused to the palm mouth harp in Cianjur regency.

Cirama Girang’s palm Karinding – left to right: Bamboo tube case, three tongued piece, single tongued piece- photo taken by Ilham Nurwansah.

Cirama Girang village is one of  Cikalong  Kulon’s  sub-district  territories  in  Cianjur regency that still has a group of palm karinding tradition. This village is near to the border between Cianjur and Purwakarta regency and has its original natural landscape. There are rice field terraces in the valley with  a  creek  in  the  lower  land  and  hills  around  the neighborhood  providing  a  comfortable  environment  in which  to  live.  It  can  be  reached  by  vehicles  in  about  40 minutes from Cianjur city center, and is about  2½ hours from the nearest airport in Bandung, capitol of West Java.

This  rural  village  is  an  ideal  place  for  the  players  and craftsmen  of  the  unique  palm  karinding  to  live.  The  Palm karinding is an old tradition that has been transferred from generation  to  generation  in  this  place  and  even  though  the palm  karinding’s  popularity  is  unlike  in  the  past,  this  old musical art is still in existence and preserved today.

The  karinding  has  been  part  of  the  heritage  of  this  village from  the  grand-grandfathers  for  tens  or  perhaps  even hundreds  of  years,  though  we  are  not  sure  when  the  first karinding  existed  in  this  place.  There  are  several  folktales that refer to the palm karinding, the tale of a fighting rooster competition being one of the most popular. An old karinding player-maker,  Una,  tells  of  the  two  groups  of  people  who fought  their fighter  roosters,  the  winner deciding  to hold a karinding show as a victory celebration.

Una,  Ukar  Sukarya  and  Abah  Mandor  are  professional players  with  tens  of  years  of  experience  on  playing  and making  palm  karinding,  having  got  their  knowledge  and ability  to  play  and  make  a  mouth  harp  from  their  parents. They  still  produce  this  small  musical  instrument  and sometimes hold a show at the front for the public. The instrument they make is slimmer and smaller than other karinding. Here you can compare a palm karinding from the Garut regency and Cianjur regency.

Left: Garut’s Karinding, right: Cirama Girang’s karinding (Cianjur), photo taken by Saiful Jamil

However, size is not a certain sign of where a karinding is made because it depends to the particular craftsman’s idea. When I visited Cirama Girang village in 2010, I was shown a bigger palm karinding by Una. It is 17 cm long and 2.3 cm wide.  Cirama’s  palm  karinding  has  three  needles  (tongue) with  smaller  belly  (pendulum).  Sometimes  the  craftsman makes  the  palm  piece  with  single  tongue, but  that is  not  a priority.

Typical three tongued palm karinding of Cirama Girang village, photo taken by Ilham Nurwansah

This body structure gives  it  lesser flexibility  and produces  a  shorter  sound  “breath”.  For  some  reason, (perhaps heredity knowledge), every craftsman in this place makes  the  same  structure.  This  is  the  typical  difference compared  to  other  palm  karinding.  With  shorter  sound characteristic, it has to play faster and more rhythmic. Below is a video of Cirama Girang’s karinding playing:

It  needs  stronger  energy  to  vibrate  the  needle  and  produce good  sound.   The  faster  the  speed  and  stronger  the  energy the louder will be the sound. There are several ways that are used  to  play  Cirama  Girang’s  palm  mouth  harp:  Striking with  the  finger  (normal);  hitting  with  a  stick  (extension); pulling the belly of the instrument.  An extra resonator tube can be added with a piece of bamboo tube, although I have seen  the  palm  karinding  played  by  using  a  plastic  cup resonator.  You can see an old man played karinding with a stick here:

Playing karinding with bamboo stick, photograph of Ilham Nurwansah, taken by Andi Gita Lesmana

It is thought that the first use of karinding was for personal entertainment  and  relaxation.  From  the  former  it  then developed  as  a  massive entertainment  show  for  a public  audience  or  the  local community.  Karinding  is usually  played  when  relaxing at  home,  or  when  there  is  a gathering  with  friends, something that has become their habit from long ago.

From the repeated habit of playing time after time, there has developed  an  empiric  experience  concerning  the  use  of karinding  in  their  rice  field.  Based  on  the  experience  of several farmers in this village who are karinding players, the harvest  result  from  the  accompaniment  of  the  karinding sound proved to be always better than the non-accompanied field.

It  therefore  became  a  strong  assumption  by  the villagers  that  the  karinding  sound  repels  insects  and  pests. Unfortunately, there has been no in-depth research into the karinding’s sound impact on insects or any other field pests yet. It would need a more capable expert in pest and sound specialist to explain and proof it.

Since  the  1960’s,  the  palm  karinding  in  this  village  has become  a  show that  can  be  watched  by  the  public and  the show has a team of several musicians and singers. Beside the mouth  harp,  other  musical  instruments  are  used  on  a  full performance  such  as  the  goong  (gong),    goong  buyung  , kacapi  (zither),  suling  (flute),  celempung,  kendang  awi (bamboo drum), saron awi (tunned bamboo xylophone) and rebab (fidlle). I have been invited several times to watch the show, which was a very impressive experience, being both unique and interesting. The songs are Sundanese folksongs with Sundanese language and pentatonic in structure. There are  several  songs:    Oray-orayan  (fake  snake),  Cis  Kacang Buncis  (bean),  and  Kidung  (pray/spell)  and  in  some  cases, they are able to sing popular songs too.

The Palm karinding players and craftsmen in Cirama Girang village  have  a  strong  desire  to  keep  this  heritage  art  alive. They are concerned about the karinding’s existence and so are  open  to  sharing  their  experiences  and  to  teach  how  to play  their  tradition.  Una  believes  that  today  not  only  the older generation can play the mouth harp, but also the youth.

Although  they  find  it  hard  to  balance  karinding  with  the modern electronic musical instruments influences, this older generation is still determined to keep the musical traditions from former generations alive; to keep karinding so that it is not lost by the time, and to transfer karinding tradition to the next young generation.

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