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Waktu Batu (Time Stone): Our House is On Fire, Contemporary Ruwatan (Purification) for Ecological Wrath; Can It Really Be This Complex?

An experimental review of an experimental theatre performance about ecological grievances and women who resist.
Text : Titah AW
Photo & Video: Dwi Oblo
Saturday, 26 August 2023

Disclaimer: In accordance with the concept of the performance where the audience is invited to become one of the actors, this writing uses the second person point of view “you” in the hope that readers will get a contextual experience with the concept offered by Garasi Theatre.

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Perhaps it is true, that today time has taken the world on a high-speed trajectory. You perceive everything in fragments, mediated, distracted, always hustling and bustling, and never whole. 

This sensation is what you felt last Saturday, July 1st, when you watched the theatre performance Waktu Batu (Time Stone): Our House is On Fire (WBRyT) at Jogja National Museum (JNM), Yogyakarta. WBRyT is directed by Yudi Ahmad Tajudin and is the fourth version of the Garasi Performance Institute’s long-running project that began in 2001. In this latest form, they have teamed up with young actors such as Ari Dwianto, Erythrina Baskoro, Tomomi Yokosuka, Arshita Iswardhani, Putu Alit Panca, Enji Sekar, Syamsul Arifin, Wijil Rachmadhani, and Putri Lestari. Their exploration this time is composed of cross-media experiments between theatre, video games, and cinematography used to wrap the big theme of ecological grief, as well as several other sub-themes such as waste, domesticity, and decolonization.

The result?

Complex and layered—not to say it as complicated.

Sitting down to watch the 75-minute performance, it’s impossible to fully enjoy the abundance of visuals, dialogue, movement, and sound as a whole. It’s so full, all you can do is to swallow it fragment by fragment. Sometimes you focus on one actor, then move to another screen, and so on. Exactly like your experience of absorbing the world these days.

Disorientation and Calamity Carried by Kala

The unwritten rule is clear, you cannot watch WBRyT with an empty head – or you will lose your way. References to history, legends, issues, discourses, news, or trends must serve as an anchor while enjoying WBRyT. Because the narrative and experimental theatre form will easily lead you astray.

In the case of WBRyT, from the very beginning, you are told that this long project uses three ancient sagas about the creation of time in Javanese tradition as its starting point: Watugunung, Murwakala, and Sudamala.

And as your primary school teacher or simbah told you, you know that Prabu Watugunung was the son who accidentally married his own mother Dewi Sinta (different from the Ramayana’s Dewi Sinta), then had a conflict and created the pawukon, which is a time-keeping system. Meanwhile, you obviously know about Murwakala, which tells the story of the birth of the time-ruling raksasa, aka Kala, from the semen of Lord Shiva (in another version Bathara Guru) who dripped in the sea by accident after being rejected by Umayi. Kala will eat human children who have not been purified (sukerta) through ruwatan. Sudamala, on the other hand, is the tale of Durga’s waiting to be purified by Sadewa to become Dewi Umayi again.

Even though it’s faint, you start to find a common thread between the three tales.

On stage, you see the three myths being dismantled and merged into one. Dewi Sinta, Umayi, Durga, Shiva, Kala, move in a chaotic trajectory of time. Jumping around, disguising themselves with futuristic NPCs (Non Player Character), then returning to the primordial era (signaled by the call “Bhre”). Dialogue is intertwined with poetry, beautiful even though it barely helps you find any single narrative. Screw your linear timeline!

The chaos of the timeline is, to some extent, a satire on you for forgetting that in many ancient traditions, time is treated as a twisting cycle rather than a straight line with a beginning and an end. In front of WBRyT, you and your modern mind are suddenly alienated.

In an introductory note, Yudi Ahmad Tajudin, the director of WBRyT, writes his own interpretation of sukerta. If in the Javanese tradition sukerta is a human being who is born with bad luck and becomes food for the raksasa Kala, Yudi interprets sukerta as a state of space-time disorientation. The sensation of losing your way and the game controller gimmick played by the audience next to you is a clear sign that WBRyT has also appointed you as one of the players in this performance. You are also a sukerta.

Damn you, Shiva!
Damn you for knowing me.
Damn all of you for obeying him.

This form also reminds you of the fact that Time is the thing that is constantly defining itself, becoming distinctive in each age with this and that. Sometimes it is careful, but more often it is careless and causes harm. On the tilted stage, for example, you see Kala starving because he messed up his mother’s kitchen. Then in another scene at the dining table, while repeatedly slipping down, Kala is busy cramming food as well as foreign concepts from his two guests. Perhaps those two guests are Colonialism and Modernity.

“Sorekara?”
“Industrial revolution,” Kala gobbled greedily.
“What else?”
“Plastic, chimneys, carbon monoxide”
“Sorekara?”
“I want to wear your clothes,” his eyes gaze lustfully. 

Oh dear Kala, you naughty boy, why are you swallowing woes instead? – your innermost heart, suddenly feeling connected to Dewi Sinta, as well as Umayi, and Durga, in the audience seats.

Decolonisation Starts in Your Mother’s Kitchen

Unlike the fairy tales on which it is based, you are happy to see fragments of scenes in WBRyT that show these women as figures who speak out and make demands. The Durga on this stage is a wrathful Durga, not only because she was cursed by Shiva who failed to make love to her, but also because Kala or time has manifested itself as a disaster that burns his own house, destroying the whole universe.

The scenes set in the kitchen also tickle you. In your masculine society, the kitchen (along with the well and bed, of course) is a symbol of domestic duties that are attached to women and marginalized. In your house, the kitchen is also usually at the back, being hidden away. But it’s not just about the architecture of your home, it’s about the world order. While your mother and other women’s voices are not being heard, the men, Kala, and the foreign guests sitting in the living room act as if they know best. They name things, make rules, and determine how the house should be run.

The house is neat at first glance, but fragile. And you know, a house without a mother’s power is a house easily burned down.

In this context, our house is on fire is used by WBRyT to represent the earth that is on the verge of an inevitable ecological disaster, due to the destructive movement towards nature driven by colonialism, glorification of modernity, and patriarchy.

You feel the warmth of seeing Dewi Sinta, Umayi, and Durga discussing in the kitchen and on the sofa in the living room. On the stage, the kitchen is highlighted as a central space, where food and knowledge are created and nurtured. They speak out and make plans. While chopping vegetables, trying on make-up, and laughing casually, they also talk about politics, economics, social problems, turbulent times, and even revolution.

They remind you of Sukinah and the Kendeng women, Mama Aleta Baun in Nusa Tenggara Timur, Greta Thunberg and her demonstrations, Alessandra Munduruku in the Amazon, you remember Vandana Shiva in India, you remember the tree-hugging women of the Chipko Movement, you remember Diah Widuretno of Pagesangan school, you remember the forest guardians in Leuser, you remember your mother.

In your head, you connect the female characters in WBRyT with the work of women activists who are almost never for themselves. In the ecofeminism movement, nature and women find a common thread in the sense of commonality, the reason to fight for the rights to live, nurture, bloom, and be sustainable with love.

Although of course, their struggle is not easy.

You can see for yourself, in one of the scenes when the woman in the pink dress who is loudly delivering a lecture on food politics is constantly interrupted by the man who noisily asks for food. It’s an accurate portrait of how the struggles of women activists are always challenged and burdened by many problems. The text that the woman reads is snipped from an interview with veteran feminist Silvia Federici about the capitalism transition that destroys women’s agency over social, economic, as well as food politics. Overwhelmed by the child’s fussiness, she ends up hitting the child with the ladle in her hand. Like Dewi Sinta hitting little Prabu Watugunung, a key event in the saga of the creation of time. A moment later the stage becomes a field of green lasers, like a bug in a game, like empty space, back to the beginning of all things. You gasp and the scene plays over and over for days in your head.

Could it be that you and the mothers are redefining time from square one?

Women are the First Victims of Ecological Disasters

In another fragment you see the women Dewi Sinta, Umayi, and Durga becoming wrathful on stage. And perhaps you want to understand why these women are the most grieving and the most outraged by the ecological disaster brought by Kala?

Their anger makes sense. Because women and children are the most vulnerable and have the most to lose from the disasters and climate crises that are becoming increasingly evident. This is not a myth. Reports from DW, recent research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) show the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation have a direct impact on increasing gender-based violence and discrimination.

This happens because patriarchal systems limit women’s access to land, natural resource products, public service, capital, and technology. Women are also ignored in decision-making and not involved in the distribution of environmental utilization management. When the situation worsens due to disasters or conflicts, women are also victims of the escalation of violence in the environment and other systemic violence. Consequently, women are more vulnerable when dealing with the climate crisis. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even has an agreement to ensure support for women during adverse situations caused by the climate crisis.

Today, women make up 70% of the 1,3 billion people living in poverty. They are burdened with the responsibility of feeding their families, but access to land is restricted. Women are mostly just laborers. Yet research by the United Nation shows that women who are given access to manage agriculture can increase crop yields by 20-30 % on average, and can reduce world hunger by 12-17 %.

Forest Digest also released an article about research from the University of Oregon that showed female-dominated parliaments were more able to produce climate-friendly laws. Of course, we remember how indigenous knowledge and traditions, food diversity, contextual education, seed politics, and many other environmental movements are now started by many women leaders.

Despite being the most affected party, women’s knowledge and connection to the earth (in its various contexts) is actually the main key for humanity to overcome ecological degradation and at least overcome the various feelings of sadness that arise from feeling damaged nature.

Perhaps, for this reason too, in the final act Dewi Sinta, Umayi, Durga, and the women on stage transformed WBRtY into a ruwat ritual. Because they are the ones who now deserve the title dalang kandhabhuwana, aka dalang ruwat.

We are all Sukerta and Therefore We All Must be Purified

In the ruwatan Murwakala process of Javanese puppetry tradition, one of the key scenes is when the puppeteer melts the power of Kala while mentioning a list of the names of sukerta children one by one. The name that has been mentioned has been recognized as the puppeteer’s child and is therefore free from the raksasa Kala’s list of menu.

At the end of the show, under the hypnosis of Kala, the theatre shows its most obvious key scene: a contemporary ruwatan.

A ruwatan (purification) ritual to reorient us to time and space. That’s the simplest conclusion you can come to. The other conclusion in your head is that this experimental theatre is way too complicated for the purpose they wrote in the introduction, which is about expanding awareness of ecological grievances. You’re not sure people will bother to understand it, at best posting excerpts on their Instagram stories and then doom-scrolling through tiktok. But of course, as an achievement of aesthetic exploration, you successfully stunned.

That night, facing the rows of the audience, the women who are now becoming the dalang kandhabhuwana close the show by reciting a mantra followed by a long list of sukerta people and begin the ruwatan ritual.

List of Sukerta of Our House is On Fire:

People who litter around
People who throw rubbish to its place
People who only save themselves
People who cross the road carelessly
People who cross the road properly
People who cross the road but don’t look right or left
People who cross the road while looking at their mobile phones
People, just any people
People who eat with a spoon
People who eat with their hands
People who eat other people’s food
People who eat stolen animals
People who eat stolen plants
People who eat animals
People who eat plants
People who eat people
Random people
People who work haphazardly
People who work organizedly
People working in factories
People working in the market
People working at home
People who don’t work
People studying at school 
People studying at home
People studying for work
People who do not study
People being hired
People being leader
People who work in a collective group that claims to be egalitarian
Member of a political party
Member of religious forum
Member of secular forum
Not a member of a religious forum
Not a member of a secular forum
People, any people, as long as people
People walking with the crowd
People standing in the centre of a walking crowd
People dancing in the middle of a walking crowd
People who avoid the crowd
People that being kept
People that being thrown away
People in piles
People in the online world
People in offline world
People in crowds
People alone
People, anyone, as long as people
People playing theatre
People watching theatre
People, as long as people, any people

You start counting, how many criteria did you match to yourself – to me. 

The stage lights went out, then we heard

People in the darkness

Then an instant later Majelis Lidah Berduri blared the intro to the song “Cahaya, Harga” and you gasped, a striking and majestic finale. 

In the midst of their grief and wrath over our house that is on fire by various disasters, Dewi Sinta, Umayi, and Durga, point to everyone, point to you, and to all of us as contributing parties to the fire. Having been reminded that we too are sukerta or people who are lost in time and space, this ruwatan is like an attempt to restore our reason and sense, to remap our position in the motion of time.

And if there is one thing that we take home after watching WBRyT, then it should be a question: What is my share in this house that is on fire? And in what ways can I put out the fire?

 

 

Ruwatan is a Javanese rituals ceremony for releasing someone from the wrath of god for his/her safety or get rid of bad luck. Ruwatan can be mean to cleanse and purified one soul.

Simbah (Javanese): Grandparent Raksasa: Giant Bhre from Javanese Sanskrit, which means Duke.

Kendeng women are women farmers from Kendeng Mountain in between Central Java and East Java provinces. These women farmers were fighting against PT. Semen Indonesia, a cement factory since 2014. They occupied the factory and blocked the way to the factory for more than 160 days. In 2016, they demonstrated in front of the presidential palace by cementing their feet. Kendeng women are one of the symbols of the ecofeminism movement in Indonesia.

Dalang Kandhabhuwana (Javanese), means the master puppeteer that would be responsible for the ruwatan ritual.

Translated by Astrid Reza

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