Translator : Venny Tania

Writer: Dyah Murwaningrum


Digul. A land of exiled people, that will never finish being talked. Some were collapse when they traversed to Digul Atas, some were lonely departed while missing their home.  But among those, some new culture has grown, as roots of culture and idea will never perish.

This research done by Margareth Kartomi (an ethnomusicologist from Monash University, Australia), has studied organology comprehensively. Through the organology study of Gamelan Digul, it also reveals the biography of an unknown ex-political prisoner and talks about Indonesia and Australia diplomatic relationship since before Indonesia’s independence.

Slamet Soekari is a pengrawit (gamelan player) from Surakarta who lives quietly almost his entire life. But he was involved in political movement from a young age, later he became one of the first 2.000 people that were exiled to Digul Atas in 1927.  He got a new name given by Keraton Surakarta through a special traditional ceremony, Pontjopangrawit. Pontjjopangrawit is a name that becomes an identity for every gamelan player (niyaga) and is considered as an expert in Karawitan. Until now Surakarta society is still familiar with the owners of special name from Keraton.


Journey to Digul and the afterlife there could kill anyone. Rough field and missing family could separate their soul from the body. But thoughts are not easily imprisoned. Culture and thoughts always follow and build a foundation for invention, creation, and many expressions for political prisoners there.

Ponjopangrawit is not an exception. With his skill playing Javanese Gamelan in Surakarta style, understanding timbre, and mixing metals into some musical instruments (organology), eventually,  Pontjopangrawit was able to present the sound and soul of Javanese gamelan on Kamp Boven Digul.

Using disposable stuff like sardines tin, secondhand cookwares, silverwares, and part of house doors, Pontjopangrawit can create Javanese Gamelan’s timbre in Surakarta style. Not only recreated the form and the timbre, but he also revived the soul of gamelan in Digul. Though it has been a general knowledge that every gamelan instrument always has different sound frequency when it comes to tuning.

Pontjopangrawit is known as a solitary since he was back from Digul in 1935. He is not only an expert musician in Karawitan but also a political prisoner. Gamelan Digul was still in Digul, becomes the healer of longing and weariness for other prisoners from Java. Those who never step on Digul will never know the sound of Javanese Gamelan played by sad and lonely people at that time.

Several students of Pontjopangrawit told Margareth Kartomi that he has the highest comprehension among Karawitan experts at that time. He understands deeply the esthetic of Javanese Gamelan. Pontjopangrawit also had some interest in Marxism ideas at that time. These things bring the impression that he was a communist. He didn’t afraid to face colonialists like The Netherlands and Japan as a nationalist and Moslem.

His death is still disputable until now.  After 1965 Pontjopangrawit was nowhere to be found. There is a tomb claimed to be his, but the date and year are questionable. People thought that he has passed away in 1965, not in 1971 as written on the tomb.

Discussing the organology of Gamelan Digul brings us to the diplomatic relation of Indonesia with Australia. Support from Australia and their role in Indonesian independence since 1943 are written in chapter 4 of this book. Australia’s concern for Indonesia’s culture and artifact is undeniable. Australia has tried to bring Gamelan Digul along with the niyaga, so they can be taken care of and utilized well. Unfortunately, no one has tuned the instruments later. Nevertheless, Australia has taken care and conserved artifacts, not only for periodic music performance but also for its science.

Organology study that actively done by Margareth Kartomi ironically doesn’t receive much attention in Indonesia. the origin and birthplace of Gamelan, a musical instrument that amazes people around the world. Organology is a study of musical instruments on its physical, the making, the use, related to its culture, history, and many fields related. Margareth had continually analyzed Gamelan Digul far before this book was published. Her study involved journals, proceeding, and many academical sources.

There are not many books in Bahasa Indonesia that discover political and historical sides through organology or musical studies, moreover, reach more side. This book is a piece of complete knowledge and literature about the history and existence of artifacts of our ancestors.

As part of Indonesia people, reading Margareth’s book personally feels like listening to a past story that I never know before, with a climax proud feeling. I still feel thankful that the artifacts are kept and developed although not in its birthplace.


(Book review : “Gamelan Digul Dibalik Sosok Seorang Pejuang: Hubungan Antara Australia dan Revolusi Indonesia”. By Margareth Kartomi, preface from Judith Becker, 221 pages. Published by Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 2005. Completed with a CD explaining 21 tracks of Gamelan Digul sound.

Source: “Kisah Gamelan Jawa Dari Digul: Politik dan Organology