File puptcrit/puptcrit.0602, message 136

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 11:49:44 -0600
Subject: [Puptcrit] Woman 'Dalang' on Life's Misfortunes

The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Tentrem Lestari: Woman 'Dalang' on Life's Misfortunes

Slamet Suseno, The Jakarta Post, Sleman, Yogyakarta

As in dramatic tragedy, Tentram Lestari, 61, a widow with one child, 
used to a life of fame filled with material happiness as a female 
puppeteer, now
earns money collecting firewood or helping her neighbors with household
chores, as shadow plays have lost much of their former popularity.

Tentrem, from Cangkringan, Sukoharjo, Ngaglik, Sleman, Yogyakarta, lives
alone in a hut put up on a plot of land owned by the village 
administration. The
house, unfurnished, has only one room, which she uses for many purposes.

Its walls are made of plaited bamboo strips and the floor is untiled.
Electricity is too expensive for Tentrem, who has to be content with 
the light from
two small kerosene lamps.

Although she lives in dire poverty, she has never regretted dedicated 
life to art. "For me, art is not a way to earn money. Art allows me to 
myself and preserves noble values," said Tentrem.

She was born to a family of shadow play puppeteers. Her late 
grandfather, Ki
Sermo Guno and her late parents, Ki Gondo Sudiro and Rubinem, also 
earned a
living as puppeteers."When I was still a small girl, I always went with 
parents when they performed a shadow play," she said, reminiscing.

My father, she went on, always told me to use my eyes and ears when 
to be a shadow play puppeteer. To find out how to become a good 
Tentrem read a lot of books on shadow plays published by HB Rondho, a 
school for the grooming of puppeteers run by the Yogyakarta sultanate.

After completing elementary school, Tentrem found greater motivation to
intensify her study of how to become a good puppeteer. Every time her 
performed a shadow play, she would be asked to serve as the warm-up 
artist. At 16
she began her career as a full-fledged female puppeteer.

"When the aborted coup, allegedly masterminded by the now-defunct 
Communist Party broke out in late 1965, I was already a famous 
puppeteer and
enjoyed a lot of orders for shadow play shows. If the order came less 
than a
month from D-Day, I would refuse it because I had a very tight 
schedule," she

Despite receiving many orders to perform shadow plays, Tentram never 
had a
set fee, charging whatever the patron could afford. "Art is not the 
means to
make money," she asserts.

Versatile performer

Aside from devoting herself to the art of shadow play puppetry, Tentrem 
learned to perform other art forms like ketoprak (a popular play 
stories mainly drawn from Javanese history plays with improvised spoken 
and a clown who comments on current public topics) and gamelan (a set 
of musical
instruments making up a Javanese orchestra).

Consequently, she became noted as an excellent ketoprak player and a 
player of the kenong (a large Javanese horizontal gong).

In 1963, she married a teacher, Subardi, and gave birth to a son, 
She has two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Unfortunately, her marriage collapsed in 1968 when her husband was 
to another woman. Tentrem asked for a divorce and lost not only her 
but also custody over her only child.

After the divorce, Tentrem devoted her life to art, performing shadow 
and taking part in ketoprak performances. "In those days, I would 
always be
asked to take part in every ketoprak performance possible. People said 
there was
something missing if I was absent," she said, with a trace of pride in 

However, the divorce left an indelible pang of bitterness in her heart. 
1976, she decided to move to Lampung, where her elder brother, Saroji, 
earned a
living as a puppeteer.

In less than five years, Tentrem also became famous in Lampung as an
excellent puppeteer, a good ketoprak player and a skillful player of 
the kenong. She
was even more famous than her own elder brother.

Later, she married Semi Mujito but had no children from the second 
Unfortunately, Semi, who was a drinker and a gambler, squandered all the
wealth that Tentrem had accumulated over many years.

In 1993, she left him and returned to her hometown in Java.

Back home, bad luck continued to pursue her. Under the pretext of 
her set of gamelan instruments, the only valuable item she had at that 
her uncle sold them.

"When the economic crisis swept the country in 1997, life became more
difficult to me. I hardly received any orders for shadow play 
performances. The
public was no longer interested in them," she said.

The shadow play has lost much of its popularity because of the 
emergence of
other forms of entertainment like television programs and campur sari
(traditional Javanese songs/music presented in a modern manner).

Nowadays, she considers herself lucky to receive one order for a shadow 
performance a month.

Although work is hard to come by, Tentrem remains committed to her 
career as
a puppeteer. Now that she has grown old, it would be difficult to 
pursue other
work, anyway.

Of course, she cannot rely for her livelihood now on shadow play
performances. To survive, she collects firewood or works as a farm 
laborer. However, her
income is unstable and she finds it difficult now even to buy rice.

Sometimes, she will help sweep her neighbors' yards or do some cleaning 
exchange for some rice.

"I'm poor but as long as I try to earn a living in a lawful way, God 
support me. Considering how old I am now, I have no idea how long I can 
go on
living like this. What matters to me most is that I can remain creative 
in art,
despite the hard times," she added.

Joyo Indonesia News Service

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