zondag 8 december 2013


Dream or Reality (19) 
Talking about masks

text and image by Hans Smeekes

It is midnight and we are sitting on the romantic bed in our dream room of the palace waiting for our animal friends Tu Kodok, the frog and Tu Tokeh, the gecko to appear.
Tu Tokeh already made his specific gecko sound, eleven times, normally the sign for the meeting.

Suddenly they are there on the edge of the window in front of us, but in a different shape as usual. And then we see what it is all about.
They are wearing masks, in the size according to the small animals, moving the heads towards each other in a funny way. 
Pretending they are each other, because Tu Tokeh is wearing a frog mask and Tu Kodok a kind of dragon mask.

To make their roles complete they are imitating each others voice.
“Hello how are you?” Tu Kodok says with the high voice we normally know to be Tu Tokeh’s and Tu Tokeh says the same phrase with the creaky voice we know so well to be Tu Kodok’s.

“You surprise us but at the same time we realise it is very appropriate, because today was already the day of the masks, as we visited a famous maskmaker, he was so nice to show us around and did some very funny performances with the masks,” is my first reaction.
“Yes and wé did also a performance,” Fifi adds, “because he put the only female mask (a friendly round face) on me and put a funny monkeylike mask on Hans, including a kretek cigarette in the wooden mouth.”

“Immediately we had the inspiration to play our new roles as Ibu Madé Cendrawasih (Mrs. Paradise bird) and Pak Wayan Bojog (Mr. Monkey),” I am taking over.
“The small play which came up spontaneously was more or less like this.
Ibu Cendrawasih was saying: ‘Why are you, Pak Bojog, smoking again? Yesterday you told me to stop today. You even wrote it on a piece of paper.’
On which Pak Bojog reacted with, speaking in a staccato way: ‘Yes I did, dear Ibu Cendrawasih, show me the paper.’
Ibu Cendrawasih searched in an overacting way for the paper and when she found it she showed it in triomph in front of the mask face of Pak Bojog, on which he reacted with, one more time taking a lazy puff on his kretek, blowing the smoke theatrically in the air: ‘Read it for me what is written.’
‘It is written,’ she said: ‘tomorrow I stop smoking.’ 
‘You see,’ Pak Bojog reacted, ‘tomorrow, not today ...’”

“It is like the Balinese do, they also make jokes of serious things, specially in the topeng dance performance,” Tu Tokeh is saying, while he is back to his normal voice and shape, the mini frog mask thrown off now.

“Apart of the joke,” I continue, “the thing is: in our normal life as Hans and Fifi, we don’t have any discussion about this, because we let each other free in this kind of things, but I know that Fifi would like very much me to stop smoking.
But I like it so much ... sitting with the Balinese, chatting with a kretek cigarette.” 

“So you were inspired by the masks, it brought the subject to the surface?” Tu Kodok reacts, also back to normal.
“Yes in a way, I remember when we were watching a topeng in a temple one of the two so called penasar mentioned our names and everyone was looking in our direction. And started to laugh. Maybe because of Fifi’s colorful featherlike crown on the head, by which the association with a paradise bird is quickly made.”

“These two storytellers in the topeng with their jawless half-masks can bring together opposing worlds, they are famous for that, they just break in their story to include current things or gossip to create a laugh. But at the same time you must never forget that for a Balinese a mask dance/performance is a very sacred thing. The ultimate goal is to restore the harmony between good and evil. 

That is why it is quite different as in the western mask play. In fact a Balinese is not playing the figure of the mask , he ís the figure of the mask, he is one with the energy of the mask,” Tu Kodok explains.

“That is true, we experienced this very well in a temple when there was a Wayang Wong dance performance. 

The actors treated the masks with so much veneration. Before putting on the mask the actor seemed to be in a kind of trance, we noticed him changing, he became a completely different person, once he had the mask on. We were very impressed by seeing this.

And that’s why we like to express we very well understand that the masks we put on today and with which we did our little play were not the consecrated and sacred ones, as being used in the temples.”

“In relation to this maybe you heard the story of the so called American mask, the Ratu Gede Amerika?” Tu Tokeh reacts.
“No, please tell us.”

“A Balinese merchant bought the mask on the famous handicraft market in Sukawati. He brought it with him to America, where he sold it. But the buyers were not happy, because the mask became very noisy once it was on the wall there. The merchant came to look what was happening and what he heard was astonishing: the mask was talking Balinese and said it wanted to go home. Fulfilling the wish of the mask the salesman brought it back to Bali, where the people put it in a shrine in a temple. So from an ordinary mask it became a very sacred one. So that can happen.”

“Oh, but we also bought a mask once, it is in our living room now in our country, up to now it made not any noise and seems to be very happy, perhaps because it is surrounded by a keris, wayang kulit puppets and Buddha statues and Fifi every day burns incense ...”

“On Bali there is the believe that spirits can find their home in many things, such as trees, rocks, but also masks. And maybe the one in your mask likes the happy two of you and feels very comfortable, feeling very much at home.”
“But now it is time to stop, we talked a lot, we go .... “ and suddenly the spot on the edge of the window is empty.
Have the two animals been here anyway? And we had this talk about masks?

Dream or reality
See for more stories www.ubudcommunity.com under "blogs" Hans Smeekes.

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