The Sasak people of Lombok, eastern Indonesia, have a tradition of writing stories on the dried and prepared leaves of the lontar palm. The reading and reciting of these continues to play a significant role in the lives of the Sasak people. Many tales which are documented on lontar leaves and date back many centuries are still popular to this day. Throughout the island, ordinary Sasak can be observed listening to traditional narratives, such as the famous and much-loved Tutur MonyŤh the story of the monkey king, after a hard-day's work. Men will sometimes sing the verses while watching over the rice harvest, and girls may hum the melodies while weaving or working in the household.
The lontar manuscripts which carry the literature of the Sasak are treated with much respect and care. Before a reading can be enacted, the leaves are carefully prepared and cleaned. The water from this rather ceremonial act is collected and later used for washing the water buffalos on the rice fields. The Sasak farmers believe that it will bring them a good harvest. Today, many of the precious lontars have been copied onto paper and it is these books which are now used in public performances.
The art of reading lontar, known as pepaosan in Sasak, is widespread and revered. Public readings start after sunset and may last all night long. They are always performed in sitting position and by one reciter or a group of several reciters who take turns in narrating the stories. The reciters frequently accompany their words with singing, music and certain movements. They engage and encourage their exclusively male audience to speak along with or after them as well.
Professor Peter Austin, Director of ELAP has been involved in recording and translating pepaosan lontar reading performances for several years. In the picture he can be seen with Amaq Nurul, a well-known performer belonging to the Meriaq-Meriku group of southern Lombok.
Photo taken by Yon Mahyuni, at Penujaq Lombok, Indonesia Aug 2002.