Djula-Djuli: Pantun as Shock Absorbers for Nusantara Modernity

Dr. Dag Yngvesson’s Presentation
Dr. Dag Yngvesson’s Presentation

Dr. Dag Yngvesson was the fourth speaker on the first day of the International Conference on Language, Literature, Education, and Culture (ICOLLEC) 2021. ICOLLEC is an academic forum held by the Faculty of Cultural Studies (FCS) Universitas Brawijaya (UB) through Zoom Meeting and humasfibub Youtube channel from Saturday (10/09/2021) to Sunday (10/10/2021).

Dr. Yngvesson is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the University of Nottingham, Malaysia. He is also a filmmaker with more than 15 years of experience, with projects ranging from ethnographic documentaries to experimental and intergeneric work, as well as music videos, commercials, and skateboard films. His areas of expertise include media and film, Southeast Asian, postcolonial, gender, and visual anthropology studies.

In the event, Dr. Yngvesson delivered his presentation entitled “Djula-Djuli Djula-Djuli: Pantun as Shock Absorbers for Nusantara Modernity”. In presenting the material, Dr. Yngvesson used several media such as videos, vinyl records, and phonographs to clarify what he wants to convey.

“This talk will begin by contextualizing an instance of Djula-Djuli as a recorded song. We will trace the history of what is a trans-medial genre back to its root in pantun (a verse) and regional Malay-language theatre. Moving forward into the realm of regional cinemas, the talk will position pantun as a key model for receiving and absorbing the shocks of rapid modernization and globalization in the 20th century,” he explained.

In the early parts of his presentation, Dr. Yngvesson played a recording of Emilia Contessa’s album entitled Masa Depan (Future). In the album, there is a song called Djula-Djuli. According to Dr. Yngvesson, the song builds on the idea of lyrical improvisation. The lyrics are in parikan—a Javanese form often compared to the Malay pantun-verse—which address the daily problems of ‘regular’ Javanese.

Dr. Yngvesson explained that Djula-Djuli originated from a tale called Djoela-Djoeli Bintang Tiga. Djoela-Djoeli Bintang Tiga is a tale or myth involving a complex romance between a king and a star-fairy named Djoela-Djoeli, who descends from the heavens riding swans.

“Beginning in 1899, Djoela-Djoeli Bintang Tiga was very popular with East Javanese and Malayan stamboel and nobleman theater troupes,” said Dr. Yngvesson.

He explained that stamboel and nobleman were Malay-language theaters that emerged in the 19th century. They combined elements of many different global and styles and approaches.

“In stamboel and nobleman troupes, Djoela-Djoeli (and numerous other narratives) would have been toured and performed throughout the Malay Archipelago,” he added.

Dr. Dag Yngvesson from the University of Nottingham, one of the keynote speakers at ICOLLEC 2021
Dr. Dag Yngvesson from the University of Nottingham, one of the keynote speakers at ICOLLEC 2021

Dr. Yngvesson explained that around the same time as the rise of stamboel and nobleman, local language vernacular theaters like Ludruk, Ketoprak, Lenong, Drama Gong, and many others began to emerge. All these new vernacular theaters shared a very important function. They were like sponges for transnationally circulating narratives, genres and styles. They performed narratives as diverse as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, 1001 nights, The Ramayana, Djoela-Djoeli, and others.

In Ludruk, Djula-Djuli was gradually detached from any particular narrative and was turned into a formal section combining music and Kidungan (sung Parikan verse).

“The transformation of Djula-Djuli underscores what at the time was already a common regional habit of borrowing, circulating, and constantly adapting forms, styles, and narratives. Doing so was not generally seen as copying or copyright infringement, but rather as a hallmark, and key attraction, shared by regional and local theaters,” he said.

Dr. Yngvesson explained that in Ludruk, Djula-Djuli functions as an opener, paired with various kinds of Kidungan which function to introduce performers and welcome audiences, produce laughter, create a dramatic narrative, or comment on contemporary local issues, religiosity, or even global politics.

“What was once a narrative has thus been emptied and transformed into a formal container or envelope designed to hold and deliver just about anything, but in a particular way,” he added.

Djula-Djuli has become a ubiquitous and much-adapted pattern with a broadly recognized attachment to a certain place and its socio-political histories. It can be said that Ludruk (and other vernacular theaters) helped to make Djula-Djuli remain relevant to this day by utilizing pantun.

Dr. Yngvesson explained that as they encountered and adapted a constant flow of new and foreign stories, genres, and techniques, stamboel and nobleman, and Javanese theater participants absorbed and processed them, presenting them to the public in a mainly pantun-based format.

“In this way, the ‘shocks’ of global modernity and its emergent ideas and values were transformed into typical local and regional attractions,” he concluded. [DTS]