Dance of the Spiritualistic Equestrian Warriors

The kuda képang is a form of spiritualistic dance that is common in Java, Indonesia. There are several variations which are collectively known as Horse Dance. There are several forms of horse dances and they are known as different names in different parts of Java. Aside from being known as kuda kepang, horse dances are broadly referred to as, Jaran kepang, Kuda lumping, Jaranan. These names are regularly used within Java (Foley, 1985; Groenendael, 2008; Onny Prihantono, Natadjaja, & Setiawan, 2009).

The dancers mimic ancient equestrian warriors and some will go into a trance when possessed by ancestral spirits. During possession, the spirits will make specific demands like whipping oneself, chewing glass or joss sticks, inhaling the smoke from burning coal, consuming raw flesh of chicken and etc.

The dance group is overseen by a spiritual leader or pawang, who do not perform the dance themselves. The pawang is responsible for the well-being of the spirits, as they supposedly possess magical powers and can communicate with the spirits (Christensen, 2014).

The horse dance has always been a subject of controversy because of their conflict towards present-day ethics and beliefs. As such, this ritualistic practice is gradually disappearing in South East Asia.

Photographed in the region of Tengger. Mostly under rain and extremely dim light, this project is by far my most challenging work.