Dol Arastra Bengkulu drummers beat in memory of Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons
By Patricia Hului
Tabot is a unique ritual organised annually in Bengkulu, on the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in which the ‘percusi dol’ (dol percussion), a drum called ‘dol’, plays a part in the elaborate event.
During the 19th edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) held recently, revellers had the chance to enjoy the beats of the Tabot ceremony brought by Dol Arastra (Art Association Tradition) Bengkulu.
Established in 1982, the group was formerly known as Sanggar Mayangsari before changing their name to Arastra.
Speaking to The Borneo Post SEEDS, Dol Arastra Bengkulu manager Edy Utama explained that Tabot was a traditional ceremony in Bengkulu to commemorate the heroic deaths of Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons, Hassan and Hussein.
“Traditionally, it is celebrated from the first till the tenth day of Muharram month,” he said, adding that more than 10,000 people would participate and join in the celebration.
“Our town turns into like a huge cinema, with nonstop music from dusk to dawn.”
Today, the celebration is usually organised in September.
“The origin of this tradition is from the middle east region. Besides Bengkulu, the Tabot ceremony is also held in Kota Pariaman, Sumatra,” Edy said.
While it used to be prohibited from being played outside of the Tabot ceremony, dol drum playing slowly became part of a cultural activity, and then into its own musical performance.
According to Edy, the group also made various changes to the rhythm of the dol music.
“The earlier rhythms of the music was very monotonous, so we made some changes to make it more interesting.”
While they have made some changes to the traditional music, the group still holds strong to some of the old traditions like having only male drummers perform during the Tabot ritual.
“The ritual is extremely sacred for us so we only allow male drummers to participate. According to the Islamic tradition of the ritual, women are not allowed to play,” he said.
When it comes to contemporary musical performances, however, Edy said they now have female drummers playing the drums.
For those who saw Dol Arastra Bengkulu performing during RWMF at Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV), they would definitely be mind-blown by the amount of energy exuded by the drummers.
Wearing bright red costumes, the seven men drummed nonstop for approximately 30 minutes of their allotted time, occasionally carrying and twirling the dol drums around.
The dol drum is made out of the base of a coconut tree trunk, each weighing about 25 kilograms.
Even towards the end of the show, none of the drummers looked exhausted and could even afford to give out big smiles to the cheering audience.
Edy explained, “The dol players are basically in a trance when they play the drums. The moment they listen to dol music, it will somehow unleash their inner powers.”
He also pointed out the youths in Bengkulu have been playing dol since they were young but on a smaller scale.
“Intuitively, our young people have captured the feeling of how to play the dol since they were young.”
Dol Arastra Bengkulu was the only performing group from Indonesia in RWMF this year.
“Our experiences here at the Rainforest World Music Festival have been extraordinary. We met many different people from all over the world. We feel happy that our music is accepted here,” he said.
The group has performed in several events such Solo International Ethnic Music, (2007), Singapore Art Festival (2008) and Sawahlunto International Music Festival (2015).