Reog is a traditional Indonesian dance. There are many types of Reog in Indonesia, but the most notable ones are Reog Ponorogo (East Java) and Reog Sunda (West Java). Although both share a similar name, there is no connection nor similar theme among these traditions. Reog Ponorogo seems to be a kind of dance that demonstrates physical strength and extravagant lion-peafowl mask and costumes, while Reog Sunda is a lot more like a traditional musical dance and comedy.

Reog PonorogoEdit

Reog is a traditional dance that became the main identity for Ponorogo Regency. Reog National Festival is held every year along with the anniversary of Ponorogo regency and the Grebeg Suro celebration. Reog dance is also staged nightly on the full moon in Paseban, Ponorogo town square. Reog tells the story about the struggle of a prince who will propose to a beautiful princess.[1] Reog Ponorogo tells the story of a mythical battle between the King of Ponorogo and the magical lion-like creature called Singa Barong.

Singa Barong maskEdit

The Reog dance of Ponorogo involves a lion figure known as the singa barong. Singa Barong is a large mask usually made from a tiger's or leopard's head skin, on the mask is a large fan adorned with real peafowl feathers. The Singa Barong mask is notoriously heavy and the dancer of the Singa Barong has to carry the mask of about 30 – 40 kg in weight and is supported by the strength of their teeth.

A single dancer, or warok, carries the heavy lion mask by his teeth. He is credited with supernatural abilities and strength. The warok may also carry an adolescent boy or girl on its head. When carrying an adolescent boy or girl on his head, the Reog dancer holds weight of up to 100 kilograms in total. Holding the heavy big mask by biting, the warok relies on the strength of his jaws, neck and shoulder muscles. The great mask spans over 2.5 meters with genuine tiger skin and real peacock feathers. It has gained international recognition as the world's largest mask.

Dance performanceEdit

The leading figures in Reog Ponorogo performance includes:

  1. Klono Sewandono, A man in regal attire wearing a mask with a proud and pompous dance and plays the role as the King of Ponorogo
  2. Bujang Anom are rough youthful men wearing red masks, they perform acrobatic dances and sometimes also involve trances.
  3. Jathil, the youthful and handsome men riding horses made of weaved bamboo, similar to the Kuda Lumping dance. Today, Jathil is usually performed by female dancers.
  4. Warok, plays as the Singa Barong, the mythical creature. The one who is allowed to perform this dance is called warok. A warok is the honorary title of the local hero or strongman of the village who possesses both exceptional spiritual and physical strength. The dance itself is a demonstration of physical strength.

Reog Ponorogo usually consists of three sets of dances; each dance is performed by several dancers:

  1. The first dance is the opening dance, performed by Bujang Anom, male dancers who wear black costumes. The costume describes rough men with intimidating moustaches and other masculine symbols.
  2. The second dance is the Jaran Kepang dance performed by Jatil; it is originally performed by a gemblak, a handsome and youthful teenage boy wearing colourful costumes. Today female dancers usually play this role.
  3. The third dance is the main attraction of the show; it is performed by all the Reog dancers. The warok as the main male dancer, wearing the large and heavy lion mask, dances in the centre of the stage while the other dancers dance around him. To demonstrate the warok's extraordinary strength, the Jatil rides on top of the lion mask and is carried around.

Culture and traditions of Reog PonorogoEdit

Reog dancers in Ponorogo, ca. 1920.

The dance describe Klono Sewandono the king of Ponorogo on his journey to Kediri to seek the hands of Princess Songgo Langit. On his journey he was attacked by a vicious monster called Singa Barong, a mythical lion with peacock on its head. Historians trace the origin of Reog Ponorogo as the satire on the incompetence of Majapahit rulers during the end of the empire. It describe the innate Ponorogo liberty and its opposition on centralist Majapahit rule. The lion represent the king of Majapahit while the peafowl represent the queen, it was suggested that the king was incompetent and always being controlled by his queen. The beautiful, youthful and almost effeminate horsemen describe the Majapahit cavalry that have lost their manliness.

In society, there is another version about the origin of the reog. History of Reog Arts began the revolt of Ki Ageng ticks, a man of Majapahit Kingdom in the 15th century, where at that time the Majapahit Kingdom under the rule of the King of Kertabhumi Bhre last Majapahit Kingdom. Ki Ageng Kutu wrath against the corrupt behavior of his King, he saw that the powers of the Majapahit Kingdom soon will end. He left the Kingdom and founded a College of martial arts in hopes of raising seeds which can be held as under. Aware that the army was not able to compete with the Majapahit army Political messages of Ki Ageng Kutu were submitted through the performances of Reog. Performance of Reog utilized Ki Ageng Kutu to build resistance to the Royal Society. In art performances Reog was shown the head of a lion-shaped mask called "Singo Barong", Kings of the forest that became a symbol of Kertabumi, and it plugged up to peacock feathers to resemble a giant fan that symbolises the strong influence of the governing Chinese pronunciation of peers over all. Jatilan, played by a group of dancers a gemblak horses-shaped became a symbol of the power of the Kingdom of Majapahit into comparison contrast with the power of warok. Red clown mask that became the symbol for Ki Ageng Kutu, alone and support the weight of the mask singo barong that reaches over 50 kg using only his teeth. And finally reog Ki Ageng Kutu attacking the college, causing kertabumi an uprising by warok quickly resolve, and forbidden to continue teaching will warok. But the disciples Ki Ageng Kutu remain continue secretly. However, artistry reog itself is allowed to stage performances because has become popular among the people but the storyline having a groove in which the characters of new added folktale ponorogo kelono sewondono, namely dewi songgolangit, and sri genthayu.[2]

Reog Ponorogo dancers traditionally performed in a trance state. Reog Ponorogo displays the traditional Kejawen Javanese spiritual teaching. Next to physical requirement, the dancers—especially the Warok—required to follow strict rules, rituals and exercises, both physical and spiritual. One of the requirement is abstinence, warok is prohibited to indulged and involved in sexual relationship with women, yet having sex with boy age eight to fifteen is allowed. The boy lover is called Gemblak and usually kept by Warok in their household under the agreement and compensation to the boy's family. Warok can be married with a woman as their wive, but they may kept a gemblak too. This led to Warok-Gemblakan relationship that similar to pederastic tradition of ancient Greece. Anybody who is in touch with the traditional way of life in Ponorogo, knows that there are these older men called warok who, instead of having sex with their wives, have sex with younger boys.[3] What Warok and Gemblak did is homosexual act, yet they never identify themself as homosexuals.

Many Warok and Gemblak were massacred by Islamic groups during the anti-communist Indonesian killings of 1965-1966, their heads placed on pikes for public display. Today the Warok-Gemblakan practice is discouraged by local religious authorities and being shunned through public moral opposition. As the result today Reog Ponorogo performance rarely features Gemblak boys to perform as Jatil horsemen, their position were replaced by girls. Although today this practice might probably still survived and done in discreet manner.

Reog Ponorogo todayEdit

Today, Reog Ponorogo is often held on festive special occasions; such as the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, anniversary of Ponorogo Regency, Independence day carnival on 17 August, to opening ceremony of sporting events. Today, reog troupe performances can be seen in various countries brought by Indonesian workers. Such as in the United States (Singo Lodoyo Washington DC), Korea (Singo Mudho Korea), Taiwan (Singo Barong Taiwan), Australia (Singo Sarjono), naval expedition Indonesia (Reog Dewaruci), Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia (Sardulo Gugah Ponorogo, Sri Wahyuni, Gamalasari).

Reog SundaEdit

Reog Sunda is very different from the Ponorogo one, since Reog Sunda did not incorporate a large lion mask adorned with peafowl feathers like Reog Ponorogo, and did not incorporate a trance state. The Reog Sunda performance combines comedy, joke, music, and funny comical movements and dances of the performers. The performers usually consist of four personnel, one called dalang directing the shows, similar to dalang in wayang performance, one called wakil or vice-dalang, the other two were the performers that interact and do the order of the dalang. Each performers carrying and using musical instruments such as dogdog, beungbreung, gudubrag (types of traditional drums), and kecrek (similar to maraca) or tambourine, other instruments such as kendang, gong, kacapi might also used. The performance usually took one hour to one and half hour of music, dance and jokes, filled with social messages or religious wisdom.


Barongan similar to Reog Ponorogo but with Islamic element injected into it; is a common traditional dance practiced by Muslim Javanese communities in Malaysia especially in the district of Muar, Johor. The origins and cultural ownership of the Reog dance have been the subject of a dispute and controversy between the neighboring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, whose ethnic, cultural and religious histories overlap and share many similarities. Mostly because there is numerous descendants of Javanese immigrants in Malaysia, some who have been serving with Sultan of Malacca,[4] before moving together with the Sultan, especially in Johor state to form Johor-Riau Sultanate. And some of the immigrants brought many Javanese-origin artforms such as Barongan, Wayang Kulit Jawa,[5] and Kuda Lumping or Kuda Kepang. To avoid further controversy with Indonesia, all promotional revival on Barongan have been discontinued by the government of Malaysia, which contributing to further decline of Barongan in Malaysia.[6] However, Malaysian government continue to promote other ethnic culture like Portugis descendant, San Pedro Day.[7]

See alsoEdit