The Narratives
of Indonesian


Kurniadi Ilham / Jambi – Jambi

“Sounds of The River”

Sounds of The River

Oleh Kurniadi Ilham

Jambi – Jambi

Research of Ideas

Sounds of The River was motivated by an interest in Tapa Malenggang’s oral literature. Tapa Malenggang develops in Muara Bulian area located on the riverside of the Batang Hari river, Batang Hari regency. Tapa is a god figure who can take the form of human and fish, who oversees guarding the Batang Hari river. Tapa Malenggang has three male cousins: Siti Muno, Rajo Mudo, and Mabang Di Rete. All three got the duties and titles given by his father Datuk si Panjang Janggut. Siti Muno served in Muaro Sungai Temsu titled Ular Bide. Rajo Mudo oversaw installing Menteban Besi[1] in the Gemulan Tujuh Uluan Batang Hari River. Mabang Di Rete titled Labi-Labi Putih served in the River Bekal by his father Datuk Seh Sepanjang Janggut, and he was equipped with a keris named Secangkir Ufas. Sourced from this folklore, it is known that Tapa Malenggang carries out the task of guarding Batang Hari river. Armed with the magic they must help the community and live in the Upper of Batang Hari River.[2]

 The story became an inspiration in capturing the condition of Batang Hari river today. River exploitation always occurs from year to year, illegal gold mining, mercury waste polluting rivers, erosion due to deforestation that causes shallowness, become cases that threaten the life of river ecosystems in the present and in the future. Tapa in oral literature Tapa Malenggang is a figure who has an important role in maintaining Batang Hari river with the wisdom contained in his story. In the current situation, the exploitation that continues to occur in Batang Hari river is not only carried out by miners and loggers, but by the community itself. With no doubt, the community becomes a perpetrator and a victim as well of the destruction of the river environment.

There used to be a Bekarang Besamo tradition, a tradition of fishing together with traditional tools. In this activity, we can see how the care and togetherness of the community was in maintaining Batang Hari river. For the people of the hamlet in Batang Hari the expression of care has become a habit formed due to cultural and religious influences. This tradition shows that people have a sense of togetherness, they react spontaneously to the environmental damage that occurs in their villages. It’s just that the reflex of care for environmental destruction begins to decrease due to economic factors and the influence of political policies.

The Mendalo Dance Project community and I will work with the community in Muaro Jambi to voice our care for the environment, especially the Batang Hari river. This collaboration seeks to create choreographic practices in public spaces by inviting the public to stop exploitation and provide awareness to maintain and care for the Batang Hari river and the surrounding ecosystem. Our hope is to find a solution for economic growth for people trapped in conditions of ambivalence.

      Visit the People of Batang Hari

In August 2021, we visited residents in Kedotan village and Tantan village, two villages located in Batang Hari district. From August to September, we went back and forth to these villages by a 60-minute journey from the city of Jambi. The journey to the village must cross the river using ketek, ketek is a boat-like means of transportation used to cross from one village to another.

To get a clearer understanding of a problem, we needed sources who have an important role, namely people who live on the riverside, included a Chief of the Tribal Council who knows the subtleties of Batang Hari river. In Kedotan village we stayed at one of the community houses with adequate logistical preparation. Our goal there is to explore knowledge about community care, both for others and Batang Hari river as well.

The average age of the people we interviewed was over 50. They really felt the changes that were happening in Batang Hari river. In the past, the life of the people in these two villages depended on the river, both as a livelihood and as a daily living need such as bathing, drinking, and washing. According to a villager, when he was a child, the water of Batang Hari river was so clear that the fish swimming in the water were clearly visible from the riverside.

Exploitation that occurs in Batang Hari river is influenced by several factors, one of them is the lack of government care for the condition of Batang Hari river. The government is not firm in eradicating the corporate mafia that causes exploitation. Situations like this cause a dilemma in the community, between economic choices or maintaining the environment.

Residency of the Bodies of Care

One of the weekly activities of The DokumenTari (Dance Document) – Bodies of Care is a residency with speakers such as LIGNA, Melati Suryodarmo, Sascia Baller, and Butet Manurung.


From Ligna’s presentation, I gained an understanding of performances in public spaces and how they perform instruction-based performance projects. Exploration can politicize space through artistic and media interventions. Build uncontrollable spontaneous moments, mediated by recording instruments to listen to. The audience gets the freedom to choose whether to enter the show or not at all. The presentation and appreciation of some of Ligna’s performances such as Radio Ballet, Dance Anywhere, and The Call of the Mall challenged me to make a public performance using sound interventions.

Butet Manurung

Butet Manurung is an education activist for children in disadvantaged areas. Butet Manurung’s presentation provided understanding and knowledge for me on how to adapt to communities that have strong customary laws. How to live with them (Orang Rimba) and provide education, one of which is to keep the forest from wild logging. This presentation really helped me in research in the field to strengthen the ideas I would offer — how to adapt by providing education without having to intervene, understand problems, and provide solutions.

Sascia Bailers

Sascia Bailers’ presentation on care taught me that care is a form of self-awareness and purification. Did we care all this time? Or have we been exploitative all along? Talking about care makes me reflect.

In Indonesia, especially in my village, in Sumatra, care has always been related to cultural and religious culture, both of which are balanced. From everyday ethics, social activities, and the environment. As in traditional dance art, the meaning and philosophy are always related to care for God, human, and the environment.

In everyday life, care has been established for a homogeneous society. But it becomes a problem when the question arises: how to realize that care when we are in a heterogeneous society? Often environmental interventions, infrastructure and economic pressures affect a sense of care. The influence of modern economics that tends to be materialistic makes the meaning of care change, often it just becomes a label or decoration.

In my opinion, in the world of performance the problem is not only about the interaction of performers with the audience physically, but more importantly, the awareness of the physical who wants to talk about what. The presence of performers on stage brings something, their care about problems between humans, or humans with the environment. A sense of care gives a realization that humans as living beings need each other.

Create Instructions

Instructions from the work “Sounds of The River” are inspired by the story of the people on the riverside of Batang Hari river who witnessed the changing condition of the river that was once clear turned brown. Also, the exploitation that occurred and the longing of the community towards Batang Hari river. It represents the experience gained during research in Batang Hari, such as finding industrial waste, household waste, wood waste, carcasses of animals that are washed away, and the sounds of machines exploiting rivers. Participants will be herded by their imagination to become a fish figure that lives in an exploited river.

Mentoring from Ligna and Melati Suryodarmo, as well as discussions with other contributor friends, helped reinforce viewpoints and ideas. Includes dramaturgy that wants to be built in a series of instructions.

Artistic Design

The artistic design of “Sounds of the River” is inseparable from the main element in the Batang Hari river, namely the selection of locations in the hamlet of Bungin Petar, Tantan Village. The village is located on the riverside of Batang Hari river. We used 2 ketek. As a supporting element we also used pliers, pliers are traditional fishing gear used by Batang Hari riverside communities. The last element is the loudspeaker: 2 monitor speakers and 1 mixer.

The Show Trials

The trials conducted in this activity were very helpful to see the perspective of the audience, especially in Jambi. How the Bodies of Care show led to two things in terms of audience, the first, the audience was prepared from the beginning as participants. The second, the audience was not prepared, such as happening art (spontaneous creation of events without any planning in the audience aspect). Our trials were conducted in various places in Jambi such as in the crowded place of Gentala Arasy Tourist Bridge, on the riverside, and in the campus environment.

From several trials conducted, we found that the public in Jambi was not ready to accept spontaneous performances. It was proven from the response of the community who responded that the participants were like possessed people, many of them did not care about their actions. For that we decided to invite the audience as participants in the show. They were present as audience as well as participants.

The Day – The Show

The show was conducted on the riverside of Batang Hari river where we conducted research, namely Bungin Petar hamlet, Tantan village. The location was chosen because at that point Batang Hari river has a wide beach side. It’s possible to invite more audiences. But the location turned out to have unexpected risks, right on the day of the show, the river water suddenly rose, almost covering all areas of the beach. Since we could no longer move locations, we finally decided to continue the show while being ready for the safety of participants.

In this show we invited 25 participants to attend. The majority are from Jambi province, and some of them live near Batang Hari river. In addition, it also involves the surrounding community as an artistic crew, consumption crew, and participants.


There were many processes of consciousness that I experienced internally and externally during the Bodies of Care. First, awareness of the importance of doing research to dive into the problems that wanted to be expressed. How the stages of finding valid data, such as information from sources who live close to the object of research to explore the problem. By realizing the importance of research, a creator will be able to account for the work created.

The Bodies of Care process knocks back awareness of the importance of care for others. Real care in community tradition has been taught from childhood, which is also found in research in the villages we visited. It’s just that society is increasingly individualistic and materialistic. Many factors influence. Urban communities, for example, tend to focus on their own work until finally care for the environment is left to the government even though oxygen and clean water in cities come from villages that are increasingly being victims of exploitation. Care for the environment fades due to economic factors.

Therefore, through this project I invite young people in Jambi to be aware of the polluted environment, such as a river that has a lot of garbage and water that has been mixed with oil. Trying to increase sensitivity to see the conditions of the surrounding environment that are sometimes neglected.

Some participants in this project gave feedback on the sensitivity that arises about environmental conditions, especially rivers. They talk about care that establishes, also care that are reactional, such as littering which spontaneously they do not do again now.

Many feelings of anger and sadness arise when they find out more deeply the subtleties of Batang Hari river. Angry to know the current condition of rivers polluted by oil and soil. Sad to hear the people’s longing for old Batang Hari. We then imagined how clear the water in the Batang Hari river that was once could be directly drunk. Sadness is multiplying because I can’t do much to stop too much exploitation.

Care as part of love and compassion, grew indirectly from a small group that did research and travel in Batang Hari. We became a little family that understood each other. When we did the research in Batang Hari, we were accompanied by a young man who generously gave a place to stay, we stayed there, lived adequately, observed the community, listened to their stories. We did this repeatedly for three months to the extent that the lady who own the house thought of us as her own child. She also helped until the presentation was over. After this process we have a house to stop by when we want to visit again.

One of the spaces provided by DokumenTari is the opportunity to collaborate with other contributors. Collaborative awareness provides a new perspective on the idealism of artists who seek to conform to the ideas of other collaborators. The care provided by the DokumenTari team in accompanying the process is an effort in building love in the arts. Protect without bringing down each other and understanding each other’s shortcomings by guiding in a better direction. The little things of humanity that are often forgotten.

We also convey love for Batang Hari river by doing what can be done through art. Namely providing awareness of the complexity of Batang Hari river through the work of Sounds of The River.

[1] Menteban Besi: rectangular fishing gear made of iron

[2] Oral Literature of Jambi Society, the folk can be heard at:

The Narratives
of Indonesian