In Suriname, the festival of Bersih Desa is held in homage of the rice goddess Dewi Sri. It takes place after the fasting month during the rice harvest. The festival is held for two purposes: to thank the benevolence of Dew Sri and the bounty she has seen fit to bestow on them, and to cleanse the village. Bersih Desa literally translates to "clean village." As part of the festival the villagers will clean their houses, gardens and roads and all paths will be repaired. The cleansing is more than removing dust and dirt, however, it also aides in purging the community of evil spirits. In effect, they are sweeping the negativity away.1

-The Wayang Kulit-
In the evening, after the roads have been repaired and everything has been swept clean of negative energies, the descendants of Javanese indentured laborers will attend a wayang kulit performance. Wayang is a Javanese word meaning "shadow" or "ghost", and the wayang kulit is an Indonesian shadow puppet performance. Traditionally wayang uses live actors, three dimensional puppets or shadow images projected on a backlit screen. It is the shadow images in conjunction with the backlit screens that make up the version known as wayang kulit. It's one of the oldest continuous traditions of storytelling in the world.

-The Puppet-
A stylized exaggeration of the human form, the puppet is hand crafted of leather. They resemble paper dolls mounted on sticks except their arms are moveable. The puppets are beautiful in their dashes of bright colors amongst black and the original tan of the leather. They don't always appear completely human, but a mix of human and animal at times. This is largely because the stories told with them are Hindu epics involving their gods, which tend to have some animalistic qualities.

In Suriname there are no artists specializing in the carving of these leather puppets. The puppets they have tend to be almost 100 years old, and are therefore highly prized by the families that have passed them down from generation to generation. Often communities intending to hold a wayang show rent these original puppets, wanting to keep as much of their original heritage involved as possible.

-The Daylang-
The daylang is the puppet master of the wayang kulit. Typically male, the puppet master in Suriname maintains his traditional Javanese costume and is considered to be an extraordinary man. He must be physically strong and healthy, otherwise he would not be able to sit cross-legged for nine successive hours while striking the keckrek with his right foot steadily throughout the performance.2 Both hands are used to control the puppets and the daylang sings, taps out signals to the orchestra and provides voices for all of the characters. Dedicated to maintaining cultural traditions, the entire performance is told in high Javanese. He is one of the few people who speak high Javanese in Suriname, most descendents speak middle or low varieties.

The puppet master and the singer will travel all over the country performing. Organizing a wayang kulit means hiring a dayang, locating the necessary materials and lots of planning. Because of this, those that hold the wayang kulit are generally thought highly of as they are taking pride in their cultural heritage.

This Javanese tradition has developed over the years along its own course. In Suriname, a country four times the size of West Java, traditions are passed down through the generations from the first Javanese migrants that came between 1890 and 1939.3 Few of the traditions are documented; they are primarily orally passed on which led to much of the cultural heritage being blurred with interpretations varying by community, reflecting the diverse origins of Suriname's peoples.

1 The Surinamese have many rituals to keep evil spirits away. Another such ritual occurs when someone dies. A trumpet will sound, alerting the community that someone has died. Those who have volunteered to be grave diggers will go through a cleansing ritual in the river after burial. Once the sun has gone down the passing of the dead is celebrated with music, food and dance. Every member of the village will present something in the hopes of pleasing the newly passed spirit so that it won't hang around. Lingering spirits are viewed as bad luck, tricksters.

2 In the past the wayang performance lasted for almost twenty-four hours.

3 The Javanese currently living in Suriname are descended of young men and women who were lured from Central and East Java by Dutch colonial administrators. They were promised riches and entered into indentured servant contracts. At the end of the 5 year contract the immigrants were too ashamed to go home, so they stayed in Suriname where they form the third largest ethnic group after Creoles and Hindus of Indian origin.

Central Java,
Experiences in Suriname,
Javanese in Suriname Strive to Preserve Origins,

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