By Margaret J. Kartomi
gamelan-digul This book tells the story of Bp Pontjopangrawit a musician and political activist who, while interned at the notorious Dutch prison camp of Tanah Merah at Boven Digul, was responsible for constructing the gamelan which is now known as Gamelan Digul.
Pontjopangrawit was employed as a court musician at the court of Paku Buwana X in Solo from the age of 12. He was arrested by the Dutch in late 1926 and sent to Boven Digul in 1927.
He was released and returned to Java in 1932 where he resumed his employment at the kraton. He became renowned as a musician, with a prodigious knowledge of gamelan repertoire, and an excellent teacher, numbering Martopangrawit and Mantle Hood among his pupils.
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The opening chapters describe his life, with fascinating insights into court culture and protocol and a detailed description of life at Boven Digul based on contemporary accounts. The book is also the story of the remarkable gamelan he made there, constructed from ‘found’ materials including old doors and rantang – iron food bowls.
The gamelan was taken to Australia when the surviving prisoners were evacuated there in 1943. The book ends with a detailed analysis of the materials and construction of the gamelan, together with a photographic record of the individual instruments.
The book is also illustrated by a number of historical photographs taken at Boven Digul and in Java and Australia. And it comes complete with a CD containing examples of all the instruments of Gamelan Digul which are in a playable condition, together with recordings of Bp Pontjopangrawit playing rebab, recorded by Mantle Hood during his lessons.
The whole book is the result of painstaking research, including many conversations with friends and relatives of Pontjopangrawit. The information is presented in a brisk, readable style with interesting footnotes which do not get in the way of the main narrative.
My only slight reservations are the quality of reproduction of the photographs (the modern ones, not the historical pictures) and the price, which appears to be based more on the somewhat esoteric nature of the subject matter than the pockets of the average (British) gamelan player. But overall – a thoroughly interesting and absorbing book.