Uluk salam miwah ya mas kalifat Allah sangate

Ya rakhiimin bemine Allah

Kawula kawulane Allah

Kawula saderma nglakoni

Kawula saderma kekandha

Nyritakake dongeng kawula

Those words are an expression of greeting (uluk salam) from man as Allah’s khalifah or vicegerent towards Allah. Man is but a small entity in the face of Allah, and man must believe as well as act according to His word and will. Besides daily practice in behaviour, piety towards Allah can be expressed by man in his professions, including as a storyteller.

Januri Sutrisno, also known as Mbah Kentrung, is a third-generation dalang kentrung (kentrung storyteller) in Sendanggayam Village, Banjarejo District, Blora Regency, Central Java. Januri became a storyteller since 2000, after his father Sutrisno passed away. A few days before his death, Sutrisno, also a dalang kentrung, asked his son Januri to inherit his profession.

At first, Januri was hesitant about stepping into his father’s shoes. He admitted that his knowledge of the art of kentrung was limited to what he learned from accompanying his father on stage—although he had been doing that since 1982. His father kept reminding him to not stop learning.

And his father was right to have put faith in him. On his first performance as a dalang kentrung, Januri did well, even though he did not do any special preparation. Later he read books his father left behind in order to perform well on many occasions. He continued to perform in many places.

The art of kentrung itself is a form of oral literature, singing lyrics of life lessons and moral precepts. These are sung in Bloran language, accompanied by tambourine. It is called “kentrung” because of the tambourine’s “trung-trung-trung” sound. The kentrung tambourine is without jingles, with various sizes. Drums are also used.

Kentrung’s instruments reveal an Arabic influence. The tales sung included stories of the prophets (like Musa and Ibrahim), the saga of Amir Hamzah, as well as Arabian Nights. During the previous decade, dalangs incorporate stories from Babad Tanah Jawa and folktales such as Menakjunggo, Jaka Tarub, Blacang Nggilo, and Puteri Gumeng. The language used is predominantly Bloran and Middle Javanese, sprinkled with Sanskrit and Arabic words.

Kentrung is trying to survive in modern times. Fewer people practise the art. It is part of Indonesia’s rich legacy of oral literature traditions. Januri is one of the few who kept kentrung in existence. Its fate depends not just on how many dalangs are left, but also how many would appreciate the art.

(Adapted from, written by Hendriyo Widi)