Ponorogo is most well known for the reyog mask dance, which is said to have been created by one of the kings of Kediri in the 12th century. The performance re-enacts a legendary battle between Pujangga Anom, a minister from the court of Ponorogo, and Singa Barong, guardian spirit of the forest of Lodoyo. The former had aroused the anger of Singa Barong when he stole 150 tigers from the forest, apparently to be offered as a dowry payment for a princess of Kediri, whom the king of Ponorogo wished to marry.
A typical reyog troupe, then, usually consists of the principal characters; Singa Barong, wearing an enormous tiger head and peacock feather mask, and his adversary Pujangga Anom. They are accompanied by one or more masked clowns/acrobats, as well as a number of hobby horse dancers, who are said to represent the troops of Pujangga Anom.
The people of Ponorogo have a reputation for being tough, both physically and mentally. The qualities of bravery and daring are fully displayed in a reyog performance, where the focus of attention is on a trance dancer supporting a giant mask, often weighing more than 40 kg, between his teeth. The mask is a ferocious, snarling tiger’s head, covered in real tiger skin and crowned with a gigantic three meter fan of peacock feathers.
The success of a performance, including the ability of the principal dancer to bear the weight of the mask, is said to depend upon the magical power of the leader of the dance troupe. Known as warok, these men are believed to possess special talents, gained through years of training. One of the unique features of the reyog dance is that the hobby horse (jaran kepang) dancers are invariably young boys dressed as women. Known as gemblak, they accompany the warok, who are forbidden close association with females, in their travelling performances.
Contest of Reyog dance is presented annually by the local government. Ngebel, a natural lake and batik printing of ponorogo are also worthwhile seeing.
Reyog Ponorogo: Tiger, Peacock
A tiger’s head and a wide-winged peacock are the principal features of the traditional Reyog Ponorogo dance. The weight of this pair, called Dhadhak Merak, may reach 40 kg or even 100 kg, carried by one man, moving around, up and down. The tiger’s head symbolizes a hero. The man, warok, who bears it must have a magic power.
Dhadhak Merak, often known as Singobarong, is performed as a welcoming dance for honorable guests, or as attractions, complete with its attributes. For instance, the player of the role of Prabu (King) Kelana Sewandono, with his supernatural power, always carries an inhabited, holy whip.
Another man plays the role of a dancer, Bujangganong, a governor under the rule of King Kelana Sewandono. He is a hero with a bad face, bearing a mask with a red, long nose, untidy hair and tusked teeth.
The team of players is completed with riders on horses made of bamboo plaitwork or skin of animal. They symbolize the escorting soldiers of King Kelana Sewandono on his trips. Formerly these horse-riders were played by men called Gembak. But now they are generally women.
The total number of a Reyog team is between 20 and 40 members, including the magical heroes (waroks) with open breasts and waist band, symbolizing their magic power.
According to history the Reyog dance originated from the glorious era of the Kediri kingdom around the l5th century. The region of Ponorogo was called Wengker, the seat of the kingdom of Bentarangin (now the area of subdistrict Sonoroto) under King Kelana Sewandono. He had a governor, Pujangga Anom (in the Reyog dance called Bujangganong). One night Kelana Sewandono dreamed meeting a beautiful princess, Songgolangit. He felt in love with her and ordered his governor to ask the hand of the princess. This proposal was accepted on the condition that the King should present an attraction which was still unknown at that time.
King Kelana Sewandono then decided to kill the powerful King Singo Barong, who was pictured as a king with a tiger’s head bearing a wide-winged peacock. The victorious King Kelana Sewandono then went into procession to the palace of the princess, bearing the defeated Singo Barong. The procession attracted great attention during the trip to the palace.
Another story says that Reyog dance is a hint on the king of Majapahit, who married a Chinese princess. The King’s power was therefore pictured as being defeated by the beauty of the Chinese princess.
No matter its origin, the Reyog dance is a popular attraction, not only in Ponorogo, but all over Java to be performed on various events, including the field of tourism.