The rhythm of this song is simple. That’s its style. Presented in nine beats of gamelan. To serve as a means to unite the physical and spiritual realm. Marching forward to a steady beat. Obedient and strong. Magic is a live in
a country side of Indonesia. Many still believe in
the spirits and legends that live in the hills of Java. Islam and conservative dominate
the countryside here, but magic and mystics are accepted
as a part of everyday life. Subversion has grown from
this acceptance of magic, and here in Banyumas, a drag queen tradition called Lengger, was born out of mysticism. Lengger was accepted and even idolized, but today, it’s slowly dying after being
forced underground by conservatives. Only a few lengger dancers are left, and a new generation wants to revive
this ritual. This is the drag queens of Java. Today, we’re in Central Java to meet the last lengger drag queen. Mbok Dariah lives here in Plana Village, where she’s still idolized
as a dance legend. What is this? This is my wig. It’s too small for me now. Do you want to try it on? Like this? And what is that? -This is makeup.
-Makeup for special occasions. So that we can look pretty. Do you still put on makeup by yourself? Of course. Even though I am already old. We used this to make our lips red. Decades ago Mbok Dariah was actually
a teenage boy named Sadam. She ran away from home to this old cemetery miles away from her village. Here, she fasted and meditaded for days, until the spirit of a dead lengger dancer spoke to her. The spirit inhabited her body and she became a woman. Dariah returned to her village with a new name and gender. I was not a wealthy person. One night I snuck out
alone to a sacred place. I went there to ask to become a Lengger. The Lengger spirit comes by
meditation with esteemed spirits. I started learning how to dance
Lengger during the Dutch colonial era. There were no
eyebrow pencils in the old days. We used soot.
The kind you get from oil lamps. For the lipstick,
we mixed hair gel and food coloring. That’s what we used to do
in the old days to look pretty. There were lots of young men
[who showed interest in me]. They came in large numbers. They’re all dead now. During the communist crackdown
I was forced to stop dancing. I was afraid of
being labeled as a communist. This was during President Soeharto’s time. I was worried that I’d be
thrown into jail. After the communist paranoia subsided,
I started performing again. I’m the only one left. I’m old and ugly, my teeth
have all fallen out. Trans people were not always living
in the shadows of Indonesia. During Dutch colonial rule
and the early years of Indonesia, trans performer like Mbok Dariah
were celebrated and idolized. But trans people and the Lengger tradition was swept up in the 1960s communist
crackdown of General Soeharto’s regime. LGBT rights in Indonesia
hasn’t made much progress since, with recent raids and
even canings of gay men. The drag roots of Lengger
have been shunned, women have become the accepted performers. But some men still believe
in upholding tradition by wearing makeup and
performing in drag. Excuse me, Tora. -Hello.
-Hello to you too. -Tora, right? -Correct.
-Hello, I’m Arzia. There are so many wedding photos.
How long have you been doing this? About four years. -Did you do your own makeup?
-I did. Tora Dinata is a Lengger dancer
and wedding planner. His love for drag and dancing has led him
to try to revive the tradition. During colonial times
when the Dutch were having a party. The Dutch would ask native Indonesians
to perform at the parties. At the time, women weren’t allowed
to perform openly. They had to stay behind the stage. To get around that, it was men
who performed on stage. But they dressed as women. People are used to seeing
women in makeup. They’re used to seeing women
beautify themselves that way. But suddenly seeing men become beautiful,
that was a sensation. -But that doesn’t bother you?
-When I’m called beautiful? It doesn’t bother me. Sometimes, to be honest,
I feel a bit of pride. Wow, I’m being acknowledged. How did your family react? I initially hid this from them. They thought it was weird that
a man dressed up as a woman. People in the city apparently
still see Lengger Lanang as something that
isn’t supposed to be… exposed. They have a
hard time accepting our existence. Tora and his crew of dancers are going to represent their village in a cultural competition tomorrow. Performers from the entire region will be joining. They invited me to see them
practice their moves for tomorrow. Are these costumes
going to be used tomorrow? We need to change quickly,
so we made the wig easy to wear. You just pull it on like a helmet. You wear the wig like a helmet? Wow. Excuse me.
I’m going to put this on your head. -Can you hold the front part?
-Yes. Wow. -Take a look in the mirror.
-I wonder what I look like. My head is bigger than average. The wig will look like this tomorrow. It looks great on you. Very beautiful. -Can I look in the mirror?
-You look like a bride. Ever since I was small
the doctor would say that I had a big head. No wonder this wig doesn’t fit me. Ryan, why don’t you wear this.
This is actually Ryan’s wig. -Like this?
-Oh my, you even speak differently now. It’s only a wig but he
seems different, right? -Do you want to try this on?
-I can’t. You can’t? I wouldn’t fit. It’ll rip.
And it’s for tomorrow. It’s elastic though. It kind of looks like a mermaid’s tail. -Yes, this is a mermaid skirt.
-Oh, that’s trending right now. I think they’re trying to practice… Lengger choreography. And they asked me to do the same thing, but I don’t think I could. I don’t know, I’m not sure. Let’s go. What should I do? How do I do it? Just free yourself. I can’t do it. It’s enough. You got the point. I can’t dance and that’s a fact. This felt like more than just drag to them, I felt a spiritual connection, that defined the entire performance. To complete their preparations and thank the Lengger dancers of the past, they will visit a spring to
acknowledge their ancestors. We are now going to
the spiritual home of Eyang Atas Angin. When she was about to dance
at here she said, “In the future there will be Lengger
Lanang dancers here in Baturaden. and they must bathe in these fountains.” Okay, so actually I can’t get
in because he told me that I’m still in my period,
so I can’t go inside. It’s a holy place. So, better to stay here for like 5 minutes. Just to send prayers to the ancestors. Standing here in the middle of the dark, watching them bathe in the spring, I could sense the torch passing
from previous Lengger dancers. Tomorrow’s performance will be
Tora’s chance to carry that torch. Today’s the day of the performance and we’re heading downtown to speak with the dancers
while they get ready. We’re here in Baturraden, and behind me is the stage where the
Lengger dancer will be performing tonight. -You guys know Lengger?
-Yes we know. Are the dancers male or female? Female! So, I don’t think is common
for them to see male Lengger performing, so it’s gonna be the first
time after a long time ago. How do you feel right now? I feel alright, a little nervous,
but I’m motivated and excited. Tonight will be the first time in a long
time a male Lengger is performing here? Yes, it is, and a lot of people
don’t know that I’m a Lengger dancer. My job now is to introduce
the existence of Lengger Lanang and show how it must be
positively accepted by society. We meed to correct our history. People need to know that the pioneers
of Lengger in Banyumas were men, not women. Have you ever been labeled
or stigmatized for doing this? Yes, people have mocked me before.
There’s been plenty of that. -Do you have a family of your own?
-I do. I have a child. What does your family think? At first they didn’t like it. At home I am still the head of
the household and dress like a man. I still do manly things at home,
like climbing on top of the house to fix the leaking roof. But when I’m performing
and drawing on my eyebrows and putting on eyelashes,
I feel a transformation. Dozens of performes from around
the region are here to compete. It feels a bit like a
highschool for the paranormal, ghosts chat with Gods, and queens are snapping selfies. But the tension is real,
it’s a competition, and each group wants to win. The performance tells the story
of a Lengger transformation. A group of men are working
the land in the hot sun. As they work and grow tired, female spirits appear and
possess their bodies. A curtain comes up, and one by one, the men are transformed
into beautiful women. Hey, how is everyone?
How did it go? -It was great.
-It was definitely a success. Ma’am-Wait, I mean- [laughs] -No, you’re right. When we wear this,
you should call us that. I’m right, aren’t I?
I should call you Ma’am or Sir now? -You should probably call us ma’am now since
we’re wearing… -Since you’re in costume? Did the rituals at the spring
affect your performance? When I was on stage,
I felt like I was in the clouds. There were so
many people in the audience. I was floating among the clouds. As the audience kept
coming up to snap selfies, you could feel an immense sense
of pride among the group. They were not only accepted
but loved for what they did. They didn’t know this now, but in the coming weeks, they would be chosen as the
winners of the competition. What was once kept in the darkness, is now center stage and shining
proudly for all to see.