The Drag Queens of Java

The Drag Queens of Java


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.

100 thoughts on “The Drag Queens of Java”

  1. the conservative fu***d up everythin this one is a beautiful type of art and deserve to be notice just like a western drag.

  2. watching this makes my heart ache, Islam is disease of the world, Indonesia WAS Islam moderate, liberal, diverse and rich in culture, look at Indonesia now everything banned if you don''t wear veil, they're now swallowed by conservative belief, i'm glad i was born in 90's, now i live in another country, goodbye Indonesia

  3. Budaya & tarian jawa memang bagus bagus. Saking bagusnya kontestan Malaysia pun memakai kostum jawa & membawa kuda lumping di Acara Miss Grand International , kategori National costum

  4. I didn't know such things existed in your culture. But it was hearth-warming yo see them folks trying to revive a dying culture. And I say, atta girl!

  5. i'm indonesian, and i'm javanesse. i trully am amazed seeing this and wanna say thankyou for the beautiful documentary. but i think the dancers aren't drag queen according to west cultures because it related to history and one of tradition in java.

  6. Novi Dwi Kurniasari

    😍😍😍jebule liputan ming Baturaden ya, iya bener kuwe. Maune lengger ya lananglah sing nari, mergane jaman ganu tabu nggo wong wadon ngetokna aurate. Jaman siki lawis beda banget, bocah siki malah seneng aurate diketona. Malah bangga, jiaaaan beda banget karo ganu😞😞

  7. Love the background history, love the spirit and goal of this group, love the idea of their spiritual belief. And im proud of them. Its very beautiful and inspiring

  8. I'm Indonesian myself and this is very,very awesome!
    Though I was just wondering ; why wasn't this made by Indonesian ourself? How can we miss this fascinating part of our culture and let it slide to be explored! What a waste! We should broaden more and realize there's so much yet to learn about our own cultures around Indonesia. Hidup Indonesia! Merdeka!

  9. Banyumas nearby distric of mine,,,,,Cilacap,,,hehehe i didnt know theres still such beautiful traditional dance performance…until i watched this,,,,Keep it up guys!

  10. Disatu sisi, agama memiliki aturan2 yg jelas. Dalam agama Islam sudah diatur pedoman2 dan aturan2 bagaimana manusia (khususnya muslim) hidup. Bukan budaya arab atau konservatisme. sudah seharusnya, budaya mengikuti agama.
    Disisi lain, ada budaya yg mesti dijaga. Karena dianggap sebagai harta warisan tak terhingga dan identitas bangsa.
    Didalam islam, dilarang seorang pria menyerupai wanita, begitu juga sebaliknya. Tentu saja ini mesti ditaati oleh orang2 yg mengaku dirinya muslim. Bagi yg tidak menganut agama islam, kembali lagi ke agama yg dianutnya. Jika agama nya tidak mempermasalahkan, maka sah sah saja ia menari. Dan patut diapresiasi dan didukung.
    Bg saya, agama ditempatkan nomor satu, sesuai dgn sila pertama di pancasila. Menjaga budaya memang penting, namun taat dan menjalankan perintah NYA serta menjauhi larangan NYA, jauh lbh penting.

  11. For people who think that men can do makeup. The eyelash extensions tho. I am not even able to apply my mascara 🀣

  12. i would not say drag but a part of tradition to them.
    this type of similar culture can also be seen in some part of my country Nepal. the Magar community of my country celebrates there ritual with mens dressing into womens traditional outfit and dancing to the traditional music along with a song without any lyrics but humming sound.this tradition has passed down to centuries and is still freshly delivers all rituals without any lost history.this dance is called"Maruni" and is performed in special events like festivals death ceremony or marriage.
    people also believe that during this ritual performance the humming sound of song can bring god into any pure soul body (same magar community)of the person listening to the song. #NEPAL

  13. The Dutch people had brought some people of java to suriname. The people here in suriname still danse it in suriname it's very beautiful. Every year we hold a festival in suriname and danse this

  14. Karina Odia Julialevi

    I'm living in Banyumas.. And i can dance Lengger.. When i was in high school there are teacher who teach dancing as a school lesson.. And of course it also an exam for this dance.. I am proud enough to do this dance.. I even know the man on this video.. He teach my doughter dance lesson on kindergarten..but over all i think its should not call a Drag Dance.. Its a dance to celebrate parties.. Thats in my opinion..but i realy enjoy watching this video.. And knowing that many people are respect my culture..its make me feel happy..

  15. It's amazing,i'm indonesian but i dont even know about lengger lanang till i watched this. This is made me feel very proud with indonesian's culture

  16. I really enjoyed this video- but is anyone slightly bothered by the inherent sexism in this cultural practice? She couldn't go in because she was on her period? Women were originally not allowed to participate because they were women? Not trying to start something- this is a genuine comment and I am looking for someone to give me some feedback that could help me understand this, because I do find the ethics of this problematic.

  17. I really love Indonesian traditional dance, I never knew there were accepted men that dance as women! Similar to Kabuki theater in Japan. I loved this video

  18. it's so sad what the Muslim religion is doing to Indonesia. it's completely destroying the country and it's choking the culture away from people. I don't understand why countries like this except foreign religion with an open heart.. kind of like a Mexico and Catholicism. why would you want to be the religion of the people that killed your family… that killed you if you didn't believe in it….. religion is a terrible thing…… I can't wait for the day everyone is atheist πŸ’œπŸŒˆ

  19. I feel like this is much more akin to Trans Women than Drag Queens in some ways, or Native American Two-Spirits (at least the history and the first Woman they spoke to). I hope this wonderful tradition continues!

  20. Next time have an interviewer who isnt shy and very outgoing, you could see in their face that they wanted her to join their practice but she just made it so awkward and weird

  21. Sabrina Reisinger

    I'm dazzled and feel that veneration is appropriate. However, I was disappointed when the reporter was not allowed to go into the fountain area because she was on her period. Why is menstruation so villafied or seen as unholy, unclean, everywhere? It seemed particularly ironic seeing that the other entrants were men who are wishing for acceptance to dress and dance as women. The selective picking apart and "presenting" of aspects of the feminine without full honoring of complete womanhood is for me exasperating. This does not detract for me or lessen the admiration I feel for these men who are clearly called to this art. Culture is so complex and sublime.

  22. i think it is very beautiful and expressive…i have always loved different cultures etc..and THESE are some of THE most beautiful people in the world..just keep dancing!.. πŸ’‹πŸ’‹πŸ’‹

  23. It's weird to read the sub cause I'm Indonesian and I'm Javanese, from Jogjakarta to be exact, and I'm really used to the language oml :v

  24. the conservative love to judge others as if they own the heaven…most conservative I know is the biggest Hypocrite

  25. These guys are absolutely beautiful women and truly beautiful in general. They're brave to fight for this piece of their culture especially with the negative view people have of it and distain people feel towards "drag" or LGBT+. I hope it's never forgotten and they keep it going. They danced very gracefully and looked so proud! As they should! It's such an interesting story and I think a lot of trans people could definitely make a connection to the opposite sex spirit possessing their body. Aside from the lgbt+ aspect, the history is fascinating on it's own.

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