(published on IJHS Newsletter Issue 14 p. 4-5, 2012)
Warmest greeting for all!
In Newsletter 12 I wrote about two types of Sundanese mouth harp, the bamboo karinding and the palm one. Here I said that the palm (midrib) karinding or Karinding Kawung has spread to several places in West Java, such as in Regency of Tasikmalaya, Garut and Cianjur. This article focused to the palm mouth harp in Cianjur regency.
Cirama Girang village is one of Cikalong Kulon’s sub-district territories in Cianjur regency that still has a group of palm karinding tradition. This village is near to the border between Cianjur and Purwakarta regency and has its original natural landscape. There are rice field terraces in the valley with a creek in the lower land and hills around the neighborhood providing a comfortable environment in which to live. It can be reached by vehicles in about 40 minutes from Cianjur city center, and is about 2½ hours from the nearest airport in Bandung, capitol of West Java.
This rural village is an ideal place for the players and craftsmen of the unique palm karinding to live. The Palm karinding is an old tradition that has been transferred from generation to generation in this place and even though the palm karinding’s popularity is unlike in the past, this old musical art is still in existence and preserved today.
The karinding has been part of the heritage of this village from the grand-grandfathers for tens or perhaps even hundreds of years, though we are not sure when the first karinding existed in this place. There are several folktales that refer to the palm karinding, the tale of a fighting rooster competition being one of the most popular. An old karinding player-maker, Una, tells of the two groups of people who fought their fighter roosters, the winner deciding to hold a karinding show as a victory celebration.
Una, Ukar Sukarya and Abah Mandor are professional players with tens of years of experience on playing and making palm karinding, having got their knowledge and ability to play and make a mouth harp from their parents. They still produce this small musical instrument and sometimes hold a show at the front for the public. The instrument they make is slimmer and smaller than other karinding. Here you can compare a palm karinding from the Garut regency and Cianjur regency.
However, size is not a certain sign of where a karinding is made because it depends to the particular craftsman’s idea. When I visited Cirama Girang village in 2010, I was shown a bigger palm karinding by Una. It is 17 cm long and 2.3 cm wide. Cirama’s palm karinding has three needles (tongue) with smaller belly (pendulum). Sometimes the craftsman makes the palm piece with single tongue, but that is not a priority.
This body structure gives it lesser flexibility and produces a shorter sound “breath”. For some reason, (perhaps heredity knowledge), every craftsman in this place makes the same structure. This is the typical difference compared to other palm karinding. With shorter sound characteristic, it has to play faster and more rhythmic. Below is a video of Cirama Girang’s karinding playing:
It needs stronger energy to vibrate the needle and produce good sound. The faster the speed and stronger the energy the louder will be the sound. There are several ways that are used to play Cirama Girang’s palm mouth harp: Striking with the finger (normal); hitting with a stick (extension); pulling the belly of the instrument. An extra resonator tube can be added with a piece of bamboo tube, although I have seen the palm karinding played by using a plastic cup resonator. You can see an old man played karinding with a stick here:
It is thought that the first use of karinding was for personal entertainment and relaxation. From the former it then developed as a massive entertainment show for a public audience or the local community. Karinding is usually played when relaxing at home, or when there is a gathering with friends, something that has become their habit from long ago.
From the repeated habit of playing time after time, there has developed an empiric experience concerning the use of karinding in their rice field. Based on the experience of several farmers in this village who are karinding players, the harvest result from the accompaniment of the karinding sound proved to be always better than the non-accompanied field.
It therefore became a strong assumption by the villagers that the karinding sound repels insects and pests. Unfortunately, there has been no in-depth research into the karinding’s sound impact on insects or any other field pests yet. It would need a more capable expert in pest and sound specialist to explain and proof it.
Since the 1960’s, the palm karinding in this village has become a show that can be watched by the public and the show has a team of several musicians and singers. Beside the mouth harp, other musical instruments are used on a full performance such as the goong (gong), goong buyung , kacapi (zither), suling (flute), celempung, kendang awi (bamboo drum), saron awi (tunned bamboo xylophone) and rebab (fidlle). I have been invited several times to watch the show, which was a very impressive experience, being both unique and interesting. The songs are Sundanese folksongs with Sundanese language and pentatonic in structure. There are several songs: Oray-orayan (fake snake), Cis Kacang Buncis (bean), and Kidung (pray/spell) and in some cases, they are able to sing popular songs too.
The Palm karinding players and craftsmen in Cirama Girang village have a strong desire to keep this heritage art alive. They are concerned about the karinding’s existence and so are open to sharing their experiences and to teach how to play their tradition. Una believes that today not only the older generation can play the mouth harp, but also the youth.
Although they find it hard to balance karinding with the modern electronic musical instruments influences, this older generation is still determined to keep the musical traditions from former generations alive; to keep karinding so that it is not lost by the time, and to transfer karinding tradition to the next young generation.