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Cirebon Studies:
A Short Annotated Bibliography of Publications in English
by Richard North

General | Batik | Music | Keris | Topeng | Wayang

General Information

Cohen, Matthew Isaac (March 2005), “The Arts of Cirebon”, in Seleh Notes, the UK Gamelan Magazine, Vol 12 No 2.
A brief (5 page) illustrated survey that succinctly gives the reader an excellent overview of the numerous facets of Cirebon culture, its place in history, and the challenges facing its survival.

Jessup, Helen Ibbitson (1990) Court Arts of Indonesia. New York: The Asia Society Galleries.
A lavishly illustrated “coffee table book” with great photos of art objects from Indonesia’s many royal centers, backed up by very knowledgeable text. There are over forty references to Cirebon, but most of them didn’t make it into the index—you have to search them out. Shows examples of Cirebon masks, puppets, gamelan instruments, court architecture, and woodcarving, including pictures of the elaborately carved Kereta Kencana (“golden carriages”) from both Keraton Kasepuhan and Kanoman.

Lim, Lawrence (1990) Cirebon. Singapore: Times Editions.
A guide book looking at the many facet of Cirebon in 96 pages of vivid photographs and stimulating prose, including short vignettes about interesting people and special places.

Paramita R. Abdurachman (editor) (1982) Cerbon. Jakarta: Sinar Harapan.
An amazing variety of topics are covered, including Cirebon history, architecture, music, glass painting, woodcarving, topeng, batik—even Cirebon cuisine! Plenty of pictures to accompany articles compiled by a variety of well-known scholars in the field. Parallel texts in English and Indonesian.

Reid, Anthony (1988 & 1994) Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680. In 2 Volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Very readable account of the formation of southeast Asia’s maritime Pasisir kingdoms, of which Cirebon is the last remaining one on Java. A staggering amount of cultural detail, told with color and humor.

Siddique, Sharon Joy (1977) Relics of the Past? A Sociological Study of the Sultanates of Cirebon, West Java. U. of Bielefeld: Doctoral Dissertation.
An almost dizzying number of facts and dates with theoretical analysis contrasting Java’s Pasisir (coastal) and Dalam (inland) kingdoms, of which Cirebon is a prime example of the former. Court ceremonies, religious beliefs and origin myths are also covered.

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Batik Textiles

Djoemena, Nian S. (1986) Batik: Its Mystery and Meaning. Jakarta: Djambatan.
A broad survey of Java’s distinctive batik styles, this slim volume devotes a dozen pages each to the batik of Cirebon and its close neighbor Indramayu. Although the text (in both English and Indonesian) is minimal, we get to see Cirebon batik patterns not shown elsewhere.

Elliot, Inger McCabe (editor) (1984) Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
The definitive work on Java’s vivid north coast batiks that “splash their colors with controlled abandon”. A strong emphasis on the Cirebon batik tradition is reinforced by five essays by Paramita Abdurachman, editor of Cerbon. (See “General” section of this bibliography.) Beautifully illustrated in color.

Rojen, Pepin van (1996) Batik Design. Singapore: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Evenly divided between Pasisir and Dalem (which the author terms “classical”) batik traditions, the short chapter on Cirebon textiles is augmented with a dozen good color examples. The one on the front cover unfortunately got printed upside down (note the hidden cloud-dragon’s head), which was rectified on the print of the same batik on page 152.

Heringa, Rens et al (1996) Fabric of Enchantment: Batik from the North Coast of Java. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Although it covers the same textiles exhibit at UCLA as Elliot’s Fabled Cloth of Java, this exploration of Pasisir batik is enriched by more photos as well as an incisive article by Oxford scholar Peter Carey on “The World of the Pasisir.”

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Cirebon Music

Kunst, Jaap (1933/1973), edited by E. L. Heins Music in Java in 2 volumes. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Twenty-eight years in the making and over seventy years old, Music in Java is still considered a major source of information about Javanese music. Although somewhat south central Java centric, there are numerous references to music in Cirebon (“Cheribon”), including Gong Renteng, Denggung and Gong Sekati.

North, Richard (guest editor) (December 1988) Balungan Volume 3 Number 3 (Cirebon Issue). Oakland: American Gamelan Institute.
This entire issue of the periodical Balungan is devoted to Cirebon performing arts and represents one of the only sources of information in English on these topics. It includes articles on various types of Cirebon music and wayang by Richard North, an article on topeng dancing by Endo Suanda, and a description of Tarling by Michael Wright. (annotation by Henry Spiller)

Spiller, Henry (2004) Gamelan: The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia. Santa Barbara, Denver & Oxford: ABC-CLIO World Music Series.
Probably (in my opinion) the best general work on gamelan since Jaap Kunst’s 1933 grand opus Music in Java. While he thoroughly covers the more well-known musical traditions of Bali and Central Java, Dr. Spiller really shines when he writes about West Java. He stresses the historical importance of Cirebon in the development of Javanese gamelan, and includes numerous photos of Cirebon gamelan instruments, masks, and topeng dancers. An exhaustive glossary of regional gamelan terms includes Cirebon as well.

Suanda, Endo (1998) “Cirebon”, pp 685-699 in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music—Southeast Asia (Terry E. Miller & Sean Williams editors) New York.
Detailed, thoughtful and well-illustrated survey of the full spectrum of Cirebon musical forms, including historic, cultural and spiritual aspects.

Wright, Michael Richard (1978) The Music Culture of Cirebon. UCLA: Doctoral Dissertation.
The seminal work on Cirebon gamelan music, Dr. Wright’s 356 page analysis of the music for the Cirebon gamelan slendro (prawa) and pelog was truly ground breaking in 1978. Contains huge amounts of notation, albeit in a somewhat rare form of West Java style of notation. Also includes a catalogue of Dr. Wright’s superb recordings of classical Cirebon gamelan pieces, copies of which are available from UCLA.

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Keris (Ceremonial daggers)

Ghiringhelli, Vanna and Mario (1991) The Invincible Krises. Milano: BA-MA Editrice.
There is precious little written about the Cirebon keris. This pretty little book at least has seven color photos of Cirebon keris and ukiran (keris handles)—one in the center of the front cover. The text, in Italian and English, is minimal.

van Duuren, David (1998) The Keris: An Earthly approach to a Cosmic Symbol. Wijk en Aalburg: Pictures Publishers.
The copious text covering the distribution, origins, and regional diversity of the keris is marred by the judgmental and somewhat patronizing attitude toward traditional beliefs in these potent cultural symbols as “superstition.” Excellent photos of Cirebon ukiran are found on pages 38, 45 and 47.

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Topeng (Masked Dance)

Grauer, Rhoda (2004) Rasinah: The Enchanted Mask (DVD)
Libraries on Fire ( Charming video of the life of legendary Topeng Cirebon master Rasinah, exploring the cultural background and spiritual significance of the ancient masks and dances passed from generation to generation.

Rogers-Aguiniga, Pamela (1986) Topeng Cirebon: The Masked Dance Theatre of West Java as Performed in the Village of Slangit. UCLA: Master’s Thesis.
Detailed description of the Slangit village style of Topeng Cirebon, of which Ms. Rogers-Aguiniga’s teacher, Pak Sujana Arja, was the foremost example.

Suanda, Endo (1983) Topeng Cirebon: In Its Ritual Context. Wesleyan U.: Master’s Thesis.
Pak Endo writes of Topeng Cirebon with a depth and breadth that come from growing up within the tradition. Covers the nuances of social context, ceremony, setting and attitude of topeng, plus a rare degree of detail on the structure and esthetic of both the music and dance components.

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Wayang (Puppet Theater)

Basari (1998) Demon Abduction: A Wayang Ritual Drama from West Java. Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation.
A special wayang as performed by one of Cirebon’s most beloved puppeteers, the late Basari, translated with drama and nuance by Matthew Isaac Cohen.

Cohen, Matthew Isaac (1997) An Inheritance from the Friends of God: The Southern Shadow Puppet Theater of West Java, Indonesia. Yale, Doctoral Dissertation.
An amazingly prolific writer on Cirebon culture, Dr. Cohen examines Cirebon’s wayang kulit (shadow puppet theater) from the inside, probing the depths of Cirebon history, social environment and mysticism while painting a vivid picture of the lives of Cirebon’s dalang (puppeteers.) Includes extended passages of actual dialogue in Cirebon Javanese with English translations.

Djajasoebrata, Alit (1999) Shadow Theatre in Java. Amsterdam: Pepin Press.
Another nice coffee table book. Although the text is mostly oriented to the wayang traditions of south central Java, there are some thirty-five photos of wayang from Cirebon and Java’s north coast, most in stunning color.

Herbert, Mimi (2002) Voices of the Puppet Masters: The Wayang Golek Theater of Indonesia. Jakarta: Lontar Foundation.
There has never been a work of such passion devoted to wayang golek (rod puppet theater) providing not only a wealth of scholarship, but also a rich canvas of extensive pictorial studies allowing the imagination to enter the physical and spiritual world of Javanese puppet traditions. Two principal divisions of wayang golek (the wayang golek purwa of Sunda and wayang golek cepak of Cirebon) occupy the book's ten chapters, in which accounts of puppet theatre are provided by the dalang (master puppeteers) and their devotees. (Annotation by Ian Jarvis Brown in the Asian Theatre Journal: Volume 20, Number 1, Spring 2003, pp. 93-95, University of Hawai'i Press)

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