Recently I bought this beautiful bust of a Balinese Janger dancer from the daughter of a Dutch soldier, who was stationed in East Java from 1946 to 1949. Like thousands of other Dutch young men, he had signed up as a war volunteer after the liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945. These soldiers were trained in England to fight against the Japanese in the still occupied Dutch East Indies. By the time they arrived the Japanese had already capitulated. The units were given a different assignment: to restore colonial order and fight against the Indonesian freedom fighters.
According to the daughter, her father never spoke at home about his experiences during the independence war in Indonesia. The Balinese wood carvings, including a bust of an old man, were the only “silent witnesses” of his military service. After his death, the statues were put away and eventually offered for sale on Marktplaats.nl, where I bought the Janger bust. The lady was happy that it ended up with a collector who would appreciate and cherish it.
Souvenirs for soldiers
This short personal story makes it easy to determine when the statue was made. It must have been carved shortly after WWII (between 1946 and 1949) when the woodcarvers resumed their work to sell statues to first the British and then the Dutch soldiers. Many of them bought a wood carving as a souvenir of their time in Indonesia or as a gift for relatives in the Netherlands.
At that time, high-quality Janger busts were still being made. The height (38,5 cm), openwork crown and ‘topless pose’ are also typical of this period. Pre-war busts from the 1930s have a closed crown and are smaller in size, showing only the shoulders without the breasts. Post-50s busts are usually larger and more elaborately decorated, but lack the refined facial expression of the early Janger busts.
Flirtatious group dance
Janger is a flirtatious youth group dance that was very popular in the 1930s. The dance begins with a tableau vivant and a welcoming song. This is followed by twelve male dancers (kecak) who perform an elaborate routine; when finished, they sit in two rows of six facing each other, and a female group (janger) enters and sings a traditional folk song and perform a slower dance with an emphasis on fluid, undulating, arm movements. When finished they form two lines of six, with the male dancers forming a boundary around the playing area. This opening is followed by a drama, which usually concerns some sort of domestic theme. See below the original footage of Janger dance from 1933.