(English) THE 8TH ASIAN GRADUATE FORUM ON SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES, SINGAPORE (22 – 26 JULY 2013) O r g a n i s e d b y A s i a R e s e a r c h I n s t i t u t e , N a t i o n a l U n i v e r s i t y o f S i n g a p o r e Held at Faculty of Law, Block B Level 4, 469 Bukit Timah Road, National University of Singapore @ Bukit Timah Campus


Salman Alfarisi

Udayana University, Indonesia



Lombok Island is part of West Nusa Tenggara Province, located in eastern Indonesia. The majority of its population is Muslims adherents who belong to the Sasak ethnic group. One of the outstanding characteristics of Sasak people is their zeal for building big and expensive mosques and madrassas in every village. For the Sasak community, those buildings symbolize their religious unity, economic level, and social status. These characteristics are mainly due to the influence of Tuan Gurus.

Tuan Gurus play a major role in developing Islamic religious teachings in the Sasak society. However, it can be said that Sasak people do not have a particular Tuan Guru who holds the strongest influence in the entire of Lombok Island. That is to say that the influence of each Tuan Guru in Lombok Island is further limited to his own hometown, organization, and community. For instance, a Tuan Guru who is influential in western Lombok does not necessarily hold the same influence in, say, eastern Lombok.

Besides being devout in Islamic teachings, Sasak people still maintain traditional customs and cultural values. This is one factor why Sasak people can accept any form of emerging art, including the Ale-ale art. However, in the context of Ale-ale art, its acceptance carries a special meaning precisely because of its being contrary to Islamic values.

The influence of Tuan Gurus on the Sasak society and public acceptance of the Ale-ale art are two different realities. In other words, if Tuan Gurus chose to assert their influence to ban the Ale-ale in Lombok, the art would not thrive among the Sasak people. However, the fact shows that this art continues to flourish, even gain much popularity.

Is the confined nature of Tuan Gurus’ influence to their respective organizational backgrounds and residence areas has made them unable to control or prevent the proliferation of the Ale-ale art in Lombok? Is the Ale-ale art a new social phenomenon in the Sasak society? Clearly, the emergence of Ale-ale art cannot be viewed as a simple social issue. Moreover, because “the art could not be separated from the society” (Umar Kayam, 1993: 7), the artists who created the Ale-ale art cannot be separated from their social situation. “Every artwork was influenced by any situations which are related to the creation process” (Bramantyo, 1999: 162). In this context, the artist is an interpreter of the situation that can be compared with an intellectual. “Intellectual world is nearer to an artist’s life than an academic’s life” (2011: 36). Moreover, Ale-ale brought certain messages and great influences on the Sasak society. John Dewey said that art is the process of creativity, involving action and desire (in Eaton, 2010: 19). The fact that Ale-ale art can appear among the Sasak people in the context of strong Islaming teachings and the powerful religious influence of Tuan Gurus is an important reason why this paper discusses Ale-ale.


This section will discuss the elements in Ale-ale arts, such as music, dance, and audience. The Ale-ale art first appeared in Lombok in early 2000. So far, the creator of this art remains unknown. However, almost all Ale-ale artists would agree that the word “ale-ale” came into existence through a song called “Ale-ale”. This song was written and sung by a very famous woman artist in Lombok named Jamilah Adiningrat. Written in Sasak language, the song appeared among Sasak people in 1999. Not long after that, the Ale-ale art soon appeared in western Lombok.

Picture 1: Ale-ale musicians are sitting in a circle of audience with their musical instruments.

The artists who are involved in an Ale-ale performance consist of music players, singers, and dancers. The music players consists of two or three persons as gendang players, three persons as rincik players, one person as a gong player, a person as a seruling player, and a person as a keyboard player. Thus, the instruments in an Ale-ale performance consist of gendang, rincik, gong, wooden flute (seruling), and keyboard. There cannot be only a singer, but at least two or three singers. The singer is usually women, but if a man singer appears, he is only a complement. The same with singers, the number of dancers must also be more than one. There are usually two to four dancers. Because there are always more than one dancers and singers, they often switch duties. When one performer becomes the singer, the other acts as the dancer, or the other way around. When the dancer feels tired or when the audiences want to see another dancer, the singer and the dancer may swith roles. Therefore, it is essential that both performers have the abilities of singing and dancing.

The singers and dancers should be young women. There is no special requirement to become a singer or a dancer. They do not have to have beautiful faces, sexy bodies, or nice voices; they do not have to be single either. The only requirement seem to be their ability to get attention from the audience. The most important thing is that they can do anything as nicely as possible, especially when they are dancing. The audiences do not really see their beauty, but their bodies. This is especially true for the singers, who sing at the back of the stage, because the audience will just pay their attention to the dancers.

In general, the dancers and singers must be very experienced. Most of them have the experiences of being jangger, joget, and gandrung dancers for some years, so they have gained popularity among the local people. One of these dancers is Har. She is a dancer who is already famous in the society, and she even had many fans as a joget dancer, despite her status as a widower in her twenties. When she was still studying at elementary school, she became a joget dancer and acquired many fans. Har said that she chose to become an Ale-ale dancer because she felt bored of becoming a joget dancer. She does not like to be bound by certain roles which are usually found in joget, gandrung, and jangger dances. She could touch her body to her male dance partner or let her body touched when she danced. Besides that, she gets a bigger salary when she becomes an Ale-ale dancer. She thought that, by doing that, the audiences will feel more satisfied and thus are willing to give more money. Generally, the Ale-ale was performed at ngawinan1 ceremonies or other ceremonies except funerals, so the Ale-ale can serve purely as a form of entertainment. Ale-ale was performed in the afternoon and in the evening. In the evening, Ale-ale show starts at 09.00 pm until 02.00 am, or depends on the agreement between the audience and the Ale-ale artists. When they agree to stop faster, the performance will also stop faster. In the evening, Ale-ale is performed in an arena with the audience formed a circle and Ale-ale was at its central. The distance between the audience and the performers is very close, so the audience and the performers can interact with each other at any time. The audience of Ale-ale consists of men and women of any age; anyone can watch it.

Picture 2: The audience forms a circle very close to the Ale-ale performers in a performance held in a frontyard as a part of a ngawinan ceremony.

The circle of audience consist of some groups: the first group sitting in the front circle was ready to dance with the Ale-ale dancer. The audience of this first group consists of only men, not only young men but also old men. They even come with their grandchildren. The second group consists of audicence who are still reluctant to dance, but are willing to dance when they are asked to. They will not complaint when they are not asked to dance by the dancer. The third group is kinder because they consist of men and women, the old ones as well as children. They usually crowd without leaving any space. There are usually no police to arrange their position because all audience already understand that they come to watch Ale-ale. Although some audiences did lose their money, they would not address the problem on the spot for fear of disturbing the Ale-ale show. The last group was the people who come to the venue with a variety of purposes, such as for selling things like snacks and drinks, having a date with their boy/girlfriends, gambling, drinking tuak (a traditional alcoholic drink), or only watching the Ale-ale performance.

The Ale-ale performance in the afternoon was usually held at 03.00 pm or 04.00 pm until the performance finishes or before Maghrib time. In the afternoon, the performance is like a carnival that conveys ngawinan ceremony in the Sasak society that was called nyongkolan. In this context, the audience of Ale-ale more varies because this performance was shown on the main road, so that anyone can see it. The performance is held for three hours or more, accompanying a marriage procession for four to five kilometers. It is performed continuously without breaks except when the song is changed for some space of time.

The Ale-ale performance is held only when the host of the ngawinan ceremony invites one of Ale-ale groups. The amount of money paid to an Ale-ale group depends on their agreement with the host. The payment depends on how popular the Ale-ale group is, or how many star dancers star are in the group. However, the minimum payment that they receive is 500.000 (in Rupiah). This minimum payment is usually charged because the hosts are usualy the performer’s family members or friends. In this case, Surif said the amount of money that they received depends on the situation. Even though the host is a family member or a friend, they still have this important requirement: as long as it is not free. The standard payment is Rp1,000,000. If the venue is relatively far, the fee is between Rp 1,500,000 and Rp 2,000,000.

Even though Ale-ale is performed in an arena, there is no required position for music players and dancers. They communicate with their audience who were watching in a dim light. It is often for the dancers and singers to change their costumes at the venue when hosts do not provide a special room for them to change their costumes. The audience is not disturbed by the scene of performers changing their costumes because they come to watch the performance, not the dancers changing their costumes. The usual arena for an Ale-ale performance can be provided in the host’s frontyard, but it can also be set in a larger area.

The performance starts with a singer singing a song to gather the audiences. After that, the dancer comes to the arena to dance. This session was used by the dancer to do a kind of warming-up, including spotting potential audiences who will be first invited. After the dancer successfully gets the audience’s interest, she will then invite the audience to join the dance by touching him and inviting him to dance. Then, if the chosen audience directly goes to the arena, it means that he accepts the invitation to dance. The accepting audience is called pengibing.

Pengibing has a chance to ask a song to music players. Pengibing also has the authority in the arena where Ale-ale is performed. It means that, pengibing can dance as he likes. This time, the dancer and pengibing are in the arena and they become the center of attention. They are free to choose the dance style and the audiences are also free to give their response. They dance in accordance to the music. Generally, the music used in Ale-ale performances is a disco music, so that the pengibing and dancer can express their dance. At this time, the pengibing moves closer to the dancer during the performance.


Picture 3: The scene of an Ale-ale dancer and her pengibing which resembles a sexual intercourse.

Such action can be seen when the pengibing and the dancer express themselves. The pengibing can also use this chance to kiss, touch, and tightly hold the dancer’s body; he even can touch the dancer’s private parts. Sometimes the dancer and the pengibing even dislpays various movements that really look like sexual positions. Sometimes the pengibing can move behind the dancer and perform a movement that resembles a particular love-making position; the dancer bends her body foward while keeps dancing, and then the pengibing plays his role from behind by pressing her hip to his crotch while dancing. Once in a while, they are facing each other, and make another movement similar to a love-making position. If the dancer and the pengibing cannot control themselves, they may even kiss each other. Nevertheless, the dancer is always smart enough to maintain a safe distance with the pengibing. Like a profesional dancer, the Ale-ale dancer must be able to satisfy the pengibing, so she must give her total service during the performance.

The Ale-ale dancer makes effort to let herself if the pengibing is too drunk and loses his control. However, she sometimes cannot, because the first task of the dancer is to satisfy the pengibing. For that, the Ale-ale dancer must be brave and have the abilities to make the pengibing satisfied. More intimate actions may happen if the dancer likes the pengibing because he has a good look or wiling to give more payment to the dancer.


Picture 4: One of the movements similar to love-making position when the pengibing mov behind the dancer

The performance that triggers a man’s lust occurs for three or four minutes, during the performance. After that, the pengibing gives some money to the dancer. In general, the pengibing gives money to the dancer when they dance, of course with any kind of way and style. Usually the money is bitten and the dancer takes that money with her mouth in order to give the pengibing a chance to kiss the dancer. The money is also put in the pocket of his trousers so that to make the dancer’s hand touches his private area. This style was fixed by the abilities and creativities of the pengibing, and the dancer is very smart to respond it. The pengibing does it to get more chance to dance with the dancer. Besides that, the pengibing wants to indicate to the audience that he is able to give more money than the others. All the money given by the pengibing absolutely becomes the dancer’s. Because of that, there are two income sources of an Ale-ale dancer. The first is from the leader of her Ale-ale group and the second is from the pengibing. The arena cannot be dominates by one pengibing only, because every audience had the same authority to become a pengibing.

During the dance, the audiences enjoy the performance and give their respond through words or happiness. When the love-making dance happens, the audiences are laughing, so the dancer and the pengibing feel free to do the erotic dance. It is not unusual to see a woman permitting her husband to become a pengibing although the action is like two persons making love. There even was a woman asking the dancer to invite her husband to be the dancer’s pengibing. Besides that, a father gave money to his son to become a pengibing, or the son asks money to his father to become a pengibing. This view is very usual in this performance because it is free for them to express themselves as long as they do not create any disturbance. The dancer, pengibing, and audiences have the same purpose, that is to entertain themselves.

Besides that, other thing that can be seen around the Ale-ale performance is people drinking tuak. Half of the audiences and artists of Ale-ale do the same thing. This tuak is usually provided by the host. The audiences can also buy tuak around the venue of Ale-ale performance. Sanusi said that there is actually no regulation for drinking tuak before the performances. He also never read the regulation about the prohibition of drinking tuak. Sanusi is sure that in this case, it depends on each person. Ale-ale performances at afternoon time do not include any pengibing. It is because the performance is held on the street, so that the audiences can go together without being invited by the dancer Ale-ale. They could dance according to the music of Ale-ale. The form of the dance is not changed. It means that the erotic dance still exists in that performance. In this afternoon performance, the Ale-ale artists pass mosques and Islamic boarding schools without changing the form their erotic dance and without stopping the music. The children can also join this performance without being prohibited by their parents or the society.

When the carnival nyongkolan stops for several times, it can be seen the audiences are the children from elementary until senior high school. In this case, the women who wear hoods and the people who have the title Haji follow to watch the carnival nyongkolan. This situation emerges as a social paradox in the Sasak society. On the one side, the Ale-ale performance can be called a controversial art; on the other side, the Sasak society does not refuse this art. It is forbidden at the higher level of the Sasak society, but it does not influence the response of the society to this art. In other words, if the the Sasak society says that this art is unlawful, this art will break up. In reality, the reaction of the Sasak society to the Ale-ale is welcome. In this point of view, the Ale-ale “develops and moves as a conscious and a not absolutely conscious custom” (Mutahir, 2011: 57-758). More about this will be discussed in the next part.

When we talk about the phenomenon of Ale-ale, we cannot avoid the effect emerging in the the Sasak society. However, that effect is not understood as a big problem for the Sasak society. If any, it was only considered as a bad entertainment. It can be considered as the result of the society’s low control. The control could be exerised through formal institutions like Islamic schools or custom institutions.

This problem arises when elementary school children become the audiences of Ale-ale and join the dance with Ale-ale dancers. This suggests a low social control and education, as well as the transformation of the Sasak society in the form of drinking tuak. It is not only in Ale-ale performances. This will be discussed in the next part.



This section discusses Tuan Guru’s reactions to the Ale-ale art. In Lombok, there are many Tuan Gurus. Normally, they are highly educated in Islamic teachings. Each Tuan Guru’s level is in accordance with his scope of teaching and influence on their communities and local area in which they live. If his congregation has a very limited number of members, his position is considered to be lower than that of another Tuan Guru who is, for instance, a chairman of a big Islamic organization, an owner of many Islamic boarding schools, or an Imam for thousands or even millions of adherents.

The influence of a Tuan Guru affects the prestige of any fatwa he issues. For example, a Tuan Guru who has little influence cannot assert his fatwa on all Sasak people, while another Tuan Guru who has a bigger influence can assert his fatwas more effectively; most Sasak people will accept his fatwas without question.

As has been mentioned before, as a majority group in Lombok Island, the Sasak people are known as religiously Islamic. The island is called “The Island of a Thousand Mosques” (Pulau Sribu Masjid) and is renowned for its many Islamic boarding schools (pondok pesantren) which can be found in every village. Such villages have tens to hundreds of citizens who have conducted their hajj pilgrimage (haji). These are the real indicators of the the Sasak society’s religiosity as Muslims. The key idea in this part is the reasons why the allegedly Islamic Sasak society can be so open towards the Ale-ale art. Moreover, they does not seem care if Ale-ale will give bad effect on the young generation of Sasak society. A deeper analysis about this topic will be discussed in the third chapter.

The issue becomes more and more interesting if the Ale-ale is related to Tuan Gurus. Therefore, the basic question shown in this part is “why can Ale-ale art appear and develop very fast?” This question becomes more important because “Tuan Gurus are known to have a big power and dominance in the Sasak society. This mean that they are able to act as social stabilisers and mediators during periods of tension in local communities” (Kingsley, 2010: iii). The statement means that with the strength and dominance, Tuan Gurus can control every development which has bad impacts to the the Sasak society, including the Ale-ale art. Nevertheless, the Ale-ale art grows very fast and the Sasak society receives it openly.


Picture 5: One of the most influencial Tuan Gurus in Lombok is delivering his sermon. He is Dr. TGKH. Muh. Zainul Majdi, MA., who is now the incumbent Governor of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).

The question above arises the next question: “how do Tuan Gurus enforce their control system within the Sasak society?” This question arises from an idea that, if the controversial Ale-ale can grow in the Sasak society, the control system has to be questioned. Is the control system only used in Tuan Guru’s circle or used in the whole Sasak society, which include the people who do not fall within one of Tuan Guru’s circles? If the system control works for all, the Ale-ale art must not grow that fast. Nevertheless, in some social practices, Tuan Guru’s control is very absolute. “Tuan Gurus are pivotal religious, social and political leaders…..They are the most influential category of non-state actors” (Kingsley, 2010: 78).

Whatever Tuan Gurus say is considered as their congregation’s collective attitude. In other words, if Tuan Gurus prohibit Ale-ale, the whole congregation will follow them without question. However, the social control can only be applied through religious speech and Muslim boarding schools after which there is no continuous and measurable control system. The system, therefore, only touches the most basic of Sasak problem. In other words, Tuan Gurus are just an “ivory tower”, but their congregation are basically free to do whatever they want to do. That is why the focus of this section is not about how Tuan Gurus control the Sasak society, because, in fact, Ale-ale has been spread throughout Lombok Island. The focus of this section is Tuan Gurus’ reaction, and. ahich part of Ale-ale looks controversial in their perspective?

So far, it is not easy to get Tuan Guru’s fixed opinion on Ale-ale. It happens because not all of Tuan Gurus know the growth and development of Ale-ale art. If Tuan Gurus open themselves to various information, then it is possible that he can get information about Ale-ale. However, based on facts, it is certain that they have not got any information about Ale-ale art yet.

Furthermore, because this is about Tuan Gurus and Ale-ale, the next question is how Tuan Gurus get the information about Ale-ale? As a central figure of Islam in Lombok, it is surely impossible for Tuan Guru to attend an Ale-ale performance directly in its location and become an active audience. This question can be resolved if Tuan Gurus get the information from one of his followers. Although his follower is not an active audience, he might be living in the same village with some other people who have already watched Ale-ale for many times. He may also have watched Ale-ale from CDs sold widely and openly in local markets. Moreover, there are some followers of Tuan Gurus living in a village actively involved in Ale-ale art.

Concerning the above issue, this part reports the result of interviews with Tuan Gurus about their knowledge about Ale-ale and their comments on Ale-ale based on information they got from their congregation, not from their own observation. Different Tuan Gurus gave different reactions: hard, mild, and even unclear. What is clear is that they all agree that Ale-ale is controversial.

TGH2. M. Yusuf Ma’mun, the Rector of Ma’had Darul Qur’an wal Hadits (MDQH) Nahdlatul Wathan/NW3 in Pancor area, East Lombok, for example, showed a hard reaction. He expressly said that Ale-ale art could not be accepted in Lombok. He further told some history of Tuan Gurus going against devious forms of art, which were in defiance of Islam There arts were considered as being able to alienate the society from Islam which has been around for centuries. He stated that playing a flute was even considered as a devious act, and that Tuan Gurus once prohibited people to play a flute.

TGH. M. Yusuf M’mun’s statement above shows the consistent attitude Tuan Gurus have in their struggle in “straightening” the Sasak society’s religious attitude. Even, The routine Islam sermons delivered directly by Tuan Gurus and the founders of Islamic education institutions supported by Tuan Guru are aimed to oppose any art which they believed being contrary to Islam. For example, the gamelan music was changed into Islamic music like qasidah. As expressed by TGH. M. Yusuf Ma’mun, such pattern of adapting Islamic customs to the local Sasak culture has already in operation for ages, and this is one of the good ways to improve the Sasak society’s religiosity. Of course Tuan Guru will never consider arts such as Ale-ale as a means of reconverting Lombok into Islam.

From the above cases, the strong attitude of TGH. M. Yusuf Ma’mun can be understood as his proper attitude, because of his duty and responsibility as a Tuan Guru. However, TGH. M. Yusuf Ma’mun also said that such control is no longer relevant to the current Sasak society which is already open to globalization; he personally looked this as an opportunity as well as a challenge. It means that access to information about things in compliance and in contradiction with Islam teachings are similarly easy and fast. That is why, for TGH. M. Yusuf Ma’mun, Tuan Guru’s social control cannot just be seen as dominance, because it seems to be in contradiction with the Sasak society today. However, regarding Ale-ale, TGH. M. Yusuf Ma’mun kept his firm opinion. Ale-ale runs counter to Islamic teachings. In this situation, he advised his followers not to watch Ale-ale.

The same reaction was given by TGH. Nasrulloh Ma’sum, a lecturer at Ma’had Darul Qur’an wal Hadits (MDQH) NW in Pancor area, East Lombok. He said that the art violates Islam in three different ways. First, its dancers move their bodies so as to arouse its audience’s sexual desire. Second, it shows improper and impolite attitudes from Islamic perspective to the public. Third, it involves touching between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. Although TGH. Nasrulloh Ma’sum stated the three violations in Ale-ale, he preferred to see this problem proportionately. He clarified that Ale-ale may contradict Islamic teachings, but directly banning Ale-ale will trigger bad impacts on local social system. He believed that Tuan Guru’s function is not to disturb societies’ social system, but to straighten the societies.

Furthermore, TGH. Nasrulloh Ma’sum revealed that Tuan Gurus cannot control all aspects of the society. They have the autonomy to create their own social system. Because of that, Tuan Guru tried to use Islamic education institutions and Islamic discussion groups (pengajian). Hopefully, this more educated group can judge what is good or bad for their lives. In Ale-ale context, Tuan Gurus cannot stop an Ale-ale performance because they are also aware that a lot of Sasak people love that art. Because of that, Tuan Gurus’ reaction has to seen from the effectiveness of his sermons to their congregation about the violation in religion’s  through Ale-ale. In other word, Tuan Guru is not a super body. Reducing Ale-ale’s growth in his own community can rightly be seen as a strong indicator of Tuan Guru’s rejection of Ale-ale.

Furthermore, TGH. Nasrulloh Ma’sum saw that Ale-ale has build its own system, and Tuan Guru cannot control the thought and creativity of the Sasak society all the time, because not all Tuan Gurus hold the same degree of influence on the Sasak society and live in exactly the same area. That is why the general Islamic discussion forums and the spreading of madrasah (Islamic schools) in almost every village are aimed to build a defense system or a social sensor system for themselves. For example, Tuan Gurus have been firm in disassociating Ale-ale from Islam. Then, the society must be able to deal with these differing opinions and judge what is best for themselves.