When it comes to West Papuan arts, there are lots of examples. Whether it is a dance, a musical instrument, or another artwork like painting, each is unique. Each represents the beauty of West Papua.
This province is also rich with a lot of traditional dances. One of them is called Suanggi dance. How enchanting is this dance?
The Background of Suanggi Dance
This West Papuan traditional dance is strongly bonded with the Western Papuan tribes’ spiritual beliefs. For starters, the word Suanggi itself means “an evil spirit which still roams the earth with the purpose for revenge”. Due to some unfinished business, they may have while still living on earth.
There is a story in this traditional dance, though. Suanggi tells a tale of a lonely man’s bereft after the death of his beloved wife as a Suanggi woman. The popular version of the back story is that the wife is a Suanggi woman because she has died from giving birth to a baby.
The evil spirit called ‘Suanggi’ often shows up and possesses any living woman in the tribe. Because of this, the possessed woman is gifted – or perhaps cursed – with some black magic power. Suanggi uses this power to cause harm and disaster around it. Suanggi always targets the people it dislikes, especially those harming the environment.
The scariest part of Suanggi’s power is that it can kill people. If a woman gets possessed by Suanggi, then the elders in the tribe will try to find out about the woman and order each tribe member to kill her. Once she dies, they will cut her open to search for any proof of Suanggi’s existence within. For example, two biles in the body instead of one. That is the story of how the Suanggi dance was first done.
Suanggi dance is one of the most important identities regarding the West Papuan arts. If it is forgotten, then West Papua will lose its identity.
When Is The Suanggi Dance Performed?
As enchanting and magical as it is, Suanggi dance is not for a public performance. This dance is only performed when someone dies in the tribe. In the book called “70 Unique Traditions in Indonesian Tribes” (or “70 Tradisi Unik Suku Bangsa di Indonesia”) by Fitri Haryani, this dance is a form of expression for people in West Papua. They still believe in the existence of magical and spiritual entities.
According to the Minister of Education and Cultures of The Indonesian Republic (Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan Republik Indonesia), this dance mostly has the purpose of exorcising evil spirits. Still, it is not accurate to call them ‘evil’, since they are somewhat different from the usual evil spirits. Suanggi only has some unfinished business left to deal on earth.
Through the ritual in Suanggi dance, the restless spirit is urged to leave with the promise that they will get help to finish their businesses on earth. Once the promise is kept, the spirit usually leaves the body it once inhabits.
If the original back story behind this dance involves killing the unfortunate possessed woman, then the dance nowadays is a safer ritual. It is not for public consumption because it is only performed as part of a funeral procession. The dancers are all West Papuan men. They all wear traditional outfits that, of course, women cannot wear.
If you are curious about watching this West Papuan traditional dance, it might be difficult as an outsider. Unless you are part of the deceased’s family or someone gave direct access to watch by the deceased’s family, then you will never get to see what Suanggi dance is really about.