The Lion Dance brings good fortune

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THE ethnic Chinese in Indonesia always welcome Chinese New Year with festivity. Aside from ang pao (red envelopes containing money) they also look forward to lion and dragon dance performances. The movements in these two dances are indeed beautiful, and it is believed these two dances can ward off negative energy and bring good luck to the owner of the place where the dances are performed. In addition, it is a pleasant experience for children to give their red envelop to the lion or the dragon.

The lion dance has been deeply rooted in China for thousands of years. The first historical evidence of this dance can be found in records of the Chin Dynasty, about the third century BC. Slowly this dance developed into two major lion dance schools, namely the Northern Lion and the Southern Lion. To laymen, the differences in these two “lions” are discernible from their appearance.

The lion in the Northern Lion Dance closely resembles the lion that we know. The head is round with long hair on its neck and the animal looks more friendly. The movement of the dance is inspired by the movement of the agile and dynamic Pekingese.

The Chinese believe that a Pekingese symbolizes a guarding lion as the shape of this dog resembles that of a lion. Sometimes, in a dance performance, the Northern Lion appears as one family: two adult lions and two young lions. They play just like a family of lions. On the other hand, the Southern Lion is depicted as an animal with a lion’s head. It has two horns and the skin is scaled. The movement of the Southern Lion is very explosive following the pounding sound of the drum. When the accompanying musical instruments are played, the head will follow this sound with a pouncing movement or the movement of hitting the wind strongly.

There is one kind of lion dance that is rarely seen in Jakarta. This type is called Kie Lin. Reportedly, this particular lion dance has very strong magical power for certain wishes, such as a request for rain. In Greater Jakarta, only Bogor municipality has a Kie Lin. The owner of this Kie Lin Dance is a Chinese martial art school called Persatuan Gerak Badan (PGB) Bangau Putih (White Stork Physical Exercise Association).

Although performances of the Kie Lien Dance are not often seen, at least we can see it when it escorts the sedan chairs of the gods from Vihara Dhanagun or Hok Tek Bio during Cap Go Meh, a celebration marking the end of the two-week period of the Lunar New Year.

The origin of Kie Lin can be traced back to a Chinese legend about four sacred animals that protect and maintain the balance on the Chinese mainland. They are Feng Huang, the phoenix, Gui Xian, the turtle, Long Wang, the dragon and Kie Lin, the unicorn. This unicorn is not the same as seen in Western fairytales.

The Chinese depict Kie Lin as a combination of 18 animals. The head, the mane, the beard and the mouth represent those of a lion. The body is that of a horse but it is scaled like the body of a fish. The eyes protrude like those of a crab and the cheeks are like those of a snake. The horn on the head has two branches like the horns of a deer. The tail of a Kie Lin resembles the short and sharp-pointed tail of a turtle. The front legs of a Kie Lin represent those of an eagle and a deer while its rear legs represent those of a tiger and a water buffalo. In the lion dance, the color of Kie Lin can be taken from the color of the five elements of earth, red (soil), green (sky), blue (water) or orange (mountain).

In our imagination, this animal is terrifying but according to the Chinese legend, this animal is very gentle and kind. To the Chinese, Kie Lin symbolizes the purity of the heart and love for all creatures. This symbol is manifested in the movement of the Kie Lin dance: gentle, light, flowing and firm. It is true that to some people, a lion dance performance can bring good fortune, while for others is simply very interesting to watch. Although this tradition originates from outside, today the lion dance tradition has become part of the culture in this country. So, it is only proper for us to preserve it. (Andreas Setiadi Sanusi)

The Jakarta Post, January 20, 2009