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Jakarta Post

Arts festival champions Jenes River conservation

Tue, September 12, 2017   /   01:38 pm
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    Three men walk along the riverbanks of the brackish Jenes River, which has been polluted by chemical waste from nearby batik factories. Batik is the main source of livelihood for Surakarta’s Laweyan village, renowned for its sogan batik. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    Baron Cilik’s central field witnesses a stage being assembled ahead of the inaugural Jener River Festival, which was held to raise environmental awareness on conserving the river. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    Baron Cilik children express joy at their new library, which was set up as part of the Jener River Festival. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    The festival’s guests and visitors walk along a riverbank path lit with lamps to reach the Jenes River Festival venue, coming face-to- face with the polluted river. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    The inaugural Jenes River Festival opened on Aug. 23 with Baron Cilik children chanting salawat, a song that praises the Prophet Muhammad. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    During the festival’s pre-event activities, the walls of Baron Cilik kampong were painted with environmental murals, including the illustration of a frog protesting the polluted condition of the river. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    Guest musician Fay Ehsan taps out a song during the Jenes River Festival. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    Malinke’s percussion performance enlivens the festival. JP/Stefanus Ajie

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    Victory Voice, in collaboration with Malinke, belted out songs of the independence struggle, along with Javanese tunes. JP/Stefanus Ajie

Laweyan village has been famous throughout the decades for its batik, not only in Surakarta, but also among domestic and foreign tourists. There, visitors can easily find the Javanese
batik sogan – which derives from the word soga, the local name for the yellow flamboyant (Peltophorum pterocarpum), which is used for coloring. Featuring classical to contemporary
motifs, the price of sogan batik ranges from several thousand rupiah and into the millions.

A residential hub of batik businessmen and merchants, the village is not far from the grand houses built in the Classical Javanese architectural style.
Laweyan village is home to Baron Cilik kampong, which runs alongside the Jenes River.

Filled with rows of small houses, the kampong features crisscrossing alleyways and a small field at its center, which serves as a public space.

It is ironic that the Jenes River has been badly polluted by the waste from batik production, the main source of livelihood in Laweyan. Its water has turned brackish, plastic waste hangs
from the unhealthy-looking bamboo trees along its banks and a foul stench permeates the area. The pollution has also seeped into the local artesian wells, whose waters are so
contaminated that it cannot be consumed.

The situation has prompted Suryadi “Plenthe” Nugroho, a young artist who grew up in the area, to establish an event as a wakeup call to all local stakeholders on the importance of
conserving the local environment. Plenthe noticed on every visit home that the river where he had once played had shrunk, the pollution had worsened, and that no local solution
seemed forthcoming to combat the dire conditions.

He recalled good childhood memories of the river, where he and his friends had once swum, fished and caught turtles among the rocks in its shallows. Long before then, the tributary of
the Solo River was a thriving trade route, along which Laweyan batik made its way downriver to the major port and onward to other trading destinations.

As a conservation campaign to restore and protect the river, Plenthe thus created the Jenes River Festival with the support of Baron Cilik residents to urge the Jenes River community –including local administrations and the textile industry – to conserve the river, to stop throwing trash into the river and to regreen the riverbanks with native vegetation.

The festival kicked off with a series of pre-event activities, including cleaning the riverbanks, painting murals with environmental themes, establishing a children’s library and several
competitions. It also included activities to raise awareness that humanity, nature and the environment were intertwined in the practice of religious faiths.

The peak of the Jenes River Festival was Aug. 23, when organizers set up a stage in the kampong’s central field and the alleys of Baron Cilik were lit up with lamps made ofrepurposed plastic bottles. Visitors and guests had to pass along the riverbanks and face the badly polluted river on the way to the festival venue.

The festival was opened by dozens of children chanting salawat, followed by performances of a variety of musical genres, from keroncong to jazz, and from hardcore to traditional. The
festival’s guest stars were Michelle Kuhnle and Fay Ehsan, the finalists of a TV talent show.

The event concluded with a performance from Plenthe himself, playing percussion to the accompaniment of fireworks.

Aside from the festival’s success, the best news came afterward, when the Surakarta representatives council invited Baron Cilik residents to discuss real steps and actions to
conserve the Jenes River’s environment. The festival has also garnered the support of the Surakarta government, which plans to include the Jenes River Festival in its annual
program. [yan]