Learning Jemparingan, the ancient Javanese art of archery


The sound of drums and trumpets echoes around the ancient walls of Kamandungan field, located within the Sultan’s Palace in Yogyakarta.

At the edge of the field stand more than a hundred people equipped with bows and arrows made of wood and bamboo. They are all decked out in traditional Javanese attire, complete with iket (head cover) and jarik (cloth for the lower body), rather than modern sportswear.

A number of these men line up, sitting in a seemingly comfortable cross-legged position. Simultaneously, they take aim at small sticks, releasing a barrage of hundreds of arrows. Of this barrage, though, no more than six hit the mark.

Such marksmanship might not win them medals, but at least these enthusiasts are playing their part in preserving the ancient Javanese archery art known as Jemparingan.

In the past, Jemparingan was an activity for the elite and the nobility. It became popular at the palace of Pakualaman duchy, and, in the 1960s, outgrew its exclusivity to become a public sport for the local community.

The Jemparingan tournament that The Jakarta Post Travel attended was a celebration of the anniversary of the Langenastro archery fraternity, which fell on May 3. The event was attended by 104 participants from Yogyakarta, Klaten and Surakarta.

Jemparingan is not just a regular pastime for locals; it is also a life lesson, according to the secretary of the Langenastro fraternity, Hafiz Priyotomo. Manah is a Javanese word with two meanings: archery and heart, and Jemparingan is as much an exercise for the soul as it is for the body.

Hafiz explained that the process of loading, aiming and firing in Jemparingan needed patience, good concentration and focus. Jemparingan teaches people about sincerity, sportsmanship, hard work and to focus on one’s goal instead of one’s rivals.

As you practice Jemparingan, others are also shooting arrows around you at their own target. The target is a bandul, a small stick about 30 centimeters in length and 3 cm in diameter and made of straws coated with rubber and sponge. Bandul are painted white color on the lower section, known as the awak (body), and a red at the stick’s head, the sirah (head).

If an archer hits the red part of the bandul, he scores three points; the white part gets one point. The bandul is placed as far as 30-33 meters from the position of the archer, and hung as high as 160 cm from ground level to the top of the bandul.

Every time an arrow strikes the bandul, a bende (small gong) is rung. After all the arrows have been fired, an officer raises a flag to signify that the field is safe to traverse. The archers come forward to take their own arrows, while evaluating their shots.

Daily Jemparingan practices held by the Langenastro fraternity can be found at Sasono Jemparingan, Jl. Langensastran Kidul No. 6 Panembahan Kraton, which is located on the east side of the south square of Yogyakarta palace. The practice is open to the public, and tourists who want to try their hands at Jemparingan can contact the fraternity.