Anggara Mahendra

Cokek the Entertainer

in 1940's, cokek was an entertainment only for the privilege of upper middle class people among the Cina Benteng (Ethnic Chinese living in Benteng area), Tangerang, Banten. Nowadays, everybody can get entertained by the singers-dancers due to an adaptation process as an impact of both modernisation and a revocation of the ban against Chinese cultural practices stipulated through a Presidential Instruction No. 14 in the year 1967 during the New Order era. 

The term cokek is originated from a Chinese Hokkian dialect, namely chiou-khek. Chiou means to sing, and Khek means a certain kind of song in Hokkian culture. This art form, which is a combination of Betawi (native Jakarta) and Chinese culture, is always performed with gambang kromong group of a musical accompaniment. 

A cokek sings various Dalem songs (whose lyrics in a form of rhyming poem in Malay) and Sayur songs (sung to accompany jogged dance). Back then, cokek was one of the social status symbols for ethnic Chinese leaders, preventing nobodies from making a pass at any cokek

This Cina Benteng entertainment has remained existed up to now, yet it has evolved into a new form. Gaming Kromong musical group and cokeks find their new stage when they entertain people in a wedding hall (a rental hall for ciotao  or a wedding reception in Cina Benteng tradition).

Meanwhile, Herlina Syarifudin, a film director, a script writer and theater artist, tries to portray the story of cokek in a monologue titled "Tumbal Dewi Cokek" or "The Charm of Cokek Goddess".

"I tend to be interested in any traditional art now in the brink of extinction caused by the changing of time and influences of foreign culture. At least, I could record it as part of my artistic journey in a theater world and to retell the story to our children and grandchildren," said Herlina, who dedicates her work to the late Mak Masnah, a cokek maestro who died at the age 90s in 2014.