Bambang Muryanto, Contributor, Yogyakarta
Late one Saturday afternoon, a horse-drawn carriage gracefully emerged from a mansion somewhere in Kotabaru, Yogyakarta.
Two “”high-ranking court servants”” in full Javanese costume sat in the front, driving the carriage. Another stood at the rear, holding a tall umbrella.
The carriage proceeded slowly down the road in Kota Baru. All the way, onlookers attentively followed its progress. But who were the three people in the carriage?
One of them, sitting right next to the coachman, had pronounced North Asian features. He was holding a kebud, an instrument made from the hair of a horse’s tail, which is used to shake off dust.
While the carriage clanked along, he received a greeting from some people who knew him. Was he really a high-ranking court servant? No. He is, however, a well-known businessman in Yogyakarta, none other than Hamzah Hendro Sutiknow, who owns Mirota Batik, a famous outlet for batik cloth and a variety of traditional handicraft products.
Hamzah is known to be in close contact with traditional artists in Yogyakarta. He often participates in ketoprak, a type of traditional Javanese play. Recently, together with some of Yogyakarta’s leading traditional artists, he starred in a ketoprak performance that was one of the highlights of the Yogyakarta Arts Festival.
In the play, he assumed the role of an emban, a female servant. “”I was given the role because it was the easiest one to play and also because I’m already old,”” said Hamzah, who is of Chinese descent.
Late every Saturday afternoon, if he has the time, Hamzah travels round the city in his horse-drawn carriage. He starts from his house and goes to the tourist strip along Jl. Malioboro and through the North Square before returning to Kota Baru.
That afternoon, he only went round Kota Baru. “”I can’t go round the city because I have to shortly attend a fashion show in my shop,”” said Hamzah, 55. So, the procession around the city had to go ahead without him.
All along the way, the black-and-yellow horse-drawn carriage attracted the attention of passersby. Cantering along streets crowded with motorcycles and automobiles, the antique-looking carriage aroused plenty of curiosity.
Upon seeing the carriage, locals and tourists alike may be reminded of the fact that about a century ago, horse-drawn carriages were a common sight on the roads of Yogyakarta.
Hamzah began taking regular trips round the city in his carriage about a year ago. When he is busy, the carriage tours the city without him, a reminder to people, amid the ongoing progress of modern times, of what life in Java was like in bygone days.
At first, Hamzah used an andong, a two-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses that is still used as a means of transportation in Yogyakarta even today. However, as the andong failed to attract the attention of tourists, he decided to replace it with a horse-drawn carriage with a more attractive design.
So, now he uses a horse-drawn carriage that resembles the Kus Gading, one of the carriages owned by the Yogyakarta sultan. Made in 1901, the carriage is now on display in the Yogyakarta Sultanate Carriage Museum.
Hamzah spent some Rp 32 million on making a Kus-Gading look-alike. “”Although it resembles Kus Gading, the replica is smaller,”” said Paidi, its maker.
Although Hamzah likes taking trips around the city in his carriage, this does not mean that he is seeking popularity or trying to create a sensation. “”I do it simply because I’m very fond of Javanese culture,”” said Hamzah, who added that he liked gendhing (traditional Javanese songs). Besides, he believes that what he does will promote tourism as it provides an interesting sight in the streets.
That’s why in the holiday season Hamzah planned to travel round the city in his carriage every day. Unfortunately, this plan has remained unfulfilled to date as he is too busy. Apart from being the director of Mirota Batik, he also owns a milk factory.
Hamzah allows some of his employees to travel round the city in his carriage during the holiday season but only he himself is permitted to don the traditional Javanese garb and sit next to the coachman. He is too busy for all this, though. “”I’m not happy seeing someone else wearing the Javanese costume,”” said Hamzah, an English literature graduate from the Sanata Dharma Institute of Higher Education.
Besides his penchant for Javanese culture, Hamzah is a horse lover at heart. He owns seven horses, one of which, Satria Kinayungan, is extraordinary in that it has two crowns of hair. It is believed that anybody who owns a horse like this will become a “”knight”” and command great respect.
Hamzah also has six more horse-drawn carriages in his collection. The oldest was made in 1928 and was specially designed for leisurely rides. This carriage is now kept in his shop as part of the decor.
Hamzah’s love of horses and, subsequently, horse-drawn carriages began to develop when he was still a boy. Claiming that he also knows how to drive a carriage, he said that he learned this at a very young age. “”When I was a boy, I often rode in andong and would ask the coachmen to let me drive,”” reminisced Hamzah, who is also a fashion designer.
Of his five siblings, Hamzah is the only one with a great love of Javanese culture, a passion that he has inherited from his mother, Tini Yuniarti. He can still remember clearly how his mother listened with rapt attention to radio broadcasts of traditional Javanese shadow puppet shows.
She would also take him to see performances staged by Ngesti Pandowo and Kawedar, two traditional traveling troupes, when they visited Yogyakarta. When Hamzah was seven, his mother asked him to take Javanese dance lessons.
His deep passion ultimately molded him into a fully-rounded Javanese person who speaks very refined Javanese and always behaves in strict compliance with traditional Javanese mores.
Although he owns a replica of the Kus Gading carriage, he never rides in it as an owner normally would, sitting in the cabin. “”Only members of the sultan’s family deserve a seat there,”” he said.
Now that he has started making regular trips around the city in his carriage, Hamzah has another dream. He wants to show the people of Yogyakarta the real function of the sedan chair that he owns.
In the past, noblemen from the palace went about in sedan chairs, carried on the shoulders of a number of bearers.
“”To make this dream come true, I will need at least 20 people,”” he said. Why? Well, he doesn’t just want to show off his sedan chair, but wants to stage a full-scale traditional procession with music provided by a group of gamelan players.
He plans to do this every year during the Muslim post-fasting lebaran holiday.
If his dream becomes a reality, Yogyakarta might well become more attractive to tourists.