The Gamelan Digul and the Prison-Camp Musician Who Built It

The Gamelan Digul and the Prison-Camp Musician Who Built It

An Australian Link with the Indonesian Revolution

Margaret J. Kartomi


University of Rochester Press



The story of a particular Javanese group of "matching" musical instruments, the gamelan Digul, built in a notorious Dutch East Indies prison camp by a master musician and political activist, and the role in played in helping to foster Australian-Indonesian friendship.
This is the story of a particular Javanese group of "matching" musical instruments called the gamelan Digul, and their creator, the Indonesian musician and political activist Pontjopangrawit (1893-ca. 1965). He was a superb Javanese court musician, who had entertained at the of king Paku Buwana X as a child. In this magnificent artistic environment he learned how to build gamelans, and also became a sought-after teacher. Involved in radical political activities, Pontjopangrawit was arrested in 1926 for his participation in the movement to free Indonesia from Dutch rule, and spent the next six years in the notorious Dutch East Indies prison camp at Boven Digul.
Made in 1927 entirely from "found" materials in the prison camp, including pans and eating utensils, the gamelan Digul became a symbol for the independence movement long after Pontjopangrawit's own release in 1932. In the 1940s, it was transported to Australia, where the Dutch and their prisoners took refuge from the Japanese invaders. At first interned as enemy aliens by the Australian government, the ex-Digulists were finally released. Cultural activities within the Australian Indonesian community involving the gamelan Digul served to create sympathy and interest for Indonesia's independence, which was granted in 1945. Tragically, Pontjopangrawit himself was later arrested by the Indonesian goverment during the 1965 revolution, and died in custody.
This book's musical and political discussions will interest all those concerned with Indonesian and Southeast Asian music, performing arts, history and culture as well as the beginnings of Australian-Indonesian friendship.

Margaret Kartomi, AM, FAHA, Dr. Phil, is the Professor of Music at Monash University. She has published over a hundred articles and several books, annotated CDs and LP records on the music of various parts of Indonesia and other ethnomusicological topics.


February 2002
49 black and white illustrations
152 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580460880
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS050000, HIS037070
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Table of Contents

Pontjopangrawit's Youth: Becoming an Activist and Artist, 1893 to 1927
Life in Boven Digul from 1927 to 1943: The Gamelan Is Made and Departs for Australia
Pontjopangrawit's Life and Work between 1932 and 1965
The Australian Connection, 1943 to the Present
The Gamelan Digul as an Organological Artefact and Its Recent Conservation
A Photographic Study of the Gamelan Digul


A fascinating biographical account. . . the book is outstanding material for teaching a concept that readers surely will not miss: that, beyond artifice, music has served well the workings of power and radical politics. JOURNAL OF ASIAN STUDIES, Vol 62:4

Such is the remarkable achievement of Margaret Kartomi's patient and obviously loving efforts with this project. A "little book" perhaps, but one for which the author and publisher are due our special thanks. ASIAN STUDIES REVIEW

One of the most special gamelan(s) outside of Indonesia . . . is the subject of Margaret Kartomi's monograph, The Gamelan Digul and the Prison Camp Musician Who Built It. . . . An elegant and tuneful field recording of Pontjopangrawit's rebab playing made by Hood is included as an "extra feature" on the CD. . . . Kartomi presents a compelling yarn. --BIJDRAGEN TOT DE TAAL-, LAND- EN VOLKENKUNDE (Matthew Isaac Cohen)

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