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Writer : GJ Nawi

Translator : Atmanadi Pratama

As one of the oldest sport in the world, wrestling for Indonesians is generally not a strange thing, as it is also one of the oldest practice in Indonesia. Wrestling festival was held during the reign of Majapahit Kingdom. This can be seen from the word “Umulat” from the 14th century manuscript Nagarakrtagama canto 27 verse 2:

“Tan tunggal/tikanan wilaca ginawe narendrakasukhan, sin wastwasuna tustacitta rikanan pradeca winanun , barryan karaktan /cramacrama maweh jner nin umulat, singih dewa manindarat/juga siran lumanlan i jagat.” // “Not only one now were the entertainments set up there by the Prince, rejoicing. Anything that could give pleased thoughts to the pradeshas (collective districts) there was established. Every time racket – performances, various shrama (sporting) contests i.e mask dance, wrestling gave amazement to the lookers on. Verily nobody but a god having come on earth is He, going about in the world.”

Though as old as Indonesia’s ancient kingdoms, wrestling as a (professional) sport tends to have few enthusiasts only, in contrast to the traditional type of wrestling whose function is not only as a performing art but also as a martial art. A 1940s account stated that only 300 wrestling practitioners recorded in the Dutch East Indies, with details: “only 6 Chinese, 15 Minahasans, 3 Indians, 30 Javanese, 15 Betawinese and the rest are hundreds of Sundanese. Perhaps most of the Sundanese have studied wrestling because they have always had the sport of Goelat Benjang (Benjang Wrestling)[1].

However, some wrestling athletes in West Java have a background as a “Tukang Benjang” (Benjang Practitioner) because Benjang as a martial art has many locking and throwing techniques. Although the way to determine the winner is very simple, namely the participant who get thrown and/or locked/pinned on his back will be declared defeated, and vice versa.

There are many kinds of traditional Indonesian wrestling sports and each have the distinctive character of their respective region. Such as Athol or Pathol originating from the North Coast of Central Java to East Java, all the way from Rembang to Tuban; and Mepantigan from the island of Bali. Pathol has a distinctive character that it is played on a sandy beach, whereas Mepantigan is played in a mudpool arena.

One of the traditional wrestling that also has distinctive characteristics and isn’t just a performing art because it is full of elements and techniques of martial art, is Benjang. This West Javan style is believed to have been born and developed in the Bandung Regency area, especially in the area which at the time of the colonial era was called the Ujung Berung Residency, comprised of Cibolerang, Cinunuk, Cibiru and Cileunyi region.

There is no historical record of when the traditional wrestling art of Benjang was born in Ujung Berung Residency, Bandung Regency. However, as an art performance, Benjang is an acronym of two words: “Ben”, which means “Amben” (bale-bale, divan made of bamboo) where the Waditra (sundanese traditional music player) play the “Trebang” musical instrument; and “Jang”, an abbreviation of the word “Ujang” which means bachelor or young men who play the art of wrestling.  

Benjang has been known to the people of the Ujung Berung Residency since the 19th century and has been exhibited since the 1919-20s, but during the colonial era the development of Benjang as a martial art was slowed down because it was carried out secretly, wrapped as a performing art, namely Benjang Helaran and Benjang Seni Tari. In general, Benjang is  divided into:

1. Benjang Seni (Benjang as a Performing Art):

-Benjang Helaran (Benjang used in arak-arakan, a parade)

-Benjang Seni Tari (Benjang Dance Art)

2. Benjang Ilmu Bela Diri[2] (Benjang as a Martial Art)

Tukang Benjang (Benjang Wrestler) in action (Source: Pandji Poestaka, 26th September 1942)


[1] Pandji Poestaka, 26th September 1942.

[2] Anto Sumianto Widjaya.Ibid, 2006, p.5