The illustrious Dutch writer, Eduard Douwes Dekker, also known as Multatuli, once called Indonesia “a string of emeralds in the equator”. Not only it the country filled with natural charms, but it also has diversity in its arts and culture, including traditional musical instruments, the most prominent one being the Kolintang.
“The special charm of the kolintang penetrates the cultural boundaries of nations in the world,” says Lis Purnomo Yusgiantoro, chairwoman of the board of supervisors of the Protection Board of National Kolintang Association (PINKAN) Indonesia. “The Kolintang is both precious Indonesian and world heritage, so it must always be preserved.”
Furthermore, Lis—who is also the wife of Prof. Purnomo Yusgiantoro, the former Indonesian Minister of Defense and the former Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources—explains that the kolintang is a musical instrument that emerged in the culture of the Minahasa community in North Sulawesi in the 17th century. The kolintang is usually played as part of Minahasan traditional ceremonies, including the worship of ancestral spirits and God.
To produce its melodious sounds and distinctive tones, artisans use a special wood only found in the Minahasa region. The wood has the characteristics of light, solid, and strong, with its fibres arranged naturally to form parallel lines. Some types of wood commonly used for making the kolintang are egg wood, wenang wood, cempaka wood and waru wood. Meanwhile, the name comes from the words tong (low tone), ting (high note) and tang (middle tone).
In the Minahasa language, the invitation to join in playing music is “maimo kumolintang”, which means “let’s play tong ting tang.” The Kolintang is played by hitting the instrument with cloth-wrapped wooden sticks. Its lined shape has echoes of the piano, although the kolintang can play a series of seven different tones throughout the range of low, middle, and high.
This story appears in the March 2019 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe here
[Photography: Irwan Kurnia]