Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Gong Factory

"Gloves? We don't wear them. It's too dangerous."

In the gloom, four men stripped to the waist stand around a glowing pink curl of hot alloy. Sparks sear the blackness and the temperature rises.
They strike it in turns, and each clash of mallet on metal rings a different note: du, de, dii, da.

In this one-room workshop in Bogor, West Java, tin and copper are hand mixed, beaten and filed into traditional bronze gongs. The ratio of tin to copper is critical: four kilos of tin to nine kilos of copper. "Too much tin and the surface of the gong will tear," explains gong-smith Ujang. "Too much copper and the gong will crack."
With a pair of long tongs, a fifth man takes the beaten alloy and places it in the smoldering heart of the open fire beside them. Electric bellows hiss air into the embers and sparks soar upwards in a Catherine Wheel of light.

Man 5 removes the glowing orange bronze, now curled like a shell, and the four strikers resume their melodic wielding, working the diameter of the gong slowly wider. Their bodies are thin and muscular; torsos licked with sweat.
"Hot, isn’t it?" comments Ujang, wearing a felt hat. "It’s too dangerous to wear gloves: the mallets could slip from our hands."

He sucks on a cigarette, then takes the 8-kilo mallet and strikes at the gong for 15 seconds. He then resumes the cigarette: "We can't work fast because we get dry throats and pains in our livers." The air whirls with dust and metal particles. "I don't have a cough though, Alhamdulillah," he adds.

Ujang says he earns Rp 35,000 ($3.50) a day, but nothing if he takes a sick day. He surreptiously slides a dish containing a blue Rp 50,000 note into view. "We have many foreign visitors. They're very welcome."
The gong factory is open from 08:00-16:00 everyday except Fridays, and is located near the river crossing on Jl Pulo Empang. There is a small shop next door, but it carries little stock.

5 comments:

  1. The picture of the sparks looks like a volcano exploding!

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  2. The gong making process is pretty amazing. Did they bang out a good tune for you as well? When we did the bike tour of Solo we stopped at a gong factory as well - have you been there?

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  3. Hi, I like your blog a lot. It's always inspiring for me to see my own country in the perspective of a foreigner like you :)

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  4. Hi Ical, thank you very much for the comment - I hope the stories don't make you homesick!

    Good luck in Perth!

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  5. Hi Haviva,unfortunately we didn't get a gong recital: the gongs were in their fiery embryonic stage! I haven't been to the gong factory in Solo: do you remember where it is?

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