Aceh's record-breaking 'dance of a thousand hands'

Men clad in elaborate traditional costumes at yesterday's event, which was aimed at attracting more visitors to the Indonesian province.
Men clad in elaborate traditional costumes at yesterday's event, which was aimed at attracting more visitors to the Indonesian province.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

GAYO LUES • More than 10,000 people turned out in Aceh yesterday to stage a record-breaking song and dance performance stressing the need to conserve a threatened national park.

The men, clad in elaborate traditional costumes, sat in neat rows, clapping their hands on their shoulders and laps and moving in an increasingly fast-paced rhythm to a traditional song.

The saman, or "the dance of a thousand hands", was included in the Unesco list of items of intangible cultural heritage in 2011.

The event was aimed at attracting more visitors to the Indonesian province, said local tourism agency head Syafruddin.

The men, mostly from the ethnic Gayo community, made occasional wave-like movements without breaking formation.

Their song focused on protecting Aceh's Mount Leuser National Park, home to rare Sumatran tigers and elephants, which is threatened by rampant poaching and rainforest destruction due to the expansion of palm oil plantations.

Thousands of spectators flocked to an open field tucked amid lush green hills in Gayo Lues district to watch the performance. The Indonesian Museum of Record certified it as breaking a national record with 10,001 participants - beating last year's record of 6,600.

The dance is usually accompanied by a song performed in unison. It emphasises teamwork, a symbol of unity. "In the old days the lyrics were usually about spreading Islamic teachings. These days we can adjust the lyrics to deliver any message we wish to convey to the audience," said Mr Syafruddin.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Aceh's record-breaking 'dance of a thousand hands''. Print Edition | Subscribe