See Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi

Every year people go to see Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi, East Java. Sewu means a thousand in Javanese and Gandrung means infatuated. So a thousand or more infatuated people were going to dance on a beach called Pantai Boom wearing traditional clothes. They were also telling a story of Indonesian folk heroes overcoming the colonial masters. Sounds amazing? Read on!

I’ve just written about the Jember Fashion Carnaval, and now I was back in the same part of East Java. I expected this would be similar to Wakatobi Wave Festival, or Bahari Tanah Merah.

If you were there and want to share your story, comment below or email me at:


Kids from local schools had prepared dresses and were assembled on the beach in the blazing sunshine. There was obviously a lot of time and effort spent on getting this ready.


At the front of the audience, it was a scrummage of professional and amateur photographers and video makers, while drones swooped overhead like the future war scenarios from Terminator movies. The local and visiting dignitaries made their speeches, offering encouragement and thanks for the effort so far. 

See Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi

To great cries from the MC’s, the Gamelan boys abandoned their posts and rushed around the centre circle, chasing each other and some flags they carried to signal the start of the event.

Next, the massed ranks of dancers holding positions on the flanks of the beach danced in flag fluttering fashion to line the shore. Then they rushed towards the stage in a frenzy of dust, flapping feet and fans, and music.



Repelling the colonizing forces

The main story was about the way that colonial invaders came to enslave the local warriors, who escaped and hid in the forest. Then, united by the gods of sea and land, they took part in an uprising. Using the forces of nature to disguise their approach, they ambushed the colonial leader and his troops and sent them packing.

Added in, it seemed, was a mixture of the traditional Javanese Ramayana story, combined with a dash of Indonesia’s independence story. It was accompanied by upbeat forms of the old gamelan music. A real fusion of old and new!

This was exciting stuff, and carried out by a main group of actors. Thousands of girls with long cloth drapes and fans provided the symbolic backdrop of the forest and the sea. They moved in time with the music and the choreography of the event.

I don’t think I’ve seen a thousand people dancing on the beach since my raving days, and to be honest, this was different. The costumes were all red and gold, everyone was moving to a predetermined pattern, and while there was some unusual eye rolling and smiling going on, no-one seemed to be pulling faces.

It suddenly finishes

The mass dancing lasted about an hour, and suddenly, it ended, and the audience rushed in among the dancers to try to find their friends and family members, take photos, pose for selfies and offer drinks and shade to the dancers.

Osing Ningrat Batik

When it had all finished, I headed for Osing Ningrat Batik and ended up buying a new batik to wear on Fridays.

I saw Batik being made in Indramayu, but the batik from Banyuwangi has a very different style.

I felt so lucky to see Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi. It was an amazing display of mass participation, and even though it was a tough place to take photos, it was a spectacular demonstration of people working together to celebrate their history and culture.

If you want to see Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi , you can watch the official live stream in HD


If you were there and want to share your story, comment below or email me at:


14 thoughts on “See Gandrung Sewu in Banyuwangi

  1. Fabulous Dan, fascinating interpretation of another Indonesian celebration of culture. Just one question, bearing in mind the low income of many people, how are mass celebrations like this paid for? All the costumes can’t be cheap? Is it government funded? Very interesting insight though.

    • I guess it depends. Usually, funds are distributed by the local administration and central government. Also I heard the kids make their own costumes over the course of the year and keep them at home with them. It’s a really big event in their lives.

  2. I really enjoyed your post. The dance giving way to the selfie-taking phase of the festival sounds like the most fun part. I am old and grumpy enough that I often grumble when I see crowds of people taking selfies, but in this context, it sounds like a lot of fun.

    • Haha yeah I guess Asia leads the way in selfie taking globally. Also this event is the result of years of preparation and practice so it was great to see how proud they all were!

  3. this was great to read. I also like the pictures very much. Me an my wife have only been to banyuwangi before to catch the boat to Bali. But I hope we get the chance to go back there and see more.

  4. It was a really amazing sight, although it wasn’t really too ‘user-friendly’ which meant there were lots of people who couldn’t see very well. Maybe next time they will build a proper grandstand! Glad you enjoyed the write-up. I’ll have some more out very soon!

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