“Saman” the most popular dance in Aceh and the dance that has become well-known abroad with the name “Thousand hands”. It has its origin from the Alas ethnic group from Gayo plateau central Aceh and is normally performed to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and other important occasions.
It’s an energetic, dynamic and require excellent coordination among its players. The movements are intense and powerful because, those movements also formed the rhythm for the dance. Because beside the sound of claps, chest slapping or hand hitting the floor there’s only one person reading a narrative in Acehnese tone. If it’s not powerful then nobody will hear anything and if it’s out of control, not only it will ruin the rhythm but somebody may get hurt. However, those are the charm of this dance. It’s dynamic and excellent coordination.
Eight to twenty male performers kneel in a row on the floor and make different kinds of torso movements accompanied by songs, clapping hands, slapping chests, slapping hands on the floor, etc. The songs usually are praises to Allah or prayers or part of Islamic teachings. The dance starts with slow movements and increases its tempo gradually to great speed and finally come to a sudden stop. There are many different regional versions of “Saman”.
Currently, Saman’s performed not only related to the birthday of Prophet Muhammad or other Islamic holidays but it is also performed to promote Acehnese culture, so it’s performed to open cultural festivals, national ceremonies or even abroad to promote Indonesia as a whole. Just like the first video here, it is the rehearsal for One world 2008 in the Maxbell, Pearson college, Canada. It performed not only by students from Indonesia, but from various countries.
Now, Saman’s also performed by women although in Aceh, if Saman’s performed by women it is called Meusekat and it’s not originated from Gayo but from West and South Aceh. However, outside Aceh, people called both kind of dances as Saman. Maybe because both dances characterized by it’s dynamic and well-coordinated movement of its players.
Saman although has changed from its original form, continues as an icon from the Special District of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (the official name of Aceh province) and also become an icon of an attractive speed dance from Indonesia.