Ponorogo is most well known for the reog mask dance, which is said to have
been created by one of the kings of Kediri in the 12th century. The performance
re-enacts a legendary battle between Pujangga Anom, a minister from the
court of Ponorogo. and Singa Barong. guardian spirit of the forest of Lodoyo.
The former had aroused the anger of Singa Barong when he stole 150 tigers
from the forest, apparently to be offered as a dowry payment for a princess
of Kediri, whom the king of Ponorogo wished to marry. A typical reog
troupe, then, usually consists of the two principal characters; Singa
Barong, wearing an enormous tiger head and peacock feather mask, and his
adversary Pujangga Anom. They are accompanied by one or more masked clowns/acrobats,
as well as a number of hobby horse dancers, who are said to represent the
troops of Pujangga Anom.
The people of Ponorogo have a reputation for being tough, both physically and mentally. The qualities of bravery and daring are fully displayed in a reog performance, where the focus of attention is on a trance dancer supporting a giant mask, often weighing more than 40 kg, between his teeth. The mask is a ferocious, snarling tiger's head, covered in real tiger skin and crowned with a gigantic three metre fan of peacock feathers. The success of a performance, including the ability of the principal dancer to bear the weight of the mask, is said to depend upon the magical power of the leader of the dance troupe. Known as warok, these men are believed to possess special talents, gained through years of training. One of the unique features of the reog dance is that the hobby horse (jaran kepang) dancers are invariably young boys dressed as women. Known as gemblak, they accompany the warok, who are forbidden close association with females, in their travelling performances.