British Museum collections, £12.99
Collected by Sir Stamford Raffles
Bequeathed by Revd Raffles Flint
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The Raffles Gamelan
From Java, Indonesia
19th century AD
Music fit for kings
A gamelan is a set of instruments that traditionally act as accompaniments to puppet shows, dance dramas, feasts and ceremonies in Indonesia. In the performance of shadow puppet plays, the orchestra highlights the moments of drama, and provides the music that fits the personality of characters on stage.
Sir Stamford Raffles, former Lieutenant-Governor of Java and founder of Singapore, was the first Englishman to bring back to England not one, but two whole gamelan orchestras: one in the British Museum and another now in Claydon House in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. The frames for the instruments of the Raffles gamelan are unique and nothing like them survives in any other known gamelan. The instruments are carved to represent peacocks, dragons, deer and other animals.
The gamelan retains an important place in Javanese cultural life, but has also been taken up increasingly by musicians outside Indonesia. There are various kinds of gamelan, the main differences being the number and kind of instruments that make up each orchestra and the tonal system used. An orchestra may contain a few instruments or more than thirty.
W.B. Fagg (ed.), The Raffles gamelan: a histori (London, The British Museum Press, 1970)
N. Barley (ed.), The golden sword: Stamford Raf (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)