The Art of Debus is an integral part of the culture of Banten. It is a broad topic, and we are making a tremendous effort to offer a detailed translation from various sources in order to give the reader an appreciation of this unique practice.

Text from the book: « Seni Budaya Banten » relating to all the cultural/artistic practices specific to the region of Banten


The meaning and significance of the word Debus
Up until now, no one has been able to determine with certainty how the term Debus came into being. The word itself does not appear in any written text. Tb.A.Sastrasuganda, who retired from the Kebudayaan Kandepdikbud kabupaten of Serang, formulated the assumption that the word Debus came from the original word Tembus (Sandjin Aminuddin, 1997:153) which means « pierce, puncture, penetrate ». This assumption is quite logical because the main prop used in Debus is an instrument which can pierce the body.

Another meaning attributed to the word Debus would be Gedebus which defines a type of object used in demonstrations of invulnerability. The object in question is used by the performer himself to attempt to inflict injury. In this context, the word Debus may also mean « not perforated, or pierced ».

Debus is an art (like Pencak Silat) related to the science of invulnerability and reflects the attitude of resistance typical in Banten culture. It is a form of invulnerability to sharp objects; a supernatural force that provides resistance to sharp objects, beatings and burns. Some believe that Debus is a form of trickery in which the performer manages to deceive the audience with illusions of invulnerability.

The religious character of the traditional art of Debus makes ample use of prayers from the Koran. The suras associated with of the Debus are widely known in the Departments of Lebak, Pandeglang and Serang; and in the District of Walantaka headed by Mr. Idris, the District of Curug Umore headed by the district Cikande headed by H. Rename and the District of Ciruas headed by H. Ahmad.

1.2 The historical background and function of Debus
The origins of Debus are inseparable from the expansion of Islam in Indonesia. Debus grew in Banten as a tool for spreading the Islamic religion in the region, which was still predominantly Indo-Buddhist. Then during the reign of Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa in the seventeenth century, Debus was employed as a method for arousing a spirit of resistance against the Dutch settlers (Sandjin A., 1997:156) It was under these circumstances that the art of Debus became an art of self-defense and to inspire nationalism.

As part of the effort to strengthen the motivation of soldiers and combatants, Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa encouraged training in the science of invulnerability among his supporters through the study of certain verses from the Koran. These verses were learned by heart and incorporated in depth to enhance morale in the fight against the Dutch colonizers. Thus, the emergence of Debus in Banten is a consequence of the struggle of people of Banten against the Dutch, which is based on the teaching of Islam, which develops the enthusiasm and confidence in the fight.

History also tells that during the period of Sultan Maulana Hasanuddin, Debus demonstrations were held in a hall on the second level of a mosque in Banten called ‘Tiama’. The demonstrations were led by one or two teachers called Khalifah or Syekh, who assumed responsibility for the smooth operation of the shows and to ensure safety during practice. At its inception, the spectacle of Debus was generally the preserve of men, but as it began to flourish, women became increasingly involved.

According Sandjin Aminuddin (1997), the influence of Debus on society is profound, and due in large part to the following factors:

a. Debus is an integral part of the practice of invulnerability and self defense.

b. The Banten people are very pious, such that only an art with deep religious overtones could develop in that society. Other arts that thrive in Banten society such as Rebane, Kasidah, Mawalan are also considered very religious. Debus always use the recitations of the Koran that celebrate and glorify God and the Prophet Muhammad.

c. Debus is a rare art – loved by society.

d. Debus is an art of the people, by the people and for the people.

e. The Ulemas believe that Debus is not contrary to their beliefs.

1.3 Debus Demonstrations
One type of popular Debus Banten is found in the Surosawan District Walantaka in Serang headed by Mohd. Idris. The conditions required in preparation for Debus Surosawan are:

a. A mandatory 40 day fast

b. The phrase « Bismillah » should be repeated as many times as possible at each end of prayer

c. This passage from the Koran read 11 times:

Inna ‘Atoinakal Kautsar Fasholli Liwa liwali Warba
Tulung para wali sakabeh, mangka welas mangka Asih
Atina wong sadunia madeleng Isun Maring, berkahna Lailahaillallah
« Bismillahirrohmanirrohim »
Bima Bayu ongedek agu geni murud dening aku mati.
Repsirep ATINS wong sadunia madeleng Isun Maring, berkahna
Lailahaillallah Muhammaddurasulullah « 

d. Have faith in what is taught and practiced.

e. Respect the prohibitions of Islam

The stages of a demonstration Debus succeed as follows:

a. Opening (Genbung): involves recitations of prayers and praise accompanied by a drumbeat for 2 to 3 minutes

b. Recitation of verses from the Koran Allah and his Prophet accompanied by a drumbeat

c. Beluk, meaning songs that reflect the recitation of God’s name with a loud voice, performed by several people in unison accompanied by drums. The Beluk continues throughout the demonstration, until the close.

d. Silat: during Beluk, one or two pesilat take the stage for a demonstration of Silat with bare hands.

e. Debus: two performers employing various instruments of Debus. For example, one person bears the Almadad (Gedebus) and places it on his belly, while another stands ready to hit the Almadad with a sledgehammer.

f. Husking the shell of a coconut with ones’ teeth. When the nut is peeled, it is struck and shattered on the performer’s head.

g. Drawing the blade of a parang against parts of the body such as arms, legs and thighs.
h. Kerupuk, or frying eggs on the head. The performer places on his head an urn consisting of a cloth soaked in coconut oil. When the coconut oil boils, eggs are fried in it.

I. Passing lit torches over various parts of the body

j. Standing up and sitting on the blade of a Golok.

k. Eating glass.

l. The Gemrung, which is the instrument that signals the end of the demonstration.

Debus exhibitions accompany all traditional ceremonies or magic only to distract the people.

1.4. Debus is a demonstration that takes place in group

There are between 12 to 15 performers:

a. 1 plays Juru Gendang
b. 1 plays Penabuh Terbang (Rebane Besar)
c. 2 play of Penabuh Dogdog Tingtit
d. 1 plays Penabuh Kecrek
e. 4 recite the name of God
f. 5 performing Demostration of the Debus
g. 1 the entire orchestra (Sychu)

The Waditra usually used are:

a. Gendang – a drum whose beats accompany the dance. This Gendang director is smaller than a Gendang degung and larger than a Gendang Kulantar. Its diameter at the front is 20 to 25 and in the back of 15 centimeters. Its length is 50 cm

b. Two Kulantar (small Gendang) that complement the Gendang Tanggung. This is the same as the one that accompanies the Gamelan degung *

c. A Terbang (large Rebane), which has the same function as a Gong; The Terbang is wood and buffalo skin and the front is 60 cm in diameter, the rear and 40 cm of thickness 25 cm.

d. 2 Tingtit (small Dogdog), made of wood and buffalo skin. These are the same as used in the Reog. This instrument measures 15 cm in diameter at the back.

e. A Cekrek which regulates the entire rhythm. The Cekrek consists of several thin strips of metal that have some form of a circle of a diameter of 15 cm and 0.3 cm of thickness.

In addition to this there are also the instruments used in the demonstration of Debus’ such as Almadad (Gedebus) and Gada (mace). The Almada is a kind of pique iron whose handle is round and has a diameter of 0.5 cm. The club is used to strike it. Instruments such Golok, knives, needles, nails and razor blades are also used.

1.5. Clothing worn during Debus.

Black clothing is predominantly used in Debus:

a. Baju Kampret, a shirt without a collar, having 2 pockets lower pockets, and long sleeves.

b. Pangsi Celan, trousers worn without a belt. Can be tied as a Sarong and worn with Pinggang Ikat (a kind of scarf that serves as a belt). The leg portions should be long enough to allow ease of movement during the demonstration.

c. LoMar (headscarf) Batik, which is formed into a triangle or square.

Edited by Jeff Davidson
Texts + photos © Gorka Echarri


with the kind permission of the author (

Debus is an art through which the performer demonstrates powers of invulnerability with such feats as not being cut by blades, drinking acid, penetrating a hard coconut with various objects, frying eggs on their head and many other things.

Debus is known as a traditional artform from Banten, which was developed in eighteenth century. Many have questioned the origins of Debus. According to one historical account, Debus was introduced by the Rifaiah Tarikat. This Tarikat was under the guidance of Nurrudin Ar-Raniry in Aceh around the sixteenth century. Performances were held during ceremonies of religious rapture (in the presence of the Divine Light) when the body was considered to be resistant to objects and sharp blades. The operating principle was « La Haul Walla Quwata Ilabillahil’Aliyyil Adhim » or « it has no power over Allah. » So if Allah wills, no knife, Golok, Parang or projectiles could harm the Brothers of the Tarikat.

This Tarikat spread to the region of Minang or also known as Dabuih. There is some speculation, but what is certain is that my research into Debus supports the Rifaiah Tarikat theory. The truth however, belongs to God!

Edited by Jeff Davidson
Texts © Gorka Echarri