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Night Calling Sound of Rapa'i, the Traditional Musical Instrument of Aceh

Updated on May 10, 2020
Zaman Hurri profile image

Zaman Hurri is a teacher and an headmaster of an Islamic School In Indonesia. He pays attention to culture and education.

Rapai Aceh
Rapai Aceh | Source

What is the rapa'i?

The rapa'i is a traditional musical instrument from Aceh. It is a percussion. This instrument is played in religious activity, custom ceremony and in welcoming guest event. It is also for equipment for some dances in Aceh, such as rapa'i saman, rapa'i daboh, rapa'i tuha and rapa'i pasee.

It is made of special wood, such as mane tree or jackfruit tree, goat leather and iron. The wood made round is for the place to put the goat leather. This place is called baloh. The leather is also round. It put on the baloh. Later, the leather is beaten and it produces the sound. The iron is made like small round flat, its radius is about 5 centimetres. It is put beside baloh. It sounds tinkling when the rapa'i is beaten. Generally, the rapa'i is like a tambourine.

The one making the rapa'i must have special skill. The sound of the rapa'i, good or not good, is depend on how he process it. He has to know the kind of wood, the age of wood and the size of wood. He also know that the wood should be dry enough and ready to make the baloh. He even has to be able to choose the best leather of goat, and to process it to be ready to put on the baloh.

The process of making the baloh of the rapa'i

Rapa'i tuha ( The Old rapa'i )

The earliest people of Aceh played the rapa'i as medium to worship God. They made a group of worshipers. Most of people joined the group. It was called tarekat. There were about ten to twenty members of the group playing the rapa'i. Each others had one. It was called main members. The other members were followers.The followers only imitated what the main members did.

They started to play the rapa'i at night after praying Isya' and ended at morning before praying shubuh, When playing the rapa'i in such rhythm and tempo, they sang religious poems. The poems was about praising to God and to His apostle.The sound of it was very attractive.


Nowadays, The playing of the old rapa'i is not only in a tarekat community, but it happens in average villages in Aceh. The people of Aceh make a grup of the old rapa'i. They play at night. The men about 40 to 60 of their age gather in bale ( the place for gathering in a village) to worship to God by playing the old rapa'i. The important thing here is Aceh young men join this activity. So the existence of the old rapa'i is not lost in Aceh community.

The calling sound at night

The people of Aceh play the old rapa'i at night. The sound of the rapa'i is very attractive and it also has high frequency. At mid night, when the situation is quiet. The sound can be heard from afar, about 1 or 3 more kilometres away. The sound can call the people of Aceh to join and gather in that place in which the old rapa'i is held. And it even can wake the people up from their soundly sleep. They come and walk together, specially men, in midnight to be part of worshiping God. The sound like a mystic sound that can enchant the people to come to the place.

There is a story or a myth in Aceh community. There was one coming to a Aceh jungle or working at the jungle for rattans or woods herd the sound of the rapa'i from afar away in midnight. He followed the sound. In the middle of the jungle, he found a village. The people of the village was playing rapa'i. He joined that commnity. And than he decided to stay at the jungle village.

Meanwhile, at his own village, the villagers looked for him at the jungle. They found him with weakness and confusion. On other day, he told his experience to the villagers. But they were confused, actually there was no village and villagers in the jungle. there were trees and animals. According to the villagers, that man was taken by unseen Islamic people ( aulia ).

The story becomes a myth in Aceh community now. So if someone works at forest for making money or others. In midnight, when he hears the calling sound, he should not follow it. He must stay at his camp and hear the sound from his place. If not, he will be taken by aulia.


The rapa'i in nowadays community

The rapa'i is not be apart from Aceh community. It is performed in custom events, wedding parties, welcoming ceremonies, musical performance and musical festivals. It still exists. It is played by a person or people in a group. It is used as musical instrument or as equipment for dance in Aceh. For musical instrument, it is played with other modern instruments. It is played in the band to accompany traditional songs. For equipment of the dance, it is used in rapa'i saman dance, rapa'i daboh dance, rapa'i geleng dance, rapa'i pasee dance and rapa'i tuha.

Specially, for the rapa'i tuha, It is only few people playing it in few villages. The villagers still play it after isya praying. Most of players are old. Few of youngs join to be the rapa'i tuha players. With the hope that the night calling sound of the rapa'i will rise the spirit of the youngs of Aceh to learn, train and practice the rapa'i.



The rapa'i tuha in performing

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