Aceh may be known for its distinguished Coffee and outstanding natural splendors, however the people and their well kept traditions are what truly give this most northwestern province of Indonesia its character. While the vibrant traditional Saman Dance has long gained its worldwide reputation and acknowledged by UNESCO as an Intangible World Cultural Heritage, Aceh still has plenty other equally outstanding authentic cultural features. Among the most exceptional one is the enchanting Seudati Dance.
Seudati is a traditional Aceh Dance that originated from the initial spread of Islam into Aceh and further through Indonesia. The word Seudati itself is believed to derive from the Arabic ‘Syahadat’ which means the creed or statement of embracing Islam, while others also suggest that the word Seudati comes from the local language “seurasi” meaning harmonious. Thus, the dance is not only an artistic form of entertainment, but also acts as media to spread religious Islamic messages to its audiences.
Seudati is believed to have started as a coastal folk art in the Pidie regency, then known as Ratoh or Ratoih which literally translated means “To tell”. In Ratoh, many tales are told in song as musical lyrics to the dance choreographies ranging from folktales, religious messages, to inspiring spiritual stories. This art form later transformed itself into Seudati which developed first around Pidie, then on to Northern Aceh, Eastern Aceh, and ultimately to the entire province.
Seudati is performed by eight male dancers consisting of one leader called the syeikh, one syeikh assistant, two accompanying dancers on the left known as apeetwie, one at the back called apeet bak, and three other dancers. Complementing the dancers are two singers known as Aneuk Syah. This enchanting dance does not involve musical instruments, but instead, dancers clap their hands, stamp their feet and hit their chest to create rhythmic musical accompaniment. As the singers dynamically change tempo, the dancers adjust their movements while the harmonic “musical” accompaniments follow the lyrics of the songs.
The dance is performed in several parts or Acts that usually consist of: Saleum Aneuk Syahi (greetings from the singers), Saleum Sheik (greetings from the main dancer), Likok, Saman, Kisah (story), Pansi, Lani, and Gambus.
The costume of the Seudati Dancers consist of a simple white pair of pants and long sleeved plain t-shirts; Songket cloths wrapped around the waist; a Rencong (the traditional dagger of Aceh) also at the waist; and a red tangkulok headband. The Aneuki Syahi (singers) on the other hand does not have a distinct costume.