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the Nation
Cultural Politics in New Order Indonesia
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Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
Monograph series, no. 89
First published in 2003 by NIAS Press
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
Leifsgade 33, DK–2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark
tel: (+45) 3532 9501 • fax: (+45) 3532 9549
E–mail: [email protected] • Website: http://www.niaspress.dk/
© Jörgen Hellman 2003
Publication of this book was assisted by a grant from
Museion, Göteborg University.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Hellman, Jorgen
Performing the nation : cultural politics in new order
Indonesia. - (NIAS monograph ; 89)
1.Art and state - Indonesia 2.Theatre and state - Indonesia
3.Indonesia - Cultural policy
I.Title II.Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
ISBN 0-7007-1483-9 (European edition)
ISBN 87-91114-09-8 (American edition)
Typesetting by NIAS Press
Printed and bound in Great Britain
Production by Bookchase
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Glossary and Abbreviations
1. Cultural Politics: Empowerment and Control
2. The Cultural Politics of Orde Baru:
National Identity and Local Culture
3. The Presentation of Cultural Policies in the Public Space
4. ASTI: A Junction for Art, National Ideologies
and Personal Experience
5. Longser Antar Pulau
6. Notions of Tradition and Transition
7. Images of Indonesia
8. TV Broadcasting
9. Conclusions: The Double Edge of Cultural Politics
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Longser Antar Pulau
Celebration of Independence Day
Sisingaan performance
Promotion sticker from Longser Antar Pulau
Promotion poster for Longser Antar Pulau
Opening scene from Interview Alladin
The Magician in Interview Alladin
Alladin meets with the Tukang Sulap
The King, the Queen and the Princess
The Engineer meets with a djinn
Revealing the plastic bucket (Operasi Plastik)
The hooligans in Operasi Plastik
Scene displaying the variety of role characters
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This study was conceived with the kind and encouraging support of
Deden Rengga, Deden Dingin, Dadang Lurah, Uep, Igor, Heri,
Heryanto, Uso, Andri, Oelle, Uding and Deddy Bedeng, some of the
core members of Longser Antar Pulau. I want to thank them and the
rest of the mem-bers in the group for their generous co-operation in
the project.
K. M. Saini and Arthur Nalan have assisted me from the early
stages of the project. They supplied me with necessary information
and their importance for the completion of the research cannot be
Hans Antlöv read several versions of the manuscript and was an invaluable source of support and encouragement in the process of
formulating and writing this book.
The research project was sponsored by SAREC (the Swedish Agency
for Research Cooperation) and The Royal Swedish Academy of
Sciences. A generous grant from the Museion Research Program on
Power, Morality and Knowledge enabled me to complete the final
version of the manuscript. Several donors – Knut och Alice Wallenbergs stiftelse, Kungliga och Hvitfeldska Stipendieinrättningens
överskottsfond, Stipendiefonden Viktor Rydbergs minne, Wilhelm och
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Performing the Nation
Martina Lundgrens Vetenskapsfond, Helge Ax:son Johnsons Stiftelse
and Paul och Marie Berghaus’ donationsfond – contributed to the
realisation of the fieldwork.
The present book builds on data collected during fieldwork undertaken in 1995 and presented in my Ph.D. dissertation (Hellman 1999).
The fieldwork was supplemented by one-month studies conducted in
1993, 1997 and 2000. Language studies were completed during one
semester in 1989 at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.
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Bhinneka Tunggal Ika
Dunia Dongeng
Dunia Nyata
customary law, or tradition
intimate, be close to
strange, peculiar, out of place
Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia, Academy of
Performing Arts
‘Unity in Diversity’, the state motto
fantasy world
the real world
Garis-Garis Besar Haluan Negara, National
State Directives
ritual or ceremonial feast
ritual meal
Longser Antar Pulau
Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, the People’s
Cultural Association
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Orde Baru
Tradisi Baru
tukang sulap
UUD ‘45
Performing the Nation
specific genre of traditional theatre
Manifesto Kebudayaan, the Cultural
Monumen Nasional, the National
a pole with candles or a paraffin lamp on
the top, used in traditional Longser theatre
the New Order
development, or blooming, close to the
meaning of growth
Rencana Pembangunan Lima Tahun, fiveyear development plans
suku, agama, ras, antar golongan, acronym
denoting the sensitive areas of ethnicity,
religion, race and class
performance at circumcision rituals
ceremonial, ritual meal
Taman Ismail Marzuki, art centre in Jakarta
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Beautiful
Indonesia Miniature Garden, theme park
outside Jakarta
The New Tradition, theatre genre
developed mainly by Putu Wijaya
Undang-Undang Dasar 1945, the National
Constitution of 1945
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Fig. 1.1: Longser Antar Pulau
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The old image is already fading in the mirror, while the
typical new image is not yet clear. Who is the new Indonesian? Does he exist? Where is he? What is he like?
(Lubis 1983: 1)
In my first personal encounter with Indonesia, in 1986, my romanticised image of Bali, constructed out of travel books from the turn
of the century – in which the island was described as a repository of
tranquillity, mysticism and otherness – clashed with the hectic,
contemporary life-styles of modern Bali.
Fortunately, the stay also offered a first opportunity to appreciate
the richness of Indonesia’s performing arts. The wealth of Balinese
theatre, dance and music was quite consciously introduced to me as a
specific regional art, crafted out of rituals to cater for tourists. I was
also invited to visit rural villages, Balinese families and local ceremonies
(the Balinese have a quite detailed knowledge of the needs and prejudices of their tourists).
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Performing the Nation
In spite of the initial frustrations, when stereotypes from both
sides of the we/they dichotomy were confronted, other dimensions
of Bali emerged after a while. Complex social networks and the dependence of the individual on personal relations were significant
characteristics of the societies on the island. The gamelan music, with
its oscillation between fast-moving recurrent rhythms and the gong
marking the long dure, depicted the pace of life in musical form. An
affectionate personal engagement in local culture, art and drama
emerged when I talked to the artists at tourist performances. The
seriousness of aesthetics was apparent – a vast amount of time was spent
decorating the gods for festivals and in preparing the daily offerings.
During this stay I also heard the first comments on a subject of
concern both to Balinese and Westerners: how would Balinese culture
survive and maintain its ritual power in the face of demands by
tourists for profane and shortened rituals suitable for commercial
display? The issue was often spelled out in terms of a dilemma between
modern life and traditional society.
From these experiences of Bali as something more than beach
holidays, economic troubles, tourist kitsch or romantic dreams nurtured by the colonial imagination and tourist industry grew a picture
of Bali which was not necessarily more true or real, but at least took
into consideration a way of life which can be both complex and
During a later five-month stay in Yogyakarta (Java), I had the
opportunity to visit the four-day performance of the Ramayana
theatre at Prambanan, a large Hindu temple complex outside Yogyakarta. This is a performance adapted for marketing to tourists,
Indonesians as well as foreigners, through its aesthetic perfection. It
is a beautiful show, adjusted by modern choreography to the huge
stage of the temple. Each night a two-hour episode from the epic of
the Ramayana is depicted and the whole story is completed in four
evenings. The fact that we attended all four evenings was considered
by our friends to be a sign of our commitment to learning about
Javanese culture. After this began an open and benevolent teaching
of Javanese life through the myth of the Ramayana. Examples from
the epic were used to explain to us the meaning of specific Javanese
phenomena, Javanese behaviour and personal inclinations. Whether
the performance was ‘authentically’ Javanese or not does not matter
in this case; the important thing for me was the dignity which was
ascribed to the performance as a road to knowledge.
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This state of confusion, frustration and appreciation has continued
to permeate my perceptions of Indonesia until now, and it is in order
to ‘follow up’ this experience that I have attempted the present study,
not to sort it out but to explore it in depth.
The choice of art as a field of research in which questions of
cultural identity can be grasped is perhaps also a result of these initial
encounters. My personal experiences told me that cultural performances
were used by people in Bali and Java very much as a didactic device to
understand and explain the world. Because of this potential for illustration and explanation, the performing arts were also integrated into a
discourse on life-style and identity (framed in terms of tradition and
modernity) which concerned not only me but also the people themselves. Artistic images seemed capable of grasping a confusion which I
think is not mine alone but which is also experienced by many Indonesians, especially by the young, urban, middle-class men who constituted the majority of the informants during my fieldwork.
The questions of how one makes sense of a fluent and rapidly changing reality, and how ‘we’ (however formulated) fit into this reality are
questions that concern them as well as me and therefore offer a convenient point of departure to start a conversation on the subject of
The epigraph in the beginning of the chapter is taken from Mochtar
Lubis’s book The Indonesian Dilemma and delineates the perennial
challenge in Indonesian politics of formulating a national identity.
Through a study of Indonesian cultural politics, this book means to
revisit the questions asked by Mochtar Lubis. Focus is placed on a
specific group of young art students and how they experienced and
interacted with the cultural politics of Orde Baru (New Order). The
New Order is the official shorthand for the regime of President
Suharto, who was in power between 1965 and 1998. In 1998 the
turbulent political situation forced him to resign which meant the
end of Orde Baru. The text is restricted to dealing with the situation
at the time of the fieldwork (1995) with a short ‘update’ in the end
of the book where the post-Suharto era is discussed.
The students were (and still are) engaged in the revitalisation of
traditional Longser theatre through a project named Longser Antar
Pulau (hereafter LAP), which is situated at Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia
Bandung (Bandung Academy of Performing Arts).1
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Performing the Nation
The prime interest of this book is to explore how the members of
LAP used the performing arts to navigate Indonesian society, and
how they made intelligible their own situation and social position by
entering the discursive field of cultural politics.
The argument is that the concepts of ‘local traditions’ and ‘national
identity’ become meaningful when they are realised in a contrastive
relationship. ‘Traditions’ in this sense are not forgotten patterns of
life which have fallen out of sight, waiting to be rediscovered, but are
very much ‘invented’ (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) from a contemporary place in history. These ‘inventions’, however, are not totally
arbitrary but contingent on and conditioned by the symbolic matters
at hand and how these relate to personal experience and power
relations. The approach follows the line of thought that public
consciousness of ‘traditions’ and ‘national identity’ develops through
certain practices which make these concepts perceptible and meaningful. LAP, ASTI and the cultural politics of Orde Baru are three
examples of such activities, although formulated in different modes
and for different reasons.
These practices made ‘traditions’ visible in the public space and
established a kind of ‘proper relationship’ between personal, local
and national identity; the meaning of ‘proper’ depending, of course,
on who was formulating it.
Considering cultural performances as a ‘unit of field study’ (Singer
1972: 68) places this study in a recognised academic tradition.2 The
characteristic of a performance, according to Singer, is that the researcher and the people participating can agree on the status of the
event as something bounded in time and space and set aside from
everyday practices, although they may differ in their opinions of what
the performance actually does or means. This specific definition separates the cultural performance from the prolific use of dramatic metaphors in research which describe social life ‘as if’ it were a drama.
The line of thought pursued here emanates from an American
tradition of reading cultural performances for their meaning. Keeler
(1987), Peacock (1987 [1968]), Pemberton (1994), Sears (1996) and
Siegel (1986) are some examples of scholars who use this approach
to cultural performances in the Indonesian context. They analyse
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performances because of the ability of the phenomenon to express
cultural systems of meaning and display power relationships. Their
main conclusion is that performances dramatise and stage social
relationships and principles for social interaction.
Geertz’s (1973) reading of the Balinese cockfight is an exemplary
illustration of this school of thought. In his analysis he treats the
performance as a text which reveals sentiments and cultural presuppositions. The performance is ‘read’ not only by the researcher but
by the participants themselves and thereby functions as a kind of
‘sentimental education’ (Geertz 1973: 449), maintaining a sensibility
towards the presuppositions underlying social conduct. In a sense the
performances ‘regenerate the very subjectivity they pretend only to
display’ (Geertz 1973: 451). The idea of reading performances as text
has been complicated by the inclusion of different perspectives in the
analysis (Barth 1975; Schieffelin 1985) and by the perception of performances as contested areas (Bauman 1992). Nevertheless, the basic
idea of the performance as a significant event, useful for the researcher
because of its ability to disclose meaning and underlying structures of
social relationships, remains.
Among many others, Turner’s intriguing work (e.g. 1967, 1982)
on this theme is especially rewarding. Working on contemporary,
modern societies Turner developed the concept of ‘liminoid’ performances, based on the relationship between ‘work’ and ‘play’. In ‘“tribal”,
“preliterate”, “simpler”, “small-scale”’ (Turner 1982: 30) societies work
and play combined to form a complete ritual cycle. Playful dimensions
were incorporated into ritual, as in joking relationships, masks and
tricksters, which were essential for ritual efficiency. Furthermore, the
play included in these rituals was part of making society as well as
production systems work and reproduce. Hence, in these societies
there existed no clear distinction between work and play. Turner
contends that these kinds of ritual included the whole society.
During the industrial revolution ‘work’ was singled out as a specific
field of activity apart from the religious and the playful, the latter being
defined in terms of leisure. The industrialised societies developed performances in which ‘far more than in tribal or agrarian rites and ceremonies, the ludic [playful] and the experimental are stressed’ (ibid.: 37).
Turner terms these modern performances “liminoid events” and
they are characteristically heavily biased toward play. As examples he
gives the theatre, the carnival and the entertainment industry, which
does not necessarily ‘work’ as in the ritual to achieve a specific goal.
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Performing the Nation
A further difference is that the liminoid events do not involve the
whole society as the traditional ritual, instead individuals can choose
to participate, to buy into or to neglect them. Bereft of its functional
power, play is let loose in the liminoid performance.
However, there are also similarities between the traditional ritual
and the modern, liminoid performance. Liminoid events are, like rituals,
a ‘play with the factors of culture’ (ibid.: 40, italics in original). The
difference is that in liminoid phenomena the actors are free to leave
these ‘factors’ unexplained. In tribal society the opportunity for freedom and creativity is quickly brought under control through the
phase of aggregation in which the ritual is concluded (Turner 1982).
In contrast, modern societies have turned play, although only in a
restricted sense, into a permanent possibility through such phenomena
as theatres, art schools, etc. These are marginal institutions in modern
societies but, according to Turner, potentially more dangerous to the
social order than rituals, as they are not restricted by the same limits.
In liminoid performances the participants are free to experiment and
criticise. There are in these performances no required phase of explanation or interpretation, while in ritual the play with cultural concepts
is wrapped up in an authoritative frame of interpretation.
The point of departure in this essay is that LAP’s performances are
what Turner terms ‘liminoid’. I shall argue that the LAP project
helps the members to understand their own situation by giving them
means and opportunity to experiment with personal interpretations
of social events. In the performances the members try to ascribe
meaning to social processes, using their ‘liminoid freedom’ to accept
or negate different interpretations of specific issues. This creative
process, however, between personal experience, interpretation and
social events, is absent at the national level where ideological constraints
impede the signifying process.
In the book I shall trace the kind of cultural revitalisation that
LAP pursues through three different, although closely related, contexts: LAP, ASTI and the cultural politics of Orde Baru.
The book opens (Chapters 1–3) with a description of the cultural
politics of Orde Baru which in a sense provides the stage material for
LAP. These chapters present the political situation and historical
circumstances in which art and culture have emerged as approved
ways of expressing identity and belonging. The exercise is an attempt
to establish a specific political context and to delineate certain discursive figures pertinent to the discourse of, and in, Indonesia. I consider
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this context, however, to be something which unfolds and achieves
significance because of what is revealed in the following chapters.
The context evolves in response to a certain point of departure and is
not there a priori to embed an event or to be given by the anthropologist as a background to a case study. Contexts are activated and acquire
meaning according to actions, perspectives and research questions.
The first three chapters are written with the intention of describing
the horizon relevant to the members of LAP when they create their
dramas, go to the academy or take part in other acts of artistic
creativity. LAP is constrained but also facilitated by the discourse on
cultural revitalisation.
The research covers government rhetoric as included in written
statements, policy papers, government publications and the presentations of these statements in the form of exhibitions, national celebrations and mass-media coverage of the events. This material provides
an opportunity to understand the semantics of the cultural politics
and the nature of the national rhetoric which LAP encountered.
Chapter 4 discusses the ASTI academy, the place where LAP was
born and functions. Here individual creativity is encouraged but also
homogenised and compelled to follow decrees of censorship and
state policies. In this context questions of identity, imaginations of
the future and the past, the relations between the personal and the
collective are constructed – and most importantly – staged. There is
in the academy an ongoing effort to articulate concepts like ‘local
tradition’ and ‘national culture’ in stage performances as well as in
research. The importance of ASTI stems from its capacity to mediate
interaction or to provide a meeting place for different interests.
Together with a few other examples of how art is recontextualised, this
section is devoted to exploring situations in which cultural politics and
artistic creativity may meet.
Apart from participating in day-to-day life in ASTI and reading
their documentation, to comprehend the raison d’être of ASTI and
why tradition is such an important concept at the academy it is also
necessary to travel to the countryside to see how ASTI approaches
the region which they are supposed to cultivate as art. In this case I
have had the privilege both of reading ASTI research reports, and of
conducting several interviews with its leading figures, as well as
attending cultural and ritual performances on my own.
Chapters 5–8 are formulated as a case study of LAP. As such they
focus on a group of people who were affected by the cultural politics
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of Orde Baru. The section demonstrates how the members of the
project – by manoeuvring among a multitude of political signs and
historically constructed representations of culture, art and identity –
make this symbolic milieu significant to individuals, infusing it with
meanings relevant to their conceptions of their personal situations
and experiences. The time covered in the text includes the members’
first encounter with traditional theatre at the ASTI academy through
their introduction to the national TV media. This example of cultural
revitalisation provides substantial data to exemplify how concepts of
cultural identity are handled in practice by a limited group of people.
The ethnographic materials relating to LAP consist of interviews
with the members, advertising material, participant observation during
the preparation and staging of performances, the members’ written
and oral exegesis of the project and videotapes of earlier performances.
It is important to note that LAP, ASTI and the cultural politics of
Orde Baru are intrinsically related to each other. They depend upon
each other, and the nature and quality of the relationship between
them are discussed in the conclusion. The final chapter is meant to
pull loose threads together and to discuss general ideas concerning
the Indonesian discourse on national identity, local culture and
artistic creativity.
1. ASTI stands for Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia. An academy is entitled
to give BA degree awards. Today ASTI has been upgraded to STSI:
Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia and the school is allowed to award
degrees to MA level. Throughout the text the name ASTI will be
applied, since this was the status of the school at the time of research.
2. I use the term ‘cultural’ performances to cover performances staged
for aesthetic pleasure (similar to art and theatre) as well as those of a
dramatic character performed during rituals.
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Cultural politics have been used (and abused) for liberation as well as
control. During the last decades, ‘culture’ has gained international
recognition as fundamental for identity and identity politics. This
vigorous engagement with notions of culture took most anthropologists by surprise (see for example, Kahn 1993; Hannerz 1996; Eller
1997; Turner 1993 for a detailed description of the relationship
between anthropology and the popularisation of culture). Culture,
which for a long time was considered a by-product of more basic
conditions, became the focus of attention and deemed a crucial factor
for understanding conflicts as well as questions of development. It
seemed like the aspiration ‘to get culture, however defined, back in the
picture’ (Geertz 1991: 608) had succeeded. However, culture in its
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popularised form proved to be even more ambiguous than anyone
could have foreseen.
For indigenous peoples over the world this international interest
in culture has created an opportunity to use cultural politics to gain
recognition and political rights (see for example, Hale 1997). Susan
Wright provides one example (borrowed from Terence Turner) of this
process where the Kayapo in Brazil make use of their ‘culture’ to
‘negotiate their co-existence with the dominant society’ (Wright, S.
1998: 14). Culture, as a concept, has become a focal point for expressing sentiments of identity and solidarity. This has also spurred a
demand for, and politics of, recognition (Taylor 1994) where cultural,
ethnic or other minority groups demand that their voices be heard
and their political rights as a group confirmed.
On the other hand, the same discourses on cultural rights have
tended to be monopolised by local elites and sometimes even used by
governments as a means to restrict sentiments of identity from being
expressed in what is conceived of as more politically dangerous terms
such as class and religion (Bowen 1986; Kahn 1995; Kipp 1996).
The multicultural society that is developing has its advocates as
well as prosecutors (Boxill 1998; Berns 1998). The adversaries to
plurality argue that recognition and respect for cultural diversity in
public and political life threaten to tear society apart. In some cases,
the political right wing has even used the notion of culture to promote
a kind of cultural apartheid, close to cultural racism (Balibar and
Wallerstein 1991). In some political subdivisions even assimilation is
rejected, and the solution to the problems conceived of as springing
from a multicultural society is expulsion of the ‘foreign’.
On the other hand, the proponents of a multicultural society argue
that their opponents mistake cause and effect. According to the
defenders of a multicultural strategy, it is the underlying structure of
inequality between different groups that causes the tension and not
the cultural diversity as such. Their solution would be to grant the
minorities political participation and respect.
In 1995, UNESCO presented a report called Our Creative Diversity
signifying a peak, at the time, in international awareness concerning
cultural rights. In the report the question of ethnic and cultural
rights is discussed, together with the question of how a global system
of ethics could be agreed by the international community of sovereign
states. The report takes seriously the potentials for trouble that can
arise in a multicultural society and tries to navigate a course between
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Cultural Politics
Scylla and Charybdis – ethnification and homogenisation. Emphasis
is put in the report on the role of cultural politics. Following the line
of argument suggested in the beginning of the report that culture
influences all aspects of human life, the field of cultural politics should
not only include the fine arts but also areas such as education, justice
and law, economics, and democracy.
Following up on the report, an ‘inventory’ of cultural assessments
and resources was published (World Culture Report 1998). This
inventory makes an effort to estimate and quantify the level of culture
and the people’s access to it in the member states of the UN. Following
the logic of quantifying studies, this report highlights entities that lend
themselves to quantification. Consequently, questions about ‘meaning’
and why decisions are made are marginalised.
Our Creative Diversity exemplifies the gigantic dilemma inherent
in the task of delineating criteria for an acceptable cultural and ethical
diversity: celebrating diversity while at the same time proposing ultimate and universal limits for this plurality. Susan Wright has criticised
the report for being an elite project and for approaching culture with
a ‘top-down grand plan for a pluralism of bounded cultures’ (Wright,
S. 1998: 13) that does not take into consideration people’s own ways
of meaning making. The problem with the report according to her is
that it regards cultures as ‘distinct entities with clear boundaries’ (ibid.:
13) and forgets culture as a process of meaning creation. The dilemma
of promoting tolerance for pluralism and simultaneously, defining the
limits of this tolerance becomes obvious in paragraphs such as: ‘Since
many past and alien visions are intolerant, if we endorse them, in our
tolerant, liberal way, we endorse intolerance … Let us rejoice in
diversity, while maintaining absolute standards of judging what is right,
good and true’ (Our Creative Diversity 1996: 55).
An additional critical aspect was raised by Edward Said (1998) in a
speech in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where he criticised the report for omitting to
encourage critical thinking in education systems.
However, the problem is probably not unique to the discussion of
culture. Liedman (1997) has stated that general ideas do not have
agreed effects, but the actions that they stimulate depend upon the
context in which they are implemented. The idea of cultural rights is
a case in point. Depending on the circumstances and power relations
in society, these ideas may be encompassed and advocated by extreme
opposites and give rise to a variety of different and sometimes conflicting policies.
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That cultural politics includes unsolvable questions of moral and
ethical judgements is obvious, where the juggling with concepts of
tolerance and intolerance in UNESCO’s report is a good example.
As Said and Wright show, cultural politics in a plural society includes
a dilemma between control and empowerment. Cultural policies can
be used to control sentiments of identity and thereby their political
expression, and, on the other hand, from a grassroots perspective,
cultural politics can be used to argue for the right of self-determination. What we have is a discourse that lends itself as a means to
the struggle for power for such diverse groups as indigenous peoples
and the extreme right. At the same time cultural politics may function
as a programme of enlightenment in creating an awareness and knowledge concerning cultural rights.
What can be concluded is that culture, cultural politics and cultural
rights constitute important fields of battle for diverse political ambitions
and that this process should spur researchers to understand what this
‘contested area’ is about.
Many have described the politicisation of identity and the creation
of ethnic markers. What also has to be addressed is the question of how
these markers, and the political discourse of ethnic and cultural identity,
influence and form experience. In the present book the relation between
cultural identity and its different forms of expression is approached
through the lens of Indonesian cultural politics. The cultural politics
of Orde Baru followed the pattern of control and empowerment
outlined above. The discourse worked to control and subjugate local
identity and at the same time it empowered Longser Antar Pulau to
create interpretative frames through which they could understand
their own experiences.
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When President Suharto came to power in Indonesia in 1965–66,
words like kebudayaan (culture) and kesenian (art) gained importance
in official presentations of the Indonesian nation. The concepts were
utilised by the government to outline the idea that Indonesia consists
of a certain number of discrete cultures, each represented by a unique
set of art and aesthetics stockpiled in the performing arts, architecture,
textiles and clothes.
There is a rapidly developing body of literature on how the invention
of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ fit into the construction of ‘Indonesia’.
These studies concentrate on how local traditions were incorporated
into the political agenda of Orde Baru and adjusted to the desire of
the state to form a national identity. The cultural politics of Orde
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Baru have been documented and discussed by Davis (1979), Feinstein
(1995), Hatley (1982, 1993, 1995), Lindsay (1985, 1995), Schiller
and Martin-Schiller (1997), Sutton (1995), Yampolsky (1995), and
Zanten (1995), and further in articles by Acciaioli (1985), Bowen
(1986), Picard (1990), Widodo (1995), and Zurbuchen (1990).
These commentators agree in seeing the Indonesian government
as attempting to appropriate culture and tradition, including the performing arts, with the intention of creating politically useful concepts,
supposed both to constitute and depict local and national identity.1
Their general conclusion is that local artistic expressions were incorporated into the political agenda of Orde Baru and adjusted to fit the
promotion of a collective national identity. In this way ethnic and
regional sentiments were supposed to be channelled into the field of
art and prevented from being expressed in terms of class, religion
and separatist movements.
Art had an important position in this political administration of
identity, since it was understood to carry a unique capacity to mirror
local culture. Acciaioli (1985) in particular has documented how the
government transformed local art from lived praxis into an aesthetic
sign of culture.
Indonesia is also presented as a multicultural state in other domains,
such as schoolbooks, TV, museums and exhibitions. Recently, and
possibly related to the tourist market but also in response to the sensitivity in international politics to cultural differences, the presentation
of Indonesia as a multicultural nation moved into the international
arena. At the 1986 World Fair in Vancouver, Indonesia was defined
by its cultural variety (Keyes 1990). Hughes-Freeland (1989) has reported on an ‘Indonesian image enhancement’, partly staged by the
staff of the Indonesian embassy in Great Britain, based on cultural
performances. No one travelling through Indonesia can escape the
promotion of the country as a vibrant multicultural state. This policy
of ‘multiculturalism’, trapped in prescribed aesthetic forms, was deliberately used by Orde Baru as an image of ‘Indonesia’ on national
and international arenas.
An obvious instance of this process was the effort made by the
authorities to style ethnic cultures in accordance with the taste of
international tourism (see for example, Taylor 1994; Picard 1990).
Yet another realm in which the reification of culture is available is in
the presentation of Indonesia in government documents geared towards
a national audience.
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In policy documents the nation was considered the sum of its
different cultures and the performing arts were understood to be
concrete manifestations of specific cultural traditions. Since national
identity was so closely tied to local cultures and the performing arts,
it became vital for the government to incorporate art into the context
of nationalism. As part of that aspiration, ‘art’ and ‘culture’ were given
ample space in the five-year plans for development (Repelita). The
formulations built on the national constitution (UUD ‘45), where art
and culture are acknowledged as fundamental elements in the national
identity. In these documents Indonesian nationhood was presented
as basically ‘cultural’. Briefly, the text in the constitution runs as follows:
‘The old and original culture as it exists at the peaks of local cultures
throughout Indonesia is included as the national culture’.2 The
clause is part of the official Clarification of the Constitution and is
today taken as a pretext for government interest in local traditions.
This statement is elaborated in the five-year plans which presented
the government strategy for development, including the official policy
towards culture, art, tradition and national identity.3 In these documents it is stated that local cultural values may be revitalised by
artistic exploration. Values promoted for revitalisation and preservation
were those considered to favour development: for example, punctuality
and hard work. Other values that may be suspected of being contaminated by feudalism or other negative biases were to be abolished.
This connection between art and national development made the
organisation of art production, the building of art schools, cultural
centres, museums and related organisations a national concern.
Organised art production was considered necessary to exploit traditional cultures for development-positive attitudes and to disseminate
these attitudes among the people.
The performing arts in particular were of national concern in Orde
Baru Indonesia. Cultural performances were used in entertainment,
academic discussions, political symbolism as well as in rituals. Thus,
similar performances can be followed through a variety of situations
and transformations.
In the field of art the relation between the concepts ‘local culture’
(kebudayaan daerah) and ‘national identity’ (kepribadian nasional, or
kebudayaan nasional) was highlighted and exposed to competing interpretations. The responsibility placed on the artists by the government
to depict and forge similarities and discontinuities between Indonesia
and its different regions was subjected to an intense discussion inside
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the art establishment. In the specific case of the Longser Antar Pulau
project these questions were concentrated on the issue of developing
traditional art forms, making them ‘up to date’, and in tune with
modern Indonesia. These were central concerns both to the Indonesian
government and the Longser Antar Pulau project.
The performing arts in Indonesia (at least in Java) are also an
important part of ritual. State and village rituals, as well as individual
life-cycle rituals, employ the performing arts in some way. Soedarsono
(1990) provides a very good example of how the court of Yogyakarta
used theatre as a state ritual at the turn of the century. In the courtly
celebrations, Wayang Wong, a theatre where stories from the Mahabharata and other well-known epics are staged, functioned to establish
the court as a centre of cosmic power and to reveal the similarities
between the king and the god Wisnu. Similarly President Suharto
engaged art and artists, in this case to embellish the regime of Orde
Baru. Particularly during the celebration of Independence Day,
nationalistic messages were heard in the theatres, and the official
ceremonies were elaborated with dance and music performances.
The parades staged by Orde Baru during the celebration of independence had a display of cultural performances as their main theme
rather than military force.
Apart from being used by the state to signify exceptional events
and important national celebrations, art is also part of the local social
landscape. Music from the festivities at weddings and circumcisions is
heard in most places in Java. In West Java performances of Sisingaan,
Kuda Lumping and Kuda Renggong are used to celebrate a successful
circumcision. The performances last for a whole day and engage
entire villages as spectators or participants. Weddings are even more
lavish in terms of money spent on the performing arts. Musicians and
professional dancers are employed together with puppeteers and
theatre groups. A middle-class wedding in a prosperous village may
very well continue for several consecutive days, featuring new performances and entertainments every night.
Although the performing arts are to a certain extent standardised
and used to express the shared interests and aesthetics of a collectivity,
especially in state rituals and life-cycle rituals, the individual actor is
able to modify the productions and to put a personal stamp on them.
Keeler (1987) has pointed out how Wayang Kulit performances are
used both by the sponsor and the puppeteer to suit their individual
ambitions. Although the actors are often said to impersonate external
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powers, specific performers, puppeteers, dancers and musicians are
widely known for their individual skills. Many of the performances,
like Sisingaan and Kuda Renggong, are quite recent innovations and
their origins can be traced back to moments of individual creativity.
Alterations are continuously used to make performances attractive
and marketable. Genres that do not change very soon disappear from
the public menu. At least when it comes to entertainment during
ritual celebrations, the West Javanese audience appreciates change
and innovation rather than formulaic repetition. Modern Indonesian
theatres, including LAP, also make explicit use of individual ideas and
experiences to create a performance. LAP members state that they
have consciously chosen to make use of the dramatic idiom as a means
of expressing self-reflective comments on society. In these cases individual and personal themes are at the centre of the performance.
This ability to cut through different aspects of life and society
provides art in Indonesia with the privileged position of being an
idiom in which political and ritual statements can be expressed at the
same time that it serves to formulate sentiments and experiences of
the individual. In Java, the demand for personal agency, and the selfreflective activities intrinsic to such phenomena as the modern theatre,
meet with a long tradition of expressing collective concerns through
the performing arts. This situation makes theatre and cultural performances productive fields for studying how artistic creativity combines with politics in formulating reality.
In this section I shall pursue the question of how official images
(ideological concepts) of identity and culture, national as well as local,
are connected with each other, disseminated into the public space
and transformed into a public discourse.4
The fact that national identity, culture, tradition and art became
important and intertwined political concepts of Orde Baru is perhaps
a truism today. They were frequently invoked by officials in a variety
of different situations to confirm, explain and comment upon national
as well as local identity. The concepts were strongly supported and
promoted by the central (and local) government and were therefore
hard to ignore by the art establishment. To persons involved in the
production of art, this is the horizon which was present when the
artist looked up from his work. However, the questions of what these
concepts meant and how they were transmitted into the public space
still remain.
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The aim is to untangle the semantics of the officially approved figure
of ‘culture’ (kebudayaan) and to scrutinise the specific meanings of ‘art’
and ‘tradition’ in the political development of these concepts. To understand this, three vantage points have been chosen: first, a written document (Repelita) which explicitly states the policy and strategy of the
government; second, the presentation of this policy in the form of a
theme park (TMII); and third, how the ideology was deployed in the
celebration of national independence. Although transformed through
different contexts and media, these are instances where the official
stance of the regime towards local art and culture was most clearly
The qualities of a specific Indonesian identity and how local traditions were going to be integrated into the national context were, of
course, debated and contested issues. The following presentation is
restricted to how these questions were formulated and organised in
official contexts and through officially approved images.
The description takes its point of departure from the fact that
both Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia and LAP include explicit references
to the cultural politics formulated by the state to describe their activities. In their presentation of the academy, ASTI refers to UUD ‘45
(the National Constitution), and GBHN (National State Directives)
as their guiding principles. LAP defines in its statutes the aim of the
project as: ‘To form the desire of a national culture according to what
is proposed in UUD ‘45 paragraph 32’. As mentioned before, the
presentation of these directives is followed in the next chapters by an
exploration of certain practices which are directly related and regulated
by these directives. The intention is to understand what kind of
‘semantic cluster’ (context) is activated by LAP and ASTI when they
use ‘nodes’ such as UUD ‘45 and GBHN in describing their own
activities. Employing these references is not an empty gesture but has
a broader relevance to ‘set the stage’ for action.
The Guided Democracy under Sukarno ended abruptly in 1965–66
with the blood-drenched birth of Orde Baru. From a Javanese perspective the turmoil and the dangerous years of freedom fighting,
Islamic upheavals (Darul Islam), hyperinflation, party politics and the
fierce opposition between communists, Muslims and nationalists
ended. In retrospect one could argue that freedom of speech and
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political action was traded for security and economic development.
The threat of the return of chaos has since served Orde Baru well in
its efforts to create a legitimacy for extra juridical actions. To firmly
control the public debate Orde Baru developed the ethical code of
SARA: Suku, Agama, Ras, Antar Golongan (Ethnicity, Religion, Race,
Class), according to which it was forbidden to discuss conflicts
related to these issues in public.
In 1990, Geertz wrote that in the climate of ‘culture-not-politics’
(1990: 84) that developed in Indonesia since the takeover by Orde
Baru, the culturalisation of potential political forces such as ‘ethnic,
linguistic, and religious differences’ (1990: 79) was a strategy to avoid
political conflicts. A similar pattern, however, of organising potential
conflicts which resonates strongly with the politics of Orde Baru started
to emerge even in colonial times. As Frederick has pointed out, it is
easy to suggest that ‘the Indonesian clock has only recently, after a
difficult … era [1940–1965], started ticking again, continuing processes begun much earlier’ (Frederick 1997: 67). The implication is
that the freedom to express political opinions which emerged after
the revolution has again, since 1965, been suppressed in favour of an
order based on firmly controlled discourses of cultural diversity.5
During the colonial era Western researchers mapped the geographical area of what today (roughly) corresponds to Indonesia in respect
of adat (traditional law), and the colonial powers were quick to recognise these regional differences in tradition as culturally discrete areas
(Guinness 1994: 268).6 This ‘knowledge of the self’ as belonging to
a distinct (ethnic) group with local traditions was reproduced in several
ways. One of the most decisive efforts to continue this tradition was
the initiation (in the 1970s) of the national research project, the Project
of Inventory and Documentation of Regional Culture (Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Kebudayaan Daerah). This project was
brought into being by the Department of Education and Culture
and involved indigenous scholars who documented and researched
local social conditions, traditions, performances and the arts.
The relationship between art and identity has a history of almost
the same length as the colonial mapping of adat communities. An
indigenous debate, later named Polemik Kebudajaan, emerged in the
early century in the journal Pudjangga Baru. This debate was continued and formed what Claire Holt (1967) termed The Great Debate,
in which questions of national identity merge with the agenda of
artistic development.7
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The main question of the debate was, of course: what does it
mean to be Indonesian and how does this notion relate to questions
of modernisation and development? Takdir Alisjahbana (1954) took
a position in favour of Westernising the Indonesian nation. He advocated the idea that Indonesia should cultivate its historical links with
the Netherlands to acquire knowledge about modernity and to
release the Indonesian people from its feudal structures and irrational
thinking. Opposed to this were the ideas, advocated by Sanusi Pane
(1954) among others, that Indonesia had to break with colonialism
and instead utilise indigenous notions and experience to develop an
alternative road to a modernity of a distinct Indonesian brand. This
debate soon found its way into the discourse on art.
On the one hand, there was the conviction that art had to be
political. Art was considered as limited and formulated by historical
and politico-economic circumstances, and this was also how it should
be. That art should be used to express a certain social reality and
serve the purpose of making people aware of their social and political
circumstances was the position of the social-realist wing. This attitude
was roughly synonymous with the Yogyakarta-based Communist
movement and argued that art had to be subjugated to political goals
and serve industrial development. Because art had a consciousnessraising potentiality this side struggled to supply the people with
facilities for art production on a large scale. People should be able to
use art for the aims of national liberation. The motifs, techniques and
materials should be derived from local traditions and mirror the
conditions of the site of production.
The contrary position held the view that art had to strive to free
itself from political and historical constraints and search for deeper
and more universal truths. This position fits roughly with the idea
that it is the capacity among people to appreciate art which needs to
be educated and their productions ‘cultivated’. This argument corresponds to the ideological position of, for instance, ASTI as it
struggles to provide a formal education for artists. According to the
proponents of these ideas, Indonesia had to be a nation among
nations and for the arts that meant being open to the influences of
the international art world, experimenting with form and style in a
systematic way, to express the essential qualities of art and to explore
the human condition, unrestrained by local, social and historical conditions. This movement had its main base at the Bandung Institute of
Technology (ITB).
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On several topics, however, a ‘substantial agreement’ (Frederick
1997: 55) existed between the two factions. The future national culture was to be free, built on a synthesis, representative and framed in
terms of nationalism. The ideological positions did not come out so
differently in the realisation of the arts either (Spanjaard 1993). Both
factions actually applied techniques and materials which are easy to
fit into a Western art history. One may argue that the only difference
between the two sides, in term of artistic qualities, is that the socialrealist wing halted their art history at the time of realism, while the
other faction moved on to modernism.
The cleavage between the two ‘schools’ seems to the outsider to
be minor, but it has fuelled the debate within Indonesia for several
decades.8 Thus, in 1979 Umar Kayam, one of Indonesia’s best-known
intellectuals and art critics, used these two ways of approaching art
and nationalism in his essay Indonesian Culture and National Identity,
in which he contrasts polemically a painting by Popo Iskandar from
Bandung which is done in an expressionistic, abstract vein with
another from Bali which depicts Arjuna in traditional colours and in
a realistic style (Kayam 1981). Using this basic opposition, which has
its roots in the polemics of the turn of the century, he presents these
paintings to friends from different parts of the archipelago in order
to explore the idea of a national identity.
In 1950, LEKRA, Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (the People’s
Cultural Association), was constituted and with this the art discourse
took a definite political turn. The institution was led by the communists, who used art as a consciousness-raising tool meant to expose
patterns of exploitation. LEKRA worked at a grassroots level, tightly
connected with the Communist Party. Only art depicting the suffering
of the people and their experience should be produced, according to
the LEKRA proponents. As a counter response, Manikebu: Manifes
Kebudayaan (The Cultural Manifesto) was published in 1963, arguing
for an art based on universal human values which transcended narrow
national borders. The political tension between the factions may be
seen in the fact that President Sukarno took immediate action to ban
the Manikebu manifesto. Thus, prior to 1965, art, culture, identity
and politics were natural companions.9
The entrance of Orde Baru on the stage in 1965 entailed a radical
change in the agenda. The regime erased politics from the public
debate and a ‘cultural engineering on a scale only dreamed of a generation ago’ began (Frederick 1997: 70). The lively, and often violent,
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political debate was muted. Instead of pursuing a political debate the
regime concentrated its efforts on establishing art and culture as
synonymous with identity. However, Frederick (1997) and Bodden
(1997a) conclude that although the political debate on national
identity has been toned down, the problematic questions of identity
– national, regional and personal – have not disappeared. Mochtar
Lubis, one of Indonesia’s best-known writers, relaunched the debate
in the 1970s by opening The Indonesian Dilemma with the intriguing
questions: ‘The old image is already fading in the mirror, while the
typical new image is not yet clear. Who is the new Indonesian? Does
he exist? Where is he? What is he like?’ (Lubis 1983: 1).
In the 1980s, the debate was continued with the republishing of
the Polemik Kebudajaan, and Horizon, the leading cultural magazine
at that time, allowed Takdir Alisjahbana to reformulate his ideas in a
special feature.
The turn the debate took in the 1990s is exemplified by Herry
Dimjati, one of Bandung’s best-known artists, represented both
nationally and internationally, who works constantly on the theme of
the disappearance of tradition. In 1995, as a polemic on the idea
presented in the constitution that being Indonesian only implies producing the best of regional culture, he introduced himself (Dimjati
1995) as a ‘cross-breed’ and asked if there was not more to being
Indonesian than representing the top of regional culture. By telling
his own life-history he questioned the borders between ethnic,
cultural and geographical identity and made an effort to reopen the
discussion of Indonesian identity to personal experience. Dimjati
wants more out of the word ‘identity’ than having his art acknowledged
as a ‘sign’ for regional and cultural inheritance, he wants to be an
active participator in formulating Indonesia into something which
resonates with his background.
In 1995, the history of art and politics meet again through the
Magsaysay controversy which pits LEKRA and Orde Baru against each
other through the representatives Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Pram) and
Mochtar Lubis, the only two internationally recognised Indonesian
writers.10 The issue of the conflict was that the prestigious Ramon
Magsaysay’s literary award had been given to Pram, a former activist
in LEKRA. To protest against this nomination, Mochtar Lubis travelled
to Manila and returned the prize that he had won in 1958. This
decision was publicly supported by a list of 154 knowledgeable Indonesian writers, politicians and artists.
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The conflict evoked strong feelings. Two Muslim magazines,
Ummat and Tiras, both had cover stories on the event in their
September issues. Tiras had Mochtar Lubis on its front page with the
headline, ‘It Is Not Impossible That a New LEKRA Will Arise’.
Ummat introduced its issue with a frightening picture of a rice sickle
thrust into a photograph, and the headline ‘The Guerrilla Politics of
Lekra’, on its front page. This discourse was complemented by a series
of articles in the daily papers about the danger of Organisasi Tanpa
Bentuk (informal organisations) which was used as an acronym for
supposed Communist activities. The Indonesian people were urged to
be on guard against the Communist movement, which at any moment
could rise again and throw the country into chaos. The conflict over
the art award was cleverly used by Orde Baru to strengthen its position
by threatening that there would be a return of LEKRA and the
Communists if they were not checked by the regime.
Although varying in scale, magnitude and focus, the questions of
art continue to creep into the political discourse of Indonesia.
Antlöv (1995: 35) noticed that when Suharto appointed his first
cabinet in 1967, it was called Development Cabinet (Kabinet Pembangunan) a name that has been in use since then. President Suharto
is also named the Father of Development (Bapak Pembangunan), and
the New Order is alternated with Development Order (Orde Pembangunan).
Pembangunan (development) in its conventional use suggests a
progress in socio-economic terms, that is an increment in the fields
of economics, education, transportation and infrastructure. Health
programmes, the extinction of illiteracy, family planning and agrarian
intensification programmes, are presented as indications of pembangunan. In other words, pembangunan is translated as a form of
material progress, including consumption, and social welfare, which
is quantified and depicted in graphics. This process may be reviewed
critically (Koning 1997) but, ‘Like the [rising of the] sun, “Pembangunan” appears to be inevitable’ (Heryanto 1988: 1). By now, the
word denoting this ‘inevitable’ process has its specific social history
relevant to the study of culture.
In the New Order ‘pembangunan’ became a key word. This means
that the word did not merely describe a measurable reality but also
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stood for a set of ideas regulating government actions.11 Words that
incorporate the basic root bangun can be grouped into two clusters,
describing either the activity of constructing something new (for
example, building a house), or second, changing the state of something or awakening something that lies dormant (for example, a
person awakening from sleep). From the turn of the century until the
establishment of the New Order, the word draws equally on these two
clusters of meaning. One example is Takdir Alisjahbana, who used
the word in Polemik Kebudajaan, where pembangunan described the
arousal of (a dormant) nationalist consciousness but also the necessity
of breaking with old traditions.
According to Heryanto the meaning of the word has since then
slowly changed to emphasise a break with the past and the creation
of something new ‘which previously did not exist’ (Heryanto 1988:
12). The development of the word pembangunan as an abstract noun
from the verb membangun implied a shift in the meaning of the word
from describing a certain activity into an abstract ideological term that
could be filled with specific actions.
Development (pembangunan), according to Heryanto, has come
to mean a man-made, controlled and engineered construction of
something which has not existed before. The word pembangunan
implies that something (in this case the future of Indonesia) has to
be constructed by someone. The word presupposes a process, in
which forces alien to the organism that is subject to development are
at work (as in the building of a house, there is nothing inherent in
the materials to make them form a building: the house has to be
built by someone). Following this line of thought Heryanto claims
that to use the word pembangunan in political rhetoric suggests that
the power to develop is not innate in the Indonesian heritage but has
to be brought about by technology, economic theory and expertise
imported from abroad. Extrapolating from Heryanto’s article it could
also be stated that development is considered something that has to be
initiated (and controlled) from above since it does not grow naturally
from beneath.
As suggested, the term pembangunan is ambiguous and a second
term is necessary to understand the double meaning of development.
The word perkembangan is also often translated by ‘development’,
but following Heryanto’s analysis a more accurate translation would
be ‘growth’. Perkembangan ‘refers to a PROCESS of change which is
continuous, which has the qualities of being NATURAL, and which
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takes place because of a thrust of energy from WITHIN the organic
matter involved, even if it also uses contributions of energy from
outside’ (Heryanto 1988: 15, upper case in original). A good example
of this is blooming and flowering, which is described by the word
perkembangan in Indonesian. A natural process inherent in the seed
is triggered by ‘energy from the outside’. The meaning of perkembangan is very close to the semantics of pembangunan, although
emphasising awakening or arousal of inherent capacities, and the
word is used in parallel with pembangunan in political rhetoric.
The meaning of Suharto as the Father of Development highlights
the semantic ambiguities of the term. His aspiration was to build
something new, an industrial economy (at least that was the explicit
aim) and a national identity. At the same time he was determined to
avoid a Western democracy, and he therefore promoted the idea that
development had to build on indigenous traditions.
In an effort to re-establish, or resume, the relationship between
development and indigenous history, the government’s political
rhetoric has come to emphasise the interdependence between development and domestic resources. Pembangunan was presented as the
(culturally rooted) outcome of indigenous history (although it still
had to be engineered). For example the president stated in his annual
speech of independence on 17 August 1995: Tetapi dengan pembangunan kita tidak memutuskan tali sejarah (However, by development we do not cut off our connection with history). In the five-year
plans and GBHN, which is the draft for the plans, a similar view was
presented (even though culture had to be subservient to development):
Pembangunan nasional secara menyeluruh tidak dapat dipisahkan
dari pengembangan kebudayaan, sebab pengembangan kebudayaan
akan merupakan landasan bagi pengembangan nilai-nilai yang
menunjang usaha pembangunan (Our total national development
cannot be separated from the growth of culture, since the growth of
culture will form the ground for the growth of values which support
the needs of development) (Lima Repelita: 190). The conclusion is
that pembangunan nasional merupakan pembangunan yang berbudaya
(National development is a development that is cultured) (ibid.: 469).
In research on art and cultural identity the ambiguity of the term
pembangunan emerges fully, and this ideological framework must be
kept in mind when we turn to the cultural politics presented in the
five-year plans for development.
Pembangunan in the context of cultural identity conflates the
meanings unpacked in Heryanto’s social history of the term, and
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indicates the engineering of a power inherent in local culture, to form,
or create, something new (an Indonesian identity).
The five-year plans, which were produced by the government in order
to present the strategy for development, include the official policies
regarding culture, art, tradition and national identity.
Every five years the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR: Majelis
Permusyawaratan Rakyat) met to decide the National State Directives
(GBHN: Garis-Garis Besar Haluan Negara).12 During the following
five years, the text for the directives was scrutinised by a body of
experts and consultants from the political parties, universities, social
and religious organisations and related groups to collect ideas and
opinions for the next draft. These ideas and opinions were then
compiled into the text of the National State Directives, which had to
be ratified by the Assembly. In the next step, the directives were used
by the Planning Board of National Development (Bappenas: Badan
Perencanaan Pembangunan Nasional) to write the Repelita document,
which the House of Representatives (DPR, Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat)
implemented by allocating resources to relevant executive bodies.
The five-year plan had the status of a government document
which stated the basic goals for national development. The final text
was a joint declaration of the government bodies about the future
politics of the state. As such it was the closest thing to an ideological
statement on behalf of the government.
Culture is only mentioned in passing in the first Repelita of Orde
Baru, which covered the period 1968/69–1973/74. The statement
was included under the heading ‘The Development of Culture and
Sport’ (Lima Repelita: 16) which covered only two pages. This plan
stated that the most important measures for achieving a national
cultural identity (kebudajaan nasional) are: first, to uncover archaeological sites and to use them as educational devices to protect and
develop culture; second, to develop local schools of art and local
cultural events; and third, to avoid negative influences from alien
cultures (kebudajaan asing) (ibid.: 16). Although very compressed,
these themes are recurrent in the later plans.
In the second plan (1974/75–1978/79), the section on National
Culture is notably upgraded. It is allocated its own chapter, covering
thirteen pages, which includes subheadings such as Research and
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Documentation of Local Culture (Lima Repelita: 97) and Education
and Development of Art (ibid.: 99). Adding to the importance of the
issue is the fact that a research programme to document regional
cultures all over Indonesia is outlined.
The chapter outlines the government’s concern to develop a
national identity and how this effort relates to local cultures and
traditions. Indonesian culture in its essence is one (ibid.: 91), but to
shape and to inscribe a meaningful pattern in this shared, unspecified
culture, it is necessary to use the regional cultures (kebudayaan daerah).
As an example of how to make national cohesion to a meaningful
‘tradition’ is mentioned as a shared historical inheritance that contains
values useful for the nation to develop and nurture. The introduction also mentions that this national culture has to be in accordance
with Pancasila (state ideology), and following the first plan it indicates
the danger of influences from feudalism and foreign cultures. Development has to be carried out carefully and precisely.
The chapter on national culture takes art (kesenian) as its natural
point of departure. It is stated in the text that the need for development is already an issue formulated (berwudjud) in many local art
events (kegiatan kesenian) such as drama, puppet shows, dance and
other performances. But the quality of these arts has to be improved.
This view of local art as qualitatively incomplete legitimates interference with and monitoring of art by the government.
The importance paid to art in the context of development is
manifest in the statement that a condition for the development of
national identity is a programme to organise art (ibid.: 92). To arrange
for this, several centres were to be established for promoting art and
culture (Pusat kesenian dan kebudayaan), and exhibitions, competitions and seminars on art were to be encouraged.
The interest in art and cultural artefacts was motivated by the
desire to restimulate the life of local culture in order to give national
identity a meaningful base. The local culture was to be awakened and
put to work (ibid.: 95).
Concrete results of this interest were the restoration of archaeological sites and the initiation of a large-scale research programme on
local cultures, Penelitian dan pencatatan kebudayaan daerah (Research
on and documentation of local culture).
In the discussion of specific targets for the work of shaping a
national character, art was one of the appointed areas: ‘The development of traditional/regional art is promoted in the framework of
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developing national art in order to further give expression to
national identity and enrich Indonesian art’ (ibid.: 197).
One important goal was, of course, to educate artists, but equally
important was to educate the taste of the masses so that they be able
to appreciate the arts (ibid.: 99). Schools of art, cultural centres,
places for art creation, exhibitions, seminars, competitions, research
programmes and museums were launched to make art accessible, to
educate the people and to increase the quality of art.
The next plan (1979/80–1983/84) includes a more elaborate
discussion on culture as a set of logic, ethics and aesthetic values,
through which society and individuals communicate and relate to
each other, nature and God. This definition strengthens the argument,
presented in the plan, that culture is inseparable from national
development, which, if successful, has to be supported by a culture
saturated by development-positive values such as thrift (hemat), straightforwardness (prasaja), hard work (bekerja keras) and order (tertib).
In the programme for the development of the arts, which is now
more specific, it is said that the arts constitute a form of culture
promoting the ethical and aesthetic values of the people (ibid.: 201).
Art is incorporated in the plans as a medium for cultivating aesthetic
and ethical values in a direction positive to development.
It is obvious that not all traditional or local values were to be saved
and cherished. This view was also explicitly stated: ‘[T]he values that
do not support the need for development and hamper the construction of the nation in the long run will be abolished’ (ibid.: 195). One
also had to be on ‘guard against cultural social values which are feudal
and narrowly regional’ (ibid.: 196).13 The succeeding plans further
establish and confirm this view of local culture, art and tradition,
national identity and religion.
The actual outcome of this policy is very visible in Indonesia today.
In West Java, for instance, in the vicinity of Bandung some of the
activities initiated since 1965 include: one public art school, a cultural
centre, several permanent theatre stages, a museum focusing on the
region, a centre for documentation of culture and tradition and a
new library. Series of research reports on local culture, tradition and
art are compiled in the art school, the centre for documentation and
the regional library.
In the course of time the plans developed an increasing differentiation and specialisation. A fine-tooled schedule for recording,
development and education was outlined with the aim of introducing
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a specific view of local art, culture and tradition to the public. In the
plans, the official view of national development becomes quite explicit,
including the ambiguous appreciation of traditional culture. It is
stated that national identity has to build on, and depends on, local
conditions. Local resources should be used to form the ‘imagined
community’ of Indonesia. It is also evident that national identity is a
question of the establishment and implementation of certain chosen
values. The policy is mechanistic, and the local traditions are treated
as a kind of grocery shop from which it is possible to pick out the best
varieties and discard the rotten. To keep the stock of traditional values
fresh, so to speak, local culture has to be taken care of by the government, weeded, preserved and sometimes even revitalised if neglected
by the local community. The need felt by the government to control,
organise and supervise local expressions of culture is perceptible in
every paragraph. Indonesia’s cultural mosaic is cultivated and trimmed
in a pattern according to the need of the nation.
Culture, even though its communicative potentials are mentioned,
is largely treated as a national asset. This asset is exploited to provide
a yield for the nation, and art is engaged in this enterprise as a
medium for implementing this policy and making traditional culture
visible. Art is generally considered as a means to approach, appreciate
and present cultural values. Art and artists are thus enrolled in a
national agenda for creating a national awareness. Contemplating the
nation from the perspective of the artists, Repelita is an important
document for understanding their political position during Orde Baru.
The Repelita plans shaped the conditions of the artists by placing
their work inside a specific discourse where they had access to certain
questions and at the same time were excluded from others; for example, art was allowed to speak about cultural traditions but not class.
1. A similar discussion on the subject of kastam (custom) in the Pacific
is summarised by Keesing (1993), Lindstrom and White (1993), and
Tonkinson (1993).
2. Cited from UUD ‘45: dengan penjelasannya (UUD: n.d.). All translations from Indonesian are my own.
3. The importance of the Constitution and Repelita documents in
Indonesian cultural politics is also noted by Yampolsky (1995).
4. Although this section focuses on the effort of the state to control
cultural identity, I am not arguing that evocations of ethnic identity
in Indonesia are automatic or mechanical answers to strategies of
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domination. The rhetoric of identity politics resonates strongly with
personal sentiments and the history of Indonesia. The argument is
rather that because of that strong connection, cultural identity became
contested and important to control. The deconstruction of the ideological content in the cultural politics of Indonesia is not meant to
depreciate the pride that people take in their cultural identity.
5. Frederick takes the analysis further though, suggesting that there is
something wrong with this ‘“déjà vu all over again” analysis’ (Frederick
1997: 71).
6. The intrinsic relationship between this research, colonial administration and indigenous self-images is well documented by Ellen (1983),
Kahn (1993), Kingston (1991) and Nordholt (1994).
7. In 1948 (republished 1954 and 1986) a stocktaking of this debate
was published as Polemik Kebudajaan, which is the name by which
the discussion has come to be known to a wider audience (Mihardja
1954). For more details, see Keith Foulcher (1986), Astri Wright
(1994), and Helena Spanjaard (1993).
8. Holt makes an interesting addition to the dichotomy between
Bandung and Yogyakarta by introducing Jakarta as a third pole in
which art is transformed into commodities (Holt 1967: 244). For
further information on the subject of Indonesian art history, see
Miklouho-Maklai (1991).
9. For the history of LEKRA and Manikebu, see Darmowijono (1964)
and Moeljanto and Ismail (1995). Original and translated versions of
Manikebu and the LEKRA Manifestos of 1950 and 1955 are included
in Foulcher (1986). Feith and Castles (1970) include translated
excerpts from LEKRA programmes.
10. Mochtar Lubis was detained during periods of the Sukarno era when
the Communists were still supported by the president, while Pram
was detained or held in house arrest most of the time since 1965
until 1998.
11. The following explication of the word relies heavily on Heryanto
(1988), a splendid essay which I do not pretend to do justice to in
any other way than in extracting from it some ideas to explain briefly
the ideology of development in its Indonesian context.
12. The Assembly during Orde Baru consisted of 1,000 persons (500
from the DPR, 147 regional representatives, 100 from ‘various
groupings’, and 253 representatives chosen in the general elections).
The Assembly elects the president and the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives consisted of 500 persons of which 100
should represent the military forces (MacAndrews 1986).
13. In this plan the passage on negative influences from abroad is
modified and the warning is against destructive values that may come
together with the importation of new technology.
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The Repelita policy was dispersed, reproduced and implemented in
several ways in the public space. Two public, large-scale events, TMII,
and the national celebration of independence, make explicit the
leading ideas of the government rhetoric. The intention in this chapter
is to understand how the main principles of a complex semantic network
were cogently and effectively presented for a nation-wide audience.
The most deliberate and overt effort to make use of ‘local traditions’
and to display Indonesia as ‘a nation of cultures’ was the governmentand presidential-sponsored TMII: Taman Mini Indonesia Indah
(Beautiful Indonesia miniature garden). The park was planned by Mrs
Suharto (the wife of the president) and funded by her Our Hope
Foundation.1 The rationale for the park was to educate people in
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Indonesian history and to present the spiritual welfare which was to
be found ‘in our beautiful and noble national cultural inheritance’.2
Visiting TMII, the ‘eye of the beholder’ is guided in a certain
direction in its apprehension of Indonesia. The park is constructed as
a kind of meta-lecture in Indonesian political symbolism. A short
visit to TMII is therefore worthwhile in order to grasp some of the
ideas that helped the political establishments in their efforts to build
an Indonesian nation.
The park, inaugurated in 1975, is situated on the outskirts of
Jakarta. To make it available to a large section of the Indonesian public,
the entrance fee is low and inside the compound transport is free.
The park also includes large shopping centres, restaurants, exhibition
halls for science and technology, museums and a large natural ‘map’
of Indonesia.
By means of landscaping, the geographical borders and internal
cartographic specifics of Indonesia are represented. The map is
stretched out over a large area, and there is a cabin lift that runs from
the West part of ‘Indonesia’ to the east (and vice versa). From this
perspective the visitor can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the country. The
major islands are placed on the map below, and the most important
volcanoes are marked. Indonesia is thus spelled out in terms of
Surrounding this large map, each cultural region has been allotted
its own site, used by the local governments to build traditional
houses which present the specific architecture of the region. Inside
these houses cultural performances are held regularly. The idea is to
exemplify the cultural inheritance of a specific geographical and
political region in terms of architecture and art. Each of these cultural
complexes can be accordingly located on the geographical map as a
cultural region.
Analogous to the function of the itineraries of a map, the cultural
complexes form a system of signs which guides the ‘reading’ of the
geographical map. The difference is that the itineraries of a map are
usually expressed by means of (metaphorical) text, but the cultural
complexes stage performances of ‘living’ art from the regions. As
such, the map has a metonymic connection with all the places in
Indonesia that are thought of as significant by the designers.
The most interesting part of TMII is perhaps Museum Indonesia,
a more recent contribution to the park opened in 1980. In the
catalogue available in the entrance hall, Mr and Mrs Suharto state
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the objectives of the park as a place for education and as an introduction to the cultural heritage of Indonesia.
The museum building is inspired by Balinese architecture and the
philosophy of Tri Hita Karana. According to the guidebook this
philosophy strives to unite the three principles of God, Man and the
Universe, thereby producing prosperity and happiness. Further reading
reveals that this idea happens to be in accordance with the state
ideology Pancasila and the motto of the state Bhinneka Tunggal Ika
(Unity in diversity), which are intended to be the structuring concepts
of the museum (Museum Indonesia 1980: 33).
The building is an indulgence in Hindu symbolism, and the
sculptures and carvings are so prevalent and overwhelming that a
feeling of being in a slightly dislocated world arises. All museums can
evoke such a response when objects are torn out of their original context, but this particular museum also invites a feeling of its being part
of a more coherent message. The symbols have been extracted from
their original places but are nevertheless collected and put together
to convey a new and specific message about Indonesian culture.
The overall design of the museum resembles three different worlds.
On the ground floor (representing the underworld) dwell the fertile
forces of life. This level is split into two halves by a glass painting
where two mythical animals, the underworld snake in the east and
the Garuda bird (which is also the national emblem) in the west,
flank a picture of Indonesia stretched out in between. On one side of
the painting a gamelan orchestra is playing and a wayang show is being
performed, on the other side a Javanese wedding is being staged. The
symbolism of two lungs, or even more appropriate, a heart (with the
two chambers set apart by the glass painting) pumping blood into
Indonesia, is an association close at hand.
The second floor, Man and Environment, represents the middle,
or mundane, world of social life. Houses and tools for food production
are on display. This floor has as its central piece a mural depicting the
life of kings and commoners through an illustration from the Ramayana.
The third floor, Indonesian Art and Crafts, displays peaks of
cultural art production which represent the accomplishments of the
spiritual dimension in life. On this floor the Tree of Life (also familiar
to Indonesians and especially the Javanese as the gunungan or kayon
used in the wayang performance to open and close the performance)
is the central attraction as it stands in the centre of the room to
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symbolise ‘The Unity-in-Diversity theme’ (ibid.: 100). According to
the guidebook, the tree symbolises the development and protection
of tradition. This interpretation of the gunungan makes a rather narrow
exegesis of a symbol which is commonly held to be a complex representation of a vertical centre which mediates spiritual power into the
mundane world.
Finally on the fourth floor (an open panorama space called the Tri
Hita Karana Belvedere) the visitors are elevated into a serene nothingness from which they can contemplate Indonesia in miniature. In
short, the whole museum is an education in what is conventionally
considered Javanese/Hindu symbolism, writ large as Indonesia.3
Returning to the first floor, which displays objects that ‘serve to
introduce the Indonesian People and Nation to the visitor’, this floor
is, according to the museum catalogue, ‘designed as the introductory
or “getting acquainted” floor’ (ibid.: 33). As has been mentioned,
the hall is divided into two sections. One of these rooms accommodates a gamelan orchestra and wayang puppets. Although not all the
puppets originate from Java, wayang is the best-known of all the
Javanese music and theatre performances, and intimately connected
with the essence of Javanese culture. The second room contains a
representation of a Solonese (Java) wedding reception. The couple is
seated on a sofa and are flanked by a male/female couple from each
province in Indonesia. These couples are clad in their specific
‘traditional’ dresses and attend as guests at the wedding. Instead of
facing the bride and groom, they face the visitor with their backs
turned to the wedding couple which not only displays their dresses
but also conveys a feeling of protection. Their task at the wedding
seems to be to protect the wedding couple.
The wall separating the two ‘chambers’ is the glass painting of
Indonesia which has the title Citra Indonesia (The Image of Indonesia), and this painting is placed so that the bridal couple face it.
The wedding reception and the wayang performance assert the
essential values of Indonesian nationhood as the exhibition intends
to illustrate Indonesia at a glance (ibid.: 51). The ground floor is
named after the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in
diversity) and the slogan is graphically illustrated by the unification of
ethnic diversity in the wedding ceremony.
The Orde Baru government often presented its ideas of ‘Indonesia’
in ways that lead one to understand the nation as a wedding reception
for different cultures. The nation is explicated as a geographical area
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that is, or will be, economically and politically integrated, and the
basic symbol of nationhood (national identity) is the ‘cultural wedding’. In the museum context the wedding reception is becoming an
increasingly important symbolic vehicle to promote the notion of
Indonesia as a multicultural society. The reception and the wedding
dresses appear in several regional museums. They are usually on
display in a part of the museum termed Nusantara (Indonesian
Archipelago) where they symbolise the cultural richness of Indonesia
(Taylor 1995).4
The wedding reception staged in Museum Indonesia is intended
to represent the diversity of the cultural heritage in Indonesia at the
same time as it promotes a metaphor for grasping this diversity as a
unified whole. The Solonese wedding couple is seated on a sofa
surrounded by a well-defined community of standardised couples
who ‘differ in the same way’, meaning that they are all dressed in
traditional clothes. The whole group is placed in a way that directs
their attention towards the glass wall where Indonesia is stretched
out, easy to grasp. Behind this transparent wall, what is considered
by the constructors to be the spiritual essence of the people, the
gamelan and the wayang puppets are assembled. These essential
qualities, cultural unity based on standardised traditions and the
wayang, are encompassed by the trope of the state-cum-nation
represented in its absence by the name given to the floor, Bhinneka
Tunggal Ika. The wedding is ripped out of its lively and multivocal
context, reconfigured as a harmonious whole, and re-embedded in
‘Indonesia’. The way in which the wedding in the museum is presented
as a trope for unity is very close to the tacit ‘misrecognition’ of local
concepts that Bowen (1986) described in his essay about ‘gotongroyong’. An idealised picture of a local custom is used to set out a
national agenda. The original phenomenon is decontextualised only
to be recontextualised again.
The ground floor of Museum Indonesia is basically a transformation of the landscaped map in TMII. The geography of the
nation is transported into the glass wall, the cultures have gathered
around the wedding couple, and the unifying power of cultural
performances is represented by what the Javanese consider the most
appropriate symbols, the wayang and the gamelan.
The museum catalogue helps the visitor to place the symbolism of
the wedding in an authoritative frame of interpretation. The text in
the catalogue is crammed with directives on how the wedding is to
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be understood: ‘[D]espite the differences, they all consider themselves
part of a single whole – they are all Indonesian. To demonstrate the
spirit of unity in diversity, the wedding ceremony is attended by
guests wearing traditional clothes from all areas of Indonesia’ (Museum
Indonesia 1980: 51). The attending guests are used to signify a
plural society, separated from all references to modern complexity
and the way their local lives are actually lived. There is a sense of
diversity, which is immediately brought under control again by the
force of the wedding metaphor.
In the theme park the geographical area that constitutes Indonesia
is presented as an aggregation of discrete cultures which are united in
a national community. As the visitors go through the park this way of
perceiving Indonesia should, according to the designers, educate their
perceptions. Hereafter the picture of Indonesia as encompassing and
protecting a variety of cultures should be self-evident, also to be
recognised outside the park.
On the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of Indonesia’s independence the symbology of ‘culture’ was enlisted. In August 1995,
the liberation from colonialism was celebrated by a feast of cultural
performances. Dance, music and poetry readings were staged all over
the archipelago to celebrate the Indonesian nation. The most impressive of these events in terms of scale, and most prominent in
terms of national pride, were the Tari Kolosal, dances which involved
thousands performing together. The events were staged in Jakarta,
and the dancers came from all of Indonesia. After presenting
traditional and regional culture in the form of modified, local dance
genres, the dancers gathered to form various national emblems such
as the flag, or the Garuda bird. TV broadcasting made it possible for
people in the villages to spot and recognise ‘their’ dances in the sea
of dancers on a stage in Jakarta. Their piece of local entertainment,
usually performed at weddings and circumcisions, had been contracted
to the centre of power to constitute a building block in the celebration and visualisation of the nation.
One event representative of the symbolic texture of the celebrations
was the Kenduri Nasional, which took place at MONAS: the
National Monument (Monumen Nasional) in Jakarta on 19 August
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1995. The planning of this monument was already in the making in
1961, but it was not until 1975 that the building was to be opened
to visitors. This period overlaps with the time when President Sukarno
lost power to President Suharto. The project was of great personal
interest to Sukarno, and the building turned out to be a privileged
focus for symbolic statements concerning Indonesia. The monument
is located in the centre of Jakarta at Medan Merdeka (Freedom
Square), just outside the presidential palace and the national museum.
The architectural design is in the form of an obelisk erected on a
concrete base, with a golden flame at the top. Apart from commenting
upon its obvious references to ‘virility’ and the lingga yoni iconography, Anderson (1990) makes the interesting observation that the
architecture of the monument is a way of claiming a traditional
(Hindu) past for the nation (a function that it shares with the cardinal
Orde Baru monument, Museum Indonesia in TMII). This claim to a
collectively shared past is not just suggested by the architecture but
also by the interiors, which are designed as a history lesson on
Indonesia. In the basement of the building is the Hall of Indonesian
History, which includes 48 dioramas depicting Indonesian history.
Above this is the Independence Hall or Hall of Contemplation,
which includes the Indonesian flag, a bronze map of Indonesia and
the state emblem. Each of is hung on one side of the obelisk base
(which is built into this floor). On the fourth side is a golden door
behind which the original text of the Proclamation of Independence
is said to be kept.
A Kenduri is a meal consumed in commemoration of a special
event, and the interpretations of the word, given by spectators at the
event, are similar to the meaning of slametan.5 These are ritual meals
which symbolise ‘the mystic and social unity of those participating in
it’ (Geertz 1960: 11). One of the reasons for holding a slametan is to
confirm the social bonds of the society, including the living and the
dead, humans and spirits, in order to make sure that nothing happens
that will disturb the relationships. Beatty (1999) notes that the syncretistic and harmonising capacity of the slametan meal resides in the
fact that the symbolic material used in the ritual is open to radically
different contextualisations. This feature of multivocality may help to
make the ritual appeal to a national audience where different groups
can interpret and relate to the meal in their specific fashions although
still taking part in a collective ritual event.
By holding the slametan, apart from maintaining ‘mystical’ and
harmonious social unity, the corporate group is also able to display its
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ability to yield a surplus of food which may be shared by the participants (Pemberton 1994: 245). Staging a slametan proves that the
group has at its disposal the highly valued and respected capacity to
act as a centre for redistribution.
The national kenduri of 1995 demonstrated this pattern of
symbolic language on a national scale. The food for the occasion was
ordered to be delivered by the sub-districts of Jakarta which also had
to provide functionaries for the occasion. The programme of the day
began with a ‘food parade’, featuring showpieces of the dishes prepared
by the districts, including for each district a yellow rice-cone (tumpeng).
This parade was flanked by large human ‘dolls’ (ondel-ondel) similar
to those found in the tourist brochures that cover Jakarta, where
they are explained as being part of Jakarta’s cultural inheritance. The
bulk of the food was then brought in by lorries loaded with prepacked cardboard boxes containing identical selections of food. Every
district had its own place marked out on the ground, and together
they made up a circle that enclosed MONAS and the seats of honour.
Since all the attire of the functionaries was in the same colours as the
national flag, a ‘sea’ of red and white framed the monument at the
time the meal was consumed. The boxes were distributed so that
each district marked out on the ground had its equal share. In the
advertisements that preceded the event it was stated that this was a
communal meal in which anybody could take part and taste the food.
As it turned out the people who brought the food, with very few
exceptions, also later consumed it, all in all much in accordance with
the way in which the ‘modern’ slametan is carried out (Pemberton
1994: 248–249). The food is not actually redistributed but carried
from a periphery into a centre and then consumed by those who
brought it. The rest of the crowd assembled for the occasion were fed
from food stalls (kaki lima) where one had to pay for the food.
The kenduri was followed by a dance performance at the place of
honour, some poems were read and after that a huge ‘cultural festival’
was held. This festival came in the form of about fifty trucks converted
into stages, each one representing a specific Indonesian region and
culture. The parade started out from two different positions and then
joined each other to build a long line of stages encircling MONAS.
On each of the stages a selection of dance and music from a specific
region was demonstrated, and the actors wore clothes exemplifying
the ‘traditional fashion’ of that district. The vehicles also carried large
signs in front so the spectators were able to identify the geographical
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area from which the performances originated. The event was delayed a
couple of hours and people waited until dark before the train began to
move. It took a few hours for all the trucks to pass the seats of honour.
In the case of the Kenduri Nasional, Indonesia was spelt out before
the eyes of the people in terms of a large meeting of cultures, convened
at the national monument and bonded together by the ability of
Orde Baru to stage a kenduri meal. The Kenduri Nasional could further
be perceived as a meeting of cultures meant to ‘fertilise’ MONAS and
thereby Indonesia.
The theme of fertility was perhaps most obvious during the firework
display (kebang api) as the MONAS obelisk actually ‘ejaculated’. At
the beginning of the show, fire was dripping and streaming from the
platform holding up the golden flame on the top of the monument.
Shortly thereafter, hundreds of small firecrackers, in the form of small
heads with tails, were ejected from the base and swirled around the
sides of the obelisk on their way to the top, after which the golden
flame exploded in a stream of fire. Some women watching the event
were actually shouting ‘sperm, sperm’.6
The occasion could be seen as an effort to put the most potent
representation of the nation (MONAS) inside the symbolic network
promoted by Orde Baru. This interpretation would convey to the
audience that the national monument (that is, the nation) is only
powerful in the context of ordered ‘multiculturalism’ as formulated
by the New Order. By means of a meeting of cultures (orchestrated
by the New Order) the monument (cum-nation) comes ‘alive’.7
The coherence of the symbolic devices used at regional or local
level during the celebration was supervised from the capital so that
they conformed with the overall design decided upon by the central
planning board. An example of the detailed organisation is that every
household was expected to arrange a certain set of decorations on its
front porch. As a result, all the houses in the Bandung area were lit
up by light bulbs in different colours, arranged in accordance with
centrally distributed regulations. The villages were also cleaned up.
The fences and the main entrances were painted in bright colours
and provided with ornaments referring to Independence Day and
the struggle for freedom.
A striking example of this conformism is provided by the Bandung
Independence Parade, held on 21 August 1995, commemorating the
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fifty years of freedom and the struggle for independence. The event
was inaugurated by a short historical exposé of the Indonesian struggle
for independence read out in an abridged version. According to this
recitation, which strictly conformed to official history, the struggle
began in 1908 with the formation of the Budi Utomo organisation
and the oath made in 1928 by youth organisations to unite the nation
(Sumpah Pemuda). The speaker went on to relate the sufferings experienced by the people during the Dutch colonial period and the
Japanese occupation, the struggle for freedom and the joy of independence. During the recitation, theatre groups animated the text
with small street performances.
This recitation of the official national history, which took about
half an hour to complete, was followed by a day-long ‘cultural parade’.
Even though this was a festival held to honour the struggle of the
people, the historical recitation and the enactment of the battles was
not the main consideration. The primary attraction, in time, space
and public attention was the cultural parade.8
The event started with the removal of the yellow ceremonial
umbrella from behind the governor, the representative of the political
administration, and its placement over an empty chair in front of the
procession. The governor remained seated at the ‘roadside’. In that
way the governor could, in a symbolic way, take the lead of the parade
while at the same time receive the performances as these passed by his
place of honour. Each region in West Java had produced a small
column of dancers and musicians who performed in a procession
along the street. The parade moved forward slowly and each delegation stopped in front of the governor’s seat to perform a short
dance. All in all it took a couple of hours for the parade to pass by. In
front of each delegation was a placard which contained information
on the regional origin of the dancers and the performance staged.
Even if, for an untrained observer, the differences were sometimes
very small, each region put its own name to the dances and presented
them as unique features of their cultural tradition.
In its capacity to present a specific image of power the parade
reminded one of the royal procession the kings of Java undertook in
the fourteenth century in order to establish their legitimate role as
emperors. Although in the royal ceremony the king moved out of
the centre to visit the peripheries, and in the case of the Bandung
parade the opposite took place, a comparison of the two events reveals
interesting changes in how power is displayed.
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The royal entourage constituted a replication of the cosmological
orders by illustrating the detailed hierarchical structure of the kingdom
in its way of organising the procession. This event, described by Geertz
(1983: 129 ff.) and Pemberton (1994: 32 ff.), exhibited perfect
hierarchical relations with a fine-grained symbolism asserting each
specific position towards the royal centre. The king and his followers
were supposed to embody an ideal picture of cosmological order to
be copied throughout the kingdom.9
The cosmological image placed the king at the centre of the
universe and gave him access to magic power and cosmic energy. To
occupy this position was the king’s primary means of holding power.
The centre as such was considered to be invested with cosmic power
and the person in control of this centre was therefore imbued with
divine kingship (Heine-Geldern 1942; Moertono 1981).
However, in the Bandung parade every delegation occupied the
same approximate distance from each other and from the governor
who was seated to receive them. The parade did not exhibit a complex
hierarchical system but was based on one significant difference only,
that between ruler and ruled. Since the governor represents the
political power of Indonesia in the region, the parade implied a
collective act of deference. Each culture of the region produced a
performance representative of their area which they sent as a ‘gift’ to
be performed in front of the governor.
Contemporary Indonesian expositions of power relationships,
exemplified in for example the celebration of independence, present
MONAS and the governor as omnipotent centres pulling the subjects, or their representatives, into their sphere of gravity, placing
them all in equally subordinate positions.
In the old kingdoms the idea of a powerful centre was adapted to
a state with diffuse frontiers (Anderson 1990). In the present nation–
state the idea of the powerful centre is adapted to the demands of the
modern nation–state for fixed borders and homogenous political
power evenly dispersed over all its territory, rather than declining as
it moves further from the centre. The semantics of power in contemporary national celebrations retains the idea of a centre able to
concentrate the spirit or potency that constitutes the source of power
and fertility, while it ‘flattens out’, into only one step the hierarchical
ladder which was established by such a ‘fine gradation’ (Pemberton
1994: 32) in the royal entourage. Consequently all subjects (which
today are represented by cultures rather than kingdoms) are positioned
at the same distance from the ‘emperor’.
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The main impression of the Bandung Parade was the display of
commodified cultures, delightfully styled and prepared to meet the
demands of the world market and the tourists. However, in this case,
the stage was not a hotel and the casual viewer not a tourist. The performances were not presentations of a self-contained ethnic identity
produced in contrast to another, or a presumed other, embodied in
the spectator, as in the case of the tourist performance. This time the
performance was staged on the main street in Bandung and the onlookers were people living in the neighbourhoods. This was a presentation of a pluralistic ‘we’ provided as a didactic device for the ‘self’. If
culture and art in Indonesia are made into emblems of local identity,
they are not only held up as signs of differences toward other groups
but are also used to reflect and inform the understanding of the self.
The people of Bandung became ‘self-conscious spectators of their
own culture’ (Picard 1990: 74). But just as Picard points out in the case
of Balinese culture, this is not only a response to external forces. The
parade was primarily a local political gesture within the dominating
discourse of nationalism and cultural identity. By exhibiting the great
variation of traditional cultures in the area, the importance of the
region in the development of the nation was asserted.
Celebrations at the sub-district level took a slightly different form.
Even though the role of cultural entertainment was important, the
government organisations notably increased their presence in the
parades and constituted a major part of these celebrations.
The same year, 1995, the parade of independence in the small town
of Lembang just outside Bandung was an event dominated by
government officials and the state schools. They passed by in a long
procession carrying official slogans, occasionally interrupted by cultural
performances that originate from the area. The schoolchildren were
sometimes dressed up in traditional clothes, but more often they wore
their school uniforms. Singa Depok and Kuda Lumping, both considered regional dances, represented the local cultural inheritance.
The procession also included a papier-mâché cow, carried by
youngsters. The young people sometimes burst into wild running and
eventually collapsed unconscious, after which the ‘animal’ was taken
over by others who brought it back into the parade. The reason for
including a cow in the parade is that this animal has become an
important symbol for Lembang. At the main entrance road from the
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south there is a huge statue of a cow welcoming the visitor. Next to
the cow is a milk bar, the only one of its kind in the region. Drinking
pure milk or yoghurt is not part of the Sundanese food culture and
the habit is quite novel, inspired and promoted by government campaigns recommending people to give milk to their children because
of its nutritional value. Commercials show responsible middle-class
parents providing their children with a glass of milk before school.
Just at the main road is a dairy factory where farmers deliver their
products and the region has become widely known for its dairy farms.
Every weekend the well-to-do from Bandung, and even Jakarta,
ascend the mountains to Lembang to have a glass of milk or yoghurt.
The day after the parade in Lembang was a day of commemoration.
Students and government officials were assembled outside their
buildings for a short ceremony (Upacara Peringatan) early in the
morning. Later on people gathered in a field outside Lembang,
where part of the larger parade staged the day before was reassembled. A lengthy speech was delivered by the local officials, and
afterwards dancing and other entertainment took place. The parade,
however, was not repeated as a whole on this day; instead, elements
of the parade were staged as discrete entities on the field.
When the official programme was finished, minor chaos developed.
The field was now dominated by the papier-mâché cow, carried by
youngsters who chased the audience and fought each other for the
privilege of carrying it. They were usually able to carry out one or two
‘attacks’ after which they fell exhausted, and sometimes even unconscious, to the ground. The appearance of big dolls and frightening
mythical figures also terrified the children. In the afternoon the crowd
slowly dispersed for home, where the villagers could expect further
attractions, if there was a responsible community leader. Competitions
and contests were held for the participants, who could win anything
from cheap snacks to bicycles and expensive clothes, depending on
the local economy and the character of the village leader.
The event could be said to display government ‘control’ of local
art and culture (that is, the local sign for identity/self). The cow
never got out of hand but was time after time brought back into the
parade, the local arts (Singa Depok and Kuda Lumping) constituted
only a minor part of the official parade and the government did not
allow the magician to perform the ritual trance in which he communicates personally and directly with the other world. Culture took
second position and functioned to embellish the display of the ‘Aparat’,
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Fig. 3.1: Celebration of Independence Day
the Indonesian shorthand used by some people to denote the totality
of government organisation. The local culture was surrounded by the
symbols of government and used to glorify the Aparat that organised
the event. Culture and art were something included in the exhibition
of local administration. The speeches and the display of officials and
institutions were dominant in time and space and culture took a second
position. When the representatives of the local government disappeared
from the field the cultural performances started to ‘run wild’ and the
crowd eventually disintegrated.
In Jakarta the performances of Tari Kolosal were orderly and the
government was only referred to in an indirect way, as for instance in
the emblems formed by the dancers, or in the ritual ‘supervisor’ of
the event present at the arena, who was usually a government official.
By means of an imposed ‘ordering force’ emanating from an invisible
centre the different cultures, represented by their dances, were able
to shape the emblems of the nation. The New Order fulfilled the part
of sponsor of the events and an image of ‘Indonesia’ was created in
the performances.10 Implicit in the fact that the government was
able to arrange the celebrations only by exercising ‘gentle hints’ was
the message that the government has access to ultimate powers (Antlöv
1995; Keeler 1987; Anderson 1990).
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At the local level, the picture was somewhat different. In Lembang,
a highly visible local government controlled the event and the entertainment staged in the form of cultural performances. If the implicit
order decreased, the explicit control was made visible. Moreover, the
necessity of that control was made evident for everyone when, as the
officials left the scene, the ‘cow’ ran wild and the party dispersed.
These examples have been given to demonstrate that presentations
of local culture staged by Orde Baru had a certain consistency and were
actively and forcefully promoted through the (government controlled)
‘public space’. Since these performances were reproduced by regional
state organisations and by the mass media they were present all over
Indonesia. The image of cultural diversity was widely distributed, reenacted in regional performances and reproduced by regional institutions, and therefore hard to object to or to ignore by the people
involved in art production.
Since 1966, local performances have been increasingly scrutinised
and regulated by the state. The mapping of regional art by the
Department of Education and Culture is voluminous and detailed.
Several obstacles, such as obtaining letters of permission, proposals
about which stages are appropriate, interventions in the actual performance to raise its aesthetic value (Acciaioli 1985; Zurbuchen 1990) or
proposals to include government propaganda (Schechner 1990;
Brandon 1967: 286–94) have to be overcome to stage a local performance. Barbara Hatley’s (1982, 1991, 1993, 1994) research demonstrates further how local traditions and performances have been
employed to convey messages from the state and how they have been
altered by the national discourse.
A striking example of state intervention, through the mediation of
the local Department for Education and Culture, is detailed in
Amrih Widodo’s (1995) essay on Tayuban dance in Java.11 The
Tayuban dance, known in Java as a festive and joyful occasion, where
men dance with women and drink alcohol, experienced a resurgence
in the late 1980s and early 1990s.12 There was a prompt response by
the government to this spontaneous revitalisation who launched ‘its
program of penataran [education or upgrading courses] and pembinaan [development] to domesticate Tayuban by transforming it
into an art form. This program was situated within the context of a
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state project to search for regional identity and also within the
discourse of the tourism industry’ (Widodo 1995: 27). The programme transformed the Tayuban into a regional ‘totem’ designating
regional (Javanese) identity. To realise this goal, a programme of
education for the performers and a removal from the performance of
the undesired elements of alcohol and sex was initiated. The performers
had to attend courses on proper Tayuban dance and performance
regulations were imposed by the local branch of the Department of
Education and Culture, which also sent people to monitor specific
performances. Those who completed the upgrading course were
issued with a certificate now necessary to obtain permission to stage
a performance.
Alcohol was banned from the arena and the proper distance between
the female dancer and her male counterpart (one metre) was prescribed. To make the dance acceptable as a sign of noble cultural
inheritance, the history of the dance was connected with the royal
courts, and the elements of drinking and flirting were explained as
the result of Dutch influences which had weakened Javanese morality.
Thus, according to the Department of Education and Culture, the
education process merely restored the original refinement of the dance.
Even though innovations in dance and music patterns were accepted,
a presumed essence of refinement, control and order was re-established.
Naturally, a sign of regional identity and national heritage could not
include elements of alcohol consumption and prostitution, which
were considered immoral by the state (ibid.: 9). These elements were
cleansed away and ‘Tayuban Art’ (Seni Tayub) established.
Apart from the identity card all citizens have to carry, each artist
had to obtain a specific letter of identity and a performance permit.
The sponsor needs a festival permit from the local government, military
and police offices (ibid.: 18). Spontaneous dancing is prohibited and a
stage is required to make the art visible to the audience. From being
a festive occasion to participate in, Tayuban was transformed into a
strictly monitored example of the fine arts and a sign for regional
identity and pride.
The political agenda for this intervention was meant to establish
‘order’ in the realm of culture. Order was the main trope of Orde
Baru government, the ‘idea of cultural order being inseparable from
political order seems to permeate everyday politics at district and
village levels’ (ibid.: 17). At the national level it seems quite clear that
cultural order; that is, ethnic compliance with the political situation,
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was a prerequisite for political stability, and the obsession of the state
with the regulation of cultural expression in detail springs from this
conceptualisation of culture and politics. To co-opt and control local
expressions of identity was not only to give an impression of immaculate
morality but a test case for the politics of Orde Baru and the capacity
of the state to control local feelings of identity. As Widodo argues:
‘[F]or the state, “political order” is identical to “cultural order”’ (ibid.:
21). The local performance was appropriated by the state and moulded
into one of the ethnic arts in the mosaic of Indonesian cultures.13
This engineering and management of local culture by the state was
paralleled by a discursive formulation of the proper relations between
the national and the local in academic seminars.
Menengok Tradisi (Looking at tradition), resulting from a seminar
in 1985, published by the Jakarta Art Council (Dewan Kesenian
Jakarta), explores the place and function of tradition in modern
Indonesian theatre (Malaon et al. 1986). The participants in the
discussion were from the art establishment and cultural elite.
The idea conveyed by the book is that traditional values expressed
in theatre can bestow ‘colour’ to a nation (Indonesia) which is united
in the political sense of the word but not in terms of culture (Malaon
1986: x). The frame of the conference was stated by Agusta as being
‘[a] discussion about the meaning of theatre to a national culture
which is in the process of shaping its identity’ (Agusta 1986: xii). To
the participants the search for an Indonesian theatre and an Indonesian
identity were homologous activities. The appearance of an Indonesian
theatre will and should mirror the Indonesian national identity.
Framing the seminar in these terms and making the search for the
cultural roots of modern Indonesian theatre into a search for local,
traditional values placed the discussions within the frame of nationalism and through that made certain that the explorations of tradition
moved inside the parameters for cultural development stated in, for
instance, Repelita.
The appropriation of local traditions into the national discourse of
identity was also pursued in the form of national seminars on culture.
The first were held during the Sukarno era in Magelang in 1948, the
second in Bandung in 1951 and the third in Surakarta in 1954. The
most recent, aptly held at TMII, in 1991, preceded the writing of
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GBHN in 1993 and aimed to sort out the proper relations between
local and national culture. President Suharto inaugurated the congress
and put it squarely within the idea of national development by referring the objectives of the gathering to UUD ‘45, underlining that
Indonesia depends on regional cultures to strengthen its self-esteem
as a nation (Suharto 1991: 2).
In the performing arts this interest in local culture and art was
paralleled by the development of a specific theatre genre, Tradisi
Baru (the new tradition). The establishment of Taman Ismail Marzuki
(TIM), in 1968 in Jakarta, provided the opportunity to officially
confirm and develop this genre. According to Putu Wijaya, the
leading name in Tradisi Baru, the most important product of TIM
during its 25 years in operation was the development of this genre.
Putu Wijaya has spearheaded the genre, which he sees as a dynamic
tradition meant to alter through time (Wijaya 1992: 7). Asmara
(1995) has summarised Tradisi Baru as a creation by ‘writers who use
aspects of the many traditional cultures of Indonesia and present
them in innovative and experimental ways in order to address contemporary society’ (Asmara 1995: 164). The idea that Indonesian
theatre should steer ‘clear of traditional structures and styles’ adhered
to by a majority of directors in the early years of the republic, started
to change in the mid-1960s (ibid.: 166). After 1965, young directors,
like Rendra and Putu Wijaya, turned their attention to indigenous
forms of performance. When these people, who were well-versed in
modern, Western theatre theory, focused on the practice of indigenous
forms, this resulted in a national theatre of a specific quality called
Tradisi Baru. Rendra, with his group Bengkel Theatre, staged expressionist plays, written by Goenawan Mohamad, an Indonesian
writer, grounded in Javanese dance and music. Rendra also directed
Western plays at this time (late 1960s), such as Oedipus and Hamlet,
which employed techniques from Wayang Kulit together with
Javanese costumes and music (Asmara 1995: 167). TIM soon became
a meeting place for directors and performers from the archipelago
where they could watch and experience works from all of Indonesia.
The government sponsorship of TIM provided a national stage for
this kind of theatre and it soon became an approved genre appreciated
as truly Indonesian.
An early example of how traditions influenced theatre is offered by
STB (Studiclub Bandung), which began to introduce elements of folk
theatre into their performances in the early 1960s (Saini 1988: 75).
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At this time, though, the efforts were criticised and ‘jeered’ at (Saini
1988: 26). It was not until the 1970s and the establishment of TIM
that it became acceptable to introduce ethnic elements into modern
theatre. This acceptance occurred at the same time as the government
promoted the idea in Repelita that national identity is the sum of
ethnic cultures and government organisations in a specific Indonesian
configuration. Tradisi Baru reflects this theme in its effort to create a
specifically Indonesian artistic idiom where ethnic identities are united
in a holistic configuration. TIM became the recognised centre for
this kind of Indonesian theatre.
1. For a more detailed description of the political events that preceded
the building of the park, see John Pemberton (1994) and Shelly
Errington (1997). The ‘hidden’ Javanese bias of the park has been
pointed out by Errington (1997). Others have noted the Javanese bias
of the politics of Orde Baru (for example, Magenda 1988). I will not
use space to reiterate these points but continue to focus on the internal
semantic structure of the politics, regardless of their origins (not
implying, of course, that the latter are not interesting).
2. Mrs Suharto in Kenang-Kenangan Peresmian Pembukaan Taman Mini
Indonesia Indah, cited from Pemberton (1994: 154).
3. Many of these features are also noted by Pemberton (1994: 168–69)
and Errington (1997).
4. In Indonesia there exists an official policy to make people aware of
and familiar with the idea of presenting culture in museums, to make
people become ‘museum minded’ (Kreps 1994). In the post-colonial
world museums are, generally speaking, highly contested sites where
images of identity are at stake (Karp and Lavine 1991).
5. Kenduri (kendurén) is a Muslim ritual close to the slametan in meaning, although certain distinctions are made by orthodox Muslims. For a
scholarly discussion of the meaning of kenduri, especially in its religious
(Muslim) context in Sumatra, see Bowen (1993: Chap 10).
6. The conscious choice by President Sukarno of an architectural design of
the monument which was meant to be a sign of ‘virility’ is commented
upon by Anderson (1990: 175). McIntyre (1993: 189) even quotes
Sukarno as saying: ‘Make no mistake, we of the Committee want the
project to have the form of a Tugu [obelisk]. The Tugu is not flat, the
Tugu soars into the sky, the Tugu originally … was a glorification of
masculinity’. For a more inclusive discussion on the symbolic network
of public monuments in Jakarta, see Nas (1993) and Leclerc (1993).
7. In his inauguration speech at the Pesta Kesenian Bali (Art festival of
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Bali), 24 June 1995, President Suharto selected an interesting metaphor to describe the importance of culture (Pikiran Rakyat 25 June
1995). He said that life would be kering (dry) without culture. Since
water is such a prevalent symbol of fertility in Indonesia, the use of
‘dry’ as a rhetorical device implies the opposite, infertility. Implicitly
culture was given the quality of fertility.
8. It is not possible to make a quantitative analysis of the historical and
military part compared with the ‘cultural’ portion of the celebrations
in total, but following the anniversary on television and travelling
through West Java surveying some of the local spectacles certainly
gave the impression that the emphasis was on cultural art performances. The local daily papers (for example, Pikiran Rakyat 22 August
1995) also chose the parade (and the flower exhibition) as their main
focus. See also Antlöv (1996) and Maurer (1997) for the contemporary
political use of the revolution.
9. A similar system of cosmological replication existed on Bali (Geertz
1980). Errington (1989) discusses the possibility of this being a pattern
of symbolising power prevalent in the whole region of South-east Asia.
In his severe review of her book, Ian Caldwell (1991) points out that
this is only an elite version of symbolising power and that there may
very well exist counter ideologies refuting this version. This is probably
so, and my aim is not to argue that this ideology holds a total hegemony over the organisation of meaning but rather to initiate an unpacking of the semantic logic of this specific ideology.
10. For an inclusive discussion of the role of the sponsor, see Keeler
11. The following account is based on Amrih Widodo’s article, which is
the outcome of research pursued between March 1989 and April
1992. The article is an outstanding achievement in its description of
how the cultural politics of Orde Baru were realised.
12. On Tayuban, see also Hefner (1987).
13. Widodo (1995) points out that the monitoring by the Department
of Education and Culture was done by people dedicated to what they
conceive of as the fine arts. They were badly paid and did it because of
personal interest. These individual aspirations and motivations were
given a specific meaning and significance when placed in a wider
discursive frame. This note by Widodo converges with the effort in
the present volume not to over-simplify the relationship between the
political discourse and individual motives.
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To fully appreciate the significance of Longser Antar Pulau we must
now turn our attention to the immediate context of the project. This
chapter will explore the institution of Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia
(ASTI), especially the way that the academy relates to national development and revitalisation policies.
After a minibus ride through Bandung and crossing the busy street
outside ASTI, the relative silence and the comfort of the shading trees
on the campus come as a pleasure. In the foreground, some students
are practising their sulings, flutes common in Java and Sumatra, while
from the rehearsal rooms comes the sound of dancing. The glittering
melodies of the gamelan music are interrupted by drums, electric
guitars and keyboards. In one room they are rehearsing Strindberg,
in another the Mahabharata. In the craft room a Barong from Bali
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and Singa Depok lions from West Java are stowed away together with
impressionist and futuristic decorations from a variety of productions.
In the middle of the yard is a neat prayer room. Even though the
pious are not as prevalent as outside the campus, the prayers are well
attended. In the administration quarters large maps of the organisation
hang alongside the obligatory pictures of the president, vice-president
and the Garuda bird with the national motto, ‘Unity in diversity’, in
its claws. Posters plastered everywhere announce a guest performance
from Switzerland directed by Boedi S. Otong, a famous Indonesian
director. Seminars on theatre and art are being held, and this week
there will be an evening performance to celebrate one of Bandung’s
former artists, Mang Koko. Traditional dances and songs, seldom
performed nowadays, are mixed with comedy, avant-garde and
nationalist propaganda.
The context of immediate relevance to Longser Antar Pulau is, of
course, the campus of ASTI. The academy is a state-subsidised school
of the performing arts (including departments of theatre, dance and
music) with students mainly from the lower middle class. Most of
them are Sundanese, the dominant ethnic group on West Java,
although there are many with other ethnic backgrounds. The statutes
of the academy state that it strives for national awareness and
promotion of national culture, although it has a special commitment
to the traditions of West Java. ASTI is simultaneously a place of
education, artistic creativity and scholarly research. Many of the staff
and students study and analyse regional drama, dance and music for
critical consideration as well as for artistic inspiration. If not a
melting pot, ASTI is at least an intersection of intentions between
individual artists, researchers and government policies. At the department, local and national culture is researched, created and expressed
through the medium of art.
During their years of study, the members have spent a lot of time
together reading, relaxing, attending classes, rehearsing; they have
slept overnight, performed their prayers and flirted. They also depend
on the academy for the use of the premises and the gamelan orchestra
for rehearsal and performances. Since Saini, the director of ASTI
until 1995, has been a main promoter of the project they have as yet
had no difficulties in obtaining access to the facilities. The project,
however, is independent of the teachers and the staff of ASTI for its
artistic design, and they have resisted several proposals for change
from senior teachers.
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As we know, LAP is a project to revitalise traditional theatre and as
such, it is part of a political project of the Indonesian government.
Yet to transform a policy into a legitimate description of social relationships, the concepts produced in the national forum have to be reproduced and implemented in other sections of society. In the case of
art, culture and traditions, ASTI was targeted by the government to
fulfil the task of a mediator similar to what Hannerz, citing C. Wright
Mills, describes as a form of cultural apparatus composed ‘of all the
organizations and milieus in which artistic, intellectual, and scientific
work goes on, and of the means by which such work is made available
to circles, publics, and masses’ (Hannerz 1992: 82) which has as its
core the ‘provision of meaning’ from top down or from the few to
the many.
This assignment is politically important since ASTI constitutes a
link between what in the national rhetoric was defined as two levels
of society, the national and the regional. Since the performing arts in
Indonesia have an intimate relationship with expressions of collective
identity, it was vital for the government to incorporate art into the
policy of nationalism. As part of that aspiration ‘art’ and ‘local culture’
were given considerable attention in the five year plans and other
government publications where culture was acknowledged as a basic
element in national identity. These directives were implemented by
ASTI and the significance, content and semantic connotations of the
cultural policies were achieved in the day-to-day work of the academy.
A study of ASTI reveals what kind of performances are revitalised,
preserved or discharged and the motivations behind these choices.
The actual outcome of these practices is a kind of ‘creative ideological reproduction’ which imbues the concept of revitalisation with
meaning by connecting it to specific practices, events and places.
The process that led to the establishment of ASTI, its institutional
relations to the government and the explicit objectives for the
education that it provides firmly place the institution in the history of
nation-building. The idea of establishing an art school was born in
the political context of Indonesia in the 1960s. Or, to be accurate,
how a specific group of Bandung artists acted in accordance with
their interpretation of the situation. During the turbulent years at
the beginning of the 1960s, a group of people in West Java decided
to establish a centre for the performing arts. Their discontent with
the Sukarno regime and the Communist movement pushed them
(for example, Atmadibrata, Jim Lim and Wahubuwisana) to form an
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alternative platform from which they could express themselves. In
their view the Communists, supported by the president, dominated
the arts and used them as a mere tool for propaganda. According to
this group, the fine arts had been subjugated to ephemeral political
goals and personal aspirations. They also reprehended the president’s
tendency to sponsor only performances which exploited the beauty
of the female dancers. Others, such as the aesthetically elaborated
court dances, the comic folkdances and the male dances, were
thought to have been neglected in the allocation of government
subsidies. This situation fuelled resentment among the group in
Bandung and, in the words of Saini, it resulted in ‘[t]he feeling that
only by establishing an academy including the building up of a
serious critical awareness could we counter this decline of the arts’
(Saini: personal communication).
In 1967, immediately after the takeover by Orde Baru, a forerunner of ASTI was established as Konservatori Tari (KORI).1 This
private dance school in 1968 became a national enterprise sponsored
by local government. Maman Suryaatmadja and Enoch Atmadibrata
were appointed as the organisers and it served as a base from which
ASTI was able to develop. Wahubuwisana, one of the leading artists
in Bandung and an advocate of ASTI, was appointed to the regional
government at the time, a position from which he strongly supported the endeavour. In 1970, KORI was officially recognised by
the Department of Education and Culture as ASTI. Dance and music
were the initial subjects and the theatre department was established in
1978.2 There are several institutions similar to ASTI in Indonesia,
each with a responsibility to the region they are situated in. Consequently, ASTI Bandung attends especially to the arts of West Java.3
The leading ideas of the academy are presented in their official
programme (Pengantar 1994: 1–5, 89). With a combination of
research, teaching and social service (tridharma), the academy wants
to take an active part in the building of the new nation as it is
outlined in Repelita. By developing the arts in accordance with the
changes that the nation is experiencing in the transition from an
agricultural society to an industrial economy, the academy hopes to
foster a sound national awareness of the future. The following
quotation may serve as an example of the style through which the
task is conveyed in the programme: ‘ASTI Bandung has the function
of taking care of professional education in West Javanese art, with the
intention of maintaining the national identity which is rooted in the
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region, within the framework of giving the people a more prosperous
life’ (ibid.: 1).
From its establishment ASTI’s curriculum, apart from teaching
modern (Western) art, was intended to preserve, develop and stage
local culture. Each of the presentations of the three different departments (dance, theatre, music) of the academy starts with a similar
paragraph, ‘Proceeding from the existing fact that the traditional
music of West Jawa constitutes an outstanding wealth for the art of
music [and] in accordance with the programme for its development
… ASTI Bandung opens the department of Music’ (ibid.: 51). The
same paragraph is used for all three departments with adaptations for
the specific department in question: for example, the theatre department emphasises the importance of the folk theatre. The rationale for
ASTI and its departments closely follows the written directives produced at the national level (UUD ‘45, GBHN, Repelita, and publications by the Department of Education and Culture) in which the
peaks of local, traditional culture are to be integrated into national
identity and development.
Since one of the tasks of ASTI is to take part in the forging of a
national identity by attending to local cultural traditions, it has an
important responsibility in delineating which local values are worthy
of conservation and development. The staff document local art and
transform this research into performances and textual reports. This
research is not carried out with the explicit aim of controlling art but
by dedicated scholars and artists who use it as an opportunity to
create new artistic expression. The studies are often warmly received
by the people in the area who think that the task of preserving their
culture is important. The fear that local culture will eventually disappear is shared by scholars and concerned people outside the academy
who consider it to be an important task of ASTI to document and
preserve different local performance genres ‘as museum pieces’ (an
expression used by members of the staff).
Local culture is not only researched but also exploited as a source
of inspiration. From the pieces that they ‘collect’ they hope to be
able to develop new forms of artistic expressions while still conforming to the symbolism and structure of traditional theatre. To
develop and stage performances means both to work inside the
campus with new performances but also to set up information services
for organisers of cultural events and to facilitate performances of local
art outside ASTI.4
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The dilemma for the staff at ASTI is to preserve what they
consider the uniqueness and authentic patterns (corak) of the local
art, while developing and adapting the same cultural forms according
to the demands of the state for a coherent national culture. As a
national institution one main issue for ASTI is to interpret and relate
to the national demand for non-problematic and simple representations of local cultures. It is only those values and cultural traits that
favour economic development and national unity which are to be
chosen for preservation and revitalisation.5
My first visit to ASTI in 1993 coincided with the performance of
Operasi Plastik by Longser Antar Pulau. The performance I witnessed
sums up the atmosphere on the campus in a concise way. The show is
about the meeting between a man from a village and a motorcycle
gang from Bandung. A compère introduces the audience to the play
and the overture is played on gamelan instruments and synthesisers.
The village man is presented as the ugliest of the ugly and can be
recognised as ‘traditional’ by his dress. In his body paintings and skirt
of feathers he is a caricature of primitive people. In the programme he
is presented as a man who originates from the Baduy people, who are
held to be the traditional people of West Java. The decision to localise
the traditional man in the Baduy community was not arbitrary. The
play has its direct counterpart in the efforts of the government to
‘develop’ the Baduy people, who are considered both to enshrine Sundanese culture in its original form, and at the same time to represent
the most ‘underdeveloped’ and least penetrated regional group. The
regime has therefore made several efforts to incorporate them into
Indonesian society. The latest attempt, at the time of the fieldwork,
took place when the military presented the group with the gift of a
TV set, which according to local law they are forbidden to use.6
On the stage this man meets with a motorcycle gang of ‘hooligans’
with upper-class origins. The traditionalist feels attracted to the gang
and wants to become part of it, while the gang sees an opportunity
to have some fun at his expense. They accept him on the condition
that he subjects himself to plastic surgery. To persuade him and to
introduce a fine example of a successful operation, Michael Jackson is
invited into the play. They telephone for him and he arrives on the
stage in grand style, accompanied by his famous song ‘It Doesn’t
Matter if You’re Black or White’, played on gamelan instruments.
Eventually the ‘primitive’ is persuaded to undergo the surgery while
hidden behind a large plastic ‘operation screen’. When finished, the
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doctor and his crew create a tense atmosphere in the audience. The
screen is to be removed and the result of the operation will be revealed.
The theme is recognisable from a host of American films. The surgery
is performed and the time approaches for the bandages to be removed.
What will appear, a monster or a man? When the screen is lifted a
total anti-climax follows. There is only a small plastic bucket under
which a message is placed, in which the man asks forgiveness for
causing so much trouble. Thus, with one of LAP’s characteristically
abrupt endings the show is over.
The performance reinforced my immediate understanding of the
campus as an eclectic reception centre of influences and genres, with
a special attraction for the concepts of ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’.
As I understood it, and this was later confirmed by the members
of LAP, Operasi Plastik was an attempt to approach questions of
modernisation and development by means of traditional theatre. The
show was an adaptation of a genre called Longser and the traditional
structure of that theatre, mixing dance, music and acting, interacting
with a story about the consequences of modernity. This was presented
in a two-hour show, on a stage in front of a paying audience, a custom
borrowed from Western theatre.
It was obvious, both from the choice of the story and the structure
of the show that the concepts of tradition and modernity were of
deep concern to the actors. Among students at the academy it is a
commonly held notion that traditional lifestyles are threatened by
modernity and this problem includes a paradox – whereas modern
life is a most desired goal of the individual and an explicit objective in
government development programmes, at the same time traditions
have to be protected. To solve this dilemma, modern Indonesia, they
contend, in accordance with the national rhetoric on the subject, has
to build modernity on its local traditions.
The story of Operasi Plastik presents this general dilemma of
simultaneous preservation and development (whether art, identity or
culture) in an instructive way. The Baduy representative of ‘traditional
man’ who is altered, or developed, by means of plastic surgery disappears with only a short apology for causing so much trouble.
Whether he is extinct, transformed beyond recognition (becoming a
plastic bucket), or is only hiding somewhere else, however, is left
open to question. The ending also hints at the problem that even in
well-planned and engineered change, unexpected outcomes lie dormant. In a basic sense the performance asks questions such as: What
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is tradition? What is the development of tradition? What is left of
tradition if it is developed? How can something be altered and yet
The group explored the official idea (cultivated at ASTI) about
the development and preservation of local traditions, but articulated
the question in a slightly different voice; the outcome of modern
development was not unproblematic. The show turned out to be an
ironic play with symbols taken from contemporary Indonesian society.
They used, but slightly distorted the images of ‘tradition/modernity’
and ‘development/preservation’ well known from Indonesian political
discourse. By doing so they expressed disbelief in the official view of
the nation as being in continuous and smooth development from a
traditional agrarian community into a modern industrialised country.
LAP treated the idea of cultural revitalisation with both seriousness and scepticism (their seriousness is shown by the fact that they
built their own project on an attempt at revitalisation while their
scepticism is evident in the note of apology from the traditional man
for causing so much trouble). To me, questions emerged such as: What
does it mean to them that their own theatre is traditional? And why
did they choose to perform in a traditional genre at the same time as
they ridicule the icon of Sundanese tradition, the Baduy, on stage?
The question holds equally true for the signs of modernity, the plastic
surgeon and bikers who were depicted as incompetent and arrogant.
The self-reflective and conscious stance of LAP towards the concepts
of tradition and modernity which in a certain way constitute their own
conditions – since the project originates from the idea of revitalising
and modernising traditional theatre – intrigued me and became a
primary focus of research.
Inside ASTI a continuous process of negotiation goes on about the
significance, importance and meaning of traditional culture and its
place in the Indonesian context. By mixing, or developing as they label
it, traditional West Javanese art with influences from the West and
local genres from different regions of Indonesia (mainly Java) ASTI
struggles to create a meaningful perception of the present, the past
and the future. In their productions and teaching they strive to create
an artistic ‘language’ which is able to embrace what they perceive as the
dilemmas and paradoxes of contemporary society, including their own
task of relating history (tradition) to the future (development). They
strive to make the artistic idiom into a language which encompasses,
or at least gives meaningful relevance to the history of Indonesia.
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To be able to tackle this task successfully Saini, Director of the Theatre
Department (1979–81), later Director of ASTI (1989–96), and Director
of Art in the Department of Education and Culture from 1997 until his
retirement in 2000, has developed a slogan to define the duty of the
theatre department: Preserve – develop – present. How this slogan and
the work of the academy may be implemented is the focus of this chapter.
Two individuals, Arthur Nalan and K. M. Saini, set the standards
for teaching traditional theatre at ASTI. Their work explains much
about how traditional theatre is approached and understood at
ASTI. Their research is used as teaching material and constitutes an
important part of the ‘praxis’ of ASTI. Others, such as, Nanu Munajar
and Yoyo Durachman, follow closely the direction of these two trend
setters. I refer to them more briefly in the sections that deal with
Sisingaan and Longser.
This discussion will focus on the two leading figures whom I have
come to know in person. I have read their research reports and interviewed them on several occasions on the subject of revitalisation and
tradition. In a distinct manner they formulate the practices of ASTI
which are diffused in the daily work of the academy.
Teaching and research are two important features of Artur Nalan’s
life. He was employed by the academy in 1981 and was promoted to
head of the Theatre Department in 1994. He is involved in the
compilation of text books at the academy and at the same time he
carries out research, writes theatre plays, and academic reports. The
texts which will be discussed here are singled out because they are
prime examples of ASTI interests.
Arthur Nalan involves himself in a general discussion of cultural
conservation and development which uses theoretical concepts from
the social sciences. When he compiled the Anatomy and Norms
Presented in Traditional Theatre (Anatomi dan Norma-Norma
Penyajian Teater Tradisi), he relied upon Edmund Leach’s Culture
and Communication to define traditional theatre as total and
intimate (Nalan 1993/1994a: 4–5). In his research Nalan builds a
strong case for ‘tradition’ as dynamic and ever changing by using
ideas borrowed from anthropologists such as Edward Shils, Victor
Turner and Roy Wagner. His texts also engage in an Indonesian
discourse on the subjects of tradition, development and preservation.
In the preparations that preceded the writing of the chapter on
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culture and art in 1993 National State Directives (GBHN 1993),
there existed different opinions on the focus by the government on
cultural preservation. The artists and social scientists involved in the
preparations of the text argued for a policy more attuned to the need
for the development and improvement of regional art rather than its
conservation as advocated by the government. Considering the
government efforts to promote conservation, Nalan’s texts are significant in their attempt to ground, in an ethnographic reality, the view
of tradition as fluent and flexible.
Arthur Nalan is deeply involved in research on traditional theatre
and has a warm personal interest in the genre. Because of his personal
engagement there is a sensitivity to ethnographic reality which is not
blinded by ideological proposals. His research illuminates the complex
relationship among concepts such as tradition, ritual, adaptation, revitalisation, communication, aesthetics and culture which are always
intimately linked with each other in his texts.
In his studies the traditional arts are defined as a certain structure
of performance. A traditional performance develops through a schedule
of five (Nalan 1996: 87) or six successive stages (Nalan 1993/1994a:
23, 1993/1994b: 34). These are:
1. An opening called Tatalu, which is a song or instrumental introduction meant to assemble the audience and announce the beginning of the performance;
2. Song(s);
3. Dance(s);
4. Short, funny sketches;
5. The main story;
6. The conclusion of the performance.7
By and large the traditional performances, also termed folk performances, or regional performances are distinguished by their simplicity
in properties, stories, make-up, clothes and setting (Nalan 1996: 87,
1994: 31 ff.). The stage is often merely a plot of land and without a
proscenium. The music, the properties and the costumes are plain. The
most elaborated are the clothes of the women, who wear beautiful
sarongs and blouses which are matched with lavish make-up and
intricate coiffure. The men usually only wear sarongs and T-shirts.
The music is also minimised, the ensemble consists of portable
bamboo instruments rather than an entire gamelan orchestra.
The performances are grounded in a specific regional tradition by
staging local dances, songs and stories (Nalan 1994: 35), and realised
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in the local language, or dialect. The foremost artistic quality of the
traditional performance is the ability to adapt it to local circumstances
(Nalan 1993/1994a: 16), its flexibility, its improvisations (Nalan
1996: 88, 1994: 107), and its total and intimate engagement with
the audience, (Nalan 1993/1994a: 4, 1996: 88, 1994: 37, 49). The
general feature of comedy in the performances and the fact that the
theatre is a vehicle for communication are also emphasised by Nalan
as specific qualitative strands of traditional theatre in general and
especially so in West Javanese theatre (Nalan 1993/1994a: 20).
The plot is improvised and normally there exists no written script.
The actors are given a story outline and are thereafter supposed to
improvise their lines and actions on stage. This flavour of Commedia
Dell’arte makes the genre very receptive to the specific circumstances
of the evening for the performance and provides the actors with
opportunities to make plentiful references to local events.
The keen attention to the local situation makes the genre a very
fluent and creative tradition. Different forms are constantly being born
and new elements are appropriated and moulded into the performance.
This ability to adapt to local, contemporary events as well as to the
individuality of the actor makes the genre not only traditional but
also popular.
In the performance there are no clear-cut distinctions between
audience and actors. The show is an event in which all present take
part. The audience responds to the stage activities by shouting comments, throwing money to particular actors and is sometimes even
invited to join in the dances. Since the performances are incorporated
into harvest, wedding and circumcision rituals, Nalan draws no
absolute distinction between ritual, dance and drama.
The quality of being a total and intimate experience (total dan
intim) is a defining feature of the traditional performance, and one
especially important to Nalan. By ‘total’ he means that the performances mix dances, music, story and singing, and lack any clear distinction between myth, ritual and art. The show is a totality of
different artistic expression and connected with social life by ritual
obligation, which compels the society to take part in the performance. Apart from the intimate knowledge of local context on the part
of the actors and the ability of the audience to understand even small
and gentle hints in the performance, the word ‘intimate’ also denotes
the absence of definite borders between audience, sponsors and actors
(Nalan 1996: 88, 1994: 37, 49, 1993/1994a: 4).
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This totality and intimacy, the reference to a folk tradition, and the
overall pattern of the performances (mixing dances and stories in a
certain pattern of five successive steps), sums up what unites the
different performances which, according to Nalan, are included in
traditional theatre. Even though all the performances share these
features each district in West Java has its specific variation of the
genre, such as Longser in the Bandung area, or Masres in Cirebon.
The different styles diverge from each other mainly through their use
of parochial language and through the plots, which are taken from
local mythology (Nalan 1993/1994b).8
The definitions of traditional, local, or folk performance are a
matter of degree. Depending on what is emphasised the performances
oscillate within a genre continuum, incorporating either one or several
of the definitions. Folk theatres are mainly defined as such as opposed
to palace theatres; a local theatre is one using the specific language
and oral mythology of the area; while a traditional theatre also relates
back to a history of ritual service.
To understand more exactly how Arthur Nalan views traditional
theatre and anchors a performance in a specific region, culture and
social context (an ethnic group), two research reports written by him
are examined here. These texts convey substantial ideas of what Nalan
considers traditional theatre to be and how the genre is being successfully revitalised, but they also give an insight into the idiom
through which ASTI expresses itself. The reports provide access to the
language used inside ASTI, the references that are made and explain
how the academy approaches its task of research.
The first report, Sanghyang Raja Uyeg, (Nalan 1994) follows the
changes in the role of Sanghyang Raja Uyeg (Honourable King of
Uyeg) in Uyeg theatre.9 Divided into three main parts, the first
establishes the relation between Uyeg theatre and the harvest ritual
(seren taun) conducted by the Pancer Pangawinan people of Sukabumi
(West Java); the second places contemporary Uyeg theatre in the
broader context of West Javanese traditional theatre and the last section
pursues a more thorough analysis of the figure Sanghyang Raja Uyeg.
This theatre originated in a sixteenth-century fertility ritual performed by the people of (Kasepuhan) Pancer Pangawinan, when the
Pajajaran Kingdom ruled over the area (ibid.: 117).10 The performance was considered an asset of the Pancer Pangawinan group, who
had a monopoly on the necessary ritual knowledge. The same story,
Sri Langlang Bumi (Sri descends to earth), was staged every year to
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celebrate the harvest and ensure a prosperous future. The story is
about the marriage between Sri Rumbiyang Jati and Sang Ayah Guru
Bumi (the God of Wealth).11 As a tale (lakon) which imitates or reenacts (simulates) the deeds of the gods, it is treated as a sacred text.
The performance closely follows the structure of the traditional
theatre of West Java according to Nalan, proceeding through the five
structural stages initiated by the Tatalu.
The holy marriage between the two gods is arranged by Sanghyang
Raja Uyeg, who is also Kala (the God of Time or Destiny), who,
according to the author, may be conceived of as a guardian spirit
(ibid.: 96). As the drama’s key figure Sanghyang Raja Uyeg ensures
that the world endures and that the land continues to yield harvests.
When Sanghyang Raja Uyeg marries off the goddess of rice with the
god of wealth, continuity, reproduction and stability are secured.
Immediately before the actual performance an offering was made
to safeguard the event by inviting the gods. This sacrifice was made
by the leader of the group, who also acted as Sanghyang Raja Uyeg
in the performance.
The harvest ritual is still performed, but the Uyeg theatre is not
part of it any more. In 1921 an Uyeg theatre staged the last performance at a harvest ritual which included Sanghyang Raja Uyeg fulfilling
the story of Sri Langlang Bumi. After that the genre and the story
were almost forgotten.
The theatre was revitalised by a West Javanese artist, Anis Djatisunda,
who convinced the leader of the last existing Uyeg group to let him
(an outsider) take it over (Nalan 1994: 46). As a consequence, this
theatre is now also staged outside the area of Sukabumi, which was
the traditional land of Pancer Pangawinan. The revitalised theatre
does not have any relation with rituals of fertility; it is staged only as
a commercial enterprise. It is still called Uyeg theatre because the
figure of Sanghyang Raja Uyeg is kept in the performance, even
though he has changed radically in function and character. He no
longer impersonates sacral powers or embodies spiritual features but
is rather a figure of secular entertainment. The role is restricted to
the performance and does not include the ritual service of offerings
before the show. The function of acting, and the ritual service, are
divided between the leader of the group, who still makes offerings,
and a professional actor who plays Sanghyang Raja Uyeg.
The figure of Sanghyang Raja Uyeg is also lifted out of the actual
story performed on stage and his task in the contemporary performance
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is to comment on the events on stage. He does this three times: in a
prologue, in the middle of the play and in an epilogue. The stories
performed do not have any sacral or spiritual connotations but are
taken from the folklore of the area including, primarily, comic anecdotes and short stories. The revitalised performance has been successful
in attracting audiences and has existed on a commercial basis for
several years (ibid.: 63–67).
It is not important in this case whether the reconstruction is true
to reality or not. What is of interest for the moment is to determine
how Nalan’s reconstruction is composed and how he understands
the performance to have changed in function.
Nalan points out how the revitalised theatre has its roots in a
sacred fertility ritual performed by a specific ethnic group. The
performance is localised through this history of its origin in the
ritual, although at the same time, through its dramatic structure,
made part of the traditional theatre of West Java. The performance is
tied to the Pancer Pangawinan group both by ‘ownership’ and by the
idea that the meaning of the performance depends on its relation to
the social and historical context of a specific society. In the revitalised
performance this connection is broken. The revitalised theatre is an
intimate feature of local social conditions but it fulfils a quite different
role (directed towards entertainment) from the original (traditional)
Uyeg theatre, which was directed towards ritual service.12 The performing group of the revitalised theatre does not serve any specific
ritual function, nor is it connected in any historical way with a
performance which implies ‘ownership’. The quality of being local
which still characterises the revitalised theatre springs from the ability
of the performance to incorporate local symbols and of the local society
to recognise and decode these symbols (including the language), but
the show itself is bereft of any performative ritual tasks.
The second report is called Sandiwara Masres Indramayu (Nalan
1993/1994b). This study emphasises the communicative quality of
the performance as a symbolic interaction between actors and audience,
but also as a phenomenon available to the researcher to read for
information about social conditions.13
This report follows the group Aneka Tunggal in Indramayu. An
introductory section which gives the historical background of the
theatre is followed by several chapters which map the group in social
and economic terms. The report is concluded by an aesthetic evaluation of the project.
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The leading questions of the report are why and how this genre
(Sandiwara Masres) is able to prosper. These questions are approached
not only from an artistic and aesthetic angle, but are also explored by
connecting the performance with historical, social and economic
circumstances. Nalan thinks that the answer to the question of why
the theatre is so prosperous is to be found in its function and identity
(ibid.: 2). The research is a blend of artistic evaluation and a social
scientific approach which pervades ASTI.
The genre Sandiwara Masres was initiated by individual artists
who combined Kethoprak theatre from Middle Java with dances,
songs, jokes and language from the Masres area (ibid.: 8). The
stories were derived from local oral traditions, and the proscenium
was filled with technological innovations which could help the actors
to fly, disappear and reappear suddenly. Smoke, light and sound are
used to surprise the spectators and make the show more attractive.
This feeling of glamour is also accentuated by the use of costumes
and make-up. Notwithstanding the elaborate effects, the style is of a
folk character and, according to Nalan, is not of professional standard.
His conclusion is that, ‘Sandiwara Indramayu has become a cultural
asset which is biased towards the local folkway’ (ibid.: 41).
One interesting result which arises from making local experience
the foundation of the performance is that the show’s language is
spiced with Jakarta slang. This mix of languages stems from the fact
that locals often travel to Jakarta and other places to work and urban
slang is recognised as an important device to reach the audience. To
be a folk theatre, or local-traditional theatre, according to Nalan,
should not be mistaken for being parochial in its outlook. Its main
feature is that it reflects the experience of the people living in a specific
area (ibid.: 37). Rather than being rigid or narrow, the folk theatre is
open and flexible and easily incorporates the new experiences of the
The Sandiwara Masres also plays a role in the local economy. The
show is paid for by the sponsors of public events and ritual celebrations,
free for anyone to enjoy. By local standards the show is expensive and
the performance is therefore valued as a prestigious object. The
economic success of the theatre enables the actors to make substantial profits and this encourages their confidence that they may
survive as artists (ibid.: 42).
The final conclusion of the report is that the performance of a
Sandiwara Masres is a communicative and significant event constituting
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‘a culturally symbolic action since it is able to continue the process of
preserving the treasure of local culture’ (ibid.: 36).
These two research reports locate traditional theatre within a
specific aesthetic frame (the structure of five stages mentioned above),
identify a specific quality of being total and intimate and claim that it
has a specific social and historical grounding. In Nalan’s research
tradition evolves as an aesthetic structure with a content which depends
on the social and historical circumstances of the specific area of performance. The traditional folk performance is constituted as an asset
of an ethnic group in the case of Uyeg, and a significant social event
in the case of Sandiwara Masres.
The intimate connection of the performance with a specific local
society gives Nalan the opportunity to show that in the process of
social change, traditional art will also (have to) change if it is to
survive. The total and intimate character of the performance and its
emphasis on local circumstances are its main features, while the
structural organisation has to be negotiable. Therefore, if the performance is to remain traditional and maintain its intimacy with the
audience, it must adapt to the changing experience of the audience.
Nalan’s main argument is that ‘traditional’ actually connotes the
intimate relationship of art with society. When this is lost and art and
society do not have this intimate relationship, a process of alienation
starts which either leads to the extinction of the art, or to its reduction
to a commodity consumed for momentary pleasure. Revitalisation
therefore means adapting traditional art to contemporary society and
in that way retrieving entertainment, and art, as tradition.
Through his research we can discern how ASTI furthers a notion
of local art which emphasises how performances have been transformed
from rituals (Uyeg for example), into artistic (aesthetic) and communicative events which carry messages about social circumstances and
ethnic identity. The academy emphasises these last two qualities of
performance and makes them stand out as a defining feature of contemporary local art. Tradition is defined by Nalan as a meaningful
ethnic sign which tells of social conditions and identity and is not
simply a performative ritual element or entertainment.
Since Saini has influenced ASTI as well as my research project, it is
important to understand his opinions about theatre and cultural
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identity.14 He introduced traditional and folk theatre into the
curriculum of ASTI and is renowned as the real enthusiast for its
incorporation into the scheme of education. In conversations and
during interviews he voiced his concerns about the deterioration of
traditional arts like wayang and sandiwara. He is convinced that the
traditional arts have high aesthetic value which should not be lost. At
the same time he recognises that the world and the socio-economic
situation are changing fast and that the conventional language and
form of the traditional arts are, perhaps, obsolete.
Saini was employed as a teacher in 1973 and was later promoted
to director of the academy in 1989, a position he held until 1995
when he advanced to become director of art in the Department of
Education and Culture. The ASTI Department of Theatre was
established in 1978 and Saini was its director from 1979 to 1981.
Saini has a background in English studies and writes poetry and
theatre plays. He is also a renowned theatre critic and debater on
cultural issues in Bandung. His short articles and columns are often
published in national and local newspapers.
As director of the theatre department in its early years and later as
the Director of ASTI, he has had great opportunities to influence the
work and policy of the academy, especially the theatre department
and particularly in the promotion of traditional theatre. He actively
supports the endeavour and has himself written and compiled a
significant amount of the teaching material for these students. Most
of the reading material for the lectures on traditional theatre are
research compiled by the staff of ASTI. The Department of Education and Culture has produced a book covering Indonesian
traditional theatre (including Longser), but this did not satisfy the
demand from ASTI for knowledge about the specific forms of
theatre in West Java. Thus an ambitious programme of research has
been carried out at ASTI since 1980 when Saini produced Pola-Pola
Teater Dramatis Jawa Barat (Patterns in dramatic theatre in West
Java) together with Atik Soepandi and Enoch Atmadibrata, in order
to upgrade the reading materials for the course on West Javanese
theatre. The book takes stock of regional traditional theatre and
endeavours to delineate the essential patterns of West Javanese
As with Nalan, Saini is personally committed to traditional theatre.
He was raised in Sumedang, a small town outside Bandung, in an
environment that, according to him, immersed him in traditional art.
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During his time as director traditional theatre, even though still a
minor part of the total curriculum, has steadily gained in importance.
The study of traditional theatre in ASTI is divided into two parts.
The first section is an introduction to the ethnographic description
of traditional theatre in Indonesia with the focus on West Java. The
second part is a practical course in which the students attend traditional
performances and create their own shows based on their observations.
Depending on the individual choice of the student, additional credits
may be gained on the subject of folklore.
Saini, however, is not an uncritical proponent of tradition per se,
he is also a committed nationalist. He is deeply concerned with the
Indonesianisation of Indonesia and definitely describes himself as an
Indonesian. To Saini the well-educated class of urban intellectuals of
which he is part is the bearer of the Indonesian project. Therefore
the second part of his ‘slogan’, development, is of especial concern to
Saini. One of his most cherished subjects is the development of a
national Indonesian theatre, since he has tried to combine a love for
his ethnic origins and his loyalty to nationalism with the forging of
an Indonesian identity.
Reading the play The Local Manager (Saini 1986), my attention
was drawn to the importance that Saini places on the two poles of
tradition and modernity, and their links with the concepts of local
and national.
The story is about the way a village is torn apart in the process of
modernisation. Two men, who by chance happen to be on different
sides in the struggle between modernity and tradition, confront each
other. Both are named Amat and they have grown up together in the
village. One becomes the local manager of the mill built on village
land and the other becomes his opponent, the resistance leader. They
are, of course, in love with the same girl and in the end Amat the
resistance leader kills Amat the local manager.
The story starts in a village where offerings are made to celebrate a
good rice harvest. The scene describes the atmosphere of a prosperous,
secure and harmonious village. Into this rural harmony enters a
foreign-looking man with his pocket calculator and the village official.
They choose, by the toss of a coin, one of the two Amats to be the
caretaker of the mill that they will build. This act initiates the process
of industrial development over which the people of the village have
no influence.
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The next act opens with a curse from an old woman: because the
village has lost its respect for the gods it will be damned. This outburst is followed by a man complaining to Amat about his problems:
‘You know, Mat, that since the owner of the mill took the tractors
into the village, nobody hires my buffalo to plough their rice fields.
My buffalo earns nothing and still I have to give him his food. That's
my problem’. Nobody will hire the buffalo and nobody is interested
in buying it since people are poor, except the owner of the mill who
wants to sacrifice the buffalo to celebrate his prosperous first year.
The crux is that he is only willing to pay half of what the owner considers the buffalo to be worth. This kind of complaint is voiced by
several others.
Amat the resistance leader, suggests that they should have a meeting
with the rich farmers of the village to remind them about their
‘communal obligation’ and to tell them about what is happening.
The situation is getting worse every day. More land is being bought
by the mill owner and the residents use the money to move in search
of work. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
The people who prosper are the rich landowners and the factory
workers who adorn themselves with ‘wristwatches, sun-glasses and
transistor radios’. After Amat fails to raise support among the villagers
he confronts Amat the local manager with the problem. The local
manager, though, misunderstands the reason for the visit and accuses
him of cunningly trying to make him give up his job just to lose his
chance of marrying Tiwi, the girl they both love.
Finally Amat the resistance leader goes to Jakarta to complain: he
meets with a Kafkaesque world of unintelligible information, humiliation and ignorance. An absurd dialogue develops between Amat and
officials in a skyscraper in Jakarta where it is uncertain whether the
officials represent a private conglomerate or the government. At first
the officials do not take him seriously and when they eventually do
so, they feed him with ideologically correct answers totally off the
point. Blind with rage and frustration, Amat returns to the village
and burns down the mill. He kills Amat the local manager and in the
end is himself shot and killed by soldiers. The final scene shows the
owner of the mill standing beside the dead bodies while a reporter
writes up the story as a murder of passion according to the dictate of
the owner.
The play illustrates how important social problems are often hidden
behind layers of secondary stories. The ending of the play, where the
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events are presented as a love affair in the press, suggests how the
media divert attention away from major issues such as modernisation,
technologisation and their impact on various social classes. These were
ideas not normally questioned in Indonesia during Ordre Baru. Thus
to do so and to point out the problems was very rare. The idea of the
play was not really to question the modernisation programme (which
would be on the brink of being anti-government and thereby illegal)
but to point out how this process may fuel antagonism in society and
how both sides, the traditional and modern, may confront each other
in a conflict that consumes energy and human lives on both sides.
Traditional life is localised in the village, and the motor of the
modernising process is to be found in the national capital, where the
‘highest government of them all’ has its residence. Saini reminds the
reader of the close relationship that exists between the state (central
and local) and private business, in the development and the technologisation of the rural areas. He does not refrain from noting that some
people do profit from the process and that it is very difficult to give
up perceived material benefits. One of the reasons that the people do
not support Amat the resistance leader is that they do not want to
lose their material gains. Rather than doing so they chance migration
to try their luck for a well-paid job. In this drama and other works,
Saini concentrates on the ambiguous and difficult relationship between
the local and the national, the traditional and the modern.
If Nalan has engaged himself in the task of surveying and attending
to traditional and local theatre, Saini has concentrated on the relationship between nationalism and local loyalties. He has spent considerable
time and effort in elaborating and defining the concept of Indonesian
theatre.15 His position on the subject provides a point of entry for
exploring how national and local identities are related in Indonesia.
Saini pursues the question of national identity from a theoretical
and historical angle, probing into the question of what national
development implies in the field of art. He intertwines the history of
Indonesian theatre with the development of nationalism, and to
understand this relationship he starts in the nineteenth century with
the introduction of ‘trans-ethnic’ theatre in Indonesia.16 ‘Bangsawan’
and ‘trans-ethnic’ are terms used to distinguish the theatres which
emanated from abroad and established themselves in the cities of
Java from the indigenous theatre. 17
The first influences of trans-ethnic theatre (which also approximate
ideas of modern theatre) came from peninsular Malaysia and the
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western part of Indonesia, where the Bangsawan theatre was a
popular style of performance. This theatre based its performances on
a model known from guest performances by Indian groups.18
One of the Indian groups, Mendu, stayed for several years in
Penang, Malaysia, and just before returning home they sold all their
equipment to a Persian named Mamak Pushi. In co-operation with
the artist Bai Kasim he established the first ensemble, which called
itself Bangsawan (Pushi Indera Bangsawan of Penang). During a
guest performance in Jakarta (Batavia at the time) the group split up
and the properties were bought by a man named Jaafar, known as
‘the Turk’. With the properties purchased, he established Stamboel,
a name which alludes to the origin of Jaafar in Istanbul. Little is
known about this group except that they used stories which originated in India, Persia and the Arab world.
In 1891 a second theatre group influenced by Bangsawan theatre
was established. Its name was Komedi Stambul.19 The leader of
Komedi Stambul was August Mahieu, an Indo-Frenchman. They
mainly featured stories from A Thousand and One Nights and modern
Western manuscripts. Interestingly enough, these foreign stories such
as A Thousand and One Nights, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Carmen
and others were their most successful performances.
The theatre had a string of successful years until the death of its
founder in 1906. At that time the theatre company had managed to
set a standard for professional, trans-ethnic theatres, and the actors of
Komedi Stambul created their own companies with names such as
Komedi Opera Stambul and Opera Permata Stambul, to mention a
few, alluding to their former participation in the well-established
Komedi Stambul.
The motivation for these professional groups was commercial,
that is, they were keenly attuned to the needs and wishes of the
audience. A model performance would run as follows. The event was
presented, produced, and advertised as entertainment, requiring a
ticket to attend. The promotion material emphasised the extraordinary
and fantastic quality of the show to attract public attention. Before
the actual performance the actors presented their characters to the
audience in the Melayu language. During the performance the story
was frequently interrupted by music, dance and slapstick. Popular
European dances such as the foxtrot and the one-step were exhibited.
Feelings and emotions were expressed in songs and dialogue, not
meant to influence the story but to amuse the audience. (Variety
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theatre is a close cousin.) The dialogue was largely improvised and
adhered to the original text only when necessary to keep the story
This commercial theatre was carried into the twentieth century by
two groups, Orion and Dardanella. They adapted the structure of
the theatre towards a ‘modern’ performance, keeping the stories to
the length of one night and refraining from interrupting the main
theme with song-and-dance numbers. They used both Western manuscripts and indigenous writers. In the beginning of this century the
professional-commercial theatres prospered. In 1935 the most
famous of the groups, Dardanella, made an Asian tour that perhaps
marks the epitome of the genre.
During the Japanese occupation (1942–45) the movement of the
touring groups and the content of the plays were even more restricted
and supervised than during the Dutch colonial area. Although the
Japanese encouraged Indonesian art and theatre (for instance they
established the Jakarta Art Council), by the end of the Japanese rule
a censorship body was established which decided that all performances
had to be based on texts which had been previously evaluated by the
authorities. This regulation implied that improvisations, which were
fundamental to both professional and local theatres, were impossible.
The result was a decline of these art forms and, instead, a variety of
independent groups, mainly consisting of pupils and students, appeared
at informal stages (sanggar). The most important, Maya, was formed
1944 in Jakarta by Usmar Ismail.
A host of young intellectuals started to write plays which encouraged
the nationalists to form a convention of ‘amateur’ theatre. The
nationalist (amateur and non-commercial) theatre developed as a
counterpoint to the commercial (professional) theatre and promoted
a theatre which could express the nationalist awareness that emerged
simultaneously. Indonesian Theatre is even defined by Saini as embodying performances that ‘express the awareness and aspirations of
the nation’ (Saini 1995: 12). This process was already begun at the
turn of the century when an indigenous, educated elite took shape
by utilising the education offered by the Dutch and indigenous schools
such as Taman Siswa and Pasundan. This urbanised and educated
elite defined and formulated the first sentiments of nationalism (at
least according to their own history) and Saini presents these people
as the carriers of the Indonesian project. ‘Pioneers in the national
theatres were intellectuals, who were sometimes not only involved
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intellectually in the struggle against colonialism but also politically’
(Saini 1995: 17).20 Furthermore, Saini sees this elite as the instigators of, as well as targets for, the new national theatre. This group of
people included the future president, Mr Sukarno, who himself wrote
plays only to have them censored and banned.21
The ‘amateur’ groups were similar to Bangsawan and other
professional groups in the sense that they were influenced by theatre
genres from abroad. They did not find their inspiration in traditional
theatre from the area. However, Saini points out that although the
national theatre was similar to Bangsawan, the epithet ‘amateur’ was
used by the practitioners to contrast the new genre with the ‘professional’ Bangsawan theatre. The ‘amateurs’ emphasised that the
main motive of their theatre was not economic but idealistic, and as
such they became what the professionals were not. This theatre was
faithful to the manuscript, they studied Western theories of drama
and acting, did not improvise and did not make use of extras and
dance interruptions. These playwrights, actors and academics attached
great values to their artistic ideals and emphasised the educational
and motivating forces of theatre in the struggle to free the nation.
Theatre was no longer mere entertainment. The amateur non-commercial theatre had different motivations and used other means of
performance than the professional theatres.
The intellectual and educated city dweller was rare though and
still is in relation to the average population; consequently few tickets
were sold. This problem is conceived of by Saini as the question of
educating an ‘Indonesian’ audience which could appreciate the new
Indonesian theatre.22 The problem was to reach outside the campuses
and art communities with the idea of a shared Indonesian identity.
The development of theatre festivals and academies for teaching
the performing arts emerged after independence. At the end of the
Second World War such artistic production was institutionalised and
formalised.23 In the 1950s, Usmar Ismail helped to establish important
institutions like ASDRAFI: Akademi Seni Drama dan Film Indonesia
(The Academy of Indonesian Drama and Film) in Yogyakarta and
ATNI: Akademi Teater Nasional Indonesia (The Academy of Indonesian National Theatre) in Jakarta. These organisations were intended
to handle theatre, film and art from the perspective of artistic values,
science and intellectual awareness (penalaran).
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In these institutions subjects such as directing, writing and mass
communication were taught. ASTI is a later example of an institution
organised in this spirit. Theories of theatre from the West formulated
by Stanilavski and Brecht were introduced. The teaching was oriented
towards a Western tradition of theatre including the importance of
the script, the knowledge of acting and the building of the stage. The
work was driven by an intellectual, idealistic motive and a will to use
the theatre in the service of the modern nation.
A host of theatre groups, which were a mix of acting courses and
drama societies, were established in the major cities. Competitive
festivals were arranged to compare artistic achievements.
Saini intertwines the political history of Indonesian independence
and the emergence of Orde Baru with the history of Indonesian
theatre. He imagines the national theatre as a medium that can serve
as an inter-ethnic language, serving the need for national communication on change and development. This theatre ‘[W]as born out of
the historical necessities of the nation. At a time when a number of
the members of different ethnic groups saw the dawn of nationalism,
they felt the need to communicate with kindred spirits’ (Saini 1995:
14).24 According to Saini this transcendence of ethnic borders was,
of course, not achieved without great efforts since: ‘It is not easy to
change one’s partiality to one’s ethnic theatre, especially when it is
very old and refined’ (ibid.:13). However, since the ‘humiliation and
sufferings under the colonial yoke made the ethnic groups aware of
their similarities and the need to unite’ (ibid.: 9), it was not an
impossible task.
Certain plays are mentioned specifically by Saini such as, Rustam
Effendi’s Bebasari and Sanusi Pane’s Kertajaya, which ‘dealt with
themes connected with visions of the coming nationhood with its
hopes and problems’ (ibid.: 12).25 The nationalist theatre was propagated by intellectuals in the early century who concerned themselves
with theatre as ‘a medium for cultural expression based on the national
awareness [and an] interest in theatre as a serious art and science’
(ibid.: 21). Saini proposes that the amateurs promoted a theatre which
should have a sense of political and social urgency, in contrast to the
primarily commercial entertainment staged by Bangsawan. The form
that the amateur theatre adopted borrowed heavily from Western
conventions and the idiom became that of realism (Saini 1995: 25).
An important turn in the development of this genre occurred
when Jim Lim (ibid.: 25 ff., Saini 1988: 68) began incorporating
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ethnic elements into it. 26 This was done with the intention of making
the genre more appealing to an audience outside the intellectual elite
and more accessible to a ‘new generation which is less westernised
compared to their elder brothers’ (Saini 1995: 27). In the seventies
this genre emerged as a new theatre idiom in Indonesia which,
according to Saini, can be considered a truly Indonesian theatre,
reflecting on and communicating the Indonesian experience: ‘[T]he
seventies are the emergence of the theatrical idiom which is accepted
as Indonesian … a mixture between western and ethnic elements. It
takes from the west the structural solidity which is very important to
express the themes in a restricted time … From the ethnic heritage it
takes those images and symbols which are both the reservoir of the
rich ethnic experience and the articulation of it’ (Saini 1995: 28).
According to Saini, the problematic relationship between modern,
national theatre and ethnic performances is an illustration of Indonesian history: ‘Indonesian theatre is one of the reflections of the
birth and growth of a nation, Indonesia’ (ibid.: 32). He develops this
theme further in “Modern Indonesian Theatre and Some of its
Problems” (Saini 1988). The List of contents clearly indicates the
problems discussed and includes: Contemporary theatre in Indonesia;
Digging out traditional values to develop modern Indonesian theatre;
Researching traditional theatre (including the subtitle, Traditional
theatre and the new theatre idiom); Elements of folk theatre in the
recent (mutakhir) theatre of West Java. This task, to single out the
proper relations between traditional and modern theatre and make
them a metaphor for the proper relations between regional culture
and national identity, is acute for Saini. The reliance of national
theatre on symbolic elements from ethnic performances has become
stronger since the time of Orde Baru, and this ‘marriage’ (ibid.: 74)
between Western and ethnic theatre is for Saini a road to Indonesianisation. But it also mirrors the experience of being Indonesian. The
ethnic theatre uses symbols and idioms familiar to an audience not
accustomed to Western theatre. However, the ethnic structures and
forms are too diverse to produce an Indonesian theatre which everyone
can appreciate. To be Indonesian, according to Saini, includes the idea
of living in a multiethnic society united by the shared history of
colonisation. What could be more appropriate as a trope for this
experience than Western theatre, spiced with ethnic elements.
The reason for the specific interest in Saini and his view of theatre
and national development is that he is an important link between
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ASTI and the Department of Education and Culture, ‘the state’s
main instrument for preserving, inventing, and transmitting both
national and local cultures’ (Kipp 1996: 107). Even though, as a director of the Directorate of Art (Dewan Kesenian) in the Department of
Education and Culture, he does not intervene in the day to day
decision-making of ASTI, he is in a position to allocate substantial
As we can understand from Saini’s idea of Indonesian theatre, the
revitalisation of ethnic-traditional arts is of a great concern to him,
and he is developing a new policy programme for Dewan Kesenian.
This is based on a notion of revitalisation in which ‘cultural engineering’ plays an important role. His concerns were also echoed by the
president who in early 1997 ordered a substantial subsidy for the
revitalisation of traditional arts.
For Saini there is a deep-rooted dilemma inherent in the formulation of Indonesian theatre. Some of the most important ideas, including the notion of theatre as art, he recognises as Western.27 And
the Westernising powers have, through colonisation, even created
the circumstances for an Indonesian nation and thereby a national
theatre. However, the same historical processes also threaten to
undermine his own ethnic values and aesthetics.
This personal ambiguity mirrors many of the concerns voiced in
the government documents on development and makes him exceptionally suited for the position of director of Dewan Kesenian. In
the case of Saini the ideology promoted by the government of protecting, preserving and controlling a disappearing cultural identity
and the necessity of developing a specific Indonesian identity converge with his personal experience. As director of art at the Department of Education and Culture, with responsibility for organising art
on a national scale, Saini has to balance his bureaucratic task of
carrying out the government policies with his commitment as an
He clearly feels that what he considers as traditional and aesthetically
high-rating arts are being threatened. Now he is in the position of
preserving and revitalising such art. In charge of the implementation
of cultural policies, he has to consider the UUD ‘45 and Repelita
directives on conservation and avoid sponsoring art which is critical
of the government or which touches on SARA issues and may
endanger the picture of cultural and regional unity. At the same time
he is fully aware that the word ‘revitalise’ from an artistic point of
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view implies aesthetic development and the necessity for the arts to
have free space to grow in. He has himself experienced the restrictions
of the old government under Sukarno, and has been working in ASTI
to create a place for artistic creativity free from external interference.
His intentions are informed by a true commitment to the arts and
their future development. It is not that his directives, efforts, and
budget allocations stem from an urge to control, even though he works
in an organisation which, presumably, has as its ultimate end that of
controlling and organising cultural identity in favour of government
By studying the work of Nalan we may discern how some of the
connotations of concepts such as ‘tradition’, ‘folk’ and ‘culture’ change
in the process of revitalisation and how this is presented in ASTI.
Saini adds an important dimension to this by placing ‘the revitalisation of traditions’ firmly in the context of nationalism and the
development of an Indonesian identity. For him revitalised theatre is
an important vehicle for making the national theatre able to convey
the experience of being Indonesian.
As I have mentioned, ASTI is an institution within which artistic
aspirations, national policies, local expressions and private inclinations
mesh. ASTI’s institutional history and the work of the staff establish
significant relations between what at first hand seem to be unrelated
localities and phenomena such as the connections between national
development and local culture which are proposed by Saini and
Nalan. The academy provides these individuals with a place in which
they, through their texts and teaching, can establish a meaningful
relationship between the revitalisation of local art and national
For Nalan the revitalisation of art means the adaptation of theatre
to contemporary circumstances, for audience entertainment rather
than ritual occasions. It means adapting the traditional theatre to the
situation brought about by recent rapid social and economic change,
which, although it is not produced exclusively by the New Order, is
intimately connected with the development of a modern Indonesian
state and nation.
Saini imagines that political history will produce a new audience of
Indonesians. They have experienced the colonial yoke and the Japanese
occupation and are now searching for an idiom in which to express
the experiences of a polyethnic people united by a shared history. His
conclusion is that the revitalisation of tradition will serve the nation
by knitting local forms of expression into a national history.
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Nalan and Saini are trying to understand traditions and ritual in
terms of art and communication, and in a sense new meanings emerge
through their investigation of old phenomena. As we move to the
countryside around Bandung, we shall continue to ‘unpack’ the significance of the arts in linking national and local history, and to
explore what role ASTI fulfils in directing this process. The history of
Sisingaan exemplifies another, slightly different way of changing the
significance and meaning of a performance.
This section provides an example of a performing art in ritual service
and the change of meaning that occurs when the same art is presented
in other contexts.
Cultural performances give extra flavour and add lustre to ritual
occasions. Apart from providing visual splendour these performances
also fuel the narrative imagination. There are many tales about the
sexual attraction of the female dancers and the extraordinary acts
accomplished by the people who go into trance.
In his description of the performing arts in Java at the turn of the
century, Pigeaud (1991 [1938]: 36 ff.) draws a distinction between
wong mbarang, which were travelling groups that toured a region
with a commercial purpose, and pemain sambilan, groups that staged
occasional performances in their neighbourhood at ritual events. The
scant documentation of the latter category is unfortunate since this
genre is still prevalent in a modified form in West Java. People who
work as farmers, craftsmen, clerks, or state employed officials get
together and develop different kinds of performances (which provide
the actors with only a small extra income). This kind of performance
constitutes a great deal of the entertainment regularly performed at
circumcisions and weddings.
To celebrate the circumcision of a boy or girl in West Java a hajat
(ritual meal) is held. If financial resources are available the importance
of the day is underscored by hiring performing artists to entertain
the guests. There are several art forms considered appropriate for the
occasions, but as a general rule the show is spectacular, lively, sincere
and often includes elements of communication with the other world.
Although they differ in expression and paraphernalia the performances
at circumcisions share a basic structure that weaves together dances
and acrobatics displaying physical strength and endurance with
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suggestions of mystical powers. Usually the performance starts at the
house that is sponsoring the hajat and later it makes a rather extensive
tour on foot through the neighbouring villages. Common to most of
the performances is that they include either a real animal (usually a
horse) or an animal replica (a lion for example) for the circumcised
child to ride upon. To the villagers the performances are known as
acrobatic dance and theatre entertainment which celebrates a successful
circumcision.29 In the Bandung area there are several performances
suitable for this occasion, but one of the best known is Sisingaan,
also called Singa Depok, which is a good example of the kind of
entertainment staged at circumcisions.
During fieldwork I had the opportunity to witness several performances by a Sisingaan group called Kencala Wulung. The performance
is staged at circumcision rituals but is also an example of local art
during the national celebrations of independence. The different
meanings created by the performance in this shift of context deserve
some attention and I shall therefore outline in more detail how this
performance is accomplished.30
To give an idea of the performance and the atmosphere it creates I
shall describe one specific day when the group gave a performance in
a nearby village.
Early in the morning the group assembles at the house of the
leader. The actors are all men from the village, except for the female
singer, who lives in Subang, a two-hour drive away. The props, including two large and heavy wooden lions, are loaded on the back of
a small lorry. To mark the importance of the singer she is allowed to
sit in the front and the rest jump up on the platform at the back and
pack themselves together with the wooden lions, gongs and electric
amplifiers that are to be used during the performance. If it is raining
a big plastic sheet covers the lot. This performance has been ordered
by a villager near by, so the bumpy ride lasts less than three-quarters
of an hour. Occasionally they travel further away and have to start
when it is still dark to reach their destination in time.
When we arrive, the wooden lions are placed in an open space
outside the house where the performance is going to be held. Their
eyes are covered with cloth and they are ‘resting’. To prepare for a
safe performance the local spirits are invited to the show. Offerings of
coconuts, sugar, small pieces of meat, cigarettes, sweet smelling balm
etc., are made. Aca, the leader of the group, recites the proper mantras
over the offerings and burns incense. Each of the members approaches
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the small offerings and meditates in front of them, inhaling the
fragrances. Some take small pieces of the balm and apply it to their
hands and head. The foreheads of the lions are also rubbed with the
balm. These are the spiritual preparations for the performance and
after that they take care of the more secular needs. The sponsor of
the event invites the whole troupe to take part in a delicious buffet.
There is a real rush to the table and the young men enjoy large
helpings of the good food which is free of charge. We are seated with
the plates in our laps, on chairs assembled in long parallel rows
outside the house. This means that while eating we are sitting next to
each other looking at the back of the person in front. Because of this
conversation during the meal is minimal.
While we are eating, the young boy who was circumcised about a
week ago is prepared for the performance. He is dressed in beautiful
clothes with golden and silver threads woven into them. On his back
there are small wings attached making him look like one of the gods
in the Ramayana or Mahabharata epics. A small moustache is painted
on his upper lip and lavish makeup makes his face radiant. The boy is
about four years old and is stunned by being the focus of attention
and probably also distrustful of what is going to happen. Most people
agree that the children are terrified but do not dare to say anything.
His older mates however, roam gladly around and are obviously
looking forward to the event, hoping that they will be able to ride
the second lion.
After these preparations they are ready to start the performance. A
short speech is held to inform the audience of the reason for the
hajat and to introduce the troupe. The child is seated on a chair in
front of the open space, which now functions as a stage. A large
green, Hindu-type, umbrella is held over the boy to shade him.31
Suddenly the ten dancers run onto the stage, and from now on the
performance continues for the whole day at the same unflagging
tempo. The song bursts out through the megaphone which is attached
to the amplifier and the music is loud. The ensemble consists of
percussion instruments, one wooden trumpet and the singer. The
tunes are very suggestive and rhythmic, anticipating the possession at
the end of the day with their trance-like quality.
The dancers encircle the lions and perform a dance which reminds
one of Pencak Silat, the martial arts. After this they take the cloth
away from the lions’ eyes, lift them up on their shoulders and swirl
them around. The time is now about ten o’clock and when the lions
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Fig. 4.1: Sisingaan performance
are placed on the shoulders of the dancers the temperature rises among
the people by the minute. Still no one is sitting on the lions and
therefore they are handled with extra speed, giving the children some
idea of what they are going to experience. The atmosphere and the
dances are dynamic and masculine. Suddenly the dancers drop the
lions on the ground and the music stops.
From the rear enters a person dressed like an old man; he walks
slowly towards the circumcised boy and invites him to ascend the
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lion. He helps the boy from the chair, lifts him up on the lion and
uses the cloth, which previously covered the eyes, to secure the boy
on the back. This done he waves to the audience and leaves the stage,
and does not come back. Abruptly, the music starts again and the
dancers hurl the lions up in the air. The boy, who is going to spend
the next couple of hours on their shoulders, shows no emotion. After
one or two further dances the whole troupe starts out on a walking
tour through the neighbourhood. The lions, with the children on
top, are taken for a trip around the villages. This lasts for several
hours. While the procession slowly advances the singing and dancing
continue. Sometimes the procession stops for a drink or to stage
some extra dances at a garden where people are willing to pay. This
day turns out to be a really lively occasion and even adult men take
their place on the lion and spray money around them while the
dancers sweat away beneath them. Around the lions a crowd of men
are dancing. This is in the middle of the day and the spectacle attracts
much attention.
When the group returns to the hajat they perform the atraksi,
acrobatic tricks. Members of the group stand on each other’s shoulders,
or one lifts the heavy lion by himself without the help of the others.
These attractions are interspersed with joking and clowning. Two of
the members make fun of the whole performance by imitating and
ridiculing the display of acrobatic skills. The members of the group
appreciate the attractions where they may display their personal
competence and the audience admires a show of individual strength.
The atmosphere is tense with expectation and the performance has
now been going on for about five hours; it is hot and the music has
penetrated into the very nerve system of the participants.
Finally, if it is not a strict Muslim area, Aca, who previously carried
out the offerings, enters the stage. He makes a short bow, stamps his
feet into the ground, and starts to perform Pencak Silat movements.
By doing this he is attracting the forces of the unseen to the stage.
He moves in different directions on the stage and suddenly he
smacks his hand on the forehead of a man in the crowd. Immediately
this man enters a trance, he falls down on his knees and starts to run
around like a dog. The men from Kencana Wulung rush to the stage
and grab him by his hair to prevent him from attacking someone in
the crowd. Raw meat and eggs are put in front of the man and he
smears them into his face, eating some and throwing the rest around.
Suddenly he sees a chicken at the other end of the stage and rushes
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to get it. It takes three young men to control him and they tear
down a fence while trying to calm him down. During the period of
possession the two ‘clowns’ act out an ironic imitation of the events
– while the man possessed is eating raw meat, the clowns are served
tea and cookies on a plate beside him. Meanwhile Aca has been
standing at the side of the stage, but now he takes a glass of water,
pours some of the liquid into his mouth and sprays it on the forehead
of the possessed man. The man falls down unconscious and is
covered with a cloth. He is massaged and finally brought back to this
world. While he is waking up the members of the group roam
around with a bucket to collect donations.32
The dominant emotions of the performance are those of passion,
power and energy. The rhythmic, loud, continuous and repetitive
music is like a mantra, encompassing performers and the audience as
well as the whole village. The dances are fierce and violence is near at
hand during the period of possession. The circumcised boy is
elevated to the sky and tossed back and forward and the choreography
is simple, with a repetition of circular and vertical movements. The
final trance, when supernatural powers are invited to the scene by the
ritual specialist, marks the culmination of the performance.
For the participants the event becomes meaningful through the
context of the circumcision. If the performance is a sign, it is a sign
of celebration and transformation. Most Javanese societies, including
the Sundanese, are marked by a profound ideology of hierarchy and
the idea that stable social relations reflect cosmic harmony (Geertz:
1960; Glicken: 1987; Palmier: 1960). The causal relationship between
this world and what in the West tends to be called the supernatural is
complex and equivocal. Social actions may have effects both in this
world and the world of the gods (see for example, Keeler: 1992).
What happens in this world is a reflection of the universal order, but
to maintain the established social order is also a way to strengthen
cosmic harmony. In the case of male circumcision a young boy is
acknowledged as a Muslim and Javanese. His social status is changed,
and he is hereafter supposed to learn the rules of hierarchy and
proper religious behaviour. One could describe the ritual as letting a
new being into the collective ideological universe. Social events like
these are critical because they allow a new person to enter into an
established pattern of social relations and thereby secure the reproduction of society, but they also threaten to disturb the cosmic order.
The transformation requires that the nominee crosses a social border,
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and that potentiates similar changes in the world of the gods. In my
opinion the Sisingaan performance is a way to illustrate (and take
control of) the cosmic instability that appears during the moment of
passage. The music and dances produce a specific mood for the event
that illustrates the energies set in motion in a otherwise wellbalanced universe.
The boy’s social status is altered and to mark this he is elevated on
top of the lion. Hovering over the congregation (negating differences
in age, sex and prestige) he is temporarily disturbing the ideology of
a fixed social hierarchy. Before this new situation becomes balanced,
chaos is a possibility. To prevent society from disorder the performance
ends with Aca taking control over the unseen forces that were invited
at the beginning of the show.
Nanu Munajar (1986) at ASTI has investigated the history of the
dance and gives it a specific place in Indonesian history. In his exegesis
dimensions other than the ritual are emphasised – namely, the
struggle for liberation, national identity and ethnicity.
According to Munajar a Dutch tea plantation, Pamanoekan dan
Tjiasem (P&T), in Subang (a town in the northern part of West Java)
maltreated their workforce severely at the turn of this century. As the
people had no weapons but a strong will to resist and fight the
colonisers, they opted for a symbolic form of resistance. They invented
Sisingaan, a dance where four men carry a wooden lion on their
shoulders. Astride this lion is a boy who rides it through the dance.
According to the author this was a symbolic expression of the hardship
of the people (who carried the lion) and the coming takeover by the
young generation. The lion represented the Dutch and the small boy
sitting on it was the representation of how the Indonesians would
conquer the Dutch.
After liberation this symbolism was felt to be anachronistic, but
the people continued the performance by incorporating it into the
circumcision ritual. The small boy or girl who will be, or just has been,
circumcised rides the lion and at the centre of contemporary interpretations is not struggle but rather its opposite, gotong royong, mutual
assistance.33 This is an alternative interpretation of the four people
who help each other to carry the lion which emphasises their mutual
assistance and their achievements through co-operation – quite a
different interpretation from understanding the four dancers as
victims of illegitimate repression.
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Apart from staging their performances at circumcisions, in 1995
the Kencala Wulung group was also invited to join the independence
parade in Lembang, a small town near Bandung. The independance
parade in Bandung featured Sisingaan from Subang, which is considered the birthplace of the dance. The Subang group was part of
the major cultural parade, described earlier, in which every region
presented its artistic speciality. To be able to identify the different
regions and the performances, placards with the name of the performance and which region they represented were carried in front of each
group. In Lembang the Kencala Wulung group did not have to carry
a placard since they are well known in the area. The parade was on a
smaller scale and did not incorporate a display of different regions
but only presented the district in which the parade took place.
In the report of Nanu Munajar a specific town, Subang, and a
particular genre of performance, Sisingaan, intersect with national
history. His research makes official a connection between local resistance against the Dutch and a local art form, and in the celebration
of independence this art of resistance has been transformed into a
sign of cultural traditions originating from a specific region. Sisingaan
in the parades of independence is a history lesson and didactic device
and not a ritual event, as it is when staged for circumcision. In these
parades Sisingaan is no longer a ritual performance; here the dance is
put in a national context and functions as an emblem of local cultural
In ritual praxis Sisingaan is not primarily engaged as a sign of
cultural identity. At least that is not the reason for staging it. The
idea that the performance signifies cultural and local identity has
been developed by local interpreters, social scientists and government administrators and is then re-embedded in the public space
(through texts and cultural parades) with this meaning attached.
When the Sisingaan is staged in the cultural parades it represents a
‘segment’ of the region’s cultural composition. In that context the
performance is positioned in contrast to other (although similar)
cultural art forms from the area and their aesthetic differences are
loaded with ethnic significance. The Sisingaan performance is part of
the discursive field of cultural politics, but is directed to different
traits of that discourse depending on the context in which the performance is staged.
Nalan and Saini exemplify how a new discourse of traditional performances is shaped, which places tradition inside nationalism and
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nation-building. They take an active role in creating the context for
traditional performances and Sisingaan exemplifies what happens to
living art forms that are drawn into different strategies of contextualization. The next chapter is devoted to LAP, where the members
actively engage with the discources of tradition, modernity and
nationalism described in this chapter.
1. The instigators of ASTI have supported the New Order, and the
academy is in a sense part of that order. However, the history of
ASTI is not a direct outcome of the politics of Orde Baru; it is rather
a mixture of personal aspirations, historical circumstances and government pressure.
2. Formally KORI, which was an undergraduate school, was upgraded
to an academy and became ASTI. It was subordinated to Direktorat
Jenderal Kebudayaan Depdikbud (The Directorate of Culture in the
Department of Education and Culture) until 1976, when it was
transferred to the Direktorat Jenderal Pendidikan Tinggi Depdikbud
(The Directorate of Education in the Department of Education and
3. The theatre programme inclines towards emphasising Western theatre,
while the programmes of the dance department and the music
department are heavily biased, if not even exclusively devoted, towards
indigenous practices. Today, three classifications of theatre are used
in ASTI: Western theatre, Indonesian theatre and Traditional theatre.
They are approved genres which are taught and used as taxonomic
references by students and teachers. To operate inside one of these
categories provides a safe political existence.
4. The students of ASTI mostly find their work in the service sector and
in the Department of Education and Culture. The rest of them work
in film, TV and free groups.
5. See Sutton (1991: 174 ff.) for examples of other schools of performing
arts that are engaged in a similar process.
6. Reported in Pikiran Rakyat (9 March and 21September, 1995).
7. The last point is not included in Nalan (1996).
8. The genre described by Nalan reminds one also of Lenong, Kethoprak
and Ludruk, which are Jakarta- and Javanese-based performances
which have been quite successful in West Java.
9. Uyeg has the meaning of cosmos in perpetual motion (Nalan 1994:
10. Kasepuhan is a name ascribed to the group by outsiders who perceive
the group as old fashioned. Pancer means (roughly) Director of the
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Visible, and Pangawinan has connotations of marriage, in the meaning of bringing something together.
11. Sri Rumbiyang Jati is synonymous with Dewi Sri, the rice goddess,
one of the most central gods in Sundanese cosmology (Nalan 1994:
25; Wessing 1978).
12. The vague word ‘directed’ is used here since none of the performances totally exclude elements of either entertainment or ritual service.
The revitalised theatre is sometimes used as a feature of ritual events
and the traditional theatre was part of a joyful celebration.
13. In Nalan’s research the term ‘folk theatre’ is used to denote the specific
genre of Sandiwara Masres. On the first page, though, the performance
is placed inside the realm of traditional theatre, ‘that the realm of
traditional theatre, especially in Sandiwara’ (Nalan 1993/1994b: 1).
The term ‘folk theatre’ is used mainly, even though occasionally the
performance is referred to as ‘traditional theatre’. Sandiwara Masres
uses a technically complex scenery and does not follow exactly the
structure of traditional performance as defined by Nalan. Nevertheless, the performance has strong similarities with traditional theatre
due to its dependence on an intimate relationship with the audience
and the ability to communicate according to local circumstances.
This flexible use of folk, traditional and local is significant because of
its interchangeability. Rafferty (1990) has chosen to use the word
‘regional’ (daerah) from this spectrum in describing this genre of
theatres. The point is that the concepts constitute a flexible semantic
network which it is possible to enter from many directions and to
twist and push slightly to achieve different objectives.
14. Saini was the director of ASTI at the time of my fieldwork and has
supported the research project since its beginning. He supplied the
necessary letters of approval to obtain a research permit and was very
informative about current political conditions and the history of ASTI.
15. It has to be mentioned that ‘Indonesian theatre’ is a contested term
and not everyone accepts the criterion presented by Saini. But since
his texts and opinions have influenced ASTI and he occupied a seat in
the government bureaucracy concerned with art, I shall concentrate
on his view at this stage and not the competing positions.
16. We do not really know if the definition of the theatre as trans-ethnic
was relevant to people in the nineteenth century. This distinction,
though, plays an important role in contemporary history writing.
17. This description aims to portray Saini’s relation to Indonesian theatre
and is based on information from interviews with Saini on his book
Teater Modern Indonesia dan Beberapa Masalahnya (Modern Indonesian theatre and some of its problems), published by Binacipta in
1988, and some of his unpublished material produced for national
and international seminars intended to present Indonesian theatre to
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a wider audience. For further information on Indonesian theatre see,
Jakob Sumardjo’s (1992) Perkembangan Teater Modern dan Sastra
Drama Indonesia (The development of modern theatre and manuscripts of Indonesia). This book is used at ASTI as part of the reading
material and the knowledge of the students about the history of
Indonesian theatre is, to a great extent, based on this text. Other
sources are Pigeaud (1991[1938]), Jit (1989), Thomas (1994), and
Beng’s (1993) book on Bangsawan theatre in Malaysia. In her description of Bangsawan, Tan Sooi Beng illuminates the social transition
from early twentieth-century Malaysian society to the present state
by focusing on how a popular theatre is converted into a ‘traditional
18. Sumardjo (1992) acknowledges the problem of sources in his
introduction. Data on the early development of theatre is scant and
difficult to access. This means that the actual historical events are
hard to establish. We do not know the numbers of people attending
the performances, why the sponsors stages them or why the audience
attended, and so on. There is no reason to believe that the facts
presented are distorted (several different sources inside and outside
Indonesia converge on the main points), but the presentations are, of
course, a selection of facts. Events that have perhaps influenced
developments at certain times may have been omitted for political (or
scientific) reasons. For example, the Communist theatre and the
propaganda theatre reported upon by Epskamp (1989) and McVey
(1986) are just referred to in passing in the previously mentioned
work; see also Schechner (1990), Erven (1992), Bodden (1997b)
and Astri Wright (1998) for alternative approaches to Indonesian
theatre. Important, though, is the fact that Saini and Sumardjo are
both prominent scholars at ASTI and they strongly influence the
teaching of theatre history at the academy. As always, the description
of historical processes may eventually say more about contemporary
society than about actual historical events.
19. Whether they had any relation to Jaafar’s Stamboel theatre is not
known. Sumardjo (1992) suggests, however, that it is possible that
their main sponsor, a Chinese called Yap Goan Tay, may be identical
with Bai Kasim, the artistic leader of Pushi Indera Bangsawan.
20. The first script with a nationalistic message was a play entitled
Bebasari, written in 1926 by Rustam Effendi. The story made use of
the symbolism and figures in the Ramayana to depict the Indonesian
struggle for freedom. The play was never performed since the (Dutch)
headmaster of the school where it was going to be staged forbade it
(Saini 1995: 6).
21. For more information, see Angus McIntyre (1993).
22. One of the reasons for turning to traditional ethnic theatre at a later
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stage was to approach sections of the people that were not yet truly
Indonesian (at the same time as it reflected the idea of Indonesia as
an ethnic union).
23. See Sumardjo (1992: 148 ff.).
24. As far as I know this manuscript has not yet been published. It was
given to me as a response to questions about how national theatre
has developed. Although it converges in style and theme with published
material by Saini, the quotations are not meant to be scientific references but examples of the style and argument of Saini. Since the unpublished material was given to me during interviews I have treated
it as a part of our conversation.
25. See Saini (1994) for an inclusive list of these plays.
26. Jim Lim was a prominent director in Bandung who later settled in
27. According to Saini the word ‘artist’ was unknown in Indonesia until
the 1950s.
28. Nalan and Saini show the intrinsic relationship that exists between
personal sentiments, institutional organisation and state ideology.
The position of LAP, Nalan, and Saini as free interpreters is very
much like the stance taken by many intellectuals and artists in the
West. My aim, however, is not to point out any specific differences or
continuities with other, similar groups at other places; the aim is
rather to give an ethnographic account of how these practices are
performed in a specific context.
29. See Koentjaraningrat (1985) for a survey of Javanese art.
30. The central device of the performance, the wooden lion on which a
circumcised child rides, is also incorporated in the theatrical props of
31. Although all the performances that I witnessed and was told about
were staged to celebrate male circumcision, the show is considered to
be equally appropriate to celebrate a girl’s circumcision. At the time
of the circumcision the boys are usually about four years old, but this
may vary considerably.
32. The one chosen for possession is often one of the members but may
occasionally be someone from the audience.
33. This is a value used to describe the national unity of the Indonesian
people (Bowen 1986).
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Bandung, the town in which Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia is located,
is the provincial capital of West Java (Jakarta and Banten excluded) in
which the administrative and political power of the region is concentrated. Here the economic powers of the national capital, a two-anda-half-hour drive away and an independent province, meet with
people who have made their fortune out of the fertile soil of the
volcanoes, manufacturing or real estate. These are local businessmen
firmly established in the city and its surroundings. For their wealth
they depend on the benevolence of the government, but even more
so on local networks.
The city is situated on a highland plateau surrounded by volcanoes,
each with its specific mythology. Although a fertile area, the mountains
have made it difficult to employ wet-rice cultivation, which was not
introduced until the eighteenth century (Adimihardja 1984: 180).
The Sundanese, who inhabit the highlands, have been ascribed the
image of being a relaxed, and sometimes lazy, mountain people, living
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off the gifts of nature rather than the industrious work of agriculture.
This image is contrasted with that of the hard-working Javanese peasant
on the plains. Several distinctions are made by the Sundanese and
Javanese, placing them in a contrasting ethnic relationship. They
acknowledge their languages as being of different kinds, but they also
ascribe specific mentalities to each other. The Javanese are considered
polite and refined, while the Sundanese are more coarse, have a better
sense of humour, are economically astute and the women, at least,
have a reputation of being especially skilful in love games. This
narrative tradition (which today is accepted as a folk model) sets the
mountain region apart from the coastal areas to the North which are
dominated, culturally and economically, by the Javanese.
The significance of the landscape in forming the image of the city
also has its recent additions. During the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries the region has been described as industrially backward and
economically underdeveloped, but the attention of the visitor has now
turned towards the possibilities of tourism and recreation. Bandung
has been nicknamed ‘Little Paris’ because of its pleasant climate and
relaxed social rules. Muslim women in veils walk the streets as do
young people in jeans or miniskirts.
Bandung also has a reputation for being an innovative centre for
technology and art. The first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, studied
engineering at the ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology), which is
still an important technological school. Several universities and art
schools situated in the city are known to spearhead the plastic arts, as
well as to have introduced abstract modernist painting to an Indonesian
audience. It is a daring city encompassing both modernism and
traditional mythology in its history, promoting an image of being
both laid-back and modern. This mythology is created in contrast to
other cities such as Jakarta, the city of economic fortune, or Solo and
Yogyakarta, which are described as constrained by etiquette and social
stagnation – with Bandung in the middle as the pleasant combination
of secure traditions and the adventurous spirit of modern life.
There are a few skyscrapers in Bandung’s city centre containing
banks, hotels and supermarkets which indicate economic strength and
aspiration towards modern design. However, these structures do not
dominate the general appearance of the city, which has a wide-spread,
low-built profile of loosely integrated neighbourhoods.
Bandung is a place where the proximity to the national centre is
noticeable in the degree of administration and economic development.
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Longser Antar Pulau
Although the capital of a province with its specific problems and
political policies, the presence of the state and the government is
strong. However, it is acceptable to describe the city as ‘regional’. In
that respect it is simply equal to any of the other provinces of
Indonesia, although it is a region which has easy access to the national
centre, both mentally and physically.
Arriving by train, first impressions depend on how one exits the
station. On the north side there is served Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s
with rice and sambal, and freshly squeezed fruit juices. The traveller
can then stroll in the cool shadow of covered paths to the main road
or take one of the taxis lined up in front of the station, pay the porter
some rupiah and drive away. The opposite side is a bustling market
full of local food stalls, serving saté, nasi goreng, bakso, tahu and
other local products; and the local traffic system engulfs everyone. It
is smelly, energetic and chaotic.
This image of Bandung as a mixture of on the one hand hi-tech
modernity, megalomania, anonymous city planning, leisure, wealth
and on the other hard labour, old technologies, individual creativity,
poverty and struggle is constantly present to the visitor as well as the
residents. To translate this impression into a meaningful language, I
argue, the concepts of modern and traditional, national and local,
development and preservation are used in the local political rhetoric.
These striking economic and social contrasts are not unique to
Bandung or West Java. Many modern cities struggle with similar problems, although the idioms in which the situation is described may
vary considerably. In the case of Bandung the situation of being part of
a young nation–state trying to take charge of its own history makes
the town an interesting place for understanding how people accept,
resist, make sense of or cope with a situation of rapid social change.
The following section is about Longser Antar Pulau, a theatre
project initiated by young students in Bandung. With the help of
conceptual contrasts such as modernity and tradition, nation and
region, development and preservation LAP is trying to revitalise a
local theatre genre and make it relevant to contemporary social
issues. In short, it is an effort to handle continuity and change, or
even establish what these concepts may mean.
Longser Antar Pulau or LAP is a prolific project and staged nineteen
different productions between 1990 and 1995 (Heriyanto 1994).1
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The members are from the 1990 intake in the theatre department.
They performed together for a couple of years and the course of
events led to the formalisation of an organisation named Longser
Antar Pulau on 7 November 1992.
The core members work together with people from the music and
dance departments in realising a performance. Thus the resulting
productions are co-operative efforts by the different departments.
However, the basic ideas, the promotion and the design of the play
are originated by the members from the theatre department. Three
of the members, who come from the theatre department intake of
1992, formally joined the group later but have been working on an
informal basis with LAP since 1992. The group has approximately
twenty active members, but the real enthusiasts consist of about ten
individuals. Personal affection for each other and the promotion of
traditional theatre by the director of ASTI combined to produce
favourable conditions for the realisation of the project.
The ‘creation myth’ of the group is roughly as follows. In 1992, a
group of students gathered to celebrate the birthday of a female
friend at Ciburuy, a small island on a lake at a well-known place of
pilgrimage for students, tourists and magicians.2 In the afternoon
they started to improvise short funny sketches to entertain each
other. They were in a great mood and the improvisations were warmly
received by the audience. After a while they started to think about
setting up a theatre group based on improvisation and comedy. The
idea emerged that it should be a kind of ‘Longser’ entertainment,
based on loosely integrated funny stories, improvised by the members
and ‘spiced up’ by dancing and singing. The group of young people
on the island decided to name their group Longser Antar Pulau,
which could be translated both as ‘Longser among the islands’ and
‘Longser carried to the island’. The name was later to be interpreted
slightly differently by the members of the group. Some say it refers
to the fact that they were on an island at the moment of creation and
had carried Longser out to that island. Others (the majority of the
members) say the name reflects their ambition to become a national
attraction and their hope that the performances will be appreciated in
the whole archipelago of Indonesia. Later that year they formalised the
organisation and staged their first performance, Kurikulum 2000, in
the name of LAP.
The stories and figures enacted in the performances are created
from observations made by members. A social event encountered by
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any of them usually serves as a starting point for the production. This
may be a traffic jam, a police operation, national issues reported upon
in the media, a group of bikers in the street, etc. This event is turned
into a short story and presented to the group. The project depends
heavily on this ability of the individual member to make observations
of society and the competence of the group to judge which events
may be used to attract the interest of the audience.
The project has several functions and fulfils many expectations
which differ according to members’ preferences. But for a core of the
members and the main instigators, a central feature of the project is
the idea that LAP may communicate the concerns of society and its
members in theatrical form.
The process of staging a new performance is usually initiated by
someone in the group who presents a short synopsis of a play which,
if accepted, is developed by the group. The characters are refined
during ngobrols (informal discussions) in which their features and
traits are considered, and proposals are made about what they may
represent. During these ngobrols the overall structure of the performance and how the story may be related to contemporary society are
deliberated. The discussions are relaxed and the meetings are open to
all members, but usually only the central core of enthusiasts participate. Diametrically opposed positions are ventilated but none are
agreed upon. The aim, however, is not to reach a consensus on the
significance of a scene or a character in the play but to start discussions
meant to supply the members of the group with ideas and perspectives on how they can cast their roles in the play.
The actual lines of dialogue are worked out by the individual
actor. These lines function as a rough outline of what they are going
to discuss on stage during performance. The performances are by and
large organised around these conversations, which are improvised by
the actors. If these verbal exchanges are to be witty and quick the
members of the group have to know the preferences of their colleagues
quite well. Since they have shared their training and often live in the
vicinity of ASTI, most of the rehearsals take place in an informal,
everyday context. During their spare time the participants learn each
other’s way of responding to jokes and provocation and it is here
that most of the dialogue for the performance is developed.
The individual actor also makes observations on society about events
and figures which may be used as ingredients to mould the characters
and the dialogues that are going to be performed on stage. These
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observations may be made by face-to-face interaction or through
studying the media; the aim is for the character and the dialogue to
be anchored in a social life recognisable to the audience.
In discussions on the art of acting, this ability of the actor to make
observations is emphasised. The individual is acknowledged as an
important ‘device’ in shaping the performance, while the production
as a whole is conceived of as a collective creation. The only question
to which a similar answer was given in all interviews was that about
the most important asset of an actor. The overwhelming response
was that it is the ability to make keen observations of the social environment. These personal observations constitute the resources for
refining the character in performance.
The ensemble uses the LAP project as a workshop to practise the
skills they study. In the project they have the opportunity to practise
writing, acting, directing, producing promoting and staging a performance. They take, and have so far held, control of all the different
phases of the production and since they have not until now had a
definite or hierarchical organisation, the result depends very much
on the co-operative and diplomatic abilities of the members. The
informal meetings, the loose organisational structure and the improvisations provide the members with a creative climate which they
seem to miss in their formal training.3 LAP is an attempt to sift out
concepts, experiences and opinions which the group can use to
accommodate itself in ASTI and by which they may cultivate the
social environment developed in the group.4
The project is an attempt to enhance the members’ artistic abilities
and to provide them with a future income, but they also want to
communicate on pressing social issues. To do this they have chosen
traditional theatre as their medium, as they believe this genre has a
potential for close interaction with the audience.
Seeing themselves as participants in the development of local and
national culture grants the members a certain legitimacy to express
opinions on identity, which they extend to other political and social
questions as well. As indicated, the stories that they perform do not
all explicitly or exclusively engage in the discussion of national culture
and local tradition but cover a wide range of topics.
The LAP project takes its inspiration, borrows the name and in a
certain way achieves its legitimacy from traditional Longser theatre.
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This genre functions as a starting point from which they aspire to
develop an up-to-date type of performance which attracts city folk
and the young, educated public.
Longser is a genre of performance which has its roots in preindependence West Java.5 The genre has been used as entertainment
and ritual embellishment and has now attracted the attention of
ASTI. Longser usually denotes a whole genre of performances while
Longser Asli, which means ‘original’ Longser, is used by members of
LAP to set Longser apart from the LAP project.
The origin of the Longser theatre is not clear, but approximately
around 1915 two old forms of dance entertainment, Doger and
Ketuk Tilu, started to lose their grip on the audience. In response to
this situation, changes were made in the performance structure, which
resulted in Longser. Ketuk Tilu was still included, but Pencak Silat
(the martial arts) and new dances were added. The Ketuk Tilu dance
has a link with prostitution, and the dances of the Longser (which
are based on Ketuk Tilu) have kept the sensual movements of the
dancers. A common (academic) interpretation is that the performance
has its origin in fertility rituals and thus still has a strong erotic
symbolism. Clowning was added to make the performances more
attractive and, according to Durachman (1993), the prominent
position of comedy became the specific trademark of Longser.
Traditional Longser has recently faded away and Longser Panca
Warna is now the only remaining group of traditional Longser. Ateng
Jafar, a man in his eighties, his children and grandchildren form the
core of the group. Ateng Jafar grew up on the outskirts of Bandung
and has no formal education except one year of elementary school.
At the age of 12 he started to perform together with his grandfather
in a constellation of Ketuk Tilu and Doger. He considers that shortly
after the end of the Japanese occupation (1945), Longser as a genre
had its golden age, with fifty groups playing in the area.
The name Panca Warna means ‘five colours’ and refers to the
structure of the performance, which consists of five constitutive
elements. Three dances, for example, Wawayangan, Cikeruh and
Silat, are followed by clowning, and the final act is the performance
of the main story.
The stories enacted by the Longser Panca Warna group come
from the oral tradition inherited by Ateng Jafar from his parents and
grandparents. The themes are said to be taken from the everyday life
of the farmers and to reflect their reality. The main reason for the
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downfall of traditional Longser today as stated by members of LAP is
due to the inability of these stories to adapt to and reflect the
experiences of an audience which is living through a transition from
an agricultural to a modern industrial society.
Looking at the content of the stories, they are obviously different
from those enacted by LAP, but they do not seem to be a simple
reflection of an agrarian society or the experience of everyday life.
The two stories abbreviated in Durachman (1993) centre on the theme
of a poor boy meeting a rich girl. The girl has a father who disapproves of the marriage, but eventually the boy proves himself to be
reliable and hardworking and receives not only permission, but also
an apology, from the girl’s father. It could be said that this story
reflects the problems of a male-dominated society with matrilocal residence in which, although the kinship is cognatic, the right of women
to inherit land and property is strong. Still, it is not social realism.
Ateng Jafar lives on his early fame and income, but the commissions
are few. During his life he has been able to make a living by working
with Longser and other groups of performing artists. Today, his
children and grandchildren all have other incomes as well as that from
Longser to support them and their families. The group is invited to
perform a couple of times every year by the Department of Education
and Culture in Rumetang Siang (a permanent stage in Bandung),
and sometimes they are invited to entertain at private celebrations
during Bulan Rayaagung, the month considered the most advantageous for marriages and circumcisions.
During the 1940s, Ateng Jafar and his group experienced the
freedom, and burdens, of a travelling theatre society (a so-called
ngameng). During that time they travelled through West Java performing both on contract with the tea plantations, for private occasions,
and in marketplaces. The group has also occasionally appeared on the
national stage, including once at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah
(TMII), the second time at a festival at Borobudur (an ancient,
Buddhist temple on central Java) and recently in a TV broadcast by
At the time of the festival in Borobudur, Ateng Jafar prepared
himself by learning basic Javanese expressions (to enliven the Sundanese language used in ordinary performances) in order to respond
to the demands of the audience he imagined would be watching him.
This preparation was in accordance with the flexibility and adaptive
skills of the local traditional theatre that he represented which had to
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be sensitive to the specific context of the location in which the
performance was staged. The capacity to respond quickly to local circumstances was necessary for the survival of a travelling theatre
troupe. At the time of the performance, Ateng Jafar was approached
by the head of the Department of Education and Culture’s branch of
West Java, Nana Darmana, and asked not to use the Javanese language, since he considered acting and not language as the basic
feature of performing arts. This kind of monitoring appeared again
in 1978, when there was a proposal from the Department of Education and Culture forwarded to Ateng Jafar not to stage any performances unless it was on a ‘representative place’ (tempat yang representatif).
The consequence of recommendations like these (and the fact that it
became increasingly difficult to obtain all the official letters of
approval necessary to perform on the street and marketplaces) was that
it became very difficult to continue the travelling performances.
The stages considered representative was the permanent theatre
stages, such as Rumetang Siang in Bandung. These have the architecture of conventional Western theatres, which is an alien setting for
Longser, accustomed to performing on the ground with the audience
forming a close circle around them. In contrast with the conventions
of the permanent theatre stages, the audience at the traditional
performances did not pay for an entrance ticket but showed their
appreciation by throwing money on to the ‘stage’ or slipping it to
the dancers in person.
The music in the case of Ateng Jafar formerly consisted of an
ancak, that is, a stand of gongs placed in a bamboo rack, drums and
small xylophones (Ginanjar 1993). The setting of the gamelan is not
considered crucial for the Longser, the choice is rather an adaptation
of the full gamelan to fit the requirements of a travelling existence. A
more extensive orchestra is used when they perform on the permanent
stages where they have access to a stationary gamelan.
Since Longser stage their performances in the open air and often
at night, adequate lighting is necessary. As electricity was rare in the
villages, the illumination was supplied by the oncor, a pole with
candles or a kerosene lamp on the top. The oncor was placed at the
centre of the arena and the ‘stage’ for the performance was actually
defined by the illuminated circle it produced. The oncor physically
marked a place distinct from everyday life and created a specific point
where the mundane world could be transcended. According to
Durachman (1993) the oncor served as an earth axis that communi-
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cated between the upper, middle and the lower world. The notions
of space conveyed by the oncor were also used in the performance.
To walk around the oncor signified a journey or that the actor was
moving through space.
The oncor is still lit by Longser Panca Warna when they perform
on permanent stages with electric light, and the LAP project keeps it
in their performances too. The members of the project regard the
oncor as a significant reference to the traditional background of their
revitalised performance.
By convention, Longser is placed within the branch of ‘traditional
theatre’ of West Java. The genre conforms with standard measures of
a traditional, folk performance and to preserve it, video recordings of
Longser Panca Warna are kept in the ASTI library. This ‘traditionalisation’ is a kind of prerequisite for the revitalisation project pursued by
LAP. An original has to be preserved, or at least imagined to have
existed, and from this the group can develop, or revitalise, certain
The adaptations which the LAP project makes affect both form
and content. Their picture of traditional theatre is assembled by
studying the history of Longser, by following the formal curriculum
on traditional theatre at ASTI, setting up informal seminars with the
director of ASTI, conducting interviews with Longser actors, reading
ASTI research and watching live performances on the permanent
theatre stages in Bandung. From these sources the instigators of the
project based LAP on three ideas which they perceive as intrinsic to
the traditional performance of Longser. The LAP project is to be a
medium of communication, acting should rest on improvisation and,
finally, comedy should be the trademark of the performance. These
three basic criteria for local and folk performances are developed at
ASTI and are accepted by the students as the sine qua non of a
traditional performance.
In ASTI the performing arts are promoted as a medium for communication, and the students in the LAP project took hold of this
idea to develop contact with the audience and to articulate a certain,
even if limited, amount of social and political critique.
According to research reports produced at ASTI, the capacity for
communication is one of the most important features of folk theatre.
It is hard to tell exactly what this means, but it is formulated in some
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instances (for example, by Nalan 1994) as a form of intimacy between
the audience and the performers where the borders between the two
categories are blurred.
The audience for LAP is supposed to take an active part in the
performances by shouting commentaries and by throwing money on
the stage to the dancers and actors they prefer. Following the response
of the audience, the actors adapt the play and prolong the popular
parts while cutting the less appreciated. Remarks made by people in
the audience also serve as an inspiration for further improvisations on
the stage. To foster this intimate relationship during the performance,
a prize-winning competition is usually included in the programme.
In the middle of the show (which lasts for about one and a half hours)
the story is interrupted and a compère goes to the podium. Some
numbers are drawn from the entrance tickets and the winners are
supposed to go on stage, say their names and answer some trivial
Compared with conventional Western theatre, there is yet another
deviation from the usual barriers between actors and spectators. In
the dressing rooms the audience, friends and visitors mingle freely
with the actors. LAP has never established any firm borders between
audience and actors.
When the actors do not take an active part in the performance,
they often act as an extra audience. They are seated at the back of the
stage, chatting and diverting attention from the performance to
themselves. From this position they sometimes deliver comments to
the actor performing. In these cases the actor often turns to this
‘companion audience’ and feeds them a line. Thus the performer has
to deal with an audience in the round.
Although the members and the actors have substantial discussions
about their respective parts, and what the action may be intended to
represent, they are reluctant to give any official explanation of the
symbolism used in the play. The act of interpretation is considered
the responsibility of the audience. If the actors are presented with an
interpretation of a figure on the stage, the response is usually that
they cannot control the interpretations of the audience.
The idea of the theatre as a medium of communication is thus
doubly directed, as the performance is thought of as a dialogue
between the audience and the actors. It is not a megaphone of
instruction that the group has in mind when they desire a theatre of
communication; the performance is not a piece of information which
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is to be transmitted to the audience. The idea of theatre as a medium
of communication is practised by LAP to build a close and intimate
relationship between the audience and the performance, in which
both spectators and actors take part in the creation of the event. The
story told on the stage is only conceived of as a rough idea of a
problem which has to be completed by the audience. Thus, the
performance depends on the audience for fulfilment. According to
the actors the play is an open-ended statement to which people have
to respond individually.
To use improvisation as an acting strategy is yet another way to
position the LAP project in the genre of traditional theatre.6 A small
group of actors improvises their lines around a short and simple
story. To the LAP members this means that they are free in their
acting. Modern theatre which is bound to a script is thought to
constrain the actor.
The members state that the actor has to possess a certain amount
of courage if the show is to rely on improvisation, which is appreciated
both as a challenge and a freedom. If you are courageous you can be
free; a manuscript may be censored, a spontaneous comment not. It
is not possible to control improvisations, even for the actors. Most of
the actors reacted with amusement when they watched video recordings
of the performances. They expressed astonishment over their own
acting, ‘Did I really do that?’
To improvise is also part of building the intimate relationship with
the audience. Not adhering to a pre-written script gives scope for the
audience to participate and for an adaptation of the performance to
the circumstances of the evening.
Although improvisation is an ideal, there are a few rehearsals. Twice
before the performance of Interview Alladin the group rehearsed
with music, but not in costume. During these rehearsals, at informal
meetings and in everyday contacts between the actors lines are
developed into a rough mental script.
The fact that comedy is declared a basic tenet of the project is
rationalised in several ways. As with the other two principles (improvisation and communication) used at ASTI to define folk theatre,
comedy is defined as a constituent feature of folk performances. Yet
the first argument in favour of using the mode of comedy is its
popularity. The public appreciates this tone and it is a potential way
to reach a large crowd, which is an important goal. Moreover, it is a
successful concept used in national productions of soap operas, much
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admired by the members of LAP because of their successes on TV. In
1995, they even changed their name to CLAP: Comedy Longser
Antar Pulau.7 The change was made to distance them from the
traditional Longser at a time when they were trying to move beyond
ASTI into the commercial and national media.
One comic effect prevalently in use by LAP is the mockery of
powerful persons by the use of everyday utensils. The policeman in
Petrus Café only has a companion banging a pan with a spoon
announcing his arrival, the king in Obsesi 3x is crowned with a
saucepan, and his throne is decorated with kitchen tools. Gatutkaca,
one of the supreme figures in the Javanese pantheon, arrives with
wings made out of a plastic basket.
The conspicuous appearance of the actors, together with their
awkward body movements and postures, often gives the audience a
great deal of fun. To exaggerate the manner of moving and walking,
their facial expressions, the eating (or rather engulfing) of food on
stage, make for physical humour. Other popular jokes are based on
verbal slippage, like Dr Living Stone who appears in the Stone Age
environment of Kuis Konglomerat. Other examples are when Tabib
(the cruel and powerful conjurer in Interview Alladin) is mistakenly
called Habibie (at that time Minister of Technology and Development),
and when the Insenjur (engineer) who turns into a jin (djinn) is
called Jinsenjur.
The use of laughter is also a method of criticism which circumvents the danger of repression. To ridicule stock types is a popular way
for students to criticise the authorities without upsetting or angering
those criticised. Humour makes it possible to make fun of people and
things, without giving the persons exposed a chance to respond
negatively. To take a joke seriously would not render the ‘accused’
any merits.
To name the performance a comedy serves both the purpose of
popularising the genre and keeping it exciting, while it is also a prerequisite for communication on sensitive subjects. In Petrus Café, for
instance, it was possible to express a severe critique of the incompetence of the police which would have been very difficult to voice in
public in any form other than comedy.
The words ‘communication’, ‘improvisation’ and ‘comedy’ enshrine
the leading principles of the group and anchor the project firmly in a
traditional theatre genre. Contrary to the national image of tradition,
however, the group emphasises the creative possibilities of tradition.
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The position that they have chosen makes use of the official ideas on
tradition but does not duplicate them. The performance is rooted in
tradition and thereby made secure as a recognised type in the rhetoric
of ASTI and the New Order regime, but at the same time it twists
the meaning and significance of tradition in a novel direction.
Traditional theatre for LAP serves as a form through which to articulate
substantial and meaningful statements. The actual performance fills
this structure with life, meaningful references and laughter.
Adding to these general similarities with traditional theatre, there
are several other ways in which the performance is secured as traditional. The oncor is still kept by LAP as a reference to their heritage,
and private conversations as well as written presentations of the
project underline the fact that it is a modification of a traditional
theatre. Discussions in the group often dwell upon how to keep LAP
a traditional theatre, although at the same time they want to modify
the genre. The question is: what can be changed and in what way, if
they still want to call their performance traditional?
The most important divergence from traditional theatre is, perhaps,
the gradual shift in language from Sundanese to Indonesian (Bahasa
Indonesia). This is the official language of Indonesia and to perform
in Indonesian carries with it certain meanings. At the Youth Congress
of 1928, which is a milestone in the formulation of Indonesian
nationalism, Indonesian was proclaimed the language of the nation.
This language has since then been a ‘critical integrating force’ (Drake
1989: 64) used by nationalists and Indonesian governments in their
efforts to create an Indonesian identity.
The choice did not favour any ethnic group in particular and was
considered a medium of communication that facilitated visions of the
future and equality among the citizens of the new nation. As such
the language became a ‘manifestation of national unity as well as
modernity and progress’ (Anwar 1985: 179).
Only a fraction of the Indonesian population speak Indonesian in
their homes (Drake 1989: 62, 64), but it is used in the majority of
official situations and in the national media. Indonesian was also
implemented as the medium of communication in all educational
and governmental institutions.
But the nationalist dreams invested in the language have not been
unconditionally fulfilled. In their discussions of Bahasa Indonesia,
Siegel (1997) and Anderson (1990) converge on the idea that the
language has an air of emptiness. It has something ‘curiously imper-
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sonal and neuter about it’ (Anderson 1990: 140). The learning of a
new language, for example, Dutch, usually entails the exploration of
a new cultural universe and even involvement in ‘the development of
two interacting or conflicting modes of consciousness’ (ibid.: 125).
Bahasa Indonesia represents an exception to this. According to Siegel
the language does not convey any sense of entering a new world with
collective frames of reference but rather a feeling of going into a
language community ‘riven with anxiety’ (Siegel 1997: 17). The language does not provide access to either an Indonesian reality or the
reality of colonisers’, Bahasa Indonesia is characterised by ‘the weightlessness of a language that is severed from culture’ (ibid.: 15).8
However, if the absence of cultural resonance is one characteristic
of the language it is nevertheless ‘an aspiration to unity and equality’
(Anderson 1990: 140) among people in a newly formed nation. And
as such the language has ‘paramount importance for the shaping of
younger Indonesians’ national consciousness’ (ibid.: 124).
To artists the simplicity of Indonesian offers an escape from
established literary traditions and a freedom to create according to
their own wishes. The gradual shift of language that took place in the
LAP performances may have this background, but it also represents a
pragmatic choice related to their ambitions to participate in the
national media. However, as a consequence of this choice the group
enters a linguistic milieu signified by the ambiguity described by
Siegel and Anderson. Using Indonesian means that the members
have access to nationalist dreams and aspirations and can achieve a
temporary detachment from ethnic identities, but they also have to
struggle with the indistinct and vague cultural identity that is
associated with the language.
Even though traditional Longser is the main source of inspiration
for the project, it also has roots in the theatre history of Indonesia
and Java. As students at an academy of the performing arts they have
a broad knowledge of the professional and amateur theatres which
evolved at the turn of the century in Java, and these serve as
important genres to which LAP pays homage.
As with the professional theatres, the LAP project is a commercial
enterprise keenly attuned to audience preferences. To make the
performances more exciting, surprises and interruptions are used.
The costumes and movements help to accentuate the fantastic and
extravagant. This flair for fantastic eclecticism and commercial
sensibility ties LAP closely to theatres reminiscent of the professional
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Bangsawan troupes that toured Java at the turn of the century (Beng
The second major strand in Indonesian theatre history, amateur
theatre, constitutes an equally important influence. The stories and
dialogues enacted by LAP always revolve around contemporary national
events. Performances staged up to now have handled questions of
development, identity and environmental pollution (as in Operasi
Plastik), specific problems such as the technologisation of society (for
example, Professor Linglung) and more general questions of power (for
example, in Poeber III). In this effort to raise an awareness among
the public about problems of contemporary society, the project comes
close to the basic idea of the amateur nationalist theatre.
To sum up, by drawing on indigenous theatre traditions, revitalising traditional theatre and using the language of nationalism the
project situates itself within the discursive field of cultural politics.
In the stories performed by LAP the members articulate a critical
approach to the social and political situation of which they are part
and to a certain extent even assist in establishing. The corpus of stories
produced by LAP supplies a good opportunity to explore what this
specific gathering of artists considers to be important themes and topics
of discussion. An investigation of the stories also elucidates the kind
of symbolic language that is open to the group. Since most of the
performances are available either as video recordings or in written
synopsis certain recurrent patterns and motifs in the stories can be
identified. As part of this pattern, each respective performance
emphasises important traits of the things upon which this group of
people focuses their attention.9
The variety of dramatic characters in the performances of LAP is
impressive. In Keramat there is a king, his Patih (chief minister),
football players, a cowboy, a ‘nagging wife’ (cérewét) and a boss. The
performance of Interview Alladin includes a magician, a king, a Tabib
(conjurer), a queen, a princess, persons from the sagas, djinns and an
engineer. In Operasi Plastik there appear: a traditional man, Michael
Jackson, bikers, doctors and nurses. Kuis Konglomerat features Tarzan
and people from the Stone Age. In other performances there are road
workers, a human mole, gladiators, robots, professors, Superman, Si
Kabayan (a mythological figure from West Java), fashion models,
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police officers, gangsters, school kids, Hansip (local security), factory
owners, workers, gods, holy men and priests, to mention a few.
This seemingly random choice of figures, their arbitrary combination and unexpected appearance on stage add to the unpredictable
character of the show and prime the audience for the extraordinary.
At the same time it also mirrors, albeit in an ironic way, the experiences
of the actors and presumably also of the audience, of a lived reality.
For instance, all the members of the group are aware of the importance
of connections and economic power for getting media exposure
(features represented by the ‘boss’ and ‘owner’ in the plays), and they
recognise (and sometimes embrace) the belief in modern technology
as the solution to the problems of poverty (personified in one of the
plays by the ‘engineer’). Still, one way to improve the chances of
getting a TV contract was for the whole group to visit a well-known
magician (‘the holy man’) to drink water infused with mantras and to
spread quotations from the Koran written on small pieces of paper in
the middle of the night (‘the supernatural’). As well as all the people
you actually meet on the streets in Bandung (like the road worker,
school kids, Hansip, becak drivers,10 etc.), the performances also include
the powerful, the rich and the media heroes (like Michael Jackson)
who are visible on TV, or symbolically present in the city landscape in
form of skyscrapers, big cars and so on.
The characters of the plays are not chosen at random but for their
capacity to signify. All the types represent something. In the discussions
preceding a performance considerable time is spent suggesting what
this or that character may stand for. So even if the cast list seems
unlikely at first glance, the figures do have their counterparts in the
experiential and social landscape of the members. In order for the
performance, which is a commercial enterprise, not to fail, the drama
at some level has to mirror the experience and perceptions of its
audience and this is what LAP does in its fantastic way. The
performances are like looking-glasses which may distort perception
but also reveal reality. If the LAP genre were to be typified it would
perhaps be as ‘spectacular realism’.11
The performance of Petrus Café, however, is a more explicit
statement of the social commitment of the group. The setting and
the casting of the performance, although featuring caricatures, is
very realistic. Briefly, the play is about a criminal (preman) who is
now living a normal life. The stage is a food stall and he is working
there as a bartender serving the guests from behind a counter. The
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crux of the play is that he is still hunted by the police and his former
criminal friends who want to hold him responsible for the crimes he
has committed. Three gangsters who are looking for him meet on
stage and place themselves at one of the tables to have a drink. The
policeman and his assistant also appear and accuse the conspicuouslooking criminals of being the wanted preman, but when they show
their identity cards the policeman apologises and invites them to visit
his home. To have no identity card is one of the criteria used for
rounding up youngsters in police actions, and that the criminals on
stage are able to produce this card is taken by the police to be sufficient
evidence of their innocence. This servile reaction of the police towards
the criminals is a statement which cannot be interpreted other than as
a critique by the group of the inadequate measures taken by the police
force towards criminals in the social and economic establishment.
All the characters in the play have an aura of the ridiculous. They
are dressed in outrageous clothes and the policeman is utterly stupid
and meek. When he arrives on stage he is heralded not by the noise
of police sirens but by his helper, who is banging a spoon on an iron
pot. The only character with any dignity is the former criminal.
Continuing the story, an artist (seniman) seated in the audience is
accused of being the hunted criminal. To save the artist from being
executed, the bartender reveals himself as the sought-after preman.
He is executed by his former friends while the police watch.
This performance coincided (and not by accident) with a national
police operation directed against juvenile criminals (preman) in
1995. Between 1983 and 1985, a similar operation took place, but at
that time with a much higher degree of brutality. Suspected criminals
were collected at night and shot without trial by a special police
force. This action was called ‘the mysterious killings’ and the operation
had the acronym PETRUS.
The director of the play explained that they wanted to stress the
right of criminals, and people in general, to reform, and that
appearance does not indicate moral disposition. He thought that the
police did not recognise the extent of reformative human potential
and mistook signs of youth culture for criminality.
The performance is one example of the style in which LAP
comments on life, society and politics. The explicit criticism often
extends outside the boundaries of tradition and modernity. In Petrus
Café the intention of LAP to be a consciousness-raising political
theatre becomes clear.
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The overt criticism, though, is exceptional. More often the story is
in form of a moral anecdote. In Poeber III the story line is about a
home for old people in which four men (a former judge, policeman,
patron and an artist) are celebrating the birthday of their friend. At
this moment a new inmate appears and as it happens he is the owner
of a factory which has ruined the lives of the retired men through its
environmental side effects. A trial is commenced, but it turns out
that although the men are now suffering from the effects of the
factory they have all somehow benefited from their friendship with
the owner, and they have all taken part in the establishment of the
factory. In the end the owner is sentenced to seven days of seclusion
in a hen coop. But, when the cage is taken away it is revealed that he
is just having a holiday, stuffing himself with food.
The criticism of corruption is not as specific as in Petrus Café,
although the performance still includes a political message. The
figures and actions are well known to the audience and it is quite a
realistic play in that sense, but the trial and the way the questionable
deeds are formulated make the story take a more abstract turn. This
story was later used by one of the directors to explain how they are
trying to state universal problems of corruption. The characters in the
play are very realistic (although satirised) but cannot be pinpointed to
any specific Indonesian events or individuals as in the case of Petrus
Café. Other times, as in Modelling, a story about village girls going
to town for modelling only to be cheated by the agent, a more
lighthearted caricature is presented of silly villagers and corrupt city
dwellers, where the slow and pleasant village life is pitted against the
hectic city.
At the other end of the scale are the allegorical stories. These are
more profound in later productions, and a good example of this kind
of story is the performance of Alternatif Way. The plot takes a traffic
jam as its point of departure. Three people (a becak driver, a businessman and a bus driver) are discussing the reason for the traffic jam.
They accuse each other and discuss the possibility of finding an alternative. Suddenly they are approached by a woman searching for her
husband, who is working at a road site somewhere. When she is not
able to find him she uses magic to transcend the boundaries between
this world and the underworld. In the underworld she meets with
three human insects hiding from the upperworld. The story ends
with people rushing into this secret world, forcing the insects to
search for an ‘alternative way’ to avoid being run over by the big
men in their cars.
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This piece begins as a story about a traffic jam with a selection of
persons recognisable from a general town scene. Yet when the
woman transcends the boundary of the visible, the story also changes
in quality to become an allegoric tale (which may be of Indonesia)
about the power relationships between the rich, big, people of the
elite and the small, powerless people down beneath, whose only
chance of survival is to hide. Two worlds which are usually kept apart
confront each other. The social and power relations between humans
and insects are presented as an allegory of this world. The story is
not about what it seems to be about, yet the members of the
audience have to decide for themselves what it is about.
Apart from the sensations that the unexpected character of the
main figures and their arbitrary relation to time and space (a gladiator
may very well meet with Batman) evoke, the shows are also promoted
by the members as being thrilling and unpredictable. An important
feature of a good performance, according to the members, is to
include ‘surprises’ (the English word is used by the members). One
of the most successful of them was plotted into Obsesi 3x, where it is
revealed at the last minute that the whole play is being staged by
inmates at a hospital for the mentally ill. This ending is regarded as
the best ‘surprise’ in the history of LAP.
The reputation of producing shocking performances is underlined
by exciting and provocative pictures in the promotion material, such
as a gang of motorcycle hooligans approaching the audience, or a
sticker with an image of a beer can claiming to contain 100 per cent
alcohol (which in itself is provocative in a Muslim region), and with
the name Longser Antar Pulau printed above a skull with the text,
‘Are you stressed, come to us’ (and be relaxed). Invitations sent to
people, and the posters used to promote specific performances, often
end with a sentence like: ‘What will happen – come and see for
yourself !’ This flavour of spectacle paves the way for the eclectic
stance towards, and confusion of, space, time and reality.
The ‘real’, the ‘apparent’ and the ‘imagined’ are frequently conflated in the productions. In the performances of LAP, the present is
not only ‘where past and future are gathered’ but also where the
imagined, extra societal, invisible and fantastic are conflated with
time and place.12 In Interview Alladin, (presented in more detail in
Chapter 7), it is obvious that different planes of reality are invoked
when the hero transcends the border between the fantasy world and
the real world. This theme is featured in other LAP productions as
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Fig. 5.1: Promotion sticker from Longser Antar Pulau
well. In Kuis Konglomerat, the contemporary problem of economic
syndicates is spelled out in an imagined past, or as mentioned, in
Obsesi 3x, when the last minute of the play reveals that the whole
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event has taken place in an asylum. At other times, superheroes or
supernatural powers are used to make the audience uncertain of the
status of the theatrical space.13
Significantly, most of the performances could be said to take place
in any time – past, present or future. In Kuis Konglomerat, it is
obvious that the time is past since there is an archaeologist who
guides the audience. The crux of the matter is that it may just as well be
a future archaeologist guiding a future audience around the remains of
the present world after a catastrophe. Even though references are
made to specific places – Indonesia is mentioned as the place of action
in Interview Alladin – it is uncertain when, at what time, the story
takes place. In some performances ‘images of the future’ invade the
present and distort the sense of time (Professor Linglung). In other
cases ‘modern man’ is acting in a Stone Age environment (Kuis
Konglomerat) or in an imagined high-tech future (Baby Gladiator).
Taken together, this play with time and place makes the audience
uncertain of the status of the reality pictured on stage. Not only are
the borders between imagination and reality transcended, but they
are also blurred in such a way as to make it difficult to keep the
worlds apart.
Except for exploiting the uncertain ontological position of reality
on stage, the changing of personal identity and the plasticity of
appearance are regularly used means to conflate the apparent, the
real and the imagined. Over four years, LAP has staged some nineteen different stories. Of these, at least seven include as their main
plot a false or mistaken identity. These stories in various ways focus
on the uncertainty of appearance and its problematic relation to a
true identity. The deceptive relation between appearance and identity
is visualised by men acting as women (Modelling), in Professor Linglung, where a robot turns out to be a human, and in the end all the
actors turn into robots, or that the dual identity of the leading part is
revealed (Petrus Café). In Petrus Café, the basic idea is that the surface
appearance of a person might not correspond with real virtues and
character. A gangster may well look like a prominent citizen (like a
policeman for instance) and the riff-raff may be truly honest and
morally sound (like the bartender). In Petrus Café, the reformed
preman is killed for being the gangster he was before his reformation,
and the police cover up the deed. In the case of Operasi Plastik the
whole story is based on the question of what happens to an
individual who undergoes a change in personal and cultural identity.
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The performances span a spectrum from social realism in Petrus
Café, through moralising tales in Poeber III and Obsesi 3x, to
allegorical tales in Interview Alladin and Alternatif Way. These
examples show how the performances can at the same time appear
fantastic, open-ended, unpredictable and yet be well anchored in a
social reality recognisable to the audience. The themes are many but
consistent with the group’s aim to address issues and problematic
concepts in contemporary society.
1. Heriyanto was the first leader of LAP and wrote a report on the
project as his B.A. thesis.
2. Ciburuy has a long history of being imbued with mystical powers and
it is noted as the place for the creation of Amanat dari Galunggung,
an old (from 1200) Sundanese manuscript (Kumar and McGlynn1996).
3. Freedom of creativity is not a main concern of ASTI and that is
probably a central dilemma of the training. The role and function of
ASTI make it difficult to meet the quest for personal creativity
(Sumardjo 1991).
4. This, of course, does not exclude the same members from using
other concepts, other experiences and different idioms in other
5. The sources on Longser are Durachman (1993), Ginanjar (1993),
Heriyanto (1994), Kania (1986) and Kasim et al. (n.d.), complemented
by interviews with Ateng Jafar and Saini.
6. Folk theatres in Java are reported to have based their performances
on improvisation (Pigeaud 1991 [1938]; Kania 1986; and Kasim et
al. n.d.). These references are all held in the ASTI library and are
used as teaching materials.
7. They were probably not aware of the English connotations of ‘clap’
with venereal diseases.
8. This is not to say that people using Malay or Bahasa Indonesia as
their first language do not have access to a language that reflects their
reality as well as any other living language. The argument is that
when this language is made into a medium to express the collective
experiences of the Indonesian nation, it does not possess the cultural
references to do this.
9. In the presentation of the performances, a selection of themes is
necessary and by choosing certain features and downplaying others,
an edited interpretation is inevitable. In the specific framework of
cultural and national identity which structures my approach to the
plays, some features stand out more than others and some inter-
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pretations seem more probable than others. This does not exhaust
the possibilities of other interpretations. The presentation only claims
to explain certain, but important, perspectives of LAP.
10. A becak is a bicycle taxi.
11. This style of reshaping reality in a spectacular way is not confined to
LAP but reminds one of the fantastic and spectacular elements in the
performances of Bangsawan and Stambol at the turn of the century
(Beng 1993; Sumardjo 1992). According to other sources as well
(Siegel 1986; Pigeaud 1991 [1938]; Peacock 1968), the flavour of
spectacle is a widespread feature of regional performances in Java.
12. The formulation is taken from T. S Eliot’s Four Quartets, cited in
Tonkin (1989: 6).
13. This is, of course, also a trick to avoid censorship and to situate what
everybody recognises as Indonesian problems in a universal, or fictitious, setting.
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The actual definition of Longser Antar Pulau’s performance style
engages the members in animated discussions. According to one
member, LAP may be seen as either promoters of a new direction in
theatre (aliran baru), creators of a new genre (cakal-bakal),1 or even
post modern (posmo). This statement was accompanied by laughing
and joking, as if it were provocative. Listening to what posmo means
to the students at Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia, the definition they
use is very close to the term ‘world art’, recognised by most people as a
commercial but harmless blend of Western and non-Western influences. What could be exciting or dangerous in that, or in launching a new
genre for that matter?
The project has struggled from its inception with the limits set up
by ASTI which in turn are embedded in Indonesian political history.
LAP illustrates the dilemma of a creative art that strives to mirror
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both the preservation of local traditions and the development of a
modern national identity. Even though the group makes use of ideas
borrowed from Western theatre, they consider modern theatre to
imprison the imagination and force the actor to adhere to a prewritten script excluding much of the spontaneous interaction with
the audience. Therefore they regard modern theatre as difficult to
use for their aims. The attraction of traditional theatre lies in the
genre’s freedom from scripts and from theatrical properties. The
theatrical space of local folk-theatre is shaped by fantasy but is at the
same time acknowledged as close (akrab) to the life of the audience.
The importance of the imagination and the intimacy between
audience and actors make traditional genres appropriate instruments
for communication. Still, the aspects of contemporary social life that
interest LAP cannot be conveyed by means of the traditional story,
characters or the usual length of a performance.
The concern with traditional culture and national identity is one
of the single most influential questions for ASTI, mirrored in their
curriculum as well as research. The topic is a source of inspiration in
the production of LAP performances, and the tension between
traditional and modern is in itself an attraction to the LAP audience,
who are mostly students.
Therefore, the notion that LAP is something new and not only a
reproduction of traditional or modern theatre suggests that LAP is
side-stepping two of the most important parameters (tradition and
modernity) of judgement although pretending to revitalise tradition.
Situating the project inside the discourse of tradition is an ambiguous
endeavour in Indonesia. It provides the project with a certain
political legitimacy to perform, but the discourse is also connected
with specific images of the local, national and traditional as promoted
by the government. Many evaluate LAP as a fruitful example of
revitalisation, but the project has not been carried out without
arousing criticism. The group is criticised from time to time for
performing inaccurate or inauthentic traditional theatre. The critics
argue that the project has abandoned, or ruined, traditional theatre.
In their revitalisation of Longser they have taken steps outside the
prescribed borders of tradition (not merely reproducing the
aesthetics of the traditional performance) and refused to incorporate
local culture as a mere element in a modern theatre performance.
These innovations resulted in a loss of support inside ASTI. The
conflict was also exacerbated when a TV contract was discussed. The
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producer questioned the name of the group since a Bandung artist
had suggested to him that LAP was not a proper Longser theatre.
‘Some think that we destroy tradition, but is that worse than death?’
asked one of the members rhetorically as an answer to the criticism.
The revitalisation of culture and art clearly touches upon a sensitive
area of conflicting ideas concerning preservation and development.
The search for something new which lets the imagination and
creativity work on themes outside the conceptual pair of traditional
and modern is spurred by the fact that many of the actors are now
leaving ASTI. The tradition/modern contrast (epitomised in the
1994 performance of Operasi Plastik) is starting to lose its imaginative
force. Later performances (1995–97) like Interview Alladin, EmberEmber, Alternatif Way and Keramat are more concerned with development in terms of social inequality, power and legal injustices – issues
more attuned to the society outside ASTI.
After attending a performance of Longser Panca Warna at
Rumetang Siang, the members noted disappointedly a waning of
creativity, force and commitment in the presentation. However, some
also expressed relief: they were able to see the limits of the traditional
theatre and were encouraged that they were able to develop further
and move on. The performance was taken as a ‘wake-up-call’, they
had to revise their organisation and increase their commitment to keep
up the quality of the performance. The performance at Rumetang
Siang helped them realise that to repeat a winning formula was not
enough, as eventually repetition was bound to lose its grip on the
audience. Ateng Jafar’s performance assured them that they had to
be even more innovative.
Since 1995 the project has looked for a new audience outside ASTI.
They are aware that they have to search for inspiration from other
sources, more relevant to contemporary city life in West Java than
the tension inherent in the configuration traditional/modern. Otherwise, the LAP project may have served its purpose, as a means of
interpreting the social environment inside ASTI and the discourse of
traditional culture versus national identity in the art establishment.
The definition of their genre as posmo laid bare a sensitive issue.
Would they be competent enough artistically, in creative terms, to find
the inspiration to ‘found a new village’, and would they be politically
strong enough to withstand accusations of betraying both local traditions and national development?
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There are only a few formal positions in the organisation of the
group. The administrative leader (pimpinan) is chosen by the
members. The duty of the administrative leader is to work out
schedules of rehearsals, call people together and keep up contact
with the outside world. The leader is also responsible for public
relations and practical arrangements. The task of the administrative
leader is difficult and the role changes regularly, not from a given
scheme but according to the decision of the holder. Four administrative leaders have quit over five years. Two of them no longer work
with the group and although they are on speaking terms with the
other members, they do not involve themselves in the productions.
A director (sutradara) and a scriptwriter are chosen for each
production. Their power over the final production, however, is minimal. All the actors, the music ensemble and even stray visitors take
part in directing the play, happily interrupting and giving advice. The
attention of the director is also diverted by his taking part in the
performance as an actor. The scriptwriter only delivers a rough outline
of a plot to be approved of by the members and later developed and
revised according to the actor’s individual desires.
The members often describe LAP using metaphors borrowed
from social life and tend to understand the group as a ‘family’ capable
of enhancing both their creativity and economic situation. To highlight their path to self-knowledge I shall present a conversation
between some of the members and its aftermath. The incident conveys
the mode of social interaction in the group, its internal relations and
how the image of itself as a family is challenged by the idea of the
group as a professional theatre company. The event exemplifies how
the members shape the group in accordance with their understanding
of a social reality, signified by the contrast between ‘tradition’ (which
often is used synonymously with family) and ‘modernity’.
After their first TV contract with Indosiar in Jakarta, a new system
of income distribution was applied. Until then all participants had
received an equal share, based on the assumption that all contributed
equally to the creation of the performance. This time the profit was
divided into unequal shares and distributed to the participants
according to standards previously decided by the core actors of the
Upon return from Jakarta this distribution method was questioned
by one of the members. The following are excerpts from the verbal
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exchange on the subject between the administrative leader of the
group, one of its prominent actors and the dissatisfied actor.2
WAWAN (dissatisfied actor): I want to talk about this. There is a
problem here. Why has this decision not been preceded by
a discussion and joint decision within the group? That is
the way it should be in LAP. All should participate in the
decisions, and all should have an equal share. All of us
participate in the creation of LAP. Why is Ferdi more
worthy than the rest of us, why should he be at the top?
This is about respect for each other. I created LAP. Usman,
Aan and the others have always been loyal, they have always
backed us one hundred per cent. Why are they disregarded
now? Usman is the big acting star, not they. This is not a
joint decision, it is a decision from one side. How has this
happened? It is not a question of money but of honour
and respect towards the work of others, their participation
and how the decision was taken. This all started when we
began to print out the name of one director for each play.
In the beginning no one was chosen as a director. No one
was worth more than anyone else. Now there is already a
hierarchy. Why? Irwan and Ferdi have been more and more
influential since they are always on campus, we others have
to work outside campus to survive. They are always here
and it has gone to their heads. They have become arrogant.
If someone else is appointed as director they do not care
about his advice, they do not respect him. But if they do
something everybody has to listen and obey. I want a
meeting to sort this out. This kind of thing has to be
democratic. Either they go or I. I am willing to leave, but
then they should not use the name LAP because I was the
one who created it. Now Ferdi has grown big and says he
is the creator of LAP. This is not true, all have helped to
develop the name, it is not only his work. Until now it has
been a mystery how the name originated, but now he has
taken the credit for being its creator. As if he owned LAP.
USMAN (prominent actor): May I speak? You have gone in and
out of the group during the years. Perhaps that is why you
were not present when the decision was made and why you
don’t have such a big influence on the group any more.
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TONI (administrative leader): There is a myth about LAP which I
have tried to break down. And that is about Irwan and
Ferdi. They have created successful performances alternately.
If they are not in the group the group will break apart,
that is what people think. I have tried to shatter this myth
by placing other people in charge of directing and encouraging others to write. But if I say something people
do not listen. If Irwan and Ferdi speak everybody listens.
This is the reality. If you, me or anybody else leaves the
group it does not effect LAP. If Ferdi or Irwan disappear,
LAP falls. That’s the way it is.
WAWAN: They have had too much attention. When you start to
mention names they take the honour and after a while their
ego gets too big. They expect everyone to listen to them
and respect them. But how about their respect for us?
TONI: The name is already part of our mythology. And a large
part of what LAP actually is today is the result of the work
of Irwan and Ferdi. The decision about a new system of
pay-ment was not made by all but by about seven persons.
In February I will arrange a meeting to sort this out.
After the discussion, which was charged with feelings of resentment
and withheld emotions, they turned to me to ask if I had understood
everything. I assured them that I had and asked what I considered a
trivial question which eased the tension, after which we were able to
proceed with the discussion on the claim by the dissatisfied actor as
to the origin of the name. He clarified that he did not mean that he
invented the name but the specific style of acting.
In Wawan’s speech the tension between individual prestige and
collective creativity is highlighted. By emphasising the collective ownership of the performances and the group as a collective endeavour he is
trying to undermine the claim of a few persons to have influence on,
prosper economically and claim personal artistic merit from the
group. This contradiction between collective creativity and personal
achievement returns in the later discussion.
For Wawan, a defining feature of LAP is its flat structure and
collective character. Juxtaposed to this is the view of the administrative
leader, who emphasises and defends individuals who have contributed
more substantially and specifically to the accomplishment of the project.
The discussion resulted in a meeting where the formal organisation of
the group was to be decided. During this second meeting the tension
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between having an egalitarian organisation built on the idea of the
group as a family and the need for professional management, which
implies a higher degree of hierarchy, was discussed again. Some of the
members preferred a unit with tight, egalitarian social bonds much
like the idea of a family, with interaction on equal terms to favour the
exchange of thoughts and ideas. In a hierarchical system fluent communication was considered to be hampered. These preferences for
egalitarianism were also expressed in other situations. Performances
that failed to attract the attention of the audience the members explained by the ‘fact’ that the group was no longer akrab.3 To explain
the meaning of akrab they referred back to the time when they used
to sleep together on the stage or on campus and engage in each
other’s activities around the clock. For the members who held this
position, the akrab community style was considered one of the most
important prerequisites for success. In that kind of environment one
could be straightforward and get to know each other’s preferences.
This close community was considered an essential condition to
foster a commitment which brought out the actor’s best during the
performance. Living close to each other gave them the immediate
response necessary for improvising good dialogues. For those holding
this position performances are cultivated in a social environment, not
in splendid isolation. Keluarga (family) and angkatan (peer group)
were used to characterise the specific kind of sociality that had developed in the group. The Sundanese family, however, is not known to
be an egalitarian unit, and the term was rather meant to describe the
precise knowledge of each other’s preferences that develops when
people live in close social interaction with one another. To balance
this, angkatan was used to indicate and strengthen the egalitarian
quality of the group. Angkatan is a term used to mark a group of
people, usually of about the same age, who are thought to share a
formative experience.
The term akrab summarises the specific combination of these
qualities. The term denotes sentiments of being close to each other,
as a brother or sister may know the other’s desires because of a
shared childhood. To be akrab meant to the members that they
could easily relate to each other because of the shared experiences of
the campus, of being together day and night, sleeping together and
joking together. Akrab becomes relevant in a context of intense
sociality, with close face-to-face relationships where there are no
hindering borders like social, economical or age hierarchies. To be
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akrab is to be familiar with, on the brink of embodying something.
Apart from denoting the feeling/sociality of the group, a language
or tradition may be described as more or less akrab. In this kind of
akrab organisation information is imagined to flow freely and formal
channels for information are therefore thought to be superfluous.
On the other hand, professional management is also much admired
and highly valued. To be professional implies a more detailed hierarchy and the establishment of organisational domains with specific
responsibilities. This kind of structure was considered a prerequisite
for making money and for successful promotion on the market,
handling mass media, relations with producers, the promotion of
performances, selling tickets and organising rehearsals. The organisation conceived of as professional recognises that all its members have
individual lives outside the group. They work in entertainment
companies in Jakarta, undergraduate schools in Bandung and other
places. To gather all these people and work out schedules of rehearsal,
to make decisions accepted by the production team and to redistribute the rewards in a legitimate way demands a more formal
and hierarchical organisation, with individuals appointed who control
certain fields of responsibility.
Because of the present situation where the members only meet
during rehearsal this kind of organisation also needs the stronger
hand of the director. This individual has to present the whole
performance to the musicians, dancers and actors, and assign their
specific tasks. This role is new to the director and entitles him to a
larger share of the revenues since this work is acknowledged as being
more important for the performance than others. In this kind of
organisation, information is to some extent controlled by individuals
who use formal channels of communication to distribute the information within the group. However introduced, this professionalism
was considered necessary to balance the egalitarian tendency required
for the mode of creativity fostered in LAP.
To the members, the akrab feeling of familiarity belongs to a close
knit community which is roughly synonymous with how life in the
traditional village is considered to work, while the modern, urban
context is considered to demand professionalism and specialisation.
The emphasis on and combination of these concepts differed
according to the various attitudes of the members. They were not
treated as exclusive concepts but as a fluid mental map which could
be used with different aims.
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In Wawan’s case it is especially interesting to note how he tries to
use the situation to advocate collective and egalitarian structures of
decision-making at the same time as he highlights his personal
contribution to the group.
The discussions in February tried to sort out how to maintain
familiarity and intimacy and combine these qualities with what they
thought of as a modern way of taking care of decisions and organisation, in a specialised and formal organisation. Informal decisions and
informal means of communication were regarded as belonging to a
form of community not suited to meeting the demands of modern
and commercial promotion but nevertheless necessary for the
specific style of improvised theatre which LAP performs.
When they tried to explain why they had problems in attracting
the attention of the commercial mass media companies, the question
of the group’s lack of professionalism was raised. But when it came
to questions of personal commitment and artistic achievement the
akrab quality of the group extolled.
At the February meeting a formal proposal was made for the
statutes and regulations for the group. To avoid misunderstandings
and to enhance their chances of commercial success, they finally
opted for a more professional outline. That decision implied a formal
organisation with decision-making delegated to an executive board
of members.
In addition to its artistic endeavours, LAP also functions as a
group in which individuals can try out concepts and ideas such as
‘individual’, ‘community’, ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ and determine
what bearings these concepts have on personal life. Within the group,
a specific sociality has developed which is used to bestow quality on
abstract terms. Conceptual contrasts such as modern and traditional,
professional and egalitarian are tested for connotations and meaning.
For instance, how does the modern individual cope with situations in
which the demands for egalitarian structures are strong?
In this way the group has an important function in the process of
constructing a ‘web of significance’ for the members to live in. What
it means to be ‘modern’, for example, is translated into the aspect of
their organisation which is specialised and hierarchical, and termed
‘professional’, while terms like ‘traditional’, ‘familiarity’ and akrab are
used to describe the social relationships in the group. In short, general
concepts are filled with specific meaning.
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The advantage of the project resides in the fact that the organisation may change to adapt to new experiences or one may drop out of
the group. The choices made inside the group are not definite
decisions and there is no given authority controlling the interpretations and choices made in the group. This liminoid quality of
the group grants the members freedom from coercive power and
leaves decisions regarding interpretation up to the individual. By
invoking concepts such as akrab, professional or familiar in public
presentations, the group offers the individual members an opportunity
to define their social position and learn how to ‘navigate’ among a
multitude of metaphors on identity.4 The members can express
experiences through the performance but also try out concepts
through which they may find out what they have experienced.
Conversations with Deden, one of the group’s leading actors,
assured me that to exclude the aims of the individual members would
be to deprive the project of one of its most prominent features.
During our conversations Deden, the scriptwriter of several of LAP’s
plays, elaborated on his own background and the nature of the LAP.
He presented his idea of the LAP performances as allegories, with
multiconnotative possibilities. For Deden a good performance is a
form of vivid communication among all those present – the actors,
musicians, dancers and audience – in which the story should be open
to interpretation rather than a theatrical lecture. The group may have
a rough idea of what they want to communicate, but the imagination
of the audience has to situate the symbolism in a relevant context. As
an example, he mentioned the part in Poeber III in which a corrupt
boss is sentenced to seclusion for seven days but enjoys the stay as
recreation. Deden explains that this story is about corruption: ‘But
we do not say it has to be in Indonesia, even though everyone knows
that these kind of things occur here’. The phenomenon has a wider
significance which the audience may take home with them and think
about. The stories are parables and metaphors which may be about
Indonesia. The characters, the greedy and corrupt Tabib, the overenthusiastic and fanatical technician and all the others, are recognisable
from public life as depicted in newspapers and the media, but they
are not confined to the Indonesian context. The stories should be
open to broad interpretation so that every member of the audience
has the opportunity to translate the parable situationally. Deden
explains, ‘If I make a story about Sang Kuriang [one of the most
famous legends in Bandung] we, Jörgen and Deden, may very well
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ascribe very different features to him, and that is possible because it is
a saga’.
Deden underscores that when he creates his stories the fantasy
world and the saga are important. In his childhood he remembers that
fairytales played an important role for his imagination. That world of
imagination is something he feels he lacks in his present environment.
For him the saga opens a way to circumvent the straitjacket of rationality and to free his own creativity. That which is not rational demands
fantasy, and according to Deden it would be a sin to reject this gift
from God.
Oral tradition is part of his family background and he perceives himself as being in a position where he can make use of both modernity
and tradition as resources.
I am not from a traditional culture or from an urban family.
I am in a transitional position, and that is the case of most
members of LAP. My family is a transitional family, not
belonging to the farmers or the city. We have lost our
roots to our own culture; we recognise and know about
modern ways of life but we are not yet familiar with them.
That is why we are able to carry out a project like LAP
because it mirrors our background. Perhaps our genre is
posmo? Or a hybrid? (Deden Rengga).
When he creates a performance he consciously approaches tradition
as an object, and a resource to escape modern rationality, which he
feels threatens to suffocate his imagination. From the position he
ascribes to himself, as not being really inside either the traditional or
modern world, he creates a self-reflective distance from the objects
he wants to scrutinise and in doing so creates sagas which address
The strength of Deden’s stories lies in their combination of simplicity and allegorical complexity.5 Like myths, their basic structures
are simple, but he uses this simplicity to pave the way for elaborate
and extensive dialogues which include references to recent political
and social events.
In traditional Longser, as reported by Kania (1986) and Durachman
(1993), the stories are taken from everyday life. They concern marital
disputes, love affairs and are confined to the domestic area. Even
though traditional Longser is not a realistic depiction of life, the
stories performed approximate everyday life and the audience can
recognise and laugh at events which are known and personally
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experienced by many. These stories, however, do not pretend to be
metaphorical, to say something about anything other than what they
simulate on stage. In private discussions (and scholarly research) folk
theatre may, of course, function as a point of departure to make
interpretations of general trends in society, as Peacock (1987) for
instance, has pointed out. The performances can also be understood
as products of a certain time and as displaying social relations (see for
example, Keeler 1987), but the stories as such are not intended to be
reflexive allegories. In Deden’s plays, a presupposition is that the
stories are not about what they seem to be, but about something
else, which it is the task of the audience to figure out for themselves.
Thus the performances depend on the audience taking an active part
in their realisation.
Compared with the stories staged within the genre of modern
Indonesian theatre where allegories are also common, there is a
difference in LAP’s relation to tradition. In Indonesian theatre such
as Tradisi Baru (the new tradition), spearheaded by directors such as
Putu Wijaya and Rendra, ethnic elements are incorporated into a
modern theatre structure. In the work of Deden and LAP a modern
way of telling stories as allegories is incorporated into a traditional
performance. It may be said that LAP is like a gamelan orchestra
which includes electric guitars, while Tradisi Baru is like a symphony
orchestra including gamelan instruments.
According to the creator, the performances of Deden explore
concepts such as Indonesia, modernity, tradition, legitimacy and social
justice and should be understood as multivocal, thematic allegories.
Deden makes it clear that the performances are articulations of concerns emanating from the group. Personal experiences and observations made by the actors are moulded by the group in their discussions and then transposed on to the stage, where the audience is given
the opportunity to think them out. The members of the audience are
free to come to their own conclusions and judgements on general
themes which are also recognisable from public life.
The style in which one of the actors presented himself in our first
encounter provides a further insight into how individuals relate to
the project.
Dadang Lurah came to Bandung after leaving his job in Jakarta
just to perform with LAP, where he is much appreciated both by the
members and the audience. This is the first time we met and he gives
an account of himself in relation to the questions I posed while he
was preparing for the performance of Petrus Café.
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Dadang Lurah, 24 years old, was born and raised as a Muslim in
Bandung, where his family lives in the outskirts of the town. His
parents make their living by renting out local transport and rooms in
their house. He says that he was attracted to theatre because his elder
brother acted in a Sandiwara group, a type of traditional theatre, but
the choice to become an actor was not an obvious one. He had previously worked in a small mechanics industry and in 1987 he enrolled
in the technology department of Bandung Islam University
(UNISBA). This decision never really satisfied him and in his spare
time he joined Teater Bel, a local, well-known theatre group.
After one year he felt that he had the courage to apply for a place
at ASTI. Since his family was involved in Sandiwara, he was
‘automatically’ interested in traditional theatre and he expresses a
feeling of responsibility towards the local culture, which he thinks is
disappearing. He says that traditional theatre is closer to him than
Western theatre since it uses his own language (Sundanese). He
further raises the question of why traditional theatre is considered
old-fashioned (kuno) by the Indonesians but attracts such a vast
interest from scholars and researchers from abroad. Why are they, the
representatives of modern life, only interested in the local and the
traditional? This question gives him, although he certainly defines
himself as modern, a reason to probe into the traditions to find out
why what is not modern may still be valuable. He also believes that
by studying traditional theatre he may find his own identity and
roots. His relation to ‘tradition’ is quite explicit and ‘friendly’. It
serves as a well of inspiration and he regards it as a local treasure.
He tells me that when he is performing in LAP he concentrates
completely on his role and uses personal observations as an important
tool to develop a specific character. By observing people in the same
social position as his character he is able to understand their way of
moving, acting and talking. He is a serious actor who develops both his
bodily and mental capacities to become an even better professional.
Dadang is conscious of acting both as a means of personal expression
and as a source of income. After passing his exam at ASTI he now
works as a decorator with a TV company in Jakarta, but longs for a
more interesting job. He often returns to Bandung to meet old
friends, his family and to act in LAP productions. He presents himself as a real fan of LAP and his commitment to the group is still very
strong even though he is no longer active in ASTI.
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This is a kind of introduction which could be said to be representative of the members. They have a reflexive relation to self and
theatre which they easily verbalise. During the interview, Dadang
had no problems in understanding my interest in his relationship to
tradition because, as with most members, he had himself given the
subject much thought.
Dadang’s immediate and open response suggested that working in
this milieu would prove to be a rewarding enterprise. The members of
LAP are all strong personalities, and as Dadang’s presentation shows,
self-aware. As one of the other members says, they regard themselves
as aneh (peculiar), bebas (outspoken) and berani (daring).6
The challenge of having self-reflective, well-educated informants,
used to research, results in a specific kind of conversation. Several of
the members had carried out undergraduate research on Longser or
other types of performance. They were used to treating both their
own project and themselves as objects of discursive reflection. Preparing for a seminar in which I was to present my research to the
staff at ASTI, I tried to encourage some of the members from LAP
to attend and promoted the occasion as an opportunity for them to
influence the objectives of the research project. I searched for a
proper term in Bahasa Indonesia for the word ‘object’, but one of
the members finished my sentence by filling in an Indonesian version
of the English word (obyek), following up on my stumbling efforts by
saying with a smile: ‘So we are not only the object of study but also
subjects in the research’.
I thus found myself researching people themselves familiar with
fieldwork, and my fieldwork often ended up with a reading of their
research reports. These are informants for whom ‘meaning’ is something that is reflected upon and discussed. In that sense it was not
difficult for them to incorporate my research into a local convention
of knowledge.
LAP in its social constitution (male and middle class) may be said to
reflect a prerogative of society to entrust this specific group with a
privileged place in the production of public meaning. There are
several groups similar to LAP in Bandung and at other universities
throughout Java and Indonesia. Theatre is a popular mode of
expression and national gatherings of student theatre groups are
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regularly staged. In 1995, a festival was organised in Jakarta and
student theatre groups from the whole archipelago attended. Some
performances used traditional theatre, others acted in a Western
realistic style and some mixed fragments of absurd theatre with
personal experience. Although not all of them pursued the formula
of tradition and improvisation, the performances were dominated by
young men from the middle class. In that sense the LAP project is an
example of a recurrent form of expression.
The middle class in Indonesia is difficult to pinpoint in objective
terms. There is no economically self-sufficient bourgeoisie, independent of the state. On the other hand, there is a section of society
which is relatively well educated, economically strong, with a high
potential for consumption, which stands for the values of individuality and political liberalism and which is similar to the group we
usually term ‘middle class’ in Europe. In a conference held at Monash
University 1986, Richard Robison acknowledged the difficulty of
finding objective criteria for defining a middle class in Indonesia
which are not so inclusive that they render the term useless as an
analytical tool. The second problem Robison raised was the absence
of any coherent middle-class consciousness: ‘[T]he historical record
does not seem to confirm any degree of cohesion in the political
behaviour of the “middle class” sufficient to confirm it as a social
group with unified interests and a developed class consciousness’
(Robison 1990: 128).
In 1996 Robison repeats that: ‘[i]n … the 1950s and 1960s, Indonesia’s middle class and bourgeoisie were both minute and without
political and economic influence of any real substance’ (Robison
1996: 79). However, this situation changed during the 1980s and
1990s in the sense that in terms of wealth there has been ‘the rapid
growth of two important new social forces: a capital-owning class
and a middle class’ (ibid.: 80). These classes, however, still depend
on the government for their existence.
These groups have also attracted ‘considerable interest’ from
Indonesian society. It is debated in the media and discussed in private
what the middle class may demand of the state and society. An
awareness of the group as a potential force in society can be noted,
but this attention, as Robison says, focuses primarily on ‘only a small
and extreme category of the middle classes’ (ibid.: 85). It is forgotten
that the middle class ‘consists of a wide range of sub-elements from
wealthy, urban managers and professionals to lower-level clerks and
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teachers in regions and small towns’ (ibid.: 85). He also notes that
the student movements that were dominated by the upper middle
class in the 1960s and 1970s have now become a lower middle-class
affair. The former students ‘now occupy senior positions in the neworder civilian hierarchy’ (Robison 1996: 86).
So, in the 1990s a middle class, defined in terms of economic
criteria and recognised as a social force in the public debate, has
emerged. Still, the group has only minimal influence on actual politics.
Because of their internal divisions and the domination of the state
over the economy they have never been able to use their economic
position to put pressure on executive organisations in the political
system. Robison summarises the situation as follows:
Internally divided, dependent upon the state and fearful of
social and economic chaos, they [the members of the middle
class] have been largely immobilised. The general expectation that middle classes represent sources of social power
and wealth independent of the state and are therefore concerned with limiting its power and imposing accountability has not generally applied – at least not yet – in
Indonesia. (ibid.: 87)
From Robison’s research we can conclude that the middle class in
Indonesia has been unable to gain an acknowledged place in the
history of Indonesia; nor has it been recognised as a constructive
social, economic or political force. It is only in its capacity to act as
the ‘Asian market’ that it has the potential to influence government
decisions. As Robison puts it, ‘By simply being there and being
necessary to the operation of the increasingly complex industrial
economy, the middle classes shape the choices made by officials’
(Robison 1996: 88). This lack of active participation in the political
system seems to be even more acute for the younger generation.
Demands for political influence are frequently raised either through
political or artistic expressions. As such, the young ASTI performers
described themselves as belonging to ‘the class of disappointed’
(golongan kecewa).
Robison argues that the middle class in Indonesia is a notion too
broad and vaguely defined to use analytically. To understand social
change in Indonesia he suggests that the concept has to be broken
down into smaller segments. This can be applied to the students of
LAP who, although they derive from the middle class are perceived
as representing the young generation and not the political will of the
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middle class (to which their parents belong). In a broad sense they
belong to the middle class, but it is as students that they are recognised
when they act politically. And we find that in the rhetoric of the state
as well as in public debates the students have been allotted an
important position as a social and historical force.
Indonesia has a specific design in the political rhetoric concerning
youth movements which categorises young people under a specific
heading like Generasi Muda, Angkatan Muda or Generasi Penerus.
This convention is codified in the five-year plans in which the construction (pembinaan) and cultivation (pengembangan) of the young
generation is outlined.
In the national political rhetoric, the specific achievements of the
young in Indonesian history are stressed. Under the overarching
label of Pemuda, the youths are recognised as occupying a specific
place in history and as having played an active part in the development of the independent Indonesian nation. Furthermore, this
generation is not only recognised as a historical force but is also
expected to continue playing an active part in the future development of the nation.
In his speech to the nation in 1995, commemorating the fifty
years of independence, President Suharto hailed the Indonesian
young people of today. As a representative of the Generation of
Freedom, he entrusted them with the mission of the future. ‘The
young generation of today, the Next Generation, are pioneers,
fighters, and heroes of development!’ (Suharto 1995: 27).7 He went
on to affirm that the fighting generation of ‘45 is confident in the
capability and responsibility of the new generation to take care of the
future (hari depan).
A more durable account of the role of youth in national history is
presented at the National Monument (MONAS). In the Hall of
Indonesian History, a serial of dioramas has been created visualising
Indonesian history. This presentation begins with the fossils of the
Palaeolithic period and ends in 1969 with the incorporation of West
Irian into Indonesia. Among the forty-eight dioramas some are
exclusively devoted to students. One depicts the 1908 Budi Utomo
organisation, a nationalist movement inaugurated by students from
Stovia, another shows the same school as the centre for all Indonesian youth organisations.
The 1928 Youth Pledge for a free and united Indonesia is presented and the attempted coup in 1965 is also depicted in one diorama,
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where the role of the students, ‘representatives of the people’, is
mentioned specifically.
The museum officially recognises the prominence of the youth
organisations in national development and their important relation
with the students. Pemuda is inscribed as a social group and their
agency recognised as playing a part in the creation of independent
Indonesia and Orde Baru.
In every official reiteration of Indonesian history the importance
of the events depicted in MONAS is invoked and the crucial role
played by the students in the outcome of the affairs is asserted. In
these events the students are recognised as one of the elements that
formed Indonesia.
In all history writing, certain groups and social formations are
allotted specific places and tasks (while others are neglected). In
Indonesia the Pemuda is singled out and defined as one of the
important groups in Indonesian history. It is obvious that this
historical position has created a space for political action for students
which is out of the question for other groups. Students are ‘allowed’
to stage demonstrations, aksi (political actions) and to criticise the
government in a manner that would be unthinkable for, as an
example, a trade union. Young people (and especially students) in
Indonesia occupy a political place where they can articulate critical
views and which lends a certain significance to their statements. At
the same time they are not allowed into executive office or political
decision-making. A closer look at their position reveals that it is not
as representatives that the youth organisations are understood. The
turbulence that they stir up indicates a fragmentation of the political
power, a weakness in the system of control. The political place that
they have created gives them the role of acting as a sign but not of
being subjects able to make decisions for the future.8
A review of recent social and economic trends in West Java reveals
an indigenous middle class in a problematic situation. To a great
extent the group is urban based, economically viable and well
educated but politically muted and denied a position in Indonesian
history. A section of this class, the younger generation (Pemuda) has
managed to gain a position in the political arena, but their role is
constrained to specific actions, demonstrations and other sporadic
(although often violent and disturbing) events. The majority of the
people belonging to the middle class have no access to public space
or the formal political system.9 Therefore this group has never had
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the opportunity to formulate in public their demands, visions and
doubts concerning themselves and the nation they are part of.
The LAP project exemplifies how a small section of this social
group goes about expressing their concerns. Originating from
middle-class families with diverse backgrounds, they have moved
into an urban milieu, obtained a modern education and are exposed
to contemporary forms of media information. In a creative process
they piece this heritage together and present it in performances
which in their ambiguity tell about the uncertain character of their
current situation.
As students at ASTI the problem of being both privileged and
marginalised appears in several ways. Robison’s description of the
dilemma that political parties have to live with reminds one of what it
means to be a student: ‘[A]s well as being vehicles that facilitate
some degree of criticism, they also serve to legitimise the regime’
(Robison 1996: 87). The students are manoeuvred into a situation
which allows them to deliver some criticism of the state, but at the
same time they are supposed to reproduce political consensus on
concepts such as nationalism, revitalisation, tradition and modernity.
The LAP project is thus an effort by a group of students to express
their ambiguous situation of being middle class and students:
acknowledged as a ‘marker’ of political events, as they are not
allowed inside the decision-making apparatus of the state and are
forbidden to question the basic structure of the nation. As a group
the young art students (seniman), although being a part of the
middle class, are recognised as a group with a specific position in the
political discourse and are thus allowed to address political issues.
Their problem, though, is similar to the rest of the middle class.
There is a precarious balance between being a privileged group of
male students from the lower middle class who have a certain
freedom to express themselves politically and their dependence on
the state-subsidised institution in which they are situated. At the
academy they are supplied with rooms for rehearsal, instruments and
other material support but are also subjected to an often indistinct
and vague pressure from above to produce politically correct
performances. There is a necessity to adhere to state policies for
further support, but at the same time they depend on commercial
tastes for their incomes. Being fostered as Orde Baru Babies10 without
the option of filling their life with conspicuous consumption, many
feel the need to express social and political criticism and a wish to
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take a part in shaping their own situation. This predicament, of
course, produces acute frustration among large numbers of the
young people.
The following excerpt from a poem published in a local Bandung
newspaper aptly sums up the dilemma of being a young middle-class
man in Bandung. They are taught that they have to make choices but
in reality the choices are already made for them:
My child is now studying multiple choices
officially stamped: the task of the teacher has to be …
a. carried out b. neglected c. disregarded
Even though there are three choices it is obvious that only
one can be chosen. picking the wrong
choice my child does not get anything. credit 0
So many choices but there are only
very few that can be chosen. in fact
there is only one choice that is absolute. the 100
(Beni Setia 1996, published in Pikiran Rakyat, 25 February 1997,
my translation, punctuation follows the original)
In sum, the creativity set in motion, or channelled, within ASTI meets
with a specific political reality threatening to turn the creation of art
into pre-edited performances. The stage is set and the answers are
given. This theme of a reality which is always hiding behind layers of
public images is developed by LAP into the main feature of Interview
Alladin, the performance that constitutes the subject of the next
1. The literal meaning of cakal-bakal is founders of a new village.
2. The names are fictitious.
3. According to Echols and Shadily (1992) the lexical meaning of akrab
is ‘intimate’.
4. Kati Rantala (1997) has written a short but extremely well-formulated
article on art in Finland which describes how the arts may function as
a means for organising experience and promoting reflection over the
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multiple choices of identity which reveal themselves during adolescence.
5. His stories became the most troublesome for the censorship to
handle at the time LAP were trying to enter into national media.
6. Siegel (1986) pays some attention to the meaning of the word ‘aneh’.
According to him ‘aneh’ denotes phenomena which are recognisable
but out of place.
7. ‘Generasi muda sekarang, Generasi Penerus, adalah pelopor, pejuang
dan pahlawan pembangunan!’
8. For a similar view and a more thoroughgoing explication of this argument, see Benedict Anderson’s (1972) work on the role of Pemuda in
the revolution, 1945–49. The recent political events, however, may
change this situation. If the students can be conducive to the reformation of the political system of Indonesia, that may also alter their
own position and assign them a more active role in future politics.
9. Although decision makers and individuals in the political system are
recruited from the middle class, they are not able to act as representatives of this class. In the public space there is an acceptance of
expressing the nationalistic visions of Pemuda, or the traditions of an
ethnic group, but the medium is closed for expressions of collective
identity in terms of class and economic position.
10. The expression ‘Orde Baru Babies’ is borrowed from Niels Mulder
(1994: 114) who uses it to describe apolitical, narrow-minded and
historically ignorant middle-class youngsters for whom consumerism
is the only attraction.
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Small things such as staging a rehearsal are a delicate endeavour for
Longser Antar Pulau. The organisers have to make personal contact
with about thirty people (including musicians and dancers), all of
whom are involved in commitments outside the campus, which means
that communication among members (as well as between the group
and the producers in Jakarta) is difficult and irregular (there is a
shortage of telephones and reliable channels of communication).
Mudah-mudahan (hopefully) was eventually made into a pun introduced in our conversations to indicate the unreliability of all predictions
of the future, ranging from topics such as global peace to arranging a
On 11 June 1995, LAP staged a debut performance with the title,
Interview Alladin.1 The performance was staged only twice, though
not for lack of an audience. Of all the performances staged so far the
same story has never appeared more than twice. The members say
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that they lose interest in the play after the first performance. This
statement holds true for the performance of Interview Alladin. The
first show was considered a success, while the second, both by the
audience and the actors, was judged inferior.
Production began in April 1995. One of the members delivered a
synopsis of the play based on the idea of using figures and themes
from A Thousand and One Nights and specifically from the story of
Aladdin. Based on a loosely connected outline of ‘scenes’ the ‘script’
had no written lines and no character guidelines.
The synopsis was discussed during an introductory meeting concerning questions of logic and coherence. One of the topics was the
different planes of reality and the mixture of Dunia Dongeng (imagined
or fantasy world) and Dunia Nyata (real world) which appears in the
play. Would the audience be able to follow the story? The original story
where Aladdin is helped by a djinn from the immaterial world was
revised in the present manuscript to the effect that Alladin emanates
from the imagined world in order to seek help from the real one.
The purpose of this initial meeting was to reach a consensus about
the script. After a couple of days, when everyone had read and
thought about the matter, a second meeting was called. This time
the characters were discussed and formulated. What type was Alladin,
what could the magician symbolise? Although the meetings were
important to give the actors and the director a feeling of the play,
most of the ‘rehearsals’ and the development of the dialogue were
done in private outside these meetings. An ambitious schedule of
rehearsals was produced but never adhered to, since no one took it
seriously except the administrative leader, who resigned after this
production. There was no way of ordering the members to attend a
rehearsal or even the performance. The common understanding was
that it was the specific character of LAP not to rehearse more than
two weeks in advance, otherwise the performance could not be
termed an improvisation.
About two weeks before the first performance the actual rehearsals
began. When they arrived at these rehearsals the actors had already
developed lines and dialogues with each other. The dialogue of the
performance was improvised in the sense that it was born out of
improvisation, but it was not a blank sheet to be filled in on the
opening night. Still, there is great freedom in the actual performance
to skip, add to and improvise on dialogue and acting. During the
formal rehearsals which preceded the official opening night, the
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director, who also acted in the play, gave mostly choreographic
advice. He was ‘assisted’ by other actors, musicians and occasional
spectators. Their advice was never rejected out of hand or questioned
from a position of authority. Since the performance was conceptualised
as a collective enterprise, the director had the responsibility to take
all perspectives into account.
The dress rehearsal was supposed to take place the day before the
opening evening, but since the audience, a school class, failed to turn
up, the rehearsal was cancelled and the time was spent decorating the
stage. The only prop used was a streetlight which Alladin was later to
get stuck on with his flying carpet. The rest of the preparation was to
frame the stage with cloths. So the day before the opening performance
they had had three rehearsals with music, but none in costume.2
The promotion of a performance like Interview Alladin includes
posters, personal invitations, sponsoring and occasional broadcasting
on the radio. The promotion is based on a combination of media
advertising and mouth to mouth communication. Most tickets are
sold by the actors in person and the majority of the audience are
students and youngsters connected with Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia.
Sponsoring companies have space allotted on the tickets and a lottery
of company-specific products is often arranged. The revenue from
the tickets and the sponsorship money constitute the main theatre
income. The title is often in English because the language is thought
to attract people. The promotion materials evoke the expectation of
surprise, the fantastic and the spectacular. To be invited to a LAP
performance is to be invited to something unpredictable, with a strong,
sometimes even threatening flavour to it (see Figure 7.1).
This method of promotion is conceived of as being professional
management. The desire to be a modern, urban theatre involves
building up a capacity to handle promotion directed at a diffuse and
abstract audience. The need to be attuned to modern technology,
and a highly diverse society and potential audience, was contrasted
with the social interaction inside the group preceding a performance.
This is based on face-to-face contact within a tightly knit group in
which communication is open and easy. The promotion of Interview
Alladin depended on the ability of this tight community of LAP
members to work out promotion strategies and quickly muster a
group of people for promotion events. It also depended on LAP’s
network of contacts with students (the potential audience), on formal
contacts with sponsoring companies and the media. The production
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Fig. 7.1: Promotion poster for Longser Antar Pulau
of Interview Alladin became a combination of these strands: formalised
rehearsals, the creation of a hierarchical organisation and an art project that evolved out of interaction based on ideas of equality and the
personal commitment of members.
This style of production and the problems of attracting an
audience were explained by Heri, the administrative leader for Interview
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Alladin, as being due to the fact that they were a theatre group in
transition. He explained: ‘There are a lot of traditional theatres and
modern theatres. But we are in transition and that is our special feature.
In that way we are marginal’. He recognised that they needed a
mixture of professional management and ‘traditional’ mouth to mouth
information to meet the specific situation of being in between
different systems.
Rather than seeing themselves as a privileged group, which they
may seem to the outsider, they tend to assert themselves as marginal
and transitional, in terms of both their theatrical and social status.
To convey the flavour of a LAP performance I have chosen to relate
in detail the specific show which I had the opportunity to follow
from inception to completion. It is a remarkable creation which tells
the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp from One Thousand and
One Nights in a novel way.
The stage for Interview Alladin was, like most performances by
LAP, very simple. The decor consisted of a street lamp and lengths of
black cloth hanging from the roof. Some lengths of cloth were also
used to darken certain areas in the back and on the sides of the stage
so the entrances became surprises. There were no side or back drops.
The theatrical environment was left to the audience to imagine, a
conscious strategy of the actors. The reason for this, according to the
group, is that a characteristic feature of a LAP performance is an
invitation to make use of the imagination: it is the task of the audience
to fill the stage with relevant materials by using their imagination.
The orchestra is placed on the stage and is part of the stage decor.
The reason for this arrangement is to incorporate the musicians as
active agents in the performance, and to underline their importance
for the show. Usually a full gamelan orchestra is considered necessary
to make the performance complete (lengkap). This setting is reinforced by synthesisers, electric guitars and drums. The music is
considered important and is therefore the subject of long and serious
discussions. Some of the jokes are related to the music, as when
someone acts out of keeping with the melody. Occasionally songs are
performed, but none of the actors are vocally trained.
The performance is initiated by a compère who introduces the
play and invites someone to light the oncor, which is placed centre
back on the stage. In this case I, as visiting anthropologist, was invited
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Fig. 7.2: Opening scene from Interview Alladin
to perform the honourable task. The overture is played and the actors
enter and walk into position slightly in front of the orchestra. They
seat themselves in a casual way (reminiscent of the way people in an
audience find their places). The show begins with a dance performed
by two actors wearing clothes influenced by Arab fashion and they
are accompanied by Arabic music. This introduction was explained
by the group as setting the stage in Arabia, the land of Aladdin.
When they are finished, a second interlude, the musical theme of
the group, is played by the musicians and the tukang sulap (magician)
enters the stage. He wears a tailcoat and executes his entrance in a
self-confident manner. After drawing a long multicoloured strip of
paper from his mouth, he addresses the audience. Some basic tricks
are performed, whose main purpose is to ‘set the eye’ of the spectators
by establishing the importance of magic and fantasy in life. ‘Believe it
or not, it’s up to you’, he says (in English). He tells the audience: ‘It
is only people with great imagination and a pure heart who are able
to see this performance’. A child in the audience starts to cry and he
immediately approaches it and comments that the baby cries because
its heart is pure and it understands the tricks of the magician.
His first trick will be to transform a packet of cigarettes into a bird.
He covers the packet in his hand with a handkerchief and asks colleagues
seated on the stage to help him to pronounce the incantation, ‘Abrakadabra, simsalabim’. He withdraws the handkerchief and in his
hand he holds the packet of cigarettes which he throws up in the air.
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Fig. 7.3: The Magician in Interview Alladin
‘Look, it flies’, he exclaims; the packet bounces to the floor. The
audience roars with laughter and shouts comments. He in turn responds
by commenting upon the audience and their shouts. When the audience
confirms that he has succeeded in converting the cigarettes into a bird,
he says: ‘This is evidence that your hearts are not yet polluted by the
developments of today’. He promises further fantastic illusions and
that he is able to perform tricks that no one can imagine.
The necessity of imagination in the theatre is established, but the
magic is only to be seen by those who have a pure heart and as such
are able to see through the false world of everyday perceptions. In
this way the imagined world presented on the stage is also a vision of
a true reality. The magician suggests to the audience that what they
see and the actors say is not the truth, it is only with a pure heart that
it is possible to see behind what our senses usually hold to be the
truth. The Tukang Sulap suggests that there is a discrepancy between
the truth and what the eye sees when he insists that he has transformed the packet of cigarettes into a bird. After a while he even gets
the audience to confirm that he is telling the truth in spite of what
they actually see, so the audience, with its confirmation, helps to legitimise his statement as a true description of reality.
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Fig. 7.4: Alladin meets with the Tukang Sulap
This opening is significant for the scepticism against reality,
essential to LAP performances, that is conveyed. ‘Reality’ becomes
an object for reflection and a thematic question of the show. This
kind of conversation which challenges obvious common sense, and
the slippage between the imagined and the real recurs throughout
the whole performance of Interview Alladin. (This is also the case
with many of the other performances described earlier.)
As a last entertainment the Tukang Sulap promises to conjure up
Alladin. Alladin, who is seated on the stage, rises and approaches on
his flying carpet, which is a prayer-mat tied to his waist. When they
meet the magician explains that he is now in the real world (dunia
nyata). ‘Oh fantastic’, replies Alladin. They pursue a dialogue full of
remarks on Alladin’s amazement at modern phenomena such as
electricity and cars. Finally he explains to the magician that his magic
lamp is broken and the jin (djinn) is not responding to his calls (rubbings). Now he has to find someone to fix the lamp since his land,
which is the imagined or fantasy land (dunia dongeng) has been taken
over by evil forces represented by a tabib (conjurer) who has subjugated the king and aspires to marry the princess (who was meant for
Alladin). To accomplish the task the magician recommends that he
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seek an insenjur (engineer) in the real world. Alladin takes off and
finally arrives at a place where he meets with an extraordinary figure
who turns out to be an insenjur.
Before Alladin arrives the insenjur has introduced himself through
song and dance. Among other dances he performs a football song
with movements reminiscent of tari layang (the kite dance) in traditional Longser. The outrageous dress of the insenjur, his hunched
back and spectacular behaviour (the part was given to one of the most
expressive actors) underscore that the Insenjur is a bit of a weirdo. The
Insenjur also reveals his master project (dream) to the audience. In
his country, which he calls ‘The Nation of Fifty’ (leaving no one in
doubt about what is referred to by Dunia Nyata),3 he wants to
create a vehicle with no pollution, smoke or noise (an ironic hint at
Mobnas, the national enterprise of building an Indonesian car undertaken by one of Suharto’s sons). Consequently, when Alladin arrives
on his flying carpet (and gets stuck on the street light from which the
engineer helps him to climb down), the insenjur is mainly interested
in his means of transportation. Alladin presents himself as a citizen
from the land of A Thousand and One Nights. ‘That is just a lie’,
exclaims the Insenjur. ‘So, is this not the land of fifty nights’, counters
Alladin. ‘No, this is our land – fifty excuses and with the petition’,
responds the Insenjur. This overt reference to Petisi 50 (a document
critical of the regime signed by fifty prominent Indonesians) makes
them both embarrassed and they hide as if someone could overhear
them. Alladin proposes that the land of fifty is quite a nice country.
The Insenjur does not think so: ‘No, that is gossip [said in English],
there is only pollution here’.
Alladin’s mat seems to be the answer to the dreams of the Insenjur,
and the dialogue continues to focus on the virtues of his method of
transportation. Unfortunately, when the Insenjur tries to fly the mat,
it fails to move due to his lack of imagination. Finally the Insenjur
helps Alladin, but instead of repairing the lamp he secretly exchanges
it for another, after which he sends him back to Dunia Dongeng.
At this point there is a short interruption in the show for a prize
contest. The winners are invited to come forward to the stage to collect
their rewards. As entertainment during the break a dance (Ketuk Tilu)
from traditional Longser is performed by students from the dance
department. During the dance coins are thrown onto the stage, and
the actors walk around among the spectators asking for donations.
After this interlude the audience is introduced to the terrible state
of affairs in Dunia Dongeng. The evil Tabib enters in a carriage, pulled
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by the enslaved king and queen. His staff dive for the small change on
the stage as the Tabib’s first line is, ‘Thank you, the more the better’.
His greed and cruelty are obvious.
He and his staff then dance and as part of the comic sensation of
the scene the display is unsynchronised. After some misunderstandings,
the followers of the Tabib are installed at his right side and they
honour him with a ‘Hip Hip Hurrah’, followed by a brief allusion to
a well-known TV commercial at the time. This intrusion again confuses the audience, implying as it does that the imagined world is
actually Indonesia.
The captured king speaks in Sundanese but is muted by the Tabib
who speaks the national language Bahasa Indonesia. This contrast in
languages was a choice made by the director to ‘accentuate the
difference’ between the Tabib and the king. This distinction follows
the conventional rules of linguistic etiquette of the area, expressing
superiority (Indonesian) and subordination (Sundanese) through the
choice of language (Anwar 1985: 165). The Tabib shows his power
by controlling the movements of the king and the queen as he orders
the king to sing. The king, who has not yet shown his face, does so
and at that point it is revealed that the part is being played by one of
the local stars of LAP (Dadang Lurah) which results in applause.
Fig. 7.5: The King, the Queen and the Princess
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The Tabib then listens to the reports delivered by his followers. As
each vassal recounts regional problems, the Tabib laughs aloud. The
complaints are based on real events which have been reported in the
Indonesian press. The people protest against the building of a golf
course, and the rising prices of paper and cement. The Tabib defends
the building of the golf course by referring to the international
reputation of the country. He also announces that the people have to
move if they want to be happy. The complaints about the rising prices
he counters with the statement that it is he himself who is profiting from
the deal: ‘If you are not smart you will not be rich’, says the Tabib.
As an extra and final cruelty, the princess is exhibited on the stage
and subjected to the advances of the Tabib. She refuses him and confirms her love for Alladin.
Fig. 7.6: The Engineer (left) meets with a djinn (right)
When Alladin returns to the stage, he challenges the Tabib to a
duel performed in a stylistic fashion reminiscent of those performed
by the puppets in shadow theatre (wayang kulit). The combatants
then call upon their respective jins to help them.
When Alladin rubs his lamp he encounters a surprise, as the Insenjur
emerges now dressed as a ‘superhero’ in cloak and tights and the former
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jin of Alladin is now working for the Tabib. The Insenjur takes up the
battle with the other jin and manages to conquer him.
Shortly afterwards the power of the Tabib is broken and he is
forced to abdicate the throne and his power to the legitimate king.
Finally, when Alladin tells the Insenjur (who is now called Jinsenjur) to
return into the lamp, he refuses. ‘I want to stay here’, he shouts and
starts to run wildly over the stage. Here the performance ends. The
audience applauds briefly and quickly exits.
Fig. 7.7: Revealing the plastic bucket (Operasi Plastik)
As is often the case the audience is left in a state of uncertainty as it
is never settled whether the Jinsenjur ever returns to his world; and
who is the really powerful one, the king, Alladin or the Jinsenjur who
refuses to go back into the lamp on command? As the audience
leaves he is still being chased by Alladin around the stage.
Both the real and imagined world of the performance are presented
as Indonesia. The explicit references in Dunia Nyata to the number
fifty, Mobnas, and Petisi 50, as well as the references to environmental
pollution, which is a debated issue in Indonesia, define the stage as
‘Indonesia’. The problems experienced by the society in Dunia
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Fig. 7.8: The hooligans in Operasi Plastik
Dongeng, the rising prices of cement and paper, land eviction because
of prestigious golf projects, are also direct parallels with events in
Indonesia, debated and reported in the national media.
The criticism pursued in the performance is based on personal
choices. The individual actors are free to choose their dialogues
themselves. As it turns out, however, the stories and the dialogues
realised on the stage tend to deal with contemporary events which
are neither national nor regionally specific although evident at both
these levels of society. The majority of events singled out for satiric
comment in performances are either regional events with national
implications (as with the land evictions), or national decisions with
regional impact (as in the decision to raise the prices of paper and
cement). By this choice of story, the relationship of dependence
between the national and the regional is brought into the open.
The extensive use of improvisation and comedy in the performance allows the members to formulate, in public, an explicit critique
of government actions. There are, of course, other ways of doing
this, but the suggestion made in the performance that individual
government representatives (personified by the Tabib) are involved
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Fig. 7.9: Scene displaying the variety of role characters
in government decisions for personal profit and the Tabib’s blatant
refusal to listen to the complaints of the people evicted are sensitive
matters to raise in public. Apart from these explicit topics of criticism,
the performance also urges the audience to reflect on the image of
Indonesia. In the case of Interview Alladin the stage is presented as
an alternative, or slightly distorted, Indonesia.4
The imagined world (Dunia Dongeng) as well as the real world
(Dunia Nyata) include references to the land of Indonesia which
exists outside the performance. The performance scrutinises the idea
of Indonesia and asks: Does Indonesia exist? And if this is the case,
where is it? And what is it? The true Indonesia tends to hide behind
layers of deceitful and ephemeral images.5
In this play on and of imagination, events and figures from the
Indonesia which exists outside the stage are mirrored. The performance
makes it uncertain whether Indonesia is supposed to be understood
as the real world, the imagined one, a conflation of the two or neither
of them. Through the performance the audience is offered an opportunity to ponder on questions regarding the meaning of Indonesia
and the state of national affairs. No solution or answer is given and
these questions are left to the audience to resolve for themselves.
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The openness of the performance, the improvised dialogues, the
flexible but secure anchoring in traditional form as well as national
issues and the long non-consensus discussions on the meaning of the
performance result in a sense of explicit vagueness in the symbolic
idiom employed in the performance. This is a quality which Schieffelin,
in a discussion on shamanism, has described rather well:
The performance is gripping not because of the vivid display of symbolic materials but because the symbolic material
is incomplete … This experience of inconclusiveness and imbalance gives people little other choice but to make their
own moves of creative imagination if they are to make sense
of the performance and arrive at a meaningful account of
what is happening (Schieffelin 1985: 721).
The ideas of openness, imagination and personal interpretation are
put into systematic work by LAP in their performances. The outcome
is a specific act of creativity which depends on each individual’s ability
to ‘play’ with collective, self-reflective signs and symbols.
1. ‘Alladin’ is the spelling used by the group, and I shall follow their
convention when referring to the performance.
2. Judging from the response of the audience the opening performance
still was a great success.
3. In 1995 Indonesia celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its Declaration
of Independence.
4. Figures 7.2–7.9 were photographs taken by Adam Black. These
photographs were taken at a TV performance in 2000 and the décor
is more elaborate than in the 1995 performances described in the
present book.
5. This confusing relationship between representation and original has a
peculiar counterpoint in the ‘real’ Indonesia. During the flag ceremony,
which is perhaps the epitome of the celebration of independence and
an annual re-establishment of Indonesia as a nation, a duplicate of
the original Indonesian flag is used.
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In March 1997, the group had the opportunity they had been longing for. Indosiar, a national TV company, offered them a contract for
three performances. Two previous successes, Obsesi 3X and Poeber III,
were chosen, along with a new title, Lebaran Harus Jadi, created
especially for the occasion. My concern here is not with these stories but
the conflict over a future TV contract that developed after the shooting.
The show was part of an Indosiar series on Indonesian traditional
art. In this series Ateng Jafar and his Panca Warna group were presented as an example of traditional West Javanese theatre and Longser
Antar Pulau was featured as the revitalised and updated version of it.
During a one-month revisit to the field I had the opportunity to
meet the group in Jakarta on the same day as the production was to
take place. They had travelled by bus from Bandung in the middle of
the night and when we met the members were sitting in the dressing
room. Expectations were high and dreams of future fame bubbled
beneath their cool images. They were going to shoot three different
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performances of about one hour each, on the same day. The first
drawback occurred when the producer announced that there would
be no audience for the performance. This was taken as a serious obstacle
since having an audience is crucial for the outcome of the show. During
the busride back to Bandung later the same evening many expressed
resentment over this absence. The producer had held out to the
group the promise of inviting students as a studio audience, but due
to the fact that most of the classes were on vacation they had failed to
bring any. The producer also insisted on shooting the three performances in one single sequence, without any breaks or retakes. Added
to these difficulties was the fact that the production was taking place
during the Muslim fasting month and the majority of the members
had not eaten or drunk since early in the morning. Despite these
problems the group staged what I consider to be three good performances.
The producer was not entirely satisfied with the performances but
offered to renew the contract on certain conditions. In a meeting
immediately after the recordings he indicated that he wanted to keep
the structure of the show but demanded more experimental and
innovative music and dance to meet the expectations that the audience
had of groups from Bandung, a town known for its daring in the
field of art.
During the following week the members tried to figure out exactly
what the problem with the performances was. They gathered together
for long deliberations on the placing of the musicians, the problems
in performing in front of a camera instead of an audience and how
the acting could be improved to speed up the tempo.
All these issues were part of the problem, but when the group
eventually sent a new proposal to the producer additional obstacles
appeared. The stories had to be simplified and cleansed of all political
content. Topics and verbal references which touched even slightly on
issues related to SARA (an acronym denoting ethnicity, religion, race
and class) had to be deleted. This dictate disturbed the members since
they considered the stories to be innovative and attractive to the ‘new’
audience of middle-class students. They despised the idea of being
relegated to what they considered as slapstick entertainment for
children. Yet the money was significant, so there was never a question
of immediately refusing the offer.
As the conflict developed, it highlighted persistent problems in the
way local and national identities are treated in Indonesia. In West Java
cultural identity, today increasingly defined as ethnic identity, was
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directed by Orde Baru towards art and cultural performances. These
government actions were taken to prevent sentiments of local
identity from flowing into the sensitive domains of SARA. By organising
and monitoring the arts, Orde Baru hoped to control this domain of
expression and thereby prevent outbursts of ethnic violence.1 Most
of the older students and teachers at Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia
were aware of this policy and tried to manoeuvre according to their
knowledge without compromising their artistic freedom.
This artistic strategy was only a potential one since the ideological
matrix of concepts created by the government was quite empty. Certain
concepts such as tradition, development, culture and identity were
used in official policies regarding ethnic and regional performances,
but very little was said about how these concepts were to be used or
what they meant. There was not yet an official exegesis of terms related
to ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’.2 At certain levels and under specific circumstances, these concepts were available to be filled with meaningful
substance. By certain levels I here mean the regional level, and by
specific circumstances the relative freedom that the campus provides
for its students.
Concerning the national media, however, a different situation
appears. The nation-wide press, radio and television companies were
compelled to follow the written and unwritten rules of censorship
deployed by Orde Baru. The rules of not touching on sensitive issues
such as ethnic, religious, race or class tensions, the business activities
of Suharto’s family, regional unrest and criticism of the military were
the same for all publishers, but the censorship worked differently for
each specific medium. Films were censored at the stage of scriptwriting and again during the editing stage, while books were often
circulated for a couple of months before the authorities announced
that the item was banned and all copies should be returned (Heider
1991: 22). For the press and electronic media, which are difficult to
censor in advance, an intricate system of self-censorship developed.
There were few laws that restricted the freedom of the press; instead,
frequent recommendations were made from the military and the
president stating what news items were sensitive. If these recommendations were not followed the company risked losing its licence.
Information Minister Harmoko, cited in Schwarz, makes clear the
delicate situation of the press during Orde Baru: ‘Publications which
don’t reflect the values of Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution and
instead propound different views, including liberalism, radicalism and
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communism, are prohibited’ (Schwarz 1994: 241). A similar situation
was at hand for the television companies; they were dependent on
the benevolence of certain government officials to keep their broadcasting concessions. This situation made producers and journalists
tread carefully when it came to issues involving politics.
Following this code of censorship the Indosiar television company,
represented by the producer, censored the political jokes in the LAP
performances, even if it was only the mention of the colour yellow
(which was the colour of the state-controlled Golkar Party) in a
negative way. The producer gave directives that if the troupe was to
be contracted again, the show had to be more ‘general’, and also
more simple. The stories should be about love affairs, marital disputes,
domestic problems and relate in an explicit way to daily life. This
directive led to a certain amount of self-censorship; discussions started
to evolve about what topics could be pursued, in what way and how
the different TV companies were to be rated on a scale of political
bravery. RCTI, owned by the son of the president, and Indosiar, deeply
involved with the government through economic relationships, rated
very low on that scale. Such factors had to be taken into consideration
if the group wanted to become known nation-wide.
This situation meant that they had to adapt their commodity, the
show, to an arena controlled much more tightly by the government.
Even though national media was supposed to follow the laws of
commercialism, it was not the consumers but the government which
had the power to decide which programmes that were going to be
broadcast. The notion of the show as a commodity became acute
when the group had to submit themselves to the producer. Previously
they had been able to resist proposals from the lecturers at ASTI if
they thought they could still fill the theatre. Now someone else had
the final say.
In the end this turned out to be an insuperable problem. For several
weeks messages were sent back and forth between the production
team in Jakarta and LAP in Bandung, trying to figure out how to
reform the performance to fit the expectations of the TV company. A
proposal by LAP to ‘update’ the music and dance sections was
eventually turned down by the producer. The ultimate reasons for
this refusal are of course hard to know; however, this opportunity to
reach out to the Indonesian community turned out to be a single
occasion. Even though efforts were made to revise the performance
according to the ideas of the producer there was no second chance
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The adaptations that were made by the members mostly concerned
form: they changed the position of the musicians, tried to create new
dances, and to integrate more musical influences. What caused the
most heated discussions was the question of what kind of stories
were ‘appropriate’ to LAP and Indosiar respectively. To change the
content of the stories according to the wishes of the producer was
equal to a ‘rape’ of LAP, exclaimed an actor during one discussion.
Several of the leading actors strongly opposed the idea of changing
the stories and, in my opinion, that was the reason why they were
not given a second chance by the TV company.
As with all broadcasts of cultural performances at national level,
the emphasis was put on form. The content of the stories, the habit
of pursuing a subject from different angles and of improvising dialogue
was minimised. The majority of the members thought that returning
to simple and general stories would eviscerate the theatrical form
developed by LAP, the strength of playing on the imagination of the
audience would dissolve. What would remain would be merely a
structure of dance, music and acting framing a slapstick comedy.
Longser revitalised in accordance with the media implementation of
cultural politics would be an empty shell. The meaningful story
would be lost in favour of the emblematic sign of revitalisation, and
the political contextualisation of the show, even at the level of joking
about the bad maintenance of the campus, or hinting about national
subjugation of local actors by Habibie/Tabib, disappear.
The requirement to return to simple stories, similar to those regularly performed by traditional theatre and modern soap operas, pushed
aside the creative potential of the theatre cultivated by LAP. Although
the project had, from the beginning, functioned as a dream machine
concerning future fame and income, the actual requirements stipulated
for being a prosperous mass media entertainment form clashed with
deep-rooted sentiments about the project. The frustration the
members felt when confronting this situation was obvious. In the TV
situation the limits put on art became limitations on their creativity.
The separation of form and content also impeded the emphasis
that the group had placed on communication. What the members
considered one of their most important adaptations of traditional
theatre, the reworking of the stories to suit contemporary circumstances, was brushed aside. To participate in the national media became
a question of taking part in a ‘conversation’ restricted to presenting a
national world where all traditional and local expressions meet with-
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out conflict. What LAP experienced in this situation was a pressure
to conform to the style in which national identity is displayed in
public events such as TMII and national celebrations. In cultural performances on TV, in the national celebrations of independence, as
well as in TMII, presentation suppresses content.
The authenticity of the group was also questioned. After the broadcast, the producer was contacted by a senior, prominent Bandung artist
who questioned the name of the group. According to this source,
LAP had so distanced itself from traditional Longser it could no longer
claim this identity. As a consequence of this intervention the producer
suggested that LAP should change its name to something else.
To question the name of the group was a very serious assault since
many of the members felt this name to be their special icon; it gave
the group a specific identity. In concentrated form it reflected their
regional belonging, their style of performance and their aspirations
to revitalise a tradition and transform it into a national idiom. For
five years they had worked with the project of revitalising Longser and
suddenly the quality of this work was questioned. The name had been
part of their lives for a long time and carried deeper connotations
than a mere trademark.
The reason for the conflict about the name could be ascribed to
personal interests, that the Bandung artist felt envious of their success.
However, it is still significant that the conflict took the form of an
insinuation that the group does not reflect proper tradition and therefore may not call itself a Longser theatre. Only in a very specific context, where the aesthetics of tradition intertwine with politics, may
this accusation serve as an effective way to pressure a TV producer.
Then an accusation for not performing ‘proper’ tradition implies a suggestion that the performance has approached the dangerous area of
politics and does not any longer reproduce the correct relations between
local tradition and national identity advocated by the regime.
Important questions that guided my approach to LAP included:
How do the members in the project relate to the idea of a national
Indonesian identity and how do they conceive of their own role in
that discourse? Do they participate in the development of the nation,
or do they merely comply with a discourse controlled by others?
How do they formulate continuity and change? And how do they
situate themselves in these processes? These questions turned out to
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correspond well with topics that the members treated in their theatre
stories and in their discussions during the production of a performance. It seems that one of the intentions of the LAP project is to
formulate answers to questions like these.
Through the project they try to articulate their own predicament,
tell the story of themselves, and the story of their society as they
understand it. LAP performances stage the existential condition of
being young, middle-class students in Indonesia. At the same time
the project provides them with an opportunity to reflect on that
The members of LAP, through their performances, and the fact
that the project is realised inside ASTI, also take part in determining
the images of culture and identity present in Indonesian public
discourse. By converting personal observations into artistic images
and framing them within the project, their individual interpretations
are put into motion (among themselves and their audience) and
begin to take part in the creation of public meaning. Complementary
to the officially sanctioned understanding of discursive figures, their
interpretations of ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ and ‘nation’ become part of
people’s associations. This process does not determine the future of
the nation–state, but when it comes to the question of helping individuals to understand what it means to be Indonesian, their performances become important. The value lies not only in constructing a
congruent semantic network around the image of Indonesia, but also
in the fact that they contrive the meanings themselves. I draw this
conclusion from the fact that although the project is a commercial
enterprise the members emphasise their right to control the performances autonomously from both teachers at the academy and TV
producers. They want participation and creative freedom, not only economic benefits or recognition by the regime as a peak performance
of local culture (to be included in the national emblem in celebrations of Independence Day).
The predicament that the members of LAP experience and try to
stage is the experience of being in ‘transition’. This word is replete with
potential meanings for the members and they use them to signify their
situation. The statement that they form a group in transition captures
the vagueness of borders, the unpredictable character of life and performance; it hints at the uncontrollable in existence, and the feeling
of alienation from society and history.
At a seminar in ASTI on the future of LAP, a story was told by
Jacob Sumardjo:3 In a village there is a girl who is supposed to be
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married. Her parents decide on a suitable marriage for her but she
refuses. Since she cannot influence her parents’ decisions, she runs
away to town (which she secretly dreams of) and tries to find a job.
Trapped in the middle between a village in which she cannot live and
a town that she does not know she struggles to survive. As long as
this girl also exists in reality, LAP will continue to prosper since the
members articulate her situation in their project.
The story was highly valued by the members because it was
recognised as expressing the circumstances of LAP. Jacob Sumardjo
conveyed in his story the sense that their theatre is a theatre for a
society in transition, and the story exemplifies how the members
conceive of their own situation. In later interviews with one of the
leading actors, he confirmed that the group consciously works to create
a theatre which can occupy the position of being neither modern nor
traditional and thereby attract an audience that conceives of itself as
caught in between these concepts. Their theatre is thought to appeal
to people who do not feel at home in either traditional life or modern
society – the polarity that structures much thinking about Indonesian
history. The story of Jacob Sumardjo makes explicit the pivotal question of the LAP project: Who are we? And the answer is given in the
form of performances filled with people defined as being out of place
LAP members do not understand themselves as the carriers of
society (depicted in the basement of MONAS), or the builders of the
future (hoped for by Suharto), but as if they are caught in between
the two rhetorical tropes of Indonesian history: the modern city and
the rural, traditional village. The group ethos is that no one model is
altogether relevant or appropriate to their situation. (However, they
assume that such models are appropriate for other groups.) They
place themselves outside the categories of modern and traditional and
are therefore in transition. For example, they perceive of the group as a
tightly knit community, akrab, and yet, to cope with society, in need
of modern professionalism.
By revitalising tradition LAP approaches modernity and tradition,
but the harder they try to get a grip on the concepts the more elusive
they become. What they illustrate with their project and through their
performances is a life where the state promises a bright future in an
industrial, modern Indonesia, but one that is yet to come. Meanwhile
suggestive dreams and memories of a traditional past tease the imagination with their suggested security and harmony in a village where
everybody knows each other.4
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The members of LAP think of themselves as witnesses to a
development in which they do not take part. The world moves and
they collect bits and pieces of it which they knit together in their performances.5 The stance is similar to that of the middle class described
by Robison, which is just there, not taking part in any other sense
than as a sensor in a system.
Since the project is formulated as a revitalisation of tradition, it
becomes itself an object of the discourse of cultural identity, and by
using this process of objectification in a creative manner, the members
are able to obtain a reflective knowledge of self. Through the project
the members carve out a position within the discourse of cultural
identity as its interpreters, as in Deden’s explanation of his stories as
allegories, and as acknowledged artists at ASTI they have the privileged
position of exploring their experiences and creating cultural forms to
represent them. As such, LAP is a place where cultural identity and
social being are recaptured and substantiated.
1. This was, of course, not the only strategy used by the government to
control ethnic sympathies.
2. A more specific literature is developing to set out the proper relations
between national identity and local culture. For example, a serial of
booklets is produced by the Department of Education and Culture
called Form, Meaning and Function of the Peaks of the Old and
Refined Culture to their Societies: the Contribution of Regional
Culture to the National Culture (Wujud, Arti, dan Fungsi PuncakPuncak Kebudayaan Lama dan Asli bagi Masyarakat Pendukungnya:
Sumbangan Kebudayaan Daerah Terhadap Kebudayaan Nasional).
3. Historian Jacob Sumardjo has written extensively on Indonesian
theatre history.
4. Juliette Koning (1997) makes a similar observation of young people
who are living in between city life and the traditional village life.
5. It could be stated that this mood of ‘being in transition’ is a passing
condition related to the universal experience of younger generations.
As we know from Robison, in Indonesia the former generation of
students was ‘aggregated’ (to use Turner’s term) into society in a
new, elevated position. For the LAP students, though, that does not
seem to be a probable future. Unemployment is high and there is no
‘ritual expert’ (or social institution) mediating their aggregation into
society again. In Bandung there are also other groups of young people
who, in a much more self-assertive way, situate themselves inside the
(hi)story of Orde Baru. During the fieldwork a series of interviews
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was conducted with people involved in political student organisations.
These organisations definitely ascribe to themselves an active participation in the future history of Indonesia and they prepare for this
with a programme of kaderisasi (organisation building). People in these
groups were of a similar age to the members of LAP but acted and
related in a different way to the dominant tale of Indonesian society
as a success story. This observation indicates that the young middle
class consists of groups with different views on their role in society.
What may be concluded is that there are at least two images which
emphasise either alienation from or integration into historical processes.
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Positioned in the intersection between the private and the public,
Akademi Seni Tari Indonesia approximates the kind of institution
described by John Clark (1993) which strives to formalise local art
discourses and anchor general art history into a local context. Clark
is concerned with how the public exegesis of art is formalised and
standardised through national art exhibitions. He considers these
exhibitions as sites established to provide a pre-text, or authoritative
frame, for interpretation.1 The process of reviewing and the actual
realisation of the exhibitions make the art discourse accessible to a
wider audience and people gain access to a wider production of art
than that produced locally. However, at the same time this situation
sets norms for what is evaluated as ‘art’ and how art should be
interpreted. And even though many more have access to the arts, the
same process makes it possible for a few to decide the limits of the
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discourse. As Clark expresses it, ‘[t]he very creation of such sites for
authentication opens the discourse of interpretation in that it provides
more public and less personalized standards for the judgement of
works. But it also closes it since such institutionalisation is simultaneously the concentration of the power to make such judgements
determinative for a society in fewer hands’ (ibid.: 11).2 Clark’s definition of how ‘sites for authentication’ work applies to the functioning
of ASTI. The academy makes public an art discourse and provides
individuals such as Nalan and Saini, and small groups like Longser
Antar Pulau, with an opportunity to reflect on the borders which
circumscribe them. At the same time, this process tends to give a
privileged few the power to determine the criteria for evaluating art.
ASTI definitely takes part in producing an official exegesis of traditional
art, which in the words of Clark, works as an ‘interpretative code’ for
the public discourse.
In the Indonesian case it is important to note that this process is
intertwined with national cultural policies. LAP, Nalan and Saini display
the efforts of ‘creative personas’3 in their encounters with questions of
cultural identity. Although they have been ascribed certain roles in
the discourse of art, they struggle to transform the state-controlled
language used in the public discourse into relevant references for
their artistic work.
In Indonesian society there are certain sites such as art schools,
museums or theme parks which concentrate the political rhetoric,
the officially approved representations of culture and the approved
representations of collective identity. It follows that these places or
persons are seen to require government control. ASTI is one such
institution through which Orde Baru attempted to direct interpretations of cultural identity into the discourse of the performing arts.
But this strategy had a certain ambiguity for the power holders since
it brought out into the open the question of who was actually in
charge of official interpretations. ASTI tends to increase the number
of people engaged in the discourse by making the public aware of the
opportunity they have to ‘culturalize socio-political comment and
critique’ (Hooker and Howard 1993: 5). Foulcher has noted a
similar paradox in the field of literature:
Modern Indonesian literature, drama and film, along with
other expressions of national culture are constrained by
the context in which they are produced and consumed. Yet
the growing awareness of those constraints, which is visible
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in much contemporary Indonesian art, may paradoxically
lead to the full development of their oppositionist potential.
As the nation extends its areas of domination, so the number
of participants in an evolving Indonesian national culture
is ever increasing. Oppositionist cultural activity which is
firmly situated within the nation enters into contest with
the hegemony in shaping this cultural community, adding
to its pluralist character and contributing to its democratic
potential. (Foulcher 1990: 316)
In the same vein ASTI makes public the conditions and limits of
the art discourse. It produces a field of knowledge that defines ‘art’
as an object and a category, and it generates standards for how to
interpret this object. The people working at ASTI make visible and
enlarge the discourse on art by incorporating rituals and forms of
cultural expression into it, but they also set limits to the interpretations.
The academy fulfils the role of linking nationalism with local history,
art and culture but its work also makes it possible to pose the question:
what does art mean? This is a question to which there are no given
answers, but just to pose it puts art in a different position from that
of a ritual ‘tool’.
Saini’s slogan, ‘to preserve, develop, and present’ constitutes a
challenge to the academy, especially when it comes to presenting traditional performances. The curriculum includes occasional performances of traditional art and the teachers of ASTI incorporate elements
of regional art in their own productions, but there are no regular
performances of traditional, regional, or folk art at ASTI. ASTI’s
main activity, apart from teaching, is using traditional performances as
raw material to ‘update’ local arts and incorporate them into national
Traditional performances are staged in the theatres and at village
rituals, but Orde Baru developed additional stages for them. The public
space in which state rituals and national celebrations took place
functioned as an arena for the updated traditional arts. Sisingaan, for
example, is a performance present in several of these contexts. Sisingaan
is drawn into fields such as cultural performances, rituals and academic
exegesis where it represents divergent semantic clusters and fulfils
different functions. This is not to say that either of these practices or
interpretations is wrong or that they are necessarily mutually exclusive.
If we compare the situation of Sisingaan with the Wayang stories of
the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the proliferation of the figures from
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these stories into such different contexts as ritual events, art and comic
magazines only seems to strengthen their popularity and imbeddedness
in society (Sears 1996).
With Sisingaan the situation is a bit different, though, since in this
case the same kind of performance is staged in several contexts which
entail certain shifts of meaning. The transfer of Sisingaan from the
circumcision ritual to the Independence Parade recontextualises the
performance and enables a new interpretation of the phenomenon.
The case of Sisingaan is also interesting because it is part of ASTI
research and as such exemplifies two different ways of how new
meaning may be created, either through a new interpretation of an
old phenomenon (that is, the way Sisingaan is approached by Nanu
Munajar), or by being transferred from one context to another (as
happens when Sisingaan is performed during the parades celebrating
LAP constitutes a third way of creating new meaning. ASTI puts
certain constraints on its students concerning what they can formulate
and what discursive arenas may be entered for artistic exploration. The
LAP project and its members do not challenge this basic condition,
but they do challenge the interpretations and roles ascribed to the
participants in the permitted discourse. LAP is a project where all
three ‘legs’ of Saini’s slogan are present. The group has developed
Longser Antar Pulau from the image they have of the traditional,
original performance but have avoided a reification of the genre into a
sign of ethnicity or a cultural ‘peak performance’.
At the academy traditional art becomes a skill and an object of
reflection. In the first course of traditional art the students study the
ethnography of traditional performances and in the second they
practise this knowledge by staging performances created from their
observations. This is not exactly an invention of tradition but the
invention of tradition as an object.
The group brings with it into the project Nalan’s notion that
traditional and folk theatres are communicative and intimate performances. They are also influenced by Saini’s conviction of the
necessity for modern Indonesian theatre to take into account
traditional and regional symbolism. These ideas are primary matters
inside ASTI and the members apply them in the project. But instead
of transforming the performance of traditional Longser into an
emblem of ethnicity (which is what happens when Sisingaan is staged
outside the ritual context), they bring the project closer to Saini’s
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notion of theatre as a language medium for cross-ethnic communication on national issues. In the LAP project the notion of ethnicity
is subordinated to the idea of communication.
Their revitalisation does not anchor the performance in a local
community; the ‘imagined community’4 they have in mind is a
national Indonesian audience. Revitalisation, according to Nalan, is
to establish a close and intimate relationship between a performance
and the local community. However, in the case of LAP revitalisation
aims at a new audience, the Indonesian public, and it is according to
the preferences of this audience that they have to revitalise Longser.
The curriculum of ASTI on traditional art is slightly reformulated by
the group into a quest for national identity. Since they are taught
that they are part of national history, that they are Indonesians, it
becomes acute for them to understand what this means.
As with the aspirations of Herry Dimjati, related earlier, the
members of LAP will not take part in the creation of a national identity
by creating a peak performance of local culture that may be included
as Indonesian according to UUD ‘45. As I understand Dimjati and
LAP they want to participate actively in formulating the semantics of
Indonesia in accordance with their life experiences (which stretch the
question of identity far beyond the discursive field of art). They want
to create a sense of community by inviting people to take part in a
discussion on issues of national concern. Although they have chosen
art as their medium for this, they reject the limits put on that language
by the government.
During Orde Baru the specific configuration of national identity and
local culture was inscribed and practised in the public space by several
means. Through TMII and the national celebrations of independence
the idea of Indonesian identity was visualised and secured as a
structuring trope in the public discourse on national identity. The
Department of Education and Culture administered the concrete
remodelling of local performance, while intellectuals took part in
producing an exegesis of local traditions, framing them within a
national history. At the same time, Tradisi Baru mirrored these concerns on stage. Taken together these arrangements produced a compelling and well-defined discursive field on cultural identity, which
the performing arts had to take into consideration.
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Local cultures come to be ethnic and aesthetic signs (for the
Department of Education and Culture and in the national rhetoric),
forms of presentation and symbolic material (Tradisi Baru), national
resources of traditional values and local narratives (for the academic
seminars). To take the question of identity, cultural or other, outside
these borders into, for example, religion, class or regional sovereignty
demanded extraordinary courage.
Many of the events discussed above convey the feeling of attending
lectures on elementary semiotics rather than participating in spirited
feasts. In the case of Museum Indonesia, it is explicitly stated that the
museum is a didactic device. Regarding the Tari Kolosal, Kenduri
Nasional and other celebrations there were recommendations from
the national co-ordinators on which symbolic devices they preferred
and how the events were to be arranged. This meticulous organisation
indicates how important the government considered the task of
administering the meaning of public celebrations to be.
The images of Indonesia which have been presented in the previous chapters clearly touch upon questions of marginality and
centrality or ‘how people … might be in the process of being
persuaded of their marginality and what they might be coming to
imagine themselves to be marginal to’ (Keane 1997a: 38). In other
words, the centre of the world was twisted away from the local
community and re-established in Jakarta, or, in a more abstract
sense, Orde Baru.
This is obvious to the beholder of the Solonese wedding in
Museum Indonesia. The visitors are ‘persuaded’ that they are all equally
marginal to the centre of the nation. The focus of their attention is
shifted from local concerns to the national life of Indonesia. When they
approach the wedding reception they do not look at power from a
distant view (as when walking through an exhibition of royal regalia);
they are beholding themselves and are made aware of their marginal
position in the new nation – a marginality, though, which is shared
by many. The wedding display functions as a mirror which spellbinds
the eye of the visitor and forces a discovery of self from the perspective
of the central power. This twist makes the visitor aware of being not
an observer but observed and deprived of the right to self-definition.
The display demonstrates with clarity a set of differences emanating
from a process that Patricia Spyer has described as an education of the
perception of differences which ‘implies the fostering and even
enhancement of certain aspects of diversity that have come to stand
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in a pars pro toto fashion for culture (kebudayaan), tradition (tradisi)
or custom (adat)’ (Spyer 1996: 25, italics in original). In the process
of depoliticising identity, with its roots in the period of colonialism,
she continues: ‘Selected cultural forms and practices of indigenous
peoples throughout Indonesia come to be set apart from other aspects
of their daily life as ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ and ‘custom’’ (ibid.: 25– 26).
The Kenduri event, as well as the organisation of Independence Day,
were well attuned to expressing this kind of cultural diversity and
reembedding it in the idea of Indonesia.
The cultural parades at MONAS and in Bandung gave substance
to the ideas written into Repelita and UUD ‘45. The conglomeration
of cultural peaks from the regions is presented as the defining
characteristics of Indonesian identity. In the official presentations of
Indonesia, in the celebrations of national independence, at the
museums, in national monuments, in government documents, the
proper relations of national identity vis-à-vis regional traditions are
stated as a hierarchical encompassment of equally subordinated
cultural entities.
This ‘Indonesian’ symbology of power is a neat adaptation of how
Anderson (1990), Errington (1989), Geertz (1983: chapter 6),
Heine-Geldern (1942) and Moertono (1981) have described the
concept of power in the area. The public figure of Indonesia has
come to acquire a specific ‘discursive style’ (Keane 1997b: 40) which
retains the idea of the power holder as an omnipotent centre
including the task of redistribution, although adapting this image to
the political demands of the contemporary nation–state for fixed
borders and equal subjects. Power is not supposed to emanate from
‘the people’, but from the centre. The people are considered a
floating mass (massa lepas) to be controlled and called upon (Hefner
1990: 243; Ramage 1995: 29). As Antlöv has aptly put it, ‘National
celebrations and national elections have the same ultimate aim: to
advertise the locus of power’ (1995: 197).
In conjunction with the domination of individuals by juridical and
military forces, Orde Baru tried to take control of, and create, a
discursive space in which statements on collective identity were made.
Culture and art (as opposed to politics) became this arena (or discursive
field) in which it was possible to state politically correct visions of
national identity and history. With a strategy of ‘culturalisation’ and
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‘folklorisation’ of identity, the government not only accommodated
differences but actually produced them. The New Order was a pluralistic state which developed and created its own specific style of plurality,
a plurality which it later fed upon by acting as its benevolent protector
(as in the case of Tayuban art described in Chapter 3). The state was
disembedding certain symbols of ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ from which
were created autonomous, standardised and decontextualised representations of collectives.
The ‘prescriptions’ that emanated from the central government on
how to develop ‘cultural’ differences and the local response to this
strategy have been documented by Acciaioli (1985), Bowen (1986),
Hatley (1993), Kahn (1993) and Rodgers (1991). They argue that
during the last decades the concept of culture in Indonesia has gone
through a process of aesthetisation, stylisation, relativisation and
standardisation. Differences have become prescribed and restricted
to certain domains of ‘culture’ and must be represented by specific
signs, foremost those of art and aesthetics. This is not a harmless
exercise in semantic associations but a strategy of domination. Cultural
identity is, as we have seen, disembedded from specific local circumstances, made into an entity regulated by the state, and re-embedded
in a discourse of national development.
In the effort to create a new ‘imagined community’, or at least a
unifying image for Indonesia, the government policies on national
identity concentrated on ‘culture’. This discourse was compelled to
move inside a specific set of denominators (local culture, tradition, art
and aesthetic representations) and the administration of these concepts
defined the limits of the discourse.
It is striking how often the slogan of ‘unity in diversity’ is cultivated
and employed in Indonesian political rhetoric. In the lists of adat laws,
the inventories of ethnic arts, maps of ethnic groups, the museums
and political parades diversity is established as a self-evident fact.
Beneath this diversity, a shared unity is supposed to exist. This ‘subconscious’ union is referred to in the catalogue of Museum Indonesia
as well as in Repelita.
At a third level, which we may term a national reflexive discourse,
apparent diversity is once again united, this time in the figure of
Indonesia. National unity has its emblematic representation in the
Garuda bird with the national device of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity
in diversity) in its claws.
There exist, of course, prosaic reasons for encouraging the processes
of culturalisation, standardisation, commodification, fragmentation
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and aesthetisation of identity and tradition. One is to attract international capital in the form of tourism. However, this process, intentional or not, also creates a discursive space in which it is possible to
act as a political subject. Cultural identity is approved of as an idiom
in which one is allowed to claim a place in the nation – as long as this
is expressed through the authorised aesthetic signs.
Still, there was an ambiguity detectable in the strategy of building
national identity on local cultures. Hidden in the government policies
concerning local culture was a fear of the potential danger of antinational sentiments causing regional upsurges. In the documents
there are warnings against anti-development values, feudalism, regional
narrow-minded thinking or backwardness which are thought to be
dormant in regional cultures. The revitalisation of cultural values and
aesthetics was not a question of regional self-determination, or opening
up of alternative roads to development. The government promoted
cultural revitalisation was a careful nourishment of ethnic sentiments
and representations to keep culture firmly inside the realm of aesthetic
Those who had to cope with these policies naturally often felt
uncertain about their own value as acting subjects and their right to
create their own history. The role that local culture played in national
development provided an appreciated recognition for regional history
but left no room to express the complexity of life experienced by
people in their daily lives. Comparing the performing arts in the public
space (that is, in the cultural parades) with the performing arts in social
praxis there is an obvious discrepancy between what the performances
denote. These differences in meaning between representation and
praxis illuminate the problems inherent in comparing different expressions of identity such as, for instance, exhibitions of culture, with the
enactment of dances during a circumcision ritual. They both refer to
ideas of identity but present them in different modes.
In short, the question remains of how symbols of identity are
constructed to make them accepted as legitimate representations. It
seems as if most people are able to grasp and accommodate not only
ambiguous experiences but also conflicting modes of representing
their own identity. Despite the explicit political manipulation of the
signs and representations of identity, there is no doubt that for many
the official images of identity in Indonesia have become part of (or to
some extent reflect) the meaning of ‘being local’. Pemberton even goes
so far as to say that ‘[v]illagers seem to want to locate representative
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customs on an ever-extending “Beautiful Indonesia” cultural mapping’
(Pemberton 1994: 12, italics in original). Cultural and ethnic identity
are repeatedly invoked in casual discussions far removed from national
politics to characterise group identification. Even though the degree
of penetration of the national rhetoric varies greatly over the archipelago, the official representations of local identity seem to be
present in most societies in Indonesia.5 These icons are used to some
extent by local figures as accurate signs of regional identity. The
performing arts as well as other prescribed signs of ethnicity are
referred to as examples of local identity, not only by government
officials but by others as well.6 In cafés, in everyday conversations,
and in interviews with artists, political images of culture and tradition
are invoked by people trying to explain the Indonesian situation.
But exactly how then, are representations of ‘tradition’ approached
and appropriated? How do individuals, or groups, accommodate the
ideology of cultural identity, as the broader discursive field may be
termed which encompasses the presentation of the wedding in the
museum as well as ASTI and the LAP project? Can this discourse be
personal, meaningful and relevant?
As demonstrated in this work, the Indonesian government during
Orde Baru designated certain discursive fields as appropriate for
negotiating questions of identity. One of these was the performing
arts, which have served as a battlefield for notions of national and
cultural identity since the turn of the century. The areas open for
debate, though, were subordinated to the directives of SARA which
imposed limits on all discourses on development and national identity.
Even the field of the performing arts was closed for discussions on
cultural identity in certain directions. There were hardly any performances or public debates which suggested that inequalities were created
by the present economic and political system. If mentioned, such
inequalities were considered leftovers from the colonial period. Ethnic
domination in political or economic systems and religious self-determination were likewise issues which could not be addressed in the
discourse on culture and art.7
The history of LAP is the story of a group of people striving to
participate in Indonesian nation-building and of their efforts to
incorporate both national and regional concerns into that identity.
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However, it is also a story of how difficult it is to conceive of oneself
as an Indonesian citizen.
LAP constitutes a kind of prism through which the members can
relate to Indonesian history. Through the revitalisation of Longser
they knit together the village of Ateng Jafar, and a regional institution,
ASTI, with the cultural politics in which Indonesian national identity
is formulated.
To revitalise a traditional performance and present it in the national
language complied with the ideological structure proposed by the
government concerning Indonesia and its regional cultures; local
culture is placed inside the history of Indonesia. To stage a traditional
performance in Bahasa Indonesia and not in the local language entails
an understanding of the performance as something which is grounded
in local circumstances but which has broader relevance in the development of the Indonesian nation.
The advantage of being recognised as a traditional theatre and of
keeping to the form prescribed for revitalisation is that it gives certain
legitimacy. As long as the genre is recognised as traditional performance, which, according to national norms, means that it is
primarily concerned with aesthetics, it complies with the artistic
standards expected from students of ASTI. However, in the case of
LAP the reproduction of political ideology concerning cultural
identity also implies innovation. The traditional form is not emptied
but filled with a language which in its signifying capacity could be
subversive, and this was the problem for the TV company. In this
sense the cultural politics of Orde Baru had a double edge. Although
the government intended these policies to control conflicts and
prevent them from being expressed in political terms, they could also
be used by LAP to give their artistic creativity a political significance.
The project distanced itself from the official view of ‘tradition’ by
offering a slightly different meaning of the concept. When asked about
what constitutes the ‘traditional’ part of the performance, members
emphasise the art of improvisation, the freedom from a script and the
simple staging. This lack of formality was thought to allow for fantasy
and imagination in the performance and to leave room for, or even
demand, personal creativity from the actor as well as the spectator. The
group members understand their use of tradition as a way of making
use of, or more appropriately, revitalising, the creative force inherent in
tradition. Tradition is said to be baku, a standard or form, handed down
through the generations and which can be used in artistic expression.
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In ASTI, two images of tradition compete with each other. The
official view of tradition as enshrining cultural values in an aesthetic
form (ethnicity becomes a colourful accent in an Indonesian nation)
meets with the notion held by LAP, that tradition is a method of
performance, articulation and communication. These two different
approaches to tradition are also exemplified by LAP and the local
government in their relation to traditional Longser. The treatment of
Longser Panca Warna by the local government illustrates their desire
to manipulate and control local cultural expressions. The performances of Longser are restrained both in content and form in a way
that will eventually lead to their extinction as part of the everyday
reality of the villages. The performances become dependent on
government subsidies and are converted into a display of ‘tradition’.
The alternative approach of LAP makes a creative artistic idiom
available to the members, and from a position at the centre of the
official discourse on culture and art a certain freedom of expression is
achieved. For LAP ‘tradition’ is not an aesthetic sign of cultural heritage, or a vessel of traditional morality from which certain values are
singled out for promotion, but a medium for communication and a
style of presentation that provides room for imagination. The turn to
tradition in this case does not result in an aesthetic commodification
of the performance but in the invocation of a creative capacity. For
the members of LAP ‘tradition’ constitutes a means to formulate
paradoxes, feelings and values (not the values as such). Their revitalisation aims to create a vital public language, capable of addressing
an Indonesian audience.
By means of the establishment of a close relationship between the
performance and an audience which is imagined as Indonesian, the
theatre is traditionalised as well as revitalised, in Nalan’s terms. It
revitalises the important strand in traditional theatre of being in close
communication with the everyday experience of the audience. The
idea of LAP is that the preferences, experiences and social context of
their audience have undergone radical change and they seek to
formulate the new experience, which they imagine to be inter-ethnic
and inter-geographical, something that is Indonesian.
The members of LAP conceive of themselves as a group in between
the concepts of tradition and modernity, and they maintain a certain
distance to both. The important feature of LAP is that it is neither a
local nor a national phenomenon. They have references to both the
national and the local arenas: the language, the artistic policy and the
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stories that LAP presents connect the local and the national. Tradition
and modernity, local and national are concepts which become visible,
meaningful and contestable to the members through the realisation
of the project. In a sense the ideas of modernity, tradition and cultural
identity are transformed through the project, from ideology into
experience, since in LAP the concepts can become formative for the
individual lives of the members and integrated into personal experience. ‘Modern and traditional’, ‘national and local’ become the hub
of conflicts such as when Wawan questions the group’s organisation,
which results in a polemic about the project seen as either a modern,
professional and economic enterprise or a traditional, horizontally
organised theatre. Personal life is also related to these concepts through
the project, such as when Dadang Lurah takes LAP as a pretext to
explore his own traditions, or when Deden relates the specific character
of LAP, as neither modern nor traditional, to the story of his own family.
The traditional structure of the performance serves as a model for
LAP, but the members embody it with stories that are of a type quite
different from those of the traditional performances. The leading artistic
idea of LAP is that members should formulate and stage observations
they make of their society. The stories should mirror contemporary
social conditions in some way and be grounded in personal observations. These stories are objects for reflection for both the audience
and the members of the project. Not all, but a significant proportion
of them, are allegories. The allegorical qualities of the stories and the
choice of language (Bahasa Indonesia) are explained by members to
appeal to a national audience. The themes are meant to have universal
potential and to be open to different interpretations depending on the
position of the individual spectator. Therefore they are not as dependent on context as the traditional stories.
The way the stories are acted out in the performances expresses a
certain degree of political criticism and a critical awareness of political
institutions such as ABRI (the military forces), the police and the
government (the state). The performances ridicule these institutions,
just as they ridicule the local and the traditional, like the Baduy man
in Operasi Plastik or the silly village girls in Modelling.
Through theatrical performances images of Indonesia appear which
do not fit easily with the official ideology of development. The Indonesia that appears, including traditional figures, gods, ordinary people
and superheroes, is fragmented, loosely integrated, often an illusion
and always elusive. The plays open up the discourse on Indonesia by
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asking the simple but, to the actors, important question: if contemporary Indonesia is constructed out of a variety of cultural traditions,
what does the outcome look like? The problem is not to accept the
statement that Indonesia is a multicultural society but to understand
what that statement actually means.
The responsibility of the artist in relation to local art, according to
the development plans, is to foster values positive to development
and to stress the aesthetic qualities of traditional art. This instrumentalist task imposed on the artists is challenged by LAP when they urge
the audience to (re-)capture the right to creativity. The ‘ideology’ of
‘free interpretation’ and ‘necessity of imagination’ which is systematically promoted by the group entails an acceptance of multiple perspectives. The interpretations of others may be (are) as valid as their own.
LAP explores the borders between personal and collective identity
but also between reality and fiction. A point that is worth consideration is the questioning of public images which is built into the
performances (as in Interview Alladin). Since we know that the performances are meant to build on and reflect observations on the part
of the actors, we can conclude that the diffuse border between the
imagined and the real presented on the stage, the relativisation of the
world and the importance of interpretation are in some way crucial
experiences in the life of the members. The members make observations
of a world that does not fit with the ideological concepts available.
However, instead of presenting a coherent alternative interpretation
of the world, they draw the conclusion that understanding has to be
constructed out of individual experience. In a broad sense the LAP
project suggests that the world, as it appears to the members, lacks
an interpretative frame. Each individual, actor and spectator has to
create personal interpretations not only of the theatre performance
but of the society it depicts as well.8 If this suggestion is recognised
as valid, it is not a mere luxury to reclaim artistic imagination and
creativity; it becomes a strategy for survival, since meaning and interpretation have to be produced over and over again to make the world
intelligible. The magician in Interview Alladin says, ‘Believe it or not,
it’s up to you’.
One could make the argument simple and evaluate one type of
cultural performance (that is the local LAP, for example ) as more representative of lived experiences than official representations of cultural
identity. To treat the latter as merely distortions of lived reality would
be logical were it not for the fact that official ways of presenting
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tradition and identity are often accepted as legitimate and accurate
representations even by the members of LAP. The images produced
by the state are used not only as a rhetorical device by the government but also by ASTI scholars such as Nalan and Saini as well as by
informed locals writing their own history, for example, Atik Soepandi
and Enoch Atmadibrata (Soepandi and Atmadibrata 1977). The
national representations of ‘tradition’ are often invoked as an authoritative frame in discussions about nationalism among students, teachers
and other people. In some contexts, especially verbal communication,
the ‘misrecognition of tradition’ presented in the national context is
accepted as a legitimate representation of identity. People refer to
their ethnic identity as a minor element, a kind of aesthetic accent in
the national, encompassing identity.
In other contexts the same representations are disputed, as in the
performances of Operasi Plastik, which questions the development of
tradition in general, and in Interview Alladin, which questions the
very notion of Indonesia.
A difference between these ways of approaching questions of
identity lies in the fact that LAP works with other strategies than ASTI
and Orde Baru to validate their interpretations. The latter two are
building a semantically coherent and ordered discourse of internal
logic, while the strategy of LAP is more akin to the shaman practises
that Jean Comaroff describes when she writes, ‘they [the shamans]
draw on charismatic creativity to heal breaches in everyday experience,
working innovatively with signs and practices to appropriate the powers
that oppress them’ (1994: 309). Exchange the word ‘charismatic’ for
‘artistic’ and the quotation is an apt description of LAP. As playful
shamans (or clowns) they conjure up a loosely integrated drama for
the audience. The figures and situations are vaguely familiar in the
Indonesian context and the political language of Orde Baru, but to
understand the play an active personal interpretation is necessary.
The reconfiguration of meaning conducted by LAP, in which notions
of tradition, nation and culture are related to specific events, constitutes
a process in which the content of the discourse on collective identity
is matched by personal observations (experience) – a process which
does not necessarily lead to coherence and semantic congruence.
The project members do not form a community from birth.
Therefore, to build a sense of solidarity they work in an innovative
way with the signs and symbols at their disposal. They are not given,
as in a religious community, or culturally close-knit societies, a frame
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of authoritative reference with which to interpret social events. Given
the liminoid character of the project, LAP offers its members an
arena in which they can make a rather unprejudiced approach to a
multitude of social events, symbols and meanings. As such, the LAP
project highlights the efforts of a group of young people to situate
themselves in a meaningful social world.
This playful engagement of LAP with the discourse of identity
emerges when they decide to make ‘reflection’ and ‘interpretation’
the crucial tenets of the project. The faculties of reflexivity and interpretation are put to systematic use from the moment one of the
members observes a phenomenon suitable for a performance, through
the informal discussions (ngobrol), until the final interpretation by
the audience. Although operating in a tightly controlled discursive
field they make use of the liminoid freedom that is granted art in
modern society. LAP is not obliged by a ritual order to offer any
interpretations to their actions or to take into consideration a phase
of aggregation. The group can play with dilemmas and paradoxes
and, just by leaving them open for interpretation, challenge the
established references in the discourse.
The Orde Baru regime took great care in controlling the interpretations of significant themes in the public discourse. The aim was
not only to direct attention away from domains regarded as sensitive
(by regulations such as SARA) but also to firmly control the meaning of representations of identity in the public space. To question these
interpretations was not feasible and LAP opted for another strategy.
To make sense of the LAP performance each individual (actor as well
as members of the audience) has to reach into their own experiences
and opinions to evaluate the actions on stage. According to individual
preferences each person can try out, or experiment, with different
interpretations. It is not specific interpretations or shows that LAP
stages that are subversive but their liminoid quality, and this is, of
course, much more difficult to prohibit or ban by any regime. In my
interpretation of LAP, it is their transformation of a traditional
theatre into a liminoid performance that was problematic for the
regime to handle. There were no specific statements in the performance which the regime could ban or charge as illegal, yet LAP
still managed to create a show that side-stepped public semantics. The
only way for the regime to counteract the project was to deny it
access to public space, as was done when the group refused to alter
their show to suit the demands of the TV producer.
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Tracing ‘cultural politics’ we have taken the route from LAP to
ritual embellishment and entertainment, hence to ‘art’ in ASTI
research, education and seminars, and to national signs of identity in
Repelita, the Department for Education and Culture, Kenduri, TMII
and TIM. Thus, with the example of LAP we can conclude that it
was possible to substantiate the discourse of culture in Indonesia and
give it individual reference. What was impossible was to voice public
criticism of the cultural policy from any other point of view than the
aesthetic. Any attempt to do so was silenced. To relate cultural identity,
ethnicity and national identity to economic structures or ethnic hierarchies was doomed to be muted. The limit for LAP was that their
voices, their opinions and feelings were not allowed into the national
discourse – it was only on the regional level that they might appear.
The ideology of cultural identity in Indonesia worked with concepts
of regional identity, but in a national context there was no way of
relating the two concepts of identity, national and local, except as
aesthetic signs void of any existential meaning.
This discussion leads to the somewhat surprising conclusion that
Indonesia, as an imagined community which has relevance to individual life, was felt and expressed most strongly in the local discourse.
The ideological structure of ‘culture–tradition–nation’ could only be
filled with meaningful content at the regional level. It was safer and
more meaningful to talk about Indonesia in a regional context and to
local audiences than in the national mass media or at political
national events. On the regional stage the performances of LAP carry
the multiconnotative message which Deden heralds, and urge the
audience to ponder questions of cultural identity and national development. ‘Indonesia’ and ‘local culture’ carried meaningful content only
when LAP performances were staged in Bandung and the vicinity,
because here national images and local conditions were open to be
explored and ‘debated’. These performances were contextualised
with references to social problems of general interest as well as local
events and situations. In short, they functioned as meaningful social
communication. In Bandung LAP could easily use the genre (and
name) of a traditional type of theatre to establish their local connection
and commitment to regional culture. From this position they commented on national events by evoking stories of national interest, and
established their national character by using Bahasa Indonesia and
the programme of revitalisation. Both possibilities, of local affinity
and national identity, were challenged in the TV studio. Their concerns
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with national political discourses (including issues of social justice and
welfare) as well as their commitment to local tradition were silenced.
This instance, when LAP was censored by a commercial TV company, is one example of a missed opportunity for modern Indonesian
society to carry a vibrant and sincere (not to say necessary) local discussion of identity into a national medium.
In June 2000 I had the opportunity to make a short return visit to
Bandung and meet with the group again. At this time Orde Baru was
replaced by a regime elected in what is by and large considered open
and fair elections. The president, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), is
the former leader of Nahdlatul Ulama which is the largest organisation
of Islamic teachers on Java, and many Muslims regard the contemporary political situation in Indonesia as an opportunity to ascertain
themselves a greater influence in national politics.
Here I shall just briefly summarize the main impression that I gained
during my visit. The description is based on informal discussions with
members of LAP and independent artists in Bandung. Even though
these notes are very raw, they may be of interest for comparison with
similar observations from other parts of Indonesia (eventually developing some kind of pattern of conditions for art production in contemporary Indonesia).
My main impression was that the production of art was growing.
The ASTI institution has, according to Saini, received a larger part of
the national budget than before and a lot of work was going on
inside the school. However, talking to artists who have ambitions
that their art will be a kind of commentary on political and social
conditions, it turned out that they felt it had become more difficult
to reach out and that their art instead of being more ‘political’ had
tended to become more popular or ‘aesthetic’.
This change was particularly explicit in the LAP group. After 1997
there has only been one newly created performance by LAP. Apart
from this play, they have ‘recycled’ old stories with minor alterations.
Instead of using the new freedom of speech and absence of explicit
censorship to become ‘truly’ political (which one could have expected
them to become, considering that the basis for the whole project was
a commitment to relate their performances to political and social
conditions of contemporary Indonesia), they themselves recognised
their plays as becoming more populist. This change cannot be due to
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commercial explanations since they do not earn any substantial
amount of money from their performances. The reason given by the
information I got during interviews, rehearsals and conversations, was
a kind of writer’s cramp. The ‘golden opportunity’ that the fall of
Suharto constituted to the group may have created a sort of performance anxiety, but since the group is not dependent on a single individual to create new performances, the ‘writer’s cramp syndrome’
did not seem to be a satisfactory explanation to account for the loss
of energy in the group.
As it turned out, one word recurred in all conversations with
artists (inside LAP and outside) and that is bingung (confused).
The artists perceived SARA issues to be even more sensitive to put
on stage today than before, especially, of course, ethnic and religious
issues. They were reluctant to touch upon the issues and their confusion made them turn to populism. The play that they planned to
stage as a promotion play or showpiece for the TV companies in
Bandung is called East Meet West and focuses on the monetary crisis,
which may sound political but the play’s central theme, pitting the
Indonesian rupiah against the American dollar, rather sidesteps domestic
political problems.
The turn to the TV medium forces them – at least this is their
interpretation of the situation – to create more popular stories. In
the year 2000 the situation is different from 1997. What the explicit
pressure failed to do in 1997 (i.e. to change the performance into a
more populist fashion) has happened without force in the year of
reformasi, democracy and openness.
This state of uncertainty reflects the Indonesian dilemma as it is
felt by LAP. Indonesian identity is up for grabs again and LAP has to
reformulate its artistic language. The old enemy, Orde Baru, has fallen
and the new power structures are unpredictable and obscure. LAP
does not know in what direction to aim its criticism and the consequences are unpredictable. The political ambiguity of being middleclass artists and the well ordered discourse on identity have vanished,
leaving LAP with a vocabulary of performance void of political significance. On the other hand, there is a momentum in which new actors
are emerging on the political scene (religious groups, democracy movements, human rights movements, labour unions, etc.), whose criticisms
were subdued or marginalised in the discourse of Orde Baru. LAP
also left many of these issues out of their performances and they now
need to find a way to incorporate the new power relationship between
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religious movements, the state, democracy movements, human rights
groups and labour unions into their artistic language.
1. ‘Interpretative code’ (ibid.: 2).
2. In his article Clark treats the difficulties Asian art has faced in
becoming recognised as art. By the term ‘authentication’ he simply
means the effort to assert that the works of Asian artists are original
works of art and not mere plagiarism or reproductions of Western art.
3. The term ‘creative personas’ is borrowed from Edward Bruner (1993).
Persona is the outward appearance, the ascribed role, which contrasts
with personal and individual desires. The distinction is similar to that
between individual and culture. The ‘creative persona’ then, denotes
a role which is not static but engages critically with the powers that
construct it.
4. The term ‘imagined community’ is borrowed from Benedict Anderson
(1983) with no other intention than to use it as an appropriate term
to illustrate the notions LAP have about their audience.
5. See, for example, Bowen (1986), Errington and Gewertz (1996), Kahn
(1993), Keane (1997a, 1997b), Picard (1990), Spyer (1996) and
Warren (1990) for examples of how political images of cultural traditions are making their presence in contexts outside Java.
6. One example of local intellectuals constructing Minangkabau ethnic
markers is given by Kahn (1993).
7. Exceptions existed, of course, as in the play Pak Kanjeng (Samson
1994) and the play about the murdered labour-activist Marsinah (A.
Wright 1998). These performances have, however, met with almost
insurmountable difficulties and censorship. Bodden (1997b) also gives
examples of theatres which manage to circumvent these restrictions.
8. This, of course, does not exclude the possibility that interpretations
may be shared and agreed upon.
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cross-ethnic 167. See also ethnic,
inter-ethnic and multiethnic
cultural performances 3–5, 8 n. 2,
14–17, 32, 35–36, 42, 44, 54,
78, 155, 157–158, 165. See also
traditional performances
revitalisation 6–8, 58, 171
akrab 116, 121–124, 134 n. 3, 160
Alisjahbana, Takdir 20, 22, 24
allegories 124, 126, 161, 175
art history 21, 30 n. 8, 163
Baduy 175
Bangsawan 70–71, 73–74, 88 n. 17
and n. 19, 106, 114 n. 11
discursive figures 7, 159
space 169, 171
diversity 10–11, 19, 33–36, 45, 52,
drama 2, 5, 7, 8 n. 2, 17, 27, 52,
61, 63, 70, 73–74, 88 n. 17,
107, 164, 177
circumcision 16, 36, 61, 78–79,
83–85, 89 n. 31, 98, 166, 171
class 10, 14, 19, 29, 68, 129–130,
135 n. 9, 154–155, 168. See
also middle class
clowning 82, 97
colonisation 75–76
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Dutch 40, 46, 72, 84–85, 88 n. 20,
economy 25, 43, 54, 65, 130
empowerment 9, 12
entertainment 6, 15, 17, 36, 45,
66, 71, 77, 179
and circumcision 78–79, 87 n. 12
commercial 73–74
cultural 42–43
and Longser 94, 97, 122, 144–
145, 154, 157
secular 63–64
ethnic 14, 19, 22, 34, 49, 92, 126,
135 n. 9, 161 n. 1, 168, 170–
171, 179, 182 n. 6. See also
cross-ethnic, inter-ethnic, and
identity 17, 29 n. 4, 42, 66, 154,
172, 104–105
as treated in ASTI 52, 62,
64, 66, 68, 70, 85, 88 n.
politics 46–47, 154–155, 181
rights 10, 12
fertility rituals 97
five-year plans 15, 25–26, 53, 131
Gamelan 2, 33–35, 51–52, 56, 60,
99, 126, 141
Golkar 156
Great Debate 18–19
Guided Democracy 18
identity politics 9, 30 n. 4
improvisation 94, 100, 102–103,
113 n. 6, 129, 138, 148, 173
indigenous peoples 10, 12, 169
Indonesian identity 18, 22, 26, 47,
68, 73, 76–77, 104, 158, 167,
169, 181
Indosiar 98, 118, 153, 156–157
inter-ethnic 74–76, 174. See also
cross-ethnic, ethnic and
Japanese occupation 40, 72, 77, 97
Kayam, Umar 21
kayon 33
kebudayaan 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, 25,
27, 86 n. 2, 161 n. 2, 169
kenduri 36–39, 49 n. 5, 168–169,
kesenian 13, 27, 47, 49 n. 7, 76
Kethoprak 65, 86 n. 8
Ketuk Tilu 97, 145
Kuda Renggong 16–17
LEKRA 21–23, 30 n. 9
Lenong 86 n. 8
life-cycle rituals 16
liminoid 5–6, 124, 178
local culture 2, 8, 116, 127, 159,
161 n. 2, 167–168, 170–171,
173, 179
at ASTI 53, 55–56, 66, 76–77
in policy plans 14–15, 26–29
in public spaces 44–45, 47–48
local traditions 7, 13, 15, 18–20,
29, 31, 45, 47, 55, 65, 96, 98,
158, 167, 180
at ASTI 57–58
and LAP 116–117
values 28, 55
Lubis, Mochtar 4, 22–23, 30 n. 10
Ludruk 86 n. 8
Magsaysay 22
Mahabharata 16, 51, 80, 165
Manikebu 21, 30 n. 9
mass media 7, 45, 122–123, 157,
middle class 4, 16, 43, 52, 128–
134, 135 n. 9 and 10, 154,
159, 161–162
01_Hellman_book.fm Page 197 Monday, August 11, 2003 5:25 PM
modernity 4, 86, 93, 104, 108,
116, 118, 123, 125–126, 133,
160, 174–175
and the Great Debate 20
problematized in performances
57–58, 68
MONAS 36, 38–39, 41, 129, 131–
132, 160, 169
multicultural 10, 14, 35, 39, 176
multiethnic 75. See also cross-ethnic,
ethnic and inter-ethnic
museum 14–15, 28, 32–37, 49 n.
4, 55, 132, 164, 168–170, 172
Museum Indonesia 32–33, 35–37,
168, 170
Muslim 18, 23, 49 n. 5, 82–83, 92,
110, 127, 154, 180
national constitution 15, 18
national culture 7, 15, 18, 21, 26–
27, 47–48, 52, 56, 96, 161 n. 2
nationalism 15, 21, 42, 47, 53, 68,
70, 72, 74, 77, 85–86, 100,
104, 106, 133, 165, 177
nation-building 53, 86, 172
oncor 99–100, 104, 141
Pane, Sanusi 20, 40, 72, 74, 77, 97
pembangunan 23–26, 135 n. 7
Pemuda 40, 131–132, 135 n. 8
and 9
Pencak Silat 80, 82, 97
Polemik Kebudajaan 19, 22, 24, 30
n. 7
political participation 10
Pram. See Toer
Ramayana 2–3, 33, 80, 88 n. 20,
rehearsal 51–52, 95, 102, 118,
122, 133, 137–140, 181
religion 10, 14, 19, 28, 154, 168
Repelita. See five-year plans
Sandiwara 67, 127
Sandiwara Masres 64–66, 87 n. 13
Sisingaan 16–17, 59, 78–79, 81,
84–86, 165–166
slametan 37–38, 49 n. 5
state ritual 16, 165
Suharto 4, 13, 16, 23, 25, 31–32,
37, 48, 49 n. 2, 50 n. 7, 131,
145, 155, 160, 181
Sukarno 18, 21, 30 n. 10, 37, 47,
49 n. 6, 53, 73, 77, 92
Sumpah Pemuda 40
Taman Ismail Marzuki, TIM 48–
49, 179
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah,
TMII 18, 31–32, 35, 37, 47,
98, 158, 167, 179
Tayuban 45–46, 50 n. 12, 170
Indonesian 47–49, 68, 70, 72–76,
86 n. 3, 87 n. 15 and 17, 88 n.
18, 106, 126, 161 n. 3, 166
modern 17, 49, 70, 75, 88 n. 17,
102, 116, 126
nationalist 74, 106
student 128–129
traditional 18, 53, 55, 57–68, 73,
75, 77, 86 n. 3, 87 n. 12 and
13, 88 n. 17, 94, 96, 98, 100,
102–104, 106, 116–117, 127,
129, 157, 173–174, 178
trans-ethnic 70
Toer, Pramoedya Ananta (Pram)
22, 30 n. 10
Tradisi Baru 48–49, 126, 167–168
traditional peformances 15, 29, 40,
55, 85, 176, 182 n. 5
trance 43, 78, 80, 82–83
01_Hellman_book.fm Page 198 Monday, August 11, 2003 5:25 PM
Performing the Nation
transition 54, 88 n. 17, 98, 141,
159–160, 161 n. 5
Utomo, Budi 40, 131
Uyeg theatre 62–64
Wayang 33–35, 67, 165
Kulit 16, 48, 147
Wong 16
wedding 16, 33–36, 61, 168, 172
Wijaya, Putu 48, 126
The Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS)
is funded by the governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland,
Norway and Sweden via the Nordic Council of Ministers, and
works to encourage and support Asian studies in the Nordic
countries. In so doing, NIAS has been publishing books since
1969, with more than one hundred titles produced in
the last ten years.
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