AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 448

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Session 448: Performing the Nation: Revolution, Suppression, and Reconciliation in Indonesia - Sponsored by Indonesia and East Timor Studies Committee

Organizer: Laurie Margot Ross, Cornell University, USA

Discussant: Rachel Cooper, Asia Society, USA

The trope of nationalism may serve a variety of strategies in the context of performance. It can mobilize artists and their communities, enforce government-imposed sanctions, or resolve religious conflict. It can, furthermore, expand or restrict creativity and promote or suppress critical thinking. The politization of Indonesian performance is traceable to the colonial era. It gained momentum under Sukarno, who used village arts to promote leftist ideology domestically and abroad. Art ventures continued under Soeharto, fueled by his nationalist vision of economic and political stability and cultural difference, while suppressing critiques of his regime. In post-reformasi performance, the expression of nationalism has an explicit self-determination. This panel examines the role human agency plays in performing those narratives birthed by artists as a vehicle for change, as well as those that were externally imposed for propagandistic purposes. Specifically, the papers examine newly discovered pre-Independence protest songs from the Netherlands East Indies; efforts to recruit West Javanese itinerant performers to nationalist and communist organizations during Guided Democracy and their suppression immediately after Soeharto’s 1965 coup; and how national identity is being imagined since 1998, wherein a return to local themes, bolstered by new technologies and freedoms, have found a global audience with international ramifications. Thus, both the social networking skills of contemporary Javanese theatre practitioners and the West Papuan appropriation of will.i.am’s hip-hop version of an Obama speech, are unfiltered expressions of communal belonging on the international stage.

Songs as a Weapon Against Dutch Colonial Rule in the Netherlands East Indies, 1920s-1940s: Revolutionary Songs Complied by Harry Poeze
Harry A. Poeze, KITLV, Netherlands

Political songs and singing in Indonesia were introduced with the formation of modern political organizations. Initially, socialist and communist groups employed such means for propagandizing, inspired by the Dutch example. In this way, in the early 1920s, the 'Internationale' was introduced to Indonesia, with various Malay (Indonesian) translations; each translation reflects the political position of its translators and the organization the individual was affiliated with The background of these differences is analyzed here. After 1927, communist music was forbidden and replaced with songs of the nationalist parties. Verses were carefully constructed so as not to offend the colonial government – a hide-and-seek party was being played around words and their real and hidden meaning. Most famous in this respect was, of course, Supratman's ‘Indonesia Raya,’ which later became the national anthem of Indonesia. Textual amendments also had to be made in order to avoid government interference in meetings where the song was being sung. Until now, there has been scant research on this subject. The history of Indonesian political songs thus has to be reconstructed from scraps and pieces. This presentation includes rare pre-1942 recordings.

Itinerant Performers in the Year of Living Dangerously
Laurie Margot Ross, Cornell University, USA

When Sukarno declared 1964, “the year of living dangerously” (Tahun vivere pericoloso), the reference was to his “crush Malaysia” (ganyang Malaysia) campaign. The expression has a different meaning today: it portended Sukarno’s fall and Soeharto’s ascendance. The separatist Darul Islam movement was suppressed in 1962 and Indonesia’s nationalist and communist parties (PNI and PKI, respectively) were vying to succeed the long-ailing Sukarno. Each party sought to mobilize itinerant dalang topeng (masked dancers) and their troupes in the geographically marginalized Cirebon region, along Java’s northwest coast. This paper analyzes both organizations’ interest in these artists, recruitment strategies, and efforts to restrict artists’ mobility in the year leading up to Soeharto’s coup d’état. The PKI viewed agrarian artists as the heart and soul of the revolution. PNI, alternately, grasped the important role they played in fueling the local economy and maintaining stability at the village level. The troupes were invited to perform at both PKI and PNI functions, but they were also required to report their activities, purchase performance permits, and pay membership dues, guaranteeing a steady cash flow to the PNI-dominated Culture Department during this period of hyperinflation. Their monitoring tactics will be compared with those employed by Sukarno’s military command, Kopkamtib, the next year, whose sole purpose was to establish the parameters of the new military’s role through a new kind of musjawarah kesenian (“polite” art consultations). As such, performers and the space where they performed were central to the transmission and control of ideas.

Theater and the Nation, Then and Now
Barbara Hatley, University of Tasmania, Australia

During the New Order period, performance was arguably a site of contestation of alternate visions of the Indonesian nation. While the state used traditional, regional performances to instill its view of a culturally diverse but hierarchically-ordered, centrally-controlled nation, resistance to this vision could be conveyed through critical reinterpretation of the symbols and narratives invoked to promote it. Such critique was expressed subtly and cautiously in traditional forms, more blatantly in Western-influenced modern drama. Indeed opposition to the state in defence of ‘the nation’, hazily envisaged in terms of liberal, democratic, populist values, constituted a common discourse among modern theater groups. . Today there is no central, authoritarian body prescribing national identity through its arts policies and funding. Instead the regional autonomy system and democratising ideology focus attention on the regional and local; commercial media and new technologies spread global cultural influence. With no common enemy to confront, theater practitioners celebrate diverse local selves. In parades and festivals, performers blend regional traditions with global influences to create hybrid ‘local’ forms; actors stage plays about local issues in neighbourhood sites and work with community groups while publicising their activities on websites and facebook. The few groups consciously engaging with the nation struggle to reconceptualise their project and approach. This paper briefly reviews New Order modern theater, describing general trends and locating major figures. Then it analyses three productions by the contemporary group Garasi, which attempt to articulate a vision of a hybrid, pluralist, ‘post-nationalist’ Indonesia.

“Yes, We Can”: Sovereignty, Audience, and the Appeal of Slippery Pronouns in The Obama Song for West Papua
Danilyn Rutherford, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA

Near and distant onlookers, including rivals and potential friends, have long figured prominently in the schemes of would-be sovereigns in West Papua, the name given by activists seeking self-determination for the indigenous inhabitants of this troubled territory on Indonesia’s eastern edge. I have just completed a book manuscript that examines the uneasy relationship between sovereignty and audience in West Papua and beyond. In this chapter fragment, I examine a recent YouTube video to illustrate the range of rhetorical tools through which today’s Papuan activists conjure and appeal to spectators from afar. The Obama Song for West Papua creatively juxtaposes photographs, drawings, and English and Dutch language labels with hip hop musician will.i.am’s remix of an Obama speech, which debuted in its own YouTube video during the 2008 presidential campaign. The slippery pronouns that populate this and other activist videos -- in the form of racialized, nationalized, and globalized versions of “we” -- conjure up a Papuan subject and call out to the legitimating constituencies that Papuan nationalism will need to succeed. But these slippery pronouns also allow the videos’ viewers to imagine Papuan sovereignty as offering not only legitimacy, but also delight. The semangat or “spirit” that Papuans say that they feel when they image outsiders witnessing and joining in their struggle accounts in part for how Papuan nationalism has survived and even thrived in the territory. A similar passion may well have contributed to Barack Obama’s electoral victory following a campaign that mobilized its own slippery “we.”