PERFORMANCE, POPULAR CULTURE AND PIETY IN MUSLIM SOUTHEAST ASIA Editor: Timothy P. Daniels, Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Year: 2013 Page: 226 pp. ISBN: 978-1-137-32002-5 Others: References, contributors, index Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan*

This book is a collection of essays concerning aspects of contestation and negotiation between some popular cultures and Islamic practices from Peninsular Malaysia (or West Malaysia) and Java, Indonesia. Its narrow focus does not encompass ‘Muslim Southeast Asia’ as such, and the title needs elaboration. The book grew out of discussions among the writers that developed into a special panel of the same name that was convened during the 2012 meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto, Canada. It presents six chapters on different topics with an Introduction by the editor Timothy P. Daniels, who also contributes two other chapters, and an Afterword by James Peacock who was the discussant for the 2012 panel. Daniels’ Introduction contains a couple of well written sections on theories of aesthetic practices, performance and religion, and the background to the papers in this volume, but it is marred by many major factual errors about Malaysia. He attempts to give a political history of Indonesia and Malaysia as background, but his introduction to Malaysia is little more than a series of sweeping statements, most of which are incorrect (see pages 3 and 4). While these factual errors do not necessarily affect the standard of the other chapters in the book, they present a false picture of Malaysia at the start of the book and must be corrected here.

Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan

Although he discusses Indonesia’s Pancasila, he does not even mention the Rukunegara of Malaysia, but instead writes “In Malaysia, the Muslim majority obtained official recognition of Islam as the religion of the federation and special rights for Bumiputra (indigenous peoples), especially Malays, written into the Federal Constitution” [my emphasis]. Actually, under the Federal Constitution, Malaysia is a secular federation practicing a parliamentary democracy that recognizes the belief in God and espouses freedom of religion. Islam is the official religion in matters pertaining to the King (Agong) and hence to the Governors of certain states who are the King’s representatives, but it is incorrect to say that it is the ‘religion of the federation’ as if all citizens must be Muslims and follow Islamic religious codes of behaviour. Indeed at the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo Island, which comprise two thirds of the geographic area of Malaysia, did not have a ‘Muslim majority.’ The majority were the indigenous peoples, who were mainly Christians and were guaranteed their religious rights under the Constitution. The gloss of ‘indigenous peoples’ for Bumiputra here is also inaccurate. While all indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak (collectively called Anak Negeri) are recognized as Bumiputra, the indigenous Orang Asli of the Peninsula are not. Similarly, the Malays of the Peninsula are Bumiputra, but they are not recognized as ‘indigenous people’ in Sabah and Sarawak. The term Bumiputra is more a reflection of Austronesian cultural roots, rather than specific indigeneity. The sentence ‘Malay sultans, though much less powerful than prime ministers, remained influential symbolic figures viewed as protectors and leaders of Islam in each state’ [my emphasis] is also factually wrong. Firstly, the comparison between sultans and ‘prime ministers’ is illogical. States are governed by elected Chief Ministers (Ketua Menteri in Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and Melaka, but Menteri Besar in other states) not ‘prime ministers,’ whereas the Prime Minister (Perdana Menteri) is the elected leader of the whole nation. Sultans were the historical kings of certain sultanates on the Peninsula, and 204

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today are royalty from a few states and rotate every five years as the King of Malaysia. Secondly, Penang and Melaka, and Sabah and Sarawak do not have sultans, but have Governors who represent the King. Moreover, historically much of Sarawak and the coasts and islands of Sabah were once under the Sultanate of Brunei. It is absurd, however, to suggest that today’s Sultan of Brunei, a different nation from Malaysia, is viewed as the protector and leader of Islam in Sabah and Sarawak! The statement ‘Malaysian secular nationalists maintained the dual judicial system constructed under British colonialism with federal civil courts presiding over all manner of cases and state-level shari’a courts only adjudicating Muslim family and personal morality cases’ [my emphasis] is also factually wrong. Malaysia has three main judicial systems of equal standing – the High Court of Malaysia with branches in each state, the Native Courts or Mahkamah Anak Negeri of each District in Sabah and Sarawak (which govern all manner of cases according to the codified adat of each indigenous community), and the Syariah Court for Muslims in each state. While the scope of each court is different, their legislatures are of equal standing. The reference to PAS as ‘the Islamic Party of Malaysia’ during the 1950s long before Malaysia existed is anachronistic, while the statement “Malaysian Muslim and non-Muslim conflicts over special rights and symbolic advantages bestowed on Bumiputra persisted and exploded in the racial riots of 1969” [my emphasis] is also factually wrong. The racial riots of 1969 were not conflicts between Malaysian Muslims and non-Muslims, but were between some Chinese and Malays and were localized around the Kampung Baru area near Kuala Lumpur, in the state of Selangor. All the other states, including especially Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, were not involved. In fact, people from Sabah and Sarawak at the time knew nothing about these riots. When Daniels’ mentions “a larger share of material resources and benefits for the Malay Muslim majority” under new economic policies, he ignores the fact that these benefits also (in principle, at least) extended to the 205

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indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak who form the majority of Christians in Malaysia. His assertion that “Malaysian Muslims are more unified in ethnicity” compared to Indonesian Muslims is also highly questionable. Malaysian Muslims include many different ethnic groups—various heterogeneous Malay communities on the Peninsula (such as Kelantanese, Minangkabau, Bugis, Archinese, Javanese and many others), and in Sabah the Brunei-Kadayan, and the non-Malay Bisaya, Iranun, Tidong, the Ida’an, most west coast Bajau, most east coast Bajau (especially the Bajau Kubang), a minority of the Sama Dilaut and some converts among the various indigenous ethnic groups of Paitanic, Dusunic and Murutic families, not forgetting old Suluk, Javanese and others from outside of Borneo, as well as most Melanau and most coastal Malays (Miri, Tutong and Narum) and some others in Sarawak. Sabah today also has vast numbers of ethnically diverse immigrants from Indonesia and the southern Philippines, many of whom are Muslims. Clearly this great diversity in ethnicity of Muslims in Malaysia is probably as numerous as that of Indonesia. Daniel’s concluding statement in this section about “the UMNOled National Front that has controlled the federal government of Malaysia since political independence in 1957” [my emphasis] is also factually wrong—Malaysia was only formed in 1963! While Malaya obtained independence as the Federation of Malaya on 31st August 1957, Sabah and Sarawak became self-determined nation states on 31st August 1963. Sabah and Sarawak, together with Malaya and Singapore, formed Malaysia on 16th September 1963, despite objections from Indonesia and the Philippines at the time. All these major factual errors show ignorance about the history and cultures of Malaysia and suggest that Daniels’ comparisons between Malaysia and Indonesia may not be accurate. Moreover, he seems to assume that Malaysia is only West Malaysia and ignores Sabah and Sarawak who, though having smaller total populations, form the much 206

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larger geographical and culturally diverse area of the country. The imprecise map on page 2 also implies this assumption, and seems to wrongly suggest that Sabah and Sarawak form either parts of Brunei or the Philippines. The first chapter “Performing Piety from the Inside Out: Fashioning Gender and Public Space in a Mask ‘Tradition’ from Java’s Northwest Coast” by Laurie Margot Ross, focuses on the masked theatre traditions of Cirebon in West Java. There are a couple of mistakes—Gestok is the acronym for Gerakan Satu Oktober (‘1 October Movement’ or ‘First of October Movement’), not ‘Gerakan Sabtu [Saturday] Oktober’ (endnote 19, page 36), and Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) is probably better translated as ‘Mini Park of Beautiful Indonesia’ or ‘Beautiful Mini Indonesia Park’ not ‘Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Garden,’ since this huge theme park represents houses from all over Indonesia; it is also known as ‘Mini Indonesia Park’ and is not a miniature garden (page 16). Nevertheless, the chapter provides a detailed discussion of the history, development and symbolism of the masked dance genre topeng Cirebon. Ross discusses the use of the dalang’s face and the intricate symbolism of the various masks, costumes, and the characters represented. She shows how over time the traditional Hindu elements of the genre have been Javanized and adapted to mystical Sufi expression, with the rise of female dalang. She also discusses how in recent years the performance space of the genre has moved from village squares to the context of the Universitias Al-Zaytun arena framed by schedules for Muslim prayer times, along with the elevation of the genre as Indonesian national heritage. Although constrained by length, this chapter is packed with analytical detail and presents important firsthand information by a researcher who learned to live and perform as a dalang topeng from a senior dalang herself. Chapter 2 ‘Islamic Revivalism and Religious Piety in Indonesian Cinema’ by Eric Sasono, a leading Indonesian film critic and organizer 207

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of the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFEST), discusses the rise of Islamic-themed films in Indonesia. The discussion analyzes five films as examples in the wider context of such films: Al Kaustar (1977), Titian Serambut Dibelah Tujuh (1983), Nada dan Dakwah (1991), Perempuan Berkalung Sorban (2008), and Sang Pencerah (2010). Each film presents a different aspect of Muslim piety, with themes ranging from rejecting the manipulations of Islamic teachings by corrupt ulama, to defending the rights of women under Islam, and Islamic revivalism. The author views piety as a part of contemporary sociopolitical life and attitudes, rather than as religious formalism. Apart from a couple of minor printing errors (‘the Netherland’ instead of the Netherlands on page 50, and ‘for a Muslims’ instead of ‘for a Muslim’ in the second paragraph of page 66), and some minor grammatical peculiarities (‘emphasize on moderation’ page 57, ‘obsession on the event’ page 64, and others), this chapter contains important analyses on the issue and is worth reading. Chapter 3 “Embodying the Divine and the Body Politic: Mak Yong Performance in Rural Kelantan, Malaysia” by anthropologist Patricia A. Hardwick briefly traces the development of the traditional Malay drama Mak Yong of the Pattani area of Kelantan and south Thailand from its pre-Islamic roots to the officially recognized version as Malay cultural heritage. Setting aside the official version, Hardwick focuses on the traditional genre from rural Kelantan where she conducted her doctoral research. Since 1991, Mak Yong has been banned in Kelantan by the state PAS government because, it is said, its performance encourages the worship of spirits and objectifies women. The ritual healing genre Main Puteri (which she calls Main ‘teri), however, is permitted. Hardwick notes the irony that in the early 20th century, the principal character Pak Yong, traditionally played by men, began to be performed by women in under the Islamic requirements of the then Kelantanese Royal Court, where Mak Yong was performed, that unrelated men and women should not touch in public. This led to women performing all the main roles, while men served as clowns and musicians. The writer elaborates on the traditional worldview behind the drama, its performance practice 208

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and gestures, and why Mak Yong was traditionally used for spiritual and psychological healing. She explains the tale of Dewa Muda which she mistakenly writes is “a story indigenous to northern Malaysia and southern Thailand”—she means northern Malaya, since this story and its Hindu-Buddhist cultural origins are largely unknown in northern Malaysia or Sabah—and links this to Kelantanese concepts of the body and healing. Of particular interest are her transcribed interviews with performers and practitioners that show them to be pious practicing Muslims. Today, Mak Yong is performed together with Main Puteri, whereas thirty years ago these genres were separate. Previously, specific spirits were believed afflict individuals, whereas today performers say these spirits are merely metaphors for certain illnesses. The performers now claim that Dewa Muda and his consort Puteri Ratna Mas are symbolic representations of Adam and Eve. Hardwick’s research is important, because it provides a link with previous studies over the past century and shows how practitioners have negotiated and reinterpreted their roles as performers and as Muslims in Kelantan. This chapter by Patricia Hardwick forms a Malayan counterpart to the east Javanese study by Laurie Margot Ross in Chapter 1. Ideally, Timothy Daniels’ Chapter 4 “’Islamic’ TV Dramas, Malay Youth, and Pious Visions for Malaysia,” should provide a Malayan balance to Eric Sasono’s Javanese study of Chapter 3. Unfortunately, Daniels begins Chapter 4 with yet another sweeping generalization “Islamic proselytizers—Muslim nongovernmental organizations, the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS, Parti Islam SeMalaysia), and the UMNO (United Malays National Organization)-led federal government—have exerted a major influence on the public sphere over the past three decades.” Regardless of what Muslim NGO’s do, PAS is a political party and the Barisan Nasional that forms the federal government is a coalition of political parties, who cannot be called ‘Islamic proselytizers.’ Islamic affairs are handled by certain civil service departments in the states (such as, for example, JHEAINS or Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam Negeri 209

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Sabah), they are not the under the purview of political parties. The federal Barisan Nasional government includes UMNO and a range of parties, from multicultural ones like Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) to largely monocultural ones such as various Indigenous, Indian and Chinese parties. Considering that a few UMNO members and most members of these other coalition parties are non-Muslims, with many from Christian and other religious backgrounds, it is not correct to suggest that they are ‘Islamic proselytizers.’ Daniels compares and contrasts some of the films of the late Yasmin Ahmad, which are regarded as ‘liberal’ with more recent TV dramas that are said to be ‘Islamic.’ He has apparently interviewed a few youths regarding some of these films, but their simplistic answers show a lack of depth and seem to reflect West Malaysian notions of ethnic separation (pages 116-118). His comparisons do provide a correlation with those of Sasono’s in Java, but Daniels goes too far when he claims that the film Nur Kasih ‘presents polygamy as an integral part of a pious Muslim way of life’ (page 121). Polygamy, or more correctly polygyny, has nothing to do with piety but, as most Muslims agree, is a social way to control certain men’s nafsu (lust). Most married Muslim men in Malaysia are monogamous, and piety among Muslims is seen in living morally upright lives and, as usual, giving alms to the poor, praying five times each day, performing the annual fast and, if possible, performing the haj at least once in a lifetime. The notion that ‘polygamy’ is ‘integral’ to a pious Muslim way of life is very offensive, and Daniels needs to rethink his interpretation of polygyny in the film Nur Kasih. Chapter 5 “Complicating Senses of Masculinity, Femininity, and Islam through the Performing Arts in Malang, East Java” by Christina Sunardi looks at the east Javanese transvestite dance genres Ngremo, Beskalan and Tayub in which men may perform as men or as women, and women may perform as women or as men. She asks how performing on stage as the opposite gender can be reconciled with practicing Islam,


Performance, Popular Culture and Piety in Muslim Southeast Asia

and looks at the different ways in which different performers negotiate gender-based performances, religion and sexuality. Chapter 6 “Social Drama, Dangdut, and Popular Culture” by Timothy Daniels, reproduced from his earlier book Islamic Spectrum in Java (Ashgate, 2009) uses Turner’s theory to analyze the social drama surrounding Inul Daratista, the Indonesian pop star and dangdut performer. Maligned as a bad influence on public morals by many Muslim clerics, yet strongly supported by the Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the world, Inul’s performance style is discussed in the context of dangdut as a contemporary Indonesian popular art form that is used by a variety of secular and political organizations. This chapter is of a better standard of scholarship from the others by Daniels in this book, because it largely avoids sweeping generalizations, and uses a valid theoretical framework to discuss the genre. The Afterword by James Peacock aptly brings together the themes of the chapters (and avoids generalizing about Malaysia from a purely Malayan perspective). He points out that the traditional folk and theatre genres discussed in the book have proved more resilient than the electronic dramas in preserving cultural genius while negotiating the restrictions of Islamic orthodoxy. These live and electronic genres, however, all confront the forces of globalization that threaten local art forms. He thinks that Islam, although a special global form in itself, can also prove to be a force to stem globalization. He suggests that Islamic and local cultures, and local and global cultures, can compete and be syncretized for cultural survival. It is hoped that this book will be revised and updated, with Timothy Daniels’ lopsided misrepresentations of Malaysia corrected. Perhaps new chapters concerning other parts of Southeast Asia can be included in a new edition, so that the book is not confined to just the Malay Peninsula and Java.


Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan

Notes *Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan is Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, and Holder of the Kadazandusun Chair, at UMS. She has lived in Malaysia for over 33 years, and first came to Sabah in 1977 having married a member of Sabah’s large indigenous Kadazan Dusun community in 1976.





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