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The Center for Southeast Asian Studies organizes and sponsors a number of events such as lectures, film screening, workshops, symposia, conferences, exhibits, and performances throughout the year.  Several of these events are in collaboration with other U-M units, and are often free and open to the public. To see what we have planned for this semester, please view our poster »

CSEAS Fridays at Noon Lecture Series. Power in the Margins of Madurese Society: Salabadhan (or Sandur Madura) as a Nexus of Performing Arts Patronage, Political Clientelism, and Socio-Religious Transgression

Steve Laronga, U-M Visiting Faculty
Friday, February 2, 2018
12:00-1:00 PM
Room 555 Weiser Hall Map
Steve Laronga is a gamelan ensemble director.

Contrary to its pious-sounding name, the Madurese performance tradition of salabâdhân (from Arabic-derived Madurese salabât, “supplication to God”) is known in its primary territory of Madura and mainland East Java as an arena for religious and social transgression. The focus of attention in contemporary performances is a nightlong process by which individual invited guests are formally called to give a substantial monetary gift to the host and to dance briefly to the accompaniment of a small but distinctively noisy gamelan ensemble. Both hosts and guests belong to a highly visible, politically powerful network of local “big men” or “tough guys” (known as blâtèr) from across the region—the sole patrons of this tradition.

From the perspectives of neighbors and other uninvited spectators, salabâdhân likely appears as a highly visible spectacle of high rolling men mixing it up with transvestite singer-dancers, flashing large sums of money, drinking, gambling, and performing acts suggestive of their capacity for violence. It appears, in short, as a celebration of masculine largesse and impunity to everyday social rules--an entertaining show of force by the dangerous men who sponsor it.

This presentation draws a close correlation between formal aspects of contemporary salabâdhân performance and its social and political significance, a symmetry which, I suggest, emerges directly from the influence that the patrons of this tradition have exerted on its historical development. Following upon the work of Abdur Rozaki (2004, 2017), I illustrate the contemporary political centrality of its patrons through the example of notorious former elected head (from 2003-2013) of the western Madurese district of Bangkalan, Ra Fuad Amin—now in prison for corruption—who joined the salabâdhân network as a means to assume an unprecedented position of simultaneous dominance in all of the district’s three, usually oppositional, major power player factions: the blâter, the Islamic religious elite, and the formal political bureacracy.

Although salabâdhân and its patrons present an especially spectacular example of the political instrumentalization of “tradition” on both symbolic and more directly coercive levels, I suggest that we might consider it as an exemplary case rather than an extraordinary one. I conclude by asking what we might be able to say about the historical development and present forms of other performing arts in Madura and Java—and even in distant other corners of the world—by paying closer attention to the social obligations and motivations of its sponsors.
Building: Weiser Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: Arts of Islam, Discussion, Lecture, Southeast Asia
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, Asian Languages and Cultures