Indonesian Postcolonial Theatre: Spectral Genealogies and by Evan Darwin Winet

By Evan Darwin Winet

Drawing examples from as early as a 1619 creation of Hamlet and as contemporary as 2007 performances through Indonesia’s most famed presidential impersonator, this e-book considers how theatre features as a uniquely potent medium for representing the contradictions of Indonesian identification within the city colonial/postcolonial metropole.

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Indonesian Postcolonial Theatre: Spectral Genealogies and Absent Faces (Studies in International Performance)

Drawing examples from as early as a 1619 construction of Hamlet and as fresh as 2007 performances through Indonesia’s most famed presidential impersonator, this booklet considers how theatre features as a uniquely potent medium for representing the contradictions of Indonesian identification within the city colonial/postcolonial metropole.

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The ‘ethical policy’ (1900) acknowledged a ‘debt of honor’ to the native population whereby opportunities for education, employment and even political representation would be made available. A small elite thereby received access to Western education in the Indies and in Europe, and in 1918 a volksraad provided a political voice for native representatives. These initiatives proved crucial in nurturing the revolutionary leadership, but were never designed to develop towards actual Indonesian sovereignty.

Hugo Grotius had recently revived the same origin myth in his Liber de Antiquitate Republicae Batavicorum (1610) (see Schöffer, 1981). Though there were in fact numerous ‘founding’ tribes in the ancient Rhine delta region, the idea of Batavia had become a rallying point against Dutch vassalage. To a Dutch Union emerging from the shadow of European empires, the valor of the ancient Batavians (blessed by Roman imprimatur) inspirited a postcolonial nationalist pride. Another, unique concern was answered by summoning the ghosts of Batavia to haunt the Dutch castle at Jayakerta.

Subtleties of language in Bebasari suggest Effendi’s grounding in socialist and communist thought. ’ That is to say, its use to mean ‘nation’ in a political sense implies the liberalist notion of a nation constituted in its nationalized populace. The moaning subjugation of the ‘people’ in Bebasari recalls the imagery of the suffering proletariat ‘behind the mask of Karl Marx’ in Soekarno’s seminal 1926 pamphlet, Nationalism, Communism, Islam (Soekarno and McVey, 1970: 53). In fact, one might see a communist perspective as most productive in reading the defeat of the ogres at the end of Effendi’s play.

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