1887
Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0957-6851
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9838
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Abstract

Abstract

Wayang Kulit performance, the art of shadow puppetry, has long embodied and conveyed political and secular voice throughout South and Southeast Asia, significant for the maintenance of cultural heritage. Throughout Malaysia’s modern history, Wayang as a dominant medium of education has mediated shifts in language ideologies and socialization, to the extent where changes to the Wayang correlate highly with changes to the Malay language. In the 1980s, the Malaysian government sought to attack and hence curtail Wayang performance, and to obscure its lineage, claiming that the Wayang defiles Islam and Malaysia as an Islamic state. The government sought to discontinue the Wayang, or at least to alter it significantly, and to persecute its adherents. With its attempts to mobilize the economy through neoliberal politics and the adoption of new non-poetic language registers, the Malaysian government altered Malaysian vernacular, cultural practices, and ideologies. Yet, little scholarly work, particularly through an Anthropological lens, has discussed the correlations and influences to these shifts.

This paper addresses the significance of Wayang Kulit to the Malay language, that is, its contiguity with standardized language and vernacular, its semiotic complexities during performance and in larger society, and its junctures with Malaysian politics. The study unearths changes in the Wayang, its stylizations, symbolisms and performativities, in the latter 20th century, where these changes have aligned with cultural and language shifts, yet which the government has legitimated as pro Islamic and neoliberal. The data set includes a multi year ethnography of the Wayang, and a corpus of discussions, documentations, and scripts of Wayang performances and narratives.

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2022-08-04
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