Alan Darmawan is doing his Ph.D. research project in Indonesia and Malay studies at the University of Hamburg. He is interested in the Malay cultural revival and especially in a way that cultural performance plays its role in the creation of the cultural realm. His Ph.D. thesis deals with the revival of traditional theatre form called mak yong and the reconstruction of Malay identity in the Indonesian province of Riau Islands. His research interests are also in the socio-cultural processes of heritage making, and the role of historical narratives, Islam, and cultural performances in identity formation.

Project Summary

Malay Identity on the move

The study will focus on various constructions of Malay identity as constructed and propagated by local, transregional as well as transnational agencies in the province Kepri (Island Riau), and how the local population uses or adheres to these or parts of these constructions to formulate their own identity in everyday life. Local governmental departments on different levels in the administration have been putting much effort and funds into organising a great number of art festivals to celebrate local artistic forms and set up programmes to disseminate the art forms among the population, e.g. in October-November 2017 at least five large-scale events were organised in the region. Local agencies seem quite successful in stimulating a younger generation to adopt a rather specific local Malay cultural identity through the programmes in schools, youth clubs and other youth organisations.

A number of transregional and transnational agencies are also informing and directing the formation of Malayness in Kepri, such as the Malaysian-based Dunia Melayu Dunia Islam (DMDI; Malay World – Islamic World) and a globally-active Islamic gold dinar movement which aims to counter excesses of capitalism (Dinar-Dirham Movement). Both organisations emphasise pious Muslim characteristics within the definitions of Malayness. Furthermore, decentralisation in Indonesia also stimulated a number of groups, mainly Indonesia but with Malaysian connections, to reinstate traditional rulers in certain cultural functions such as strengthening a traditional local identity and acting as the regional religious/Islamic leader (imam). In Riau this resulted in the inauguration of a new Sultan of Bintan who is introducing religious teachings directed towards youngsters to adhere to certain strict Islamic rules but also not renounce economic realities. The officeholder has opened a market place where goods can be exchanged using Islamic currency distributed after Friday prayers. These efforts are part of transnational Dinar-Dirham movement active in certain regions of Southeast Asia, such as Kelantan, Ternate, Medan, and Aceh.

In this project, we want to explore how the formation of Malay identity is being constructed and defined by these organisations, traditional cultural productions, the regional government and the movement of peoples, either across borders or within the nation-state of Indonesia. How do local inhabitants of the region view themselves? Is there a difference between locally born people with people who have migrated from other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore? Which local organisations are active in the identity formation and with what effects? What motivations do people have to adopt a form of a ‘Kepri identity’ above a broader Malay (transnational) identity, or a national identity? Can these actually be differentiated or is there little difference between in- and/or outsiders for the people? How do they see the Malay people in Singapore and Malaysia and vice versa?