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In Session: Performing Islam in Indonesia
3: Assalamualaikum to Our Guests!" Ratoh Jaroe and the 2018 Asian Games
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Texas at Austin, United States
The opening ceremony of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta began with 1,600 dancers performing ratoh jaroe, a contemporary dance form created by Jakarta-based choreographer Yusri as a derivation of saman, a vernacular Acehnese devotional tradition. Seated on the floor of Stadium Gelora Bung Karno, thousands of women sang religious lyrics in Acehnese and formed energetic, intricate patterns with their bodies, eventually becoming a giant Indonesian flag. The spectacle of this moment was among the most enduring images of the 2018 games. Now, Ratoh jaroe frequently circulates across predominantly Muslim spaces both domestically and internationally. Though neither the nationalist recuperation of “ethnic” performance forms nor their strategic circulation to an international audience is new to Indonesia these dynamics have often been confined to prestige Hindu-Buddhist traditions from Java or Bali. It is remarkable that a form associated with Aceh – a distant, oil rich, religiously conservative province which long sought to secede from the republic – was mobilized in a globally televised celebration of Indonesianness. Opening the 2018 Asian Games with ratoh jaroe activated linkages between the wider Islamic world and Indonesia through Aceh, the first place in the archipelago to convert to Islam and a major recipient of Saudi philanthropy and investment. By displacing and appropriating a form linked to this peripheral culture, performers of ratoh jaroe both at the Asian games and within subsequent performance contexts produce a new Indonesian national identity: that of a contemporary, multi-ethnic, energy-rich, and distinctly Muslim regional power amongst other predominantly Muslim countries.