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From Tradisi to Inovasi: Authority, Music, and Change in Balinese Shadow Puppet Theater

  • Author(s): Hynson, Meghan Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Rees, Helen M
  • et al.

Through ethnographic fieldwork and archival research, this dissertation examines development and change in Balinese wayang, or shadow puppet theater. As one of the oldest and most important elements in the Hindu-inflected cultural and religious life of the Balinese, wayang and its development are particularly well suited for observing how music and the arts shape and reflect society, and lend credence to assertions that changes in artistic convention and tradition are evidence of social change. To demonstrate this, this dissertation examines two very specific and seldom documented examples of shadow puppet theater, the wayang sapuh leger (a traditional [tradisi] purificatory kind of shadow puppet ritual) and the wayang cenk blonk (an innovative [inovasi] form with roots in the Balinese arts institution). By focusing on these two forms, aspects of power and authority come to the fore and are analyzed to not only uncover a more subtle understanding of Balinese arts and religion, but also shed light on ideological, political, and economic trends reflected in the context of ritual change. In addition, this dissertation addresses a number of issues that have arisen as wayang has continued to develop in recent decades, for example, the changing role of the Balinese shadow puppeteer (dalang); institutionalization of wayang kulit and standardization of Balinese gendér wayang music (the music that accompanies shadow puppet theater); wayang innovation in relation to globalization and modernization; and the shifting meaning of the Balinese concept of taksu, or spiritual power, within changes and developments in the performing arts.

Theoretically, this dissertation draws on Max Weber’s three-fold classification of authority (traditional authority, legal authority, and charismatic authority); Paul Ricoeur and Hans Gadamer’s work on tradition, authority, and ideology; and various aspects of ritual theory. The issues examined include: 1) the problematic nature of the terms “tradition” and “innovation”; 2) the “crisis of legitimization” that has arisen as many have questioned the authoritative role of the dalang, and as shadow theater has begun to change in novel ways; and 3) the place of change in Balinese wayang kulit performance and how this can inform perceptions of Balinese spiritual power, or taksu.

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