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Art Critique Essay History Humanities Nonfiction Theory

The “Ronggeng”, the “Wayang”, the “Wali”, and Islam: Female or Transvestite Male Dancers-Singers-Performers and Evolving Islam in West Java

By Kathy Foley, 2015

This article discusses the relationship of Islam, female performance, wayang/topeng, and transvestite practices in the performing arts of West Java, giving a very brief overview of three periods: the mytho-historic moment of the wali (saints), who used arts, including ronggeng (female-style singing-dancing) as a tool of conversion; the colonial era, when the palaces that were fonts of religious wisdom and colonial resistance became major centers that hired and influenced ronggeng arts, which dispersed through the Sundanese area of West Java, further developing genres like tayuban (dance parties of the aristocracy) and ketuk tilu (Sundanese popular dance performance); and the contemporary period, when the art has been devalued, noting that anti-pornography legislation enacted in 2008 is, in part, aimed at eliminating remnants of these long-existing female-singer-dancer and transvestite male performance practices, which are mentioned in literature of the colonial period and linked in oral histories with the advent of Islam. Through changing assumptions about ronggeng and the arts we see shifts in attitudes toward performance, sexuality, and religious discourse in local Islam.

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