Category Archives: Ethnoarts

Worship and Local Arts Workshop

In mid-September, I (Matt) had the opportunity to lead a workshop at a local church about worship and local arts.  This was in the Balinese community I’ve been working with recently, and I was excited to have the opportunity to run a workshop with them instead of just research. I am pleased to say that it went very well!  We all learned a lot about their culture and arts and what the Bible has to say about it, and I hope that this is not the end but rather the beginning of the development of Christian local arts there.

This was a short workshop, just 3 evenings.  The original plan was for 5 evenings (Mon.-Fri.) but that conflicted with some church services so we shortened it to just three.  That was a little shorter than I was hoping for, but we made the most of the time we had.  We covered topics such as:

  • Worship in the Bible (the beginning, Moses and the Tabernacle, the temple, in diaspora, Jesus, the early church, and Paul’s writings)
  • The Bible, Music, and Meaning
  • New Songs in the Bible
  • Borrowing Songs from other cultures/languages
  • Creating an Arts Profile for their community
  • making plans for the future
  • sharing the plans with the group

It was a packed schedule!  I was pleasantly surprised at how much everyone was interested in the theology of worship; I had expected those sessions to be somewhat dry, but they inspired some serious discussion.  We ended with making plans for the future, so participants grouped themselves by area of interest and chose something from the Arts Profile that they would like to encourage, use in church, etc.

At the end, participants presented plans for encouraging new music, reviving a food tradition, looking for someone to help with Balinese dance, using local clothing, and using storytelling for special occasions at church.  Overall, for an abbreviated workshop I was very pleased with the outcome. 

Now it is in their hands – one principle we work by is helping communities with their needs, but not forcing our ideas or programs on them.  This workshop was a great introduction to what this church could do with its amazing artistic and cultural capabilities, but it is now up to them to choose what to do.  There’s much more I can do there to help encourage local arts in church, but we will take it one step at a time and see what their needs and desires are.

I hope to hold another workshop like this in November for the churches here in the city, so we’ll keep you all posted!

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Filed under Dance, Ethnoarts, Food, language/culture, Music, religion, workshop

Balinese Dance

This post is long overdue! A while back I had the chance to attend a special service at a Balinese church a few hours away.  The opening and closing of the service featured Balinese dance, and I was asked to record it.  This was all part of my research and learning about this community so that I can better understand and help them.  In a few weeks, I’ll be hosting a three day seminar on music, worship, and culture there to encourage them to think about more ways that their Balinese culture can be a part of their worship.

These two videos were shared on Facebook a while back, but I’d like to post them here as well for those of you who missed them the first time around. Enjoy!

Opening:

 

Closing:

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Filed under Church Events, Dance, Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music, Research

…and more gamelan!

A few days ago I (Matt) went back to the Balinese community a few hours away to attend a gamelan rehearsal as well as learn a little more about the community and their needs.  It is utterly fascinating to study what they’re doing there, and to see such a rich artistic and cultural heritage still alive and well!  Sometime in the next few months, we plan to help this community by hosting a songwriting workshop to first discuss the theological basis for using local arts in church, and then encourage them to write some new songs using their language and music instead of old translated Western hymns.

About Western hymns – starting all the way back with the Dutch when Indonesia was still a colony, Western church and cultural influences came along for the ride.  The majority of the songs in the hymnbook here are German, Dutch, or English in origin, although there are some newer Indonesian hymns (written in a western-music style).  Because this has been church culture here for over a hundred years, it has become a normal part of Christian life so we’re not going to go around forcing people to change what they do in church – that’s just another form of imperialism!  What we do want to do is encourage them to bring their own language, culture, and arts into the church as well.  Many people groups here have a split in their lives – what you do inside church and what you do outside of church.  We want to help them incorporate these two halves into one using their arts and language.

I could go off on a tangent about the theology of this and the reason I believe it’s so important, but that might be the topic of a different blog post some other day.  For now, suffice it to say that if you believe that your language, culture and arts can’t be used in church, what does that say about who you are, your cultural identity, and your value to God? On the flip side, if you are welcome to worship in your heart language and heart music/arts, what message does that communicate?

Here are some videos to enjoy.  This first video is the tuning of this particular gamelan.  Although there are 10 keys played, it is a 5-tone (pentatonic) scale.  My personal opinion is that this scale, in solfege, is la ti do mi fa, or 6 7 1 3 4 but they call it re mi so la do or 2 3 5 6 1.  So far, I’m not totally convinced of which is the more accurate representation of their scale, but here’s a video clip.  For you music nerds out there, maybe you can help:

This second clip is usually accompanied by a dance, but since this was just a music rehearsal there wasn’t a dancer present.  Although it isn’t normal to play the music without the dancing, they decided to do it for me anyways:

This third clip is a bit of a contest.  It’s a hymn that I’m sure all of you Americans (and probably most other English-speakers) know, but the Balinese church has adapted it for the gamelan so it sounds just a little bit different.  Feel free to guess what hymn they are using in the comments below!  The first to guess correctly gets a prize…I have no idea what, but I’m sure I can come up with something!  (Again, my preference is always to help communities develop new music for worship that is in their language and musical style, but these kind of adaptations are common here and this is one they have been using for quite a while.)

Keep in mind that all of these videos are from a rehearsal, so these are not polished performances. All video has been obtained with informed consent, and is available to you here to give you a taste of the fun things we get to learn about. Hope you enjoy!

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Choir Practice

During our most recent village trip, Kara was asked to help the local choir learn some new songs to prepare for an upcoming competition.  It was a challenge considering the notation system is different, they have changed the names for the solfege (ti is now si) and the songs had some very difficult parts.  However, Kara did great and the choir loved it!  We also just made them some “practice tapes,” actually mp3s these days, so they can continue to learn their parts well. 

Here’s some pictures below from the trip, in no particular order:

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Drawing in the sand with Grandma

 

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One of our helpers, Hisma, and Charlotte

 

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The road through town

 

 

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Charlotte eating a fried whole fish, tail first (her favorite part!)

 

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Elizabeth doing the same, and Grandma getting the photographic evidence.

 

 

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Our girls and some friends.  Our tablet is a big hit…

 

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Elizabeth and her friends.

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Kara leading choir practice

 

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A panorama of the inside of the church there.

 

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Charlotte and a friend.

 

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Soprano and Alto practice at our house.

 

These photos are from an older trip, but they’ve never been posted so I’m putting them in here:

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All the kids out swimming.

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Our girls wading in.

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Filed under Ethnoarts, Family Pictures, our kids, Village life

Balinese gamelan…on Sulawesi

In our area there are numerous Balinese immigrants, especially on the east coast of our island.  Many of them are Hindu, but there’s a significant Christian population too and many of them belong to our church denomination.

One of the most exciting things for us to see is that although they are Christians, they have not abandoned their Balinese culture and language.  The church building is in a Balinese style, and they use the gamelan for some of their music.  Gamelan is an Indonesian musical ensemble from the islands of Java and Bali. They have asked us to help them adapt more existing songs so that they can be used with the gamelan and to help them write new songs that they can use in church along with their traditional Balinese music.  We are thrilled to help since this is what we are passionate about!

I visited this church about a year ago and was completely unprepared for what I found.  At that point, we didn’t know we’d be working with them so I was just there attending a special church service.  I shot some video, but all I had was my point-and-shoot camera so the quality isn’t very good.  Now that we’re working with them on developing new music, I’ll be there a lot more and will have much more (and hopefully better) media to share in the future.

In the meantime, here’s their rendition of Kidung Jemaat No. 1 “Haleluya, Pujilah” (number 1 in the hymbook) using gamelan:

This is one of four or five songs that they currently have that use the gamelan.  They are eager for more, because the same songs over and over again get old very quickly!

For you music nerds out there, this particular gamelan is based on a Balinese variation of the slendro pentatonic scale.  In solfege it would be notated la ti do mi fa (in Indonesia,  la si do mi fa) or using cipher notation (kepatihan), 12356 67134 (12356 is how many people casually notate it here, but technically because it is minor you start on la, or 6).  Gamelan is typically tuned to the 7-tone pelog scale or the 5-tone slendro scale, and this Balinese gamelan is of the 5-tone variety but the tuning is slightly different than a Javanese gamelan.

More to come about all this later!  I should be heading out to visit them again next week.

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Filed under Church Events, Ethnoarts, Music, Research

Batunjuk

During our last village trip, there was a huge church service and celebration to mark the end of the Christmas season.  Everyone from all over the area was invited and there was a big potluck meal afterwards.  Following that, there was batunjuk.  This is a tradition from North Sulawesi that immigrants brought with them to our area, and the best way to describe it is a good old-fashioned hymn sing.  Everyone sits in a circle inside the church and two people are chosen to start and are given flowers to hold.  They choose the first song and as everyone sings they walk around the circle in opposite directions.  When the song is over, the flowers are given to the person where they stop and those two new people pick the next song.  This continues for several hours, sometimes even all night!  The songs are chosen only from the old, traditional Christian songs that are rarely sung anymore, so it has a nostalgic feel to it.  Even though they were old songs, it was encouraging to see  people of all ages participating.  Coffee, tea, and snacks are served and everyone relaxes and enjoys the singing; occasionally there’s dancing as well.  I shot some video of the festivities to give you an idea of what it’s all about.  The singing went on for hours and hours and hours . . . but it was great fun!

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Filed under Church Events, Ethnoarts, language/culture, Music, religion, Village life

Research and Papers

A few days ago, I (Matt) did something I have never done before.  I wrote a 21 page paper documenting all my observations, research, and musical analysis of the mopopoadat ceremony you’ve been hearing about if you follow this blog.  Today I sat down and thought about it, and I realized this is the first time I’ve written a paper like this outside the classroom and I actually enjoyed it.  It makes a difference when I care about the topic!

Although it may not seem like writing papers would be part of our job, it’s important for several reasons.  First, we need to document what we see for future generations.  In this case it isn’t just research for the sake of research, but rather preserving a moment in time for this culture.  I’m thinking about writing some of our research up in Indonesian to make it more accessible to people here (maybe even translating this paper).  Second, if we don’t do thorough research to understand the arts here how can we possibly expect to help? 

If there’s any of you out there that are true academia/ethnomusicology nerds, I’m going to put a link to the paper at the end of this post.  I know that about 99.9% of you aren’t interested in reading something like that, but on the random chance that someone is I’m including it. 

Something I’ve been considering for a long time is how to make all my research open.  I’m still working on the best way to do this, but I’d like to publish anything I write and any media we record on the web, freely accessible to all.  Academic journals and the like are excellent “gatekeepers” to ensure that published research is well done and reputable, but I don’t like the difficulty it can present when regular people want to access it.  Ideally if I publish any research it would be in a reputable journal in our field but I would like to find some way to make it easily available too.  Enough about this topic; it’s best saved for another time and I digress…

As we record performances and talk to people, we are always asking their permission to use what we record for research and to help the Pendau people, and we commit that nothing will ever be sold for profit.  This is a very important part of our research as it removes so much suspicion about motives and gives us the freedom to share with the outside world the amazing and unique things we see here. 

For now, I’m just “publishing” this paper via Google Docs, but who knows what I’ll do with it in the future.  Here’s the link for that 0.01% of you who are interested:

https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1QqfpvpCZ-pzAjhkzA1tLeCkgeHQsmtu72QyA4wX0ZkQ

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Filed under Ethnoarts, Research

A glimpse.

Recently we made a short, amateur YouTube-style video update for a church back home, and we would  like to share it here too.  It’s full of pictures and video clips of what we’ve been up to in the past year or so, and it’s only about 2 minutes long.  Enjoy!

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Filed under daily life, Ethnoarts

Mopopoadat– Teeth Filing etc.

This is the next blog post in my series about the recent cultural event I documented.  The first blog post gave a photographic overview, the second highlighted the traditional martial arts here, the third was about kayori singing, the fourth post explained the events at a nearby river, and this post finishes up the series.

After returning from the river and gathering in the ceremonial house, the participants are required to do a few more things.  First, before leaving the home they look into a pail of water with a branch (buah pinang, but a young branch with no fruit) and some dry rice (beras) floating on top.  They look into the water with their eyes open, and they are asked by the leader if they can see a certain species of fish.  The correct answer is “yes.”  However, there is more to this story than I yet know.  That particular species of fish is, as far as they know, only found in one lake up north of where we are.  They apparently used to live in that area but no longer do.  This question now seems to be mostly for the sake of tradition, but it is rooted in old beliefs and meanings that now appear to be lost.  Perhaps this fish had some sort of significance?  Or maybe it was just a species unique to their local lake and a source of pride?  So many questions still…

Here’s a short video of this part:

 

After each initiate looked into the water and answered the question, they all returned to the house for teeth filing. 

(Those of you who are squeamish, stop here)

It really isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Each initiate lays down in front of the leader, and he uses a stone to make their upper front teeth level.  They don’t file down to points or anything like that, and he didn’t file much off at all.  This is a mark that shows you have been through the mopopoadat and are now a full member of the community.  Here’s a short video:

 

After that was lunch, and the end!  Due to some unrest in the area I had to leave immediately, but fortunately I was able to finish documenting everything.  Sometimes circumcision would take place after the mopopoadat was finished, but I didn’t see that in this case and many boys are circumcised at a young age here, well before they participate in mopopoadat.

That’s it for now! I hope you all enjoyed following along with me through this event.  As you can see, this is just a first glimpse into a rich cultural heritage and I still have a lot of work to do.  There are many unanswered questions, and I’d like to document this event again so I can compare what happens.  I’m hopeful that we can help them keep their traditions alive in a changing world, and help them reconcile their Christian identity (which is very Western) with their cultural identity so that going to church doesn’t mean leaving behind their language, identity, culture, and arts.

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Mopopoadat–At the River

This is the next blog post in my series about the recent cultural event I documented.  The first blog post gave a photographic overview, the second highlighted the traditional martial arts here, the third was about kayori singing, and this fourth post will explain the next portion of the mopopoadat ceremony that takes place at a nearby river.

After the participants and leaders sing kayori all night long (as detailed in my pervious blog post), they are able to rest for a few minutes before the next event begins – going down to the river.  The “initiates” (for lack of a better term that’s what I’m calling them for now) are traditionally not allowed to touch the ground at all, except for the special designated area during kayori.  As they leave the ceremonial home, they are carried on the shoulders of their family and friends for the journey down to the river. 

Once we got there, it took quite a while to get all 89 participants set up and ready to go.  They ended up doing everything in shifts since there were too many initiates to do everyone in one batch.  You’ll see all this in the video but I’ll give a quick summary of what takes place here so you’ll know what you’re watching:

  1. All the initiates kneel or sit in the shallow river.  A cultural leader scoops up a pail of water, blows on it, and then sprinkles it on the initiates all the way down the line.
  2. A cultural leader takes a husked coconut and splits it over the initiate’s head using the back (blunt) side of a machete.  The coconut water pours over the initiate.
  3. The leader then tosses the two halves of the coconut into the river behind the initiate.  How the halves land is said to predict the length of the initiate’s life, but only the leader knows what it means and the information is never shared with anyone.
  4. The parents or supporting relatives scoop out some of the coconut flesh and scrub it all over the neck and face of the initiate.
  5. The initiates bathe and wash all the coconut off.

After this it takes a while for everyone to get back into their nice clothes and back on people’s shoulders, but once they are ready the procession back to the village begins.  Along the way, another interesting thing happens:  they are met by an “enemy.”  A guard and the enemy mock fight in front of the procession for a while, and eventually the enemy is defeated and the procession is able to return to the ceremonial house.  The initiates march around the house three times before being allowed to enter. 

I was very thankful to have a good tripod with me to keep the video stable, especially since I was walking around in the river for much of the shooting. Also thankful my tripod has a built in level!  Here’s my setup:

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Here’s the video (about 7 minutes long, and I just couldn’t get it any shorter!):

Acara di sungai

 

I have piles of questions I need to ask just about this one portion of the mopopoadat ceremony.  Given the focus of our work, I specifically need to ask about some of the possibly animistic beliefs that still exist behind some of these practices.  There is a wealth of deep symbolism and meaning here that I would hate to see lost but we always must be careful in how we apply what we learn about a culture. Many more questions need to be asked so we can find what is appropriate and useable and what isn’t; this is why research is such an essential part of our work!  If we just start encouraging things to be used without asking questions first, we could do more harm than good.

Most of all, I was excited to see a traditional ceremony like this when I have been repeatedly told for the past 2 years that this culture is mostly lost and doesn’t matter to anyone anymore.  I would say the crowd that turned up for this mopopoadat is evidence to the contrary. 

About the questions: I like to be open in our research, so I’ll post a partial list of the questions I have after observing this event.  Feel free to post more questions in the comments if you see other things I should be asking about!

  • Why do initiates step on axe head and then 2 leaves?  
  • What kind of leaves are they, and what are they for?
  • What does the axe head mean?
  • Why must they step on it with their right foot?
  • How is the river and/or spot in the river chosen for the ceremony?
  • Why does the cultural leader blow on the water?
  • Does he say anything when he does it?
  • Why split a coconut over each person’s head?  What does it mean?
  • Why smear each person with coconut flesh, and what does that mean?
  • Who is allowed to smear the person with coconut?
  • What is the significance of throwing the two halves of the coconut into the water? 
  • Does how they land mean something?
  • Why march around the house 3 times? Someone told me it could be 7 times.
  • Meeting an enemy – who/what is he, and who/what challenges him?
  • What does that battle symbolize?
  • Why does it take place on the way back from the river?
  • What are their weapons and shields?  What kinds of branches are those and what does that mean?
  • On the trip to and from river, should participants not touch the ground?  Why were some allowed to walk when most were carried?

Okay, and…. GO! Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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Filed under Ethnoarts, language/culture