Music-cultures and worldviews of the Riau Islands’ Sea Nomads

This pioneering project investigates the diversity and changing identity of the music-culture of the Sea Nomad tribes living in remote islands untouched by modernisation vis-à-vis the music-culture of the Muslim Malays who live on accessible, rapidly industrialising islands in the Riau Archipelago. It develops a novel, analytical methodology across-the-arts that relates the syntax of the music, dance, theatre and popular commercial arts to the people’s religious and gender ideologies, royal Malay heritage and lifestyles – including the Sea Nomads’ feelings of alienation at the ecological destruction of their environment and the government’s desire that they conform to sedentary living.

This project explores the Sea Nomads’ music-cultural identity and related socio-economic dilemmas vis-à-vis that of the Muslim Malays in the industrialising Riau islands. It raises the profile of the government’s plan to revitalise and promote the arts in the villages and towns. The project addresses a problem faced by government policy makers, artists, NGOs and other stakeholders about how to define, sustain, protect and develop the Sea Nomads’ and the Sedentary Malays’ ancestral artistic identities in an environment affected by the Riau Islands’ rapid modernisation, to solve musico-social problems which can be applied across the region. It will generate new findings on the gender dynamics that affect the viability of female artists and their artistic leadership roles in a male-dominant society.

The project furthers Australians’ awareness of the intercultural contexts in which they work in Asian-Pacific environments and helps maintain Australia’s ongoing engagement with the Asia-Pacific.

Chief Investigators Professor Margaret Kartomi; Associate Professor Mora Manolete; Dr Geoffrey Benjamin; Professor Cynthia Chou; Dr Karen Kartomi Thomas

Funder ARC Discovery Project

Other Partners University of Copenhagen; Nanyang Technological University

Date of Award 2013