Poetics in Indonesian-Malay theatre: Mendu in Indonesia’s Northern Riau Islands with special reference to Ladun and Nasib song lyrics

Karen Sri Kartomi Thomas

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Popular at the turn of the 20th century but in serious decline since the early 1980s, the little known traditional genre of mendu theatre in the Natuna archipelago (also performed in the neighbouring Anambas archipelago) staged episodes of the mythical Dewa Mendu story as in the literary epic Hikayat Dewa Mandu (Story of Dewa Mandu). Natuna regency is located in Indonesia’s far north between the Malay Peninsula in the west and the Malaysian state of Serawak in the east at the southern edge of the South China Sea. Performing arts’ groups in
the Mempawah region of West Kalimantan also performed mendu theatre, however its history, form, style and function differ significantly from that of Natuna (and Anambas). My ethnographic video recordings of four mendu performances I attended in 1984 held in one of Natuna’s main centres of the traditional arts (Ceruk and Teluk Selahang villages (kampung) near the capital Ranai) on Bunguran island, inform this study. To my knowledge these are the only recordings of the traditional Ranai-style form in existence as it was known
in 1984. Mendu songs were integral to every performance, and actors structured their lyrics in pantun form. The traditional poetics and the compositional method underlying the lyrics were, and remain key to the theatre even in its rejuvenated, revitalised form.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Pages (from-to)161-180
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Indonesian Studies
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017

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