The traditional sitting song-dances: How their recognition and rivalries affect Gayo-Acehnese relations at home and in the diasporas

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From the 1960s, both the Gayo minority in the highlands of Aceh and the Acehnese majority living in the coastal plains have achieved increased national and international exposure of their traditional song-dances, some of which are performed in the standing position and others in the sitting position. This article focuses on the Gayo saman and the Acehnese ratoh duek (lit. sitting chattering ) song-dances, both of which are performed in the sitting (actually kneeling) position. From ca the 1980s they were transplanted into the Medan, Jakarta and Yogyakarta diasporas. While ratoh duek was widely performed and taught in simplified form to thousands of Indonesian school children, saman has remained an exclusively Gayo traditional form, and unlike the Acehnese, its community has consistently rejected any substantial modification of the genre for mass teaching and performance purposes. In 2011, UNESCO formally recognised the Gayo Lues style of saman as an Endangered Item of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which increased its international prominence and provided some funding for its preservation. However this recognition served to intensify existing tensions between the Gayo and the Acehnese at home and especially in the diasporas. To this day, the government, the media and the general population often mistakenly refer to the Acehnese genre ratoh duek by the Gayo name of saman, despite its very different history and style. This is resented by the Gayo, who see the practice as an appropriation that increases their perception of being treated as second-class citizens in their own homeland as well as in their diaspora communities
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307 - 329
Number of pages23
JournalArchipel: etudes interdisciplinaires sur le monde insulindien
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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