Theatrical change paralleling socio-political developments in Indonesia’s Natuna archipelago in the South China Sea: The case for Malay mendu theatre performance

Karen Kartomi Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Radical changes in the performance practice of a Malay theatre form called mendu, located in the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea, have paralleled major socio-political change. New kinds of audiences were added to the traditional village audiences since 1979 when the discovery of natural gas began to take effect among the people of Natuna. The popularity of film, television, radio, and the cassette industries from the 1960s led to a decline in local audience attendance at live theatre shows. From the late 1970s, a leading mendu theatre director allowed female performers to join the previously all-male cast on stage despite arousing controversy, thus contributing to changes in gender attitudes. From 2004, when the province of the Riau Islands province separated from mainland Riau and achieved autonomy, the Natuna local government and commercial audiences gave mendu more prominence that eventually extended to the national level. Changes in the mendu style resulted from the performers’ need to comply with new government directives. When the first governor asked the new province’s regencies to select symbols of their Malay cultural identity, the Natuna regency chose mendu theatre as one of its symbols, a decision that helped save the art form from extinction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-341
Number of pages15
JournalIndonesia and the Malay World
Issue number130
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • Malay mendu theatre performance
  • Natuna archipelago Indonesia
  • South China Sea
  • theatrical change

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