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  • "Digging" and "Upgrading":Government Efforts to "Develop" Music and Dance in Lombok, Indonesia
  • David Harnish (bio)

Lombok, one of the two islands that comprise the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat in Indonesia, is considered "rich" (kaya) in performing arts. Yet, like most areas of the country, the provincial government was asked to "dig" or "uncover" (menggali), "establish" (membina) and "develop" (memgembang) music and dance to meet perceived national (read "Javanese") standards shortly after the inception of President Suharto's New Order (Orde Baru) government in 1967. The performing arts became an area of intervention; the government wanted to mold the arts into agents for nationalism, national culture and unity. Most programs were locally subsumed under the national policy of Pembinaan Kesenian (Construction of the Arts).1

As in most Indonesian provinces, these programs on Lombok came under the jurisdiction of the provincial Arts Section (Seksi Kesenian) of the Department of Education and Culture (Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan, the acronym Depdikbud). Several years were needed to acquire the necessary funding and research. Only a few projects were carried out in the 1970s, and most of these involved taking inventories of local arts. Officials then launched an astonishing number of projects beginning in the 1980s. The head (kepala) of the Section from 1983 to 1995 was Hj. Sri Yaningsih (Bu Sri), an educated Javanese woman who had married a Sasak man and moved to Lombok in 1969 where she had worked in arts development and in preparing song texts for schools until assuming the head position. She was a strong advocate of the national policy, took her job very seriously, and disallowed any behavior that could be construed as corruption. She and her staff conducted many projects throughout Lombok and Sumbawa, developed festivals and competitions to help upgrade and promote the arts, provided grants to many groups, and published many informational booklets on the performing arts. These efforts were particularly important in Lombok, where officials and musicians claimed that religion had hindered development and had caused a steep decline in artistic activity. [End Page 61]

I first discussed some of these problems with Bu Sri on several occasions in 1983, and then interviewed her formally in 1987, 1988, 1989 and again in 2001. During this last interview, she said she felt "satisfied" and a "little proud" that her efforts to develop the arts had been successful. The evidence is there: very few performing arts organizations and clubs (sanggar, sekaha) existed on Lombok in the 1970s and now there are well over 1,000. In the 1970s, neighboring Sumbawa "did not have" performing arts, and now groups performing "traditional arts" have toured internationally. Many compromises, however, had to be made to achieve this "success." Decisions prioritized some arts and ignored others, genre authenticity was bent, and certain changes in the arts were considered necessary to "advance" the arts to a national standard, to repre sent the province at the national level, and to "prepare the mentality" of local residents in shaping and preserving identity in the face of globalization.

Virtually all regions of Indonesia were required to implement national arts policies during President Suharto's lengthy administration (1967–98), and the vast majority had to "uncover" and "cultivate" the performing arts to advance national agendas and achieve an acknowledged national quality. Each province had its own challenges (see, for example, Sutton 1995, Hutajulu 1995, Acciaioli 1985, and Aragon 1996) and officials and musicians responded in specific ways reflecting a variety of histories (including provincial, ethnic, community, artistic, personal). I submit that agency—the decisions made by particular persons in particular circumstances in response to given stimuli—is key to understanding how these policies played out in Indonesia. Lombok was a nexus of national intervention, provincial response, and individual agency. The decisions by Bu Sri and her staff not only illuminate local reaction but also reveal multiple histories and explain the current arts situation on the island.

This article addresses notions of success and improvement in the traditional performing arts, explores individual agency and provincial responses toward national policies, and identifies the arts concerned. In the 1980s, I sometimes assisted teams at research sites, attended seminars on the arts, and once sat on a...


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