Professor Kartomi’s article published in: The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and Its Music

Cover of "The Fighting Art of Pencak Silat and its Music: From Southeast Asian Village to Global Movement"This book contains MAMU Director Margaret Kartomi’s third illustrated article on the musical fighting art of silat in different parts of Indonesia. Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and MAMU members will remember a lecture by the book’s editor Uwe Paetzold hosted at Monash in 2014.

Silat is an umbrella term used in Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asia to designate the hundreds of traditional and modern martial art styles performed with or without musical accompaniment in rural areas throughout the region. The genre comprises two components: (i) a performance art for self expression and to entertain guests at weddings and other ceremonies, and (ii) a fighting and self defence art between opponents (pesilat). Both express mystical and ethical ideas in movement and musical form and are associated with a range of philosophies, ethical systems, religions, customary law, and the legend of the 15th-century Malay hero Hang Tuah, who is immortalised in an oral and written epic.

Only a few of silat’s many styles and philosophies have been studied to date. This chapter focuses on the unique features of silat and its music as practiced under the direction of a mahaguru (hereditary master) in a village near the former palace of the Malay Sultans of Riau Lingga (1819-1911) and compares it with the different style of movements, music and mystical Sufi rituals practiced under a guru besar (hereditary master) in a village on Bintan Island near the former palace of the Malay Viceroy at nearby Penyengat (late 18th century to 1900). In the latter village the solo displays, duels and matches between “one and many” (i.e. between 3 and 20) martial artists are preceded by prayers to Hang Tuah and to Allah and the prophet Muhammad, and performances are accompanied by folk violin, gong and drum music, with the pesilat aligning their movements only with the gong beat. However, in the former village, which focuses only on solo displays and duels that are preceded by prayers to Hang Tuah only, the martial artists align their movements with both gong and drum patterns, relishing the sarunai (oboe) part as an excitingly unpredictable element. Field recordings and videos of the performances are available in the Music Archive of Monash University (MAMU).


See the flyer to find out more: The Fighting Arts of Pencak Silat and its Music (pdf).