Revitalising the Musical Arts of Indonesia’s Lampung Province

How does an Indigenous population recover its self-confidence and socio-economic status in Indonesia’s post-authoritarian era (since circa-2000)? MAMU’s newest ethnographic project aims to explore these concepts through the experiences of the Indigenous people of Indonesia’s Lampung province, Ulun Lampung. It brings together researchers in the field, including Prof Margaret Kartomi (Chief Investigator, Monash University), Assoc Prof Bart Barendregt (Partner Investigator, Leiden University), Dr Rina Martiara (PI, Indonesian Institute of Arts, Yogyakarta), Dr Karen Kartomi Thomas (Monash University) and staff and students from Lampung University. The project is funded by an ARC Discovery Grant (2016-2019)(DP160100195).

Fascinating socio-political activity involving the revitalisation of the of the musical arts has been emerging on Australia’s doorstep in post-authoritarian Indonesia as the Ulun Lampung seek socio-economic empowerment and attempt to re-invigorate their musical arts in a sustainable way.  Much of the past century has seen the Ulun Lampung becoming a neglected minority in their own land. Mass migration into the area was instituted in 1905 by the Dutch colonial government and continued under the Indonesian Government from the 1950s. Palm-oil plantations and mining also caused a creeping loss of ancestral homelands, wildlife and environmental sustainability. The stigmatisation of the Ulun Lampung reached its zenith under Suharto’s authoritarian rule (1965-1998), when the mainly Javanese bureaucracy systematically failed to appoint Indigenous citizens to influential posts and little was done to improve the historically low status of women.

After Suharto fell in 1998 and Indonesia’s Reformation era began, a “sea change” occurred for the Ulun Lampung. In 2004 the first governor of Ulun Lampung descent was elected and the government began an affirmative action policy, giving Ulun Lampung many administrative appointments and helping establish the Council of Lampung Elders. Despite the people’s loss of land to plantations and mining, the public and private sectors worked to minimize the customary marginalization and of the Ulun Lampung and helped solve some of their most burning socio-economic problems – in part by pinpointing their artistic heritage as the most distinctive aspect of the emerging official concept of Lampung’s identity and promoting their musical arts in a sustainable way among both transmigrant and Indigenous populations. This project aims to explore and document the musical, cultural and artistic rebuilding exercise undertaken by the people of Lampung in post-authoritarian Indonesia.

Photo credits: Karen Kartomi Thomas