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Cultural circles. dancing around spirals of influence

posted on 2016-12-05, 00:31 authored by Hames-Brooks, Elisabeth Jillian
In the Toraja highland region of Sulawesi, Indonesia, the concept of circle and spiral symbols was raditionally interlinked with a spatial interpretation of the spiritual and physical worlds. The universe itself was conceived in terms of overlapping circles, working outwards from a metaphysical centre. Set against an array of designs holding meaning, the symbolism of the circle came to be an expression of noble heritage. Dance experts consider girls danced within a physically drawn circle, later cognitively imagined. A vast array of traditional patterns and designs were interlinked with folklore and carvings, some with multiple meanings. Of these the circles was ‘the highest’ shape. Whilst shared perceptions were a feature of culture in the past and today, similarly regional and social differences, some of which were born out of differing histories, continue to exert influence. The following work is a cultural history of the Toraja stretching from early possibilities, through colonial experience, to the present. The themes it touches upon include perceptions of motifs and the spiritual realm, gender and social relations as well as the broader strokes of historical change. This provides the stage and backdrop for dance which becomes central as a cultural prism, revealing both known historical changes and those that are possibilities. Toraja history reflects cultural confluence and continues to combine new streams of thought with those perceived to be from the ancestors.


Principal supervisor

David P. Chandler

Additional supervisor 1

Joost Coté

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Monash Asia Institute


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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