Monash University

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Reconstructing and revitalising the music-culture of the Melanau people of Sarawak, with special reference to Mukah

posted on 2017-02-22, 01:05 authored by Madzhi, Nadia Widyawati
This thesis aims to demonstrate how it is possible to reconstruct the disappearing traditional musical genres - that of the Melanau ethno-lingual group of Sarawak. It also investigates attempts over the past twenty-five years to transform and reinvigorate the Melanau music-culture in the districts of Mukah and the Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching. At present the Melanau people are predominantly Muslims although traditionally they were Animists who venerated the spirits of nature, and most of their music was generated in the Animist community. Therefore my research focuses on what I have learnt from the current Animist community in the Melanau homeland, and I have attempted to reconstruct the music-culture that existed before the advent of Islam (before c.1800) and Christianity (since 1841). Only one fully informed bearer of the traditional culture outside Mukah remains today – Pak Sill. Thus it was also important for me to document his knowledge of the repertoire and mus ical practices, as well as exploring their relationship to the culture at large. The research methodology that was developed for this study was shaped by a number of primary factors. In the first place I am a hereditary member of the Melanau culture in Sarawak, which is now centred at Mukah. This has provided me with substantial access to the field and insights that assisted my attempts to reconstruct a history of the music and culture in both rural and urban environments. My fieldwork-based research into the cultural revitalisation efforts has developed with a critical awareness of the obstacles in its path. The thesis argues that traditional Melanau culture, which is unfortunately at risk of extinction in the next generation, is defined primarily by Animist local practice rather than by Muslim beliefs and practices.


Principal supervisor

Margaret J. Kartomi

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Department, School or Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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