Macquarie University
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Music, movement, martial arts: sound and gesture in West Sumatran, West Javanese, and Afro-Bahian combat-dancing

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posted on 2022-03-28, 19:31 authored by Paul Howard Mason
Practices of combat-dancing integrate music, dance and martial arts. Indonesian and Brazilian practices of combat-dancing originate from geographically distinct societies; incorporate different ways of moving; and use almost entirely different musical structures. They are embodied social practices that exhibit idiosyncratic patterns of sociocultural entrainment and different underlying modes of embodiment. This thesis looks at two practices of combat-dancing found in Indonesia and one practice of combat-dancing originating in Brazil: silek minang is the indigenous martial art of West Sumatra, pencak silat seni is found predominantly in West Java, and capoeira is a widespread Afro-Brazilian art. Focusing on instances of combat-dancing that feature music, I examine the relationship between sound and movement - a field of research known as choreomusicology. Informed by my fieldwork experiences, this thesis situates the relationship between music and movement in each art within a social, historical and cultural context. In Indonesia, silek minang practitioners rarely train their art to music, but come together with musicians in performance for audience entertainment. The combative gestures of silek minang have a symbolic relationship to the percussion and woodwind music but exhibit few other correlations. In contrast, practitioners of the choreographed art of pencak silat seni occasionally train with recorded or live music. In performance, the sharp and abrupt movements of pencak silat seni are preferably accompanied by highly trained musicians who attempt to mimic the choreographies with corresponding dynamics, timbre and tessitura. In Brazil, capoeira practitioners practice a swaying and circular movement improvisation art that is subordinate to the steady magnetic rhythms of a percussion orchestra. Whether live or recorded, music is always present during capoeira training but is preferably produced live during performances. The contrast between Indonesian and Brazilian practices of combat-dancing illustrates patterns of culture change in socially organised human expressive systems. The cases of Indonesian and Brazilian combat-dances demonstrate dynamics of long-term, large-scale cultural change, even 'evolution,' by demonstrating the ways that diverse historical, political, religious, social and even aesthetic forces shape unpredictable transformations in these arts. Within the context of globalization, practices of combat-dancing can be predisposed to spread easily or subject to change as a result of the transnational flow of practitioners. For example, the relationship between music and movement can become disrupted as communities of practitioners swiftly become larger and more widespread and as expertise diffuses unevenly. From combat-dancing through choreomusicology to cultural evolution, this research is empirically based on fieldwork conducted in Indonesia and Brazil, methodologically inspired by developments in the study of the relationship between music and movement, and theoretically driven by a desire to contribute to models of cultural change.


Alternative Title

Sound and gesture in West Sumatran, West Javanese, and Afro-Bahian combat-dancing

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Synchonic and diachronic approaches -- Silek Minang in West Sumatra, Indonesia -- Pencak Silat Seni in West Java, Indonesia -- Capoeira in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil -- Fight-dancing and the festival: Tabuik in Pariaman, West Sumatra, and Iemanjá in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil -- Degeneracy at the Cultural Level -- Fight-dancing in the context of globalisation -- Conclusion.


Accompanying video files include the ethnographic footage of combat-dancing in West Sumatra, West Java, and Salvador da Bahia. Bibliography: p, 271-303

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD (Thesis), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Gregory Downey

Additional Supervisor 1

John Sutton


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Paul Howard Mason 2011.




Indonesia Brazil


xxi, 303 p. ill. (some col.) +

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