Dr. David Harnish

Dr. David Harnish


Indonesian festival links diverse people, political interests

Indonesia’s spectacular Lingsar Festival is ritualistic and historically bound by time, but it is nevertheless changing in tune with the growing political influence of Islam throughout the island nation.

A BGSU music faculty member has traced these changes over two decades of research, leading to the new book, Bridges to the Ancestors: Music, Myth and Cultural Politics at an Indonesian Festival, published by the University of Hawaii Press.

Researched and written by Dr. David Harnish, ethnomusicology, the book offers a broad ethnographic study of the 300-year-old festival, which is held annually at a village temple complex built above the abundant water springs on the island of Lombok, near Bali.

According to Harnish, the festival offers spiritual, social and musical experiences to participants. It also links religious, political, artistic and agrarian interests and harmonizes relations between indigenous Sasak Muslims and migrant Balinese Hindus.

While the festival rites are bound by tradition, some of those traditions are changing, says the ethnomusicologist, who specializes in studying traditional and popular music and the peoples and cultures to which it belongs.

At one time, traditional music accompanied offerings; now it does not. Because the instrument utilized—the oboe or shawm—represents a pagan, non-Islamic element, its use has been stopped at the event, he explained.

One of the primary influences affecting the festival is Muslim-dominated local government, according to Harnish. While Lingsar is considered a distraction from Islam, “the government likes to promote the tourism the festival provides,” he said.

The elaborate festival was founded around the cycle of rice production—the islands’ staple food—and includes a “war of the rice squares.”

Outside the main temple on the second day of the festival, Harnish said, Muslims and Hindus throw rice squares at each other for 15 minutes. The rite symbolizes “giving back part of the harvest to the deity,” and once thrown, the squares are considered “blessed.” Farmers quickly pick them up to use in the next year’s planting.

Three days of the festival are dedicated to processions and thousands of offerings. The balance is filled with periods of worship, dance and gamelan performances. A gamelan is an Indonesian orchestra of percussion instruments unique to Indonesia.

Families, neighbors and entire villages spend weeks preparing to take part in the event, which annually attracts more than 20,000 participants.

“Music in Bali is (seen) as a way to create a bridge to ancestors,” Harnish said. “Music always comes first. The gamelans are playing by 5 a.m. each day of the festival, and they reference a particular (episode of the past) that becomes present when played.

“The rural Muslims still hold onto the practice of honoring their ancestors,” he added.

Harnish is director of the Kusuma Sari Gamelan in the College of Musical Arts and has led numerous study-abroad programs for American students in Indonesia.

A former consultant to the British Broadcasting Co., National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution, Harnish has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ohio Humanities Council, the Fulbright-Hayes Foundation, the United States-Indonesian Society and Partnerships for Community Action to support his research.

His previous publications include articles in the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Ethnomusicology, Ethnomusicology Forum, The World of Music, and the Yearbook for Traditional Music, among others.
January 30, 2006