21 December 2009

Barongsai / Lion Dance Banned in Aceh...

The Religious Affairs Office in Aceh has decided in its infinite wisdom to ban the barongsai dance from Aceh. The reason, Acehnese will not understand it, and therefore any new things must be introduced slowly and explained. It seems that the Religious Affairs Office was worried that the majority of Muslim Acehnese would not like the lion dance, and to allow it to be performed would be tantamount to sowing the seeds of conflict in the province.

The barongsai or lion dance is a traditional Chinese cultural performance. In commemorations of the fifth anniversary of the 2004 tsunami tragedy that devastated Aceh and other places, Acehnese Buddhists were going to perform a series of lion dances throughout Aceh.

It is worth noting that the lion dance is not a religious event, but rather it is a cultural one. Those that believe in the dance believe that it may help in calming restless spirits. My guess, if you believe in that sort of thing, is that there probably are a few restless spirits out there considering the nature of the tragedy that unfolded on that fateful day.

Aceh has special autonomy and this affords them a large degree of flexibility in governing their own affairs. This special autonomy also includes special privileges with respect to implementing religious laws. However, it would seem that the decision was not, at least in the official sense, based on religious concerns, but rather basic law and order ones.

If this is the case, then the national prohibitions regarding the lion dance and its performance have been expunged since 2000. Therefore, the government, via the Department of Religious Affairs, needs to step in and have a few words to the local Religious Affairs Office about how best to execute their responsibilities.

Then again, Aceh has been on a bit of a role lately with local government action on the legislation front including enacting legislation to stone adulterers.

Oh well.


oigal said...

"The reason, Acehnese will not understand it, and therefore any new things must be introduced slowly and explained.'

Hmmmmm...Rather a dim and patronising view of the people they are supposed to represent.

Rob Baiton said...


Very patronizing. However, it seems prevalent in most places. After all, the LSF decided that Indonesians were not ready or mature enough to cast a discerning eye over the film 'Balibo'. So, the banning of the lion dance in Aceh should hardly cause a stir.

H. Nizam said...


When members of Partai Aceh (ex GAM) won many regional chief elections(pilkada) & parliamentary elections, I thought that Aceh will become more moderate. Because before the Helsinski agreement ex GAM top officials lived in Sweden, a country which I always thought more "liberal" compared to other European countries.
It seems that the local fanatic elements are more dominant.

Rob Baiton said...


After the most recent 'elections' aren't the new members of the new parliament supposed to be more liberal?

If they want to ban stuff, then go for it. But the reasoning provided in this case highlights that they just have no idea. A fail to see how the lion dance will sow the seeds of conflict in any more significant way than, say, outlawing tight pants being worn by women or stoning to death adulterers.

Then again, you get the parliament that you vote for in a democracy. And, last I heard Indonesia and all her provinces claimed to be a democracy. So, is it fair to assume that this is what the majority of Acehnese want?