Friday, July 15, 2005

A Sacred Indonesian Epic

Edward Rothstein reviews Robert Wilson's "stunningly beautiful music-theater work "I La Galigo," which received its American premiere at the New York State Theater on Wednesday night, as one of the highlights of the Lincoln Center Festival. This sacred epic was adapted by Rhoda Grauer from a 6,000-page sacred epic, Sureq Galigo, written between the 13th and 15th centuries in an Indonesian language that can now be read by no more than 100 people. In modern times, it may never even have been read in its entirety, so fragmented are the manuscripts that have survived the ravages of humidity and decay, and destruction by Islamic fundamentalists in recent decades.

This epic, with its tales of six generations of gods and its focus on the fate of the Middle World - our own - thus offers the mythological and ritualistic thinking of a near-vanished culture, even though the people who created it, the Bugis, number 5 million strong, remain prominent on the Indonesian island of South Sulawesi, and still invoke the folk wisdom and ritualistic instruction of the stories. The drama's transvestite priests, known as Bissu, who are supposed to be invulnerable and play a central guiding role in the epic, still exist, but they, too, are only shadows of their former selves."

Edward Rothstein
"A Sacred Epic and Its Gods, All Struggling to Survive"
New York Times
July 15, 2005


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