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New SEA Releases from UH Press

The Way of the Cross: Suffering Selfhoods in the Roman Catholic Philippines

Julius Bautista

Available via UH Press

Every year during Holy Week in the Philippine province of Pampanga, hundreds of men and women undergo acts of excruciating, self-inflicted pain in ways that evoke the Way of the Cross: the torment and crucifixion that Christ endured in the last days of his earthly existence. Because these Passion rituals are officially disavowed by the Filipino Roman Catholic Church, most observers view them as irrational and extremist mimicry of Christ’s painful ordeal. Even scholars conventionally depict them as theatrical “spectacle” or macabre examples of Filipino “folk religion.” But what conditions enable ritual actors to submit to such extreme pain? What justifications do they give for going against official prohibitions? What outcomes do they seek in channeling Christian piety in this way?

This book addresses these questions through its in-depth analyses of three interconnected ritual acts: the pabasa, a days-long communal chanting of Christ’s Passion story; the pagdarame, the public self-flagellation of hundreds of devotees; and the pamamaku king krus, in which steel nails are driven through the palms and feet of ritual practitioners as part of a street play performed in front of tens of thousands of spectators. Author Julius Bautista suggests that such ritual acts manifest the embodied physicality of a suffering selfhood that facilitates the expression of heartfelt sentiments of pity, empathy, trust, and bereavement. By emphasizing these outwardly focused human sensibilities as the wellsprings of ritual agency, he demonstrates that Passion rituals are reinterpretations of the very idea and experience of pain, hardship, and suffering and premised on an appeal for a certain kind of divine intimacy.

The author draws on a decade of in-depth and often exclusive interviews with a host of local stakeholders—including ritual practitioners, clerics, scholars, and government officials—and his own participation in a Passion play. Ethnographic insight is considered alongside primary and secondary archival sources, including unpublished, locally produced oral historical accounts and a survey of relevant media coverage. The Way of the Cross makes a welcome contribution to the anthropology of religion by examining the unique ontological contexts in which ritual agents experience God’s involvement in their lives.

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Myanmar’s Buddhist-Muslim Crisis: Rohingya, Arakanese, and Burmese Narratives of Siege and Fear

John Clifford Holt

Available via UH Press

Myanmar’s Buddhist-Muslim Crisis is a probing search into the reasons and rationalizations behind the violence occurring in Myanmar, especially the oppressive military campaigns waged against Rohingya Muslims by the army in 2016 and 2017. Over more than three years John Holt traveled around Myanmar engaging in sustained conversations with prominent and articulate participants and observers. What emerges from his peregrinations is a series of compelling portraits revealing both deep insights and entrenched misunderstandings.

To understand the conflict, Holt must first accurately capture the viewpoints of his different conversation partners, who include Buddhists and Muslims, men and women, monks and laypeople, activists and scholars. Conversations range widely over issues such as the rise of Buddhist nationalism; the sometimes enigmatic and unexpected positions taken by Aung San Suu Kyii; use of the controversial term “Rohingya”; the impact of state-sponsored propaganda on the Burmese public; resistance to narratives emanating from international media, the United Nations, and the international diplomatic community; the frustrations of local political leaders who have felt left out of the policy-making process in the Rakhine State; and the constructive hopes and efforts still being made by forward-looking activists in Yangon. Three main perspectives emerge from the voices he listens to, those of Arakanese Buddhists who are native to Rakhine (once called Arakan), where much of the conflict has taken place; Burmese Buddhists (or Bamars), who make up the vast majority of Myanmar’s population; and the Rohingya Muslims, whose tragic story has been widely disseminated by the international media.

What surfaces in conversation after conversation among all three groups is a narrative of siege: all see themselves as the aggrieved party, and all recount a history of being under siege. John Holt gives voice to these different perspectives as an engaged and concerned participant, offering both a critical and empathetic account of Myanmar’s tragic predicament. Readers follow the hopes and dismay of this seasoned scholar of Theravada Buddhism as he seeks his own understanding of the variously impassioned forces in play in this still unfolding drama.

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Minority Stages: Sino-Indonesian Performance and Public Display

Josh Stenberg

Available via UH Press

Minority Stages: Sino-Indonesian Performance and Public Display offers intriguing new perspectives on historical and contemporary Sino-Indonesian performance. For the first time in a major study, this community’s diverse performance practices are brought together as a family of genres. Combining fieldwork with evidence from Indonesian, Chinese, and Dutch primary and secondary sources, Josh Stenberg takes a close look at Chinese Indonesian self-representation, covering genres from the Dutch colonial period to the present day.

From glove puppets of Chinese origin in East Java and Hakka religious processions in West Kalimantan, to wartime political theatre on Sumatra and contemporary Sino-Sundanese choirs and dance groups in Bandung, this book takes readers on a tour of hybrid and diverse expressions of identity, tracing the stories and strategies of minority self-representation over time. Each performance form is placed in its social and historical context, highlighting how Sino-Indonesian groups and individuals have represented themselves locally and nationally to the archipelago’s majority population as well as to Indonesian state power.

In the last twenty years, the long political suppression of manifestations of Chinese culture in Indonesia has lifted, and a wealth of evidence now coming to light shows how Sino-Indonesians have long been an integral part of Indonesian culture, including the performing arts. Valorizing that contribution challenges essentialist readings of ethnicity or minority, complicates the profile of a group that is often considered solely in socioeconomic terms, and enriches the understanding of Indonesian culture, Southeast Asian Chinese identities, and transnational cultural exchanges.

Minority Stages helps counter the dangerous either/or thinking that is a mainstay of ethnic essentialism in general and of Chinese and Indonesian nationalisms in particular, by showing the fluidity and adaptability of Sino-Indonesian identity as expressed in performance and public display.

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After the Tsunami: Disaster Narratives and the Remaking of Everyday Life in Aceh

Annemarie Samuels

Available via UH Press

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused immense destruction and over 170,000 deaths in the Indonesian province of Aceh. The disaster spurred large-scale social and political changes in Aceh, including the intensified implementation of shari‘a law and an end to the long separatist conflict. After the Tsunami explores Acehnese survivors’ experiences of the deadly waves and the subsequent reconstruction process through the stories they tell about the disaster. Narratives, author Annemarie Samuels argues, are both a window onto the process of remaking everyday life and an essential component of it.

Building on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, Samuels shows how the everyday work of recovery is indispensable for any large-scale reconstruction effort to succeed. Recovery is an ambiguous process in which grief remains as life goes on, where optimism and disappointment, remembering and forgetting, structural poverty and the rhetoric of success are often intertwined in individual and social worlds. Such paradoxes are key and form a thread through the five chapters of the book. Addressing post-disaster reconstruction from the survivors’ perspectives opens up space for criticism of post-disaster governance without reducing the discussion of recovery to top-down interventions. Individual histories, emotions, creativity, and ways of being in the world, the author argues, inform the remaking of worlds as much as social, political, and cultural transformations do.

After the Tsunami is a provocative and highly significant contribution to studies of humanitarian aid and disaster, psychological anthropology, narrative studies, and scholarly studies of Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Its elegant style, pointed theorizing, and moving ethnographic descriptions will draw readers into Acehnese lifeworlds and politics. Its narratives attest to Acehnese ways of living with loss, within and across a history of colonial and postcolonial violence and suffering and a present of political uncertainty and hope.

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