'Deathscapes' of the Malay Martial Artist

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 National University of Singapore d.s.farrer@gmail.com
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This article traces the connections between death and the afterlife as configured through the Malay martial art silat in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Riau Archipelago. The practice and performance of silat are addressed here through aspects of non-material and material culture, including ritual, dance, jewelry, symbols, and art. Silat is designed to transform physically and spiritually the silat practitioner and to remove the fear of death and dying. This transformation is partly accomplished by summoning (berseru) the shadows of the 'potent dead'. However, the contemporary medicalization of death may preclude the possibility of a 'noble death'. To illustrate the disjuncture of 'deathscapes', I compare the agonizing death of a silat master to the cemetery ordeal of his son.