AP­PRO­PRI­ATE OR AP­PRO­PRI­ATED?

Canada's History - - FROM THE ARCHIVES -

Was Eva Gau­thier en­gag­ing in cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion by pre­sent­ing West­ern­ized ver­sions of Ja­vanese songs while “sur­rounded by spe­cial scenery and a se­ries of wardrobe changes” sug­ges­tive of Ja­vanese dress? That’s a ques­tion raised re­cently by mu­si­col­o­gists such as Anita Slominksa, who wrote her doc­toral dis­ser­ta­tion on Eva and her sis­ter Juli­ette.

Even though Gau­thier noted the havoc in In­done­sia caused by the Dutch colo­nial au­thor­i­ties, the way she writes about the in­dige­nous Ja­vanese — “na­tives of an en­chant­ing land” — and her ac­cep­tance (al­beit only as an ob­server conscious of the Ja­vanese so­cial mores) of the prac­tice of forc­ing twelve-year- old girls into ar­ranged mar­riages, make for grim read­ing. How­ever, in an­other ar­ti­cle she ob­served that, be­cause women of the court acted as go-be­tweens for the prime min­is­ter and the Sul­tan, the women “can shape the ques­tions and an­swers with any con­struc­tion they choose to put into them.”

Gau­thier thought of her per­for­mances as a cul­tural bridge, the frame­work of which was a lec­ture in which she dis­cussed “in­ter­est­ing bits of in­for­ma­tion con­cern­ing Ja­vanese cus­toms.” After all, she had gone from a bour­geois French- Cana­dian up­bring­ing in Ot­tawa’s tony Sandy Hill neigh­bour­hood to an en­vi­ron­ment that, as she de­scribed in a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle, required check­ing un­der her bed for snakes and lis­ten­ing to the “screech­ing and chat­ter­ing” of mon­keys, tigers, and spot­ted leop­ards.

Dancer Nila Devi.

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