Suluk Wujil and Javanese Performance Theory | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 1, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2043-1015
  • E-ISSN: 2043-1023


Suluk Wujil (inscribed in Cirebon, West Java in 1607) interpellates descriptions of wayang kulit, raket mask dance and clowning with discourse on Islamic topics and a portrait of a homo-social relation between two Islamic 'saints' (wali). The text focuses centrally on Sheikh Malaya, an alias for Sunan Kalijaga, the legendary Islamic proselytizer. Malaya has become a mask dance performer in his search for his missing son, but is unable to reconcile his working identity with a belief in doctrinal Islam, until a post-performance dialogue with his spiritual master Sunan Bonang reveals that the symbology of wayang kulit can be interpreted from an Islamic mystical perspective, holding the key to the reconciliation of opposites and opening up knowledge of the Divine. The text argues for an anti-scripturalism in which the ultimate kiblat (point of orientation) is not Mecca but the ever-permutable self, constantly in negotiation with the Divine and social others. Rather than artistic performance being segregated as an extra-quotidian domain, it is integrated through discourse and interpretation into a dialogical world of play. Such, at least, is the text's apparent argument. In practice, however, a text such as the Suluk Wujil, which deploys a considerable amount of technical performance vocabulary as well as complex Islamic hermeneutics, is clearly not intended to be understood by all. Sunan Bonang's esoteric interpretation of wayang kulit is not immanent in performance. Thus, the text hints at a split between artistic production and exegesis defined along lines of class and space. While commoners might enact and attend theatre in the public sphere, the work of interpretation takes place privately, carried out by elite artistic connoisseurs who are also initiates in the esoteric secrets of mysticism. This hierarchical spatialization of knowledge remains a vital undercurrent in Javanese performance to date.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): aesthetics; Cirebon; Indonesia; Islam; Java; suluk; wayang
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