Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Prophet's Birthday: Procession

Like other Muslim communities the world over, the people of Home Island celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad with celebrations and reverence. They also add their own Cocos Malay twist.

Men chanting

Birth of the Prophet

Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammad on a day called Maulud Nabi. Maulud Nabi occurs once every lunar year. In this blog, I describe the first part of the Maulud Nabi celebrations on Home Island.

Procession / Ngarak

The first part of the ritual was a procession (ngarak). Home Islanders began gathering for the festivities at the mosque from 7am. Then with a few announcements Mr Nek Shah got the the procession going.
An imam makes a few announcements before we set off. Behind him,
the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Australian flags

At the front were the imam and wakil imam. Behind them were boys from the religious school (they study the Koran and Hadith after school everyday) carrying banners.

Imams at the front with wakil imam, and boys carrying banner behind them.

Further back marched the tambourine men (orang rebana) who chanted. The chanting was loud, joyful and welcoming. Unlike a Christmas pageant, there were few spectators. The emphasis was on joining in, rather than just watching the procession.

At the rear was the rest of the procession--Home Islanders and a few mainland Australians who had made the trip over from West Island to join in.

Women and children, further back in the procession.

The procession did a lap around the kampong (village). The pace was cracking initially, so the whole procession took about 25 minutes to complete, returning back to the mosque.
Procession comes to an end.

After that, the next part of the ritual involved readings and eating. I'll discuss that in my next blog.

Anthropological Analysis


Ethnomusicologists study music and dance in a larger cultural context. As I understand it, ethnomusicology is the anthropology of music and dance performance. Ethnomusicologists are not just interested in 'big ticket' ritual or ceremonial performances like the procession I've described in this blog. They also focus on things like mothers singing lullabies, humming around the house.


From ethnomusicologists we get a sense of the procession as a distinct form of ritual and that performance can be found in many cultures.  often accompany rites-of-passage. In Western marriage rituals, the bride walks down the aisle with musical background. In the famous New Orleans funerals of the past, the musicians accompany the performers. The term seems to be "processional performance".

Ethnomusicology of Cocos Malay culture

Other ethnomusicologists, Dr David Irving and Dr Jenny McCallum, are undertaking a research project on the history and practice of Malay music traditions among the Cocos Malays. This is not just on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands--they researched Maulud Nabi this year among the Cocos Malays of Katanning. Their research will form an important contribution to our understanding Cocos Malay culture.

Ethnomusicology in other contexts

You might also want to read at the work of Monika Winarnita, who is the other half of this research project on Cocos Malay culture. Her book specifically focuses on Indonesian migrant women's dance performances in Perth, Western Australia: Drawing on ethnomusicology, Monika shows how these women would like to perform their Indonesian cultural identity as migrants in Australia. Although mostly amateur housewives, they see themselves as cultural ambassadors, teaching Australians about Indonesian culture. They perform created dances which show their mixed identity--and as part of her participant-observation, Monika joined in. The dances are mostly performed at multicultural festivals. In doing this, they are trying to belong and 'reinvent' themselves as part of the Indonesian community in Australia.

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