Chapter

Women and the Performance of Power in Early Modern Southeast Asia

Barbara Watson Andaya

in Servants of the Dynasty

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780520254435
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520941519 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520254435.003.0001
Women and the Performance of Power in Early Modern Southeast Asia

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The ritual restatement of authority so necessary to the maintenance of kingship represents a common thread in Southeast Asian history. The phrase “theater state” effectively deployed by Clifford Geertz in relation to Bali is eminently applicable even in places where Europeans condescendingly equated the “king” to one of their own provincial mayors. Whether in these enhanced chiefdoms or in larger courts like those of Java or Burma, ceremonial life was “an assertion of spiritual power.” In this performance of power, women were indispensable, usually in supporting roles but at times as directors and lead actors. Notwithstanding regional differences in language, culture, and historical experience, “palace women” across Southeast Asia can be considered in terms of the enactment of royal status, which, by separating a ruler from his subjects, justified and maintained the rationale on which kingship rested. This chapter looks at women and the performance of power in early modern Southeast Asia. It discusses the purpose of royal polygyny, women's roles at royal courts and in the enactment of royal power, women's theatrical performances, and life cycle rituals.

Keywords: Southeast Asia; palace women; royal power; royal courts; rituals; polygyny; theater state; kingship; ceremonial life; theatrical performances

Chapter.  9730 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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