3. Gatherings and Authority in East Java


Before turning to the analysis of the material qualities of the recording, I want to introduce the ethnographic context by discussing very briefly the type of meeting that I attempted to record. The meeting took place during the month after Ramadan, when sociality is in full swing; during this period, people organize get-togethers and meetings, and all kinds of social connections are renewed. When a halal bihalal (a get-together) takes place, it is often the aim of the organizers to invite illustrious people to participate in order to make the whole event seem more prestigious.


For example, the organizers of this family gathering had invited an up-and-coming local politician, who had just a few months before been elected as a member of the national parliament from the list of the Islamic party PKB (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa, National Awakening Party). The PKB was popular among the family members, and my friend who had invited me was active in the local chapter of PKB. There was also a kiai, invited to give an oratory. Finally, the local bupati (regent), the head of the executive branch of the local government, had been invited, but he had sent someone to deputize him, a relatively high-ranking official who was not a Muslim.[3] This made his position a bit precarious, since it was not clear if he could be considered a suitable replacement for the bupati.


I knew the official, Arief, having spoken with him in the regional assembly a few times, and when he arrived, shortly after me, he sat next to me on the VIP dais, visibly pleased to see me. By this time, having spent about half a year in Malang, I had grown accustomed to being used as a prop in public displays of authority. Arief, deputizing the bupati, needed me more than what was usually the case, since he lacked the authoritative connection that sharing a religion with the audience would have given him.


Even though it could be argued that the speakers – the politician, the kiai, and the official – represented the Weberian categories of authority (charismatic, traditional, and bureaucratic), I have argued elsewhere that this division is not an apt analysis of the social reality of East Javanese public life (Wilenius 2020). Instead, authority – following the argument that linguistic anthropologist Joel Kuipers (2013) has made – should be thought of as a semiotic phenomenon, where genres and voices of authorization can be mixed even within a single oratory (see Wilenius 2020: 45–48). This allows sonic phenomena to be integrated within an analysis of how things get authorized, which I turn to next in this paper.