Dr David R.M. Irving

Senior Lecturer in Musicology
Melbourne Conservatorium of Music
University of Melbourne

will present in the 2015 School of Arts research seminar series on Thursday, 3 September 2015, 4-4.45 pm in Arts Lecture Theatre 2.

Cocos Malay Music and Dance:
Traditions and Transitions on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands


On the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, in Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories, the Cocos Malay community practises a rich variety of performance traditions. The origins and development of Cocos Malay music and dance are tied up with the islands’ unique and unusual history: originally uninhabited, Alexander Hare established a settlement there in 1826, with a retinue of Malay slaves. The following year, John Clunies-Ross founded another settlement, and Hare departed in 1831. The islands were incorporated into the British Empire in 1857 and transferred to Australian sovereignty in 1955; meanwhile, the Clunies-Ross family’s rule of the islands (sanctioned by Queen Victoria in 1886) lasted until 1978, when Australia purchased their land. An election for self-determination was held in 1984 and the Cocos Malay community voted for full integration with Australia. The combined experience of colonial rule and geographical isolation had a significant impact on Cocos Malay culture: Malay performing traditions and Islamic or syncretic religious practices were cultivated in isolation from the rest of the Malay world, and in some cases Scottish and Malay influences were blended. For instance, the performance genre dangsa (dance) combines Scottish and Malay musical influences with Scottish dance steps and Cocos Malay clothing, representing a dialogue of cultures within a Cocos aesthetic framework. This seminar introduces traditions and transitions in Cocos Malay music and dance: it examines the role of performance practices in projecting a cultural identity that is in dialogue simultaneously with Australia and the Malay World, connecting the community and its diaspora to widespread standards of Malayness while distinguishing itself as uniquely Cocos.

All Welcome!

To see upcoming seminars and lectures in 2015, please visit the Seminars & Public Lectures page.