Deathscapes of the Malay Martial Artist
Douglas Farrer
This article traces the connections between death and the afterlife as configured through the
Malay martial art silat, in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Riau Archipelago. The practice and
performance of silat are addressed here through aspects of non-material and material
culture, including ritual, dance, jewelry, symbols, and art. Silat is designed to physically
and spiritually transform the silat practitioner, and relinquish their fear of death and dying.
This transformation is partly accomplished by calling (berseru) the shadows of the potent
dead. However, the contemporary medicalization of death may preclude the possibility of
noble death. To illustrate the disjuncture of deathscapes, I contrast the agonizing death of a
silat master, compared to the cemetery ordeal through which he put his son.
Key words: Deathscapes, Malay martial arts, necromancy, noble death.
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