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The Rong Ngeng of the Andaman Coast: History, Ecology, and the Preservation of a Traditional Performing Art

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posted on 24.12.2020, 13:17 by Lawrence Ross
This article examines recent grassroots strategies for preserving traditional performing arts along southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea Coast, focusing on rong ngeng, an idiomatic form of social dance and music, widely popular there in the post-World War Two years. Between 1935 and 1960 a small, mixed cohort of rural performing artists created networks of communities, scattered on Thai-Andaman, with a distinctive regional culture based in the shared repertoire of songs and dances they adapted, created an innovative lyrical style called phleng tanyong (Tanyong song), and a star system that turned village performers into local celebrities (Ross 2017, 68). More than a mere vibrant, short-lived micro-tradition which declined in the wake of a growing, hegemonic pan-Thai performing arts culture, however, rong ngeng has, since the 2000s, experienced a revival. The new incarnation was tied to economics, nostalgia, and a reawakening of local identity. Using a broadly cultural ecology approach which draws on
more than a decade of fieldwork in the Thailand-Malaysia border region, oral accounts of rong ngeng performers, past and present, and comparisons with performance practices
across the regions, this paper argues that efforts toward revival and sustainability have seen their greatest success among communities that possess several characteristics,
including strong historical and genealogical links to erstwhile cultural practices, participatory forms of entertainment, and the ability among its members to articulate the relevance of performing arts to the society-at-large.

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