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American Folklife Center Collections: Indonesia

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in, and of, Indonesia at the American Folklife Center, and other divisions, at the Library of Congress.


Balinese musician playing wooden xylophone, 1939
Colin McPhee, photographer. Unnamed Balinese musician playing a wooden xylophone. March 4, 1939. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Indonesian collections stewarded by the American Folklife Center (AFC) demonstrate the rich diversity of traditional culture in the archipelago. The AFC holds 13 collections with Indonesian materials. The collections include sound recordings, photographs, and videos spanning from 1893 to 2009. Geographically, the collections cover many parts of Indonesia, ranging from Java to Maluku. The musical genres documented in the collections include Sundanese, Javanese, and Balinese gamelan; music to accompany dance and puppet performances; children's songs and stories; and, popular and patriotic song. The collections were gathered primarily in the first half of the 20th century, with little documentation after the mid-1980s. The ethnographers who deposited Indonesian collections at the American Folklife Center include several early scholars in the discipline of ethnomusicology, demonstrating the early interest in the field for the music of island Southeast Asia. The scholars represented include Jaap Kunst, Erich von Hornbostel, and Laura Bolton.

The descriptions of the collections and items presented here come from those the fieldworkers wrote on the recording carriers. Some may contain inaccuracies or reflect outdated place names. When known, AFC has added updated place names or corrected titles in brackets to improve discoverability.

Featured Collection: Fahnestock South Sea Collection

The Fahnestock South Sea Collection features recordings of Indonesian music from 1940–1941. Bruce and Sheridan Fahnestock, the recordists, were part of an expedition, supported by the American Museum of Natural History, to record traditional music in Bali, Java, Madura, and the Kangean Islands, Indonesia, among other places. In total, their collection produced 144 16-inch, and four 10-inch, discs of music. In Java and Bali, the Fahnestocks recorded various musical genres, including gamelan (gong kebyar and gong gede), gender wayang, kecak, and music to accompany wayang wong. In Madura, they recorded rice pounding, boatmen's songs, children's songs, sandoer, and bull races, among other musical genres and activities. On the Kangean Islands, they recorded music genres and instruments associated with rice harvesting, including pangka and ghoetta, as well as gamelan pentja, keredjing music, mamatja, saronen ensemble music, djiboet, and terbang. In addition to these recordings, the collection features interviews with Margaret Fahnestock Lewis (wife of Sheridan Fahnestock), who took part in the 1940–41 expedition. The collection includes 35 folders of correspondence, manuscripts, negatives, photoprints, and travel documentation, as well as four boxes of computer diskettes, disc sleeves, index cards, and photoprints, as well as ten films and videocassettes.

Excerpts from the Fahnestock South Sea Collection were featured in radio programs and commercial recordings in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, materials from this collection were used on Sounds from the LC Collection--a radio program on WETA during intermissions of live concerts from the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress. Parts of this collection were commercially released as Music for the Gods: The Fahnestock South Sea Expedition: Indonesia. The compact disc was produced by Mickey Hart and former AFC Director, Alan Jabbour. The release features a 22-page booklet of background information and liner notes. Learn more about the collection here.

Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available. Item-level information included as applicable. 

 Javanese Gamelan Orchestra and Topeng masked dancers, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer. Javanese Gamelan Orchestra and Topeng masked dancers, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago. 1891–1892. This photo was taken at the same exposition that Benjamin Ives Gilman recorded (see collection description above). Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.