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Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia$
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L. Ayu Saraswati

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780824836641

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824836641.001.0001

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Rasa, Race, and Ramayana

Rasa, Race, and Ramayana

Sensing and Censoring the History of Color in Precolonial Java

Chapter:
(p.15) 1 Rasa, Race, and Ramayana
Source:
Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia
Author(s):

L. Ayu Saraswati

Publisher:
University of Hawai'i Press
DOI:10.21313/hawaii/9780824836641.003.0002

This chapter introduces the theoretical concept of rasa and uses it to construct a historical account of skin color and gender hierarchies in Java prior to European colonization (late ninth and early tenth centuries). Through a reading of the Old Javanese adaptation of the Indian epic poem Ramayana, the chapter stresses the importance of color hierarchy even before European colonization and explains how it was articulated through affective vocabularies attached to notions of beauty. It argues that the conflation between lightness and light skin as desirable and darkness and dark skin as undesirable is registered through rasa. It shows that in Ramayana, women with light skin color are represented with positive rasa as beautiful and desirable, whereas people with dark skin color are depicted with negative rasa as undesirable and often terrifying. The chapter concludes by distinguishing rasa from affect and emotion.

Keywords:   rasa, skin color, gender hierarchies, Java, Ramayana, beauty, light skin, dark skin, emotion

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