A Shadow Falls

Jan 12th, 2010, in Society, by

A Shadow FallsMystics and Islamists battle it out in a Javanese village, Andrew Beatty's "A Shadow Falls".

A Shadow Falls: In the Heart of Java by Andrew Beatty tells the story of Beatty, an anthropologist, who spends 3 years in Bayu village near Banyuwangi in the 1990s (1992 and again in 1998). He’s a fluent Indonesian speaker, who becomes a fluent Javanese speaker in the process and shifts his family over too, a Mexican wife and two kids.

Andrew BeattyBeatty is entranced by Java village life, its emphasis on preserving harmony and tradition. In Bayu village, Javanese mystic and cultural traditions still very much form part of day to day life but gradually the forces of pious Islam disturb the status quo, and there conflict develops between the Javanists and the ‘modernisers’ (who press for a much stricter interpretation of Islam).

Beatty identifies strongly with the Javanists, and is ultimately initiated into the mystic Sangkan Paran sect. He has little time for the with-us-or-against-us Islamic puritans – and is present when (for the first time in the village’s history) a girl starts wearing the veil.

A Shadow FallsBeatty reveals much about Javanese culture, its model of tolerance and success as a civilization. Taboo subjects are addressed and discussed: sexual relations, 1965 massacres of Communists.

I found A Shadow Falls most useful, I was able to get a sense of the cultural conflict which has happened over the last centuries in Java, as a stricter form of Islam has swept across the island. In Bayu village, in the extreme eastern end of Java, Hindu-Javanese (Budu) ceremonies are still practised by nominal Muslims, though its devotees are aging fast and you feel in a couple of generations ancient traditions will be virtually extinct.

The book certainly pulls no punches. Beatty makes it very clear how where his loyalties lie. At times I did feel that he could have made a little more effort to get closer to the Islamists in order to explain their viewpoint.


31 Comments on “A Shadow Falls”

  1. avatar timdog says:

    firefly,
    It is a good book. I was particularly impressed by it for the fact that it is a book aimed at a mainstream market in which – low and behold – Indonesians are REAL PEOPLE. They are neither mystically inclined retards who we can listen to spouting yodaesque nuggets of ethereal naive wisdom and watch dancing before retreating to our favourite french-mongolian-vegetarian fusion restaurant in Ubud, where we certainly wouldn’t want to share a table with a native
    Nor are they black-eyed demons, machete in hand, running amok in their hotbed of anti-western sentiment….

    I would, however, actually prefer to recommend Beatty’s academic book on the same subject – Varieties of Javanese Religion.
    If you get a copy you’ll find that A Shadow Falls is actually nothing more than a re-write of the the same book, but with the academic stuff taken out, and a few concessions made to commercialism.
    Varieties, however is actually the stronger book for anyone genuinely interested in the subject matter.
    The same issues, the same conversations, the same events are all covered, but Beatty is able to explain a little more thoroughly.
    There is also some good stuff – the communities of recent converts to Hinduism in East Java for instance – that doesn’t make it into the “pop” book.
    Don’t worry about the fact that it’s an “accademic” book; it’s extremely readable and very anecdotal too.

    Its most important point, as far as I’m concerned, is that it finally does away with the idea, which leached out of academic circles into the mainstream, that Javanese Muslims are definitively divided into two utterly distinct groups – Santri and Abangan. Plenty of people, Beatty seems to argue (and I agree), are simply on a sliding scale in between the two supposed extremes (I’ve seen, for example, plenty of people who would on the face of it be tagged “santri” by anthropologists, and even by themselves, doing things that would more likely be tagged “abangan”)…

    Incidentally, the term “Abangan” is a troublesome one. According to the great Koentjaraningrat, Clifford Geertz – a foreigner, the original populariser of the term – made an error by plumping for the “Abangan” designation. According to Koentjaraningrat the term was never generally used outside of the Mojokerto region, and was in any case not a “serious” term: it was generally used either in jest or with somewhat derogatory connotations.
    Interesting, huh? The way a foreign academic can jump to a few conclusions, make a few minor errors, and then fifty years later everyone – most of whom have never read his work, many of whom have never heard of him, some of whom are actually Javanese Muslims themselves – is using as a given a term he coined…

    Also, if you read Varieties you may come away with the distinct impression that Beatty came under a certain amount of editorial pressure when he was writing the “mainstream” A Shadow Falls to put in some stuff about, in your words, “a stricter form of Islam sweeping across Java”, and to make a few slightly off-key efforts to draw his “Javanese village” into the bigger picture of global Islamism, but that’s publishing for you…

  2. avatar madrotter says:

    i’m going to look for this book, sound really interesting, thanks timdog!

  3. avatar firefly says:

    interesting stuff Timdog. I actually looked for Varieties a few days ago but could only find copies for around £20, but will see how finances are…

    What is strange about A Shadow is how long it took to come out, most of the experiences are from the early 1990s. I would have loved to see how a revisit last year found the village.

    But it does open a real window on Javanese life. I was fascinated to find out about the whole ‘coffee with a pinch’; ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ widows; how some wealthy hajis are regarded as slightly bling and flash by many.

  4. avatar timdog says:

    firefly – The age of the research material is a little odd, but it’s quite easy to understand what went on with this book. As I said, it’s merely a re-write of the earlier academic book (which came out not long after the research was completed).
    Years later either Beatty himself, or his agent, simply came up with the idea of repackaging his old stuff for the mainstream. But you’re right: it would have been much more interesting if he had gone back to see how things are now…

    Incidentally, his next book will apparently be the same kind of thing – another re-write of an earlier academic book (his one about Nias – which I’ve not read; not a part of the country I know anything about). The Nias book predates Varieties of Javanese Religion, so I guess the material is probably about 20 years old now. Perhaps he will have gone back for this one though…

    20 pounds is kind of the standard price for academic books of that kind. Try having a look on http://www.abebooks.co.uk; you might find a secondhand one…

  5. avatar Burung Koel says:

    The timeline of Varieties/A Shadow Falls could also be explained by:

    Field research – 2/3 years
    Writing up the PhD – 2/3 more years
    Marking of PhD – 6 months
    Turning PhD into academic book (Varieties) – say another 2 years
    Seeing how sales and reviews go – another year or two
    Publisher realising that the topic might make a more popular type of book, and getting author to produce a new MS (A Shadow Falls) – 1/2 years
    Printing, release, distribution – another year

    Total: About 12-13 years.

    And that’s on the fast track.

  6. avatar timdog says:

    Since Mr Patung has turned it into a new thread (hey, this is a thread cannibalised from a thread which was in turn cannibalised from another thread – I like that; let’s try to come up with another digression that will serve the same purpose!), I’ll expand a little on the issue of how A Shadow Falls was presented disingenuously by it’s publisher (Faber).

    I already mentioned my suspicions – having previously read the book’s earlier academic version (I think it’s not entirely unreasonable to regard them as “versions” of the same thing – that there was a little editorial pressure to make it about that publishing gold-mine, the shrieking, machete wielding “threat” of -shriek! howl! shriek! – global Islamism.
    Take a look at the back cover blurb for A Shadow Falls:

    But a harsh and puritanical Islamism, fed by modern uncertainties, was driving young women to wear the veil and young men to renounce the old rituals. The mosque loudspeakers grew strident, cultural boundaries sharpened. As a wave of witch-killings shook the countryside, Beatty and his family began to feel like vulnerable outsiders.

    This is, I think most people who have actually read it would agree, a little misleading. It seems to be the blurb for the book that Beatty’s publishers wished he had written, not what he actually did write.
    In the book the “witch killings” get one very brief mention – merely as an aside. Beatty makes it clear that they happened after he left the area, did not happen in community with which he was involved, and that they remain unexplained, probably weren’t done by “Islamists” and that if they were connected to “Islamism” they may actually have been a reaction against it…

    In the promotional material for the book they pushed all this even further, talking of “the chill wind of Islamism sweeping across Java”, again hyping the witch killings, and strongly suggesting the idea that Beatty and his family had to flee the village (completely untrue, again, as anyone who reads it will find out).

    What I liked so much about A Shadow Falls was that as an ostensibly “mainstream” book, unlike so many others about Indonesia by “experts” of doubtful qualification, it really wanted nothing to do with braying confusedly about “chill winds of Islamism”, or about how Indonesia is “the next front in the war on terror”, or “al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian stronghold” or a “hotbed of radicalism” etc etc. Unsurprising – Beatty clearly had actually been there and talked to real people.

    Didn’t stop his publisher trying to market it that way – I imagine some people who bought it were a little disappointed not to find the promised rampaging Muslim hordes of popular imagination within its excellent pages…

  7. avatar David says:

    There are a lot of comments I could turn into posts, this one though at timdog’s suggestion ages ago I asked Faber for a review copy and they sent it but er never got around to writing it so Firefly was nice enough to let me publish his comment as a post so I feel like I’ve sorta done my duty….I’ll get on to the book later.

    Incidentally Varieties is on google books, preview anyway – http://books.google.com/books?id=AYTJpVuEuJQC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false

  8. avatar Ross says:

    Will need to get this book and read it carefully, but the post and comments do’nt really say if it is fiction or not (albeit obviously based on the author’s real experiences.

    But not all books here portray Indonesians as either demons or dingbats.

  9. avatar Odinius says:

    timdog:

    Incidentally, the term “Abangan” is a troublesome one. According to the great Koentjaraningrat, Clifford Geertz – a foreigner, the original populariser of the term – made an error by plumping for the “Abangan” designation. According to Koentjaraningrat the term was never generally used outside of the Mojokerto region, and was in any case not a “serious” term: it was generally used either in jest or with somewhat derogatory connotations.
    Interesting, huh? The way a foreign academic can jump to a few conclusions, make a few minor errors, and then fifty years later everyone – most of whom have never read his work, many of whom have never heard of him, some of whom are actually Javanese Muslims themselves – is using as a given a term he coined…

    True, to a point. But “abangan” is an ideal-typical, analytical category, as is “santri.” The meanings Geertz attached to them were never meant to solely reflect common-sense usage. He wasn’t trying to describe Javanese society “as it was perceived,” but “as it was.” That’s a problematic project in and of itself, but not reducable to an “error of translation”

  10. avatar Burung Koel says:

    It’s been a few years since I read The Religion of Java, but I seem to recall that the santri/abangan distinction was a minor element of Geertz’s analysis of Javanese society. My memory may be hazy, but he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time describing in detail the selamatan ceremonies, and used these as the ‘key’ to understanding family and village relationships.

    Perhaps the distinction grew afterwards when others found it an easy (and lazy) way of categorising Javanese society. I imagine that it’s dialectic possibilities would make it attractive to neo-Marxists, especially in the 60s when anthropology and sociology were dominated by these ideas.

    Or I could be wrong.

  11. avatar Odinius says:

    It’s a pretty important part, because when he describes the slametans, it’s part of the section on ‘abangan’ social life. But it was actually an abangan/santri/priyayi distinction, though few seem to remember the section on priyayi customs, beliefs and social ties.

    Personally, I think it’s a convenient way of looking at social divisions in that place at that time. It’s ideal-typical, yes, but still a useful lens. Whether it’s at all meaningful today is another debate altogether.

  12. avatar timdog says:

    Odinius:

    True, to a point. But “abangan” is an ideal-typical, analytical category, as is “santri.” The meanings Geertz attached to them were never meant to solely reflect common-sense usage. He wasn’t trying to describe Javanese society “as it was perceived,” but “as it was.” That’s a problematic project in and of itself, but not reducable to an “error of translation”

    Right, however Koentjaraningrat’s point is simply that the word itself is wrong (and as an “observing participant” K is generally my go-to man for Java-trivia). He entirely maintains the distinction himself in his own work, but uses only the terms “Kejawen” or “Agami Jawi”, arguing that unlike “Santri”, until Geertz came along “Abangan” was never a self-applied label… That’s all.
    Like I said, Koentjaraningrat still views Javanese Muslims as definitively divided between “Santri” and “Kejawen” (something which Beatty seems to move away from). However, he also considers there to be a second critical division – that between Urban and Rural. The Urban-Rural and Santri-Kejawen distinctions are, in his view, by no means contiguous… That’s at least a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned…

    Burung – Geertz basically identified three catagories of Javanese – “the Santri variant”, “the Abangan variant”, and “the Priyayi variant”, but like Odinius points out, everyone seems to forget about the third one (Koentjaraningrat views “Priyayi” as part of a different set of categories – he would have it that you can be both priyayi and kejawen, or priyayi and santri)…
    You’re absolutely right about his endless banging on about slametan (something which Beatty followed, by the way)… He largely ignored another very important aspect of the “Religion of Java”, perhaps the more important one: nyekar, veneration of graves. Much more interesting (and easier to theorise about too) than all those bloody rice meals…
    But his legacy – in both academic and mainstream circles – is definitely the idea of an absolute “Abangan-Santri” distinction…

  13. avatar Odinius says:

    For the record, this is the best conversation I’ve had on here in ages!

    Over to the content…

    Fair point about “abangan,” but I think for an ideal-typical analytical scheme, it doesn’t really matter. It also helps Geertz do what so many others fail to do: distinguish between the priyayi and peasant variants of heterodoxy, which are quite different from one another. That is, to say that there is (or was) a set of heterodox practices–informed more by residual Hindu-Buddhism (itself heterodox) than animism–distinct to the priyayi. I think this is what Koentjaraningrat fails to do with his analytical scheme, and is why Geertz analytical scheme is still useful.

    Of course, it is true, as you say, that you could be priyayi and santri. That goes without saying. That’s why these are ideal types 🙂

    In my opinion, Geertz gets more problematic when he deals with the “santri.” He also transformed the meaning of the term “santri.” Before Religion of Java, it literally just meant “students of pesantren.” Gerrtz’ usage is simultaneously more broad and more specific. More broad in the sense that he defined “santri” as “those who adhere to an orthodox variant of Islam,” and thus included those who had never attended a pesantren, as well as the families of those who had. More specific in the sense that there were plenty of heterodox pesantren, which he excluded from his definition of the category.

    There’s also a tension in the book deriving from the boundaries of “santri.” His definition of “santri” explicitly includes both modernist (Masyumi) and traditionalist (NU) orthodox. But at many points, it becomes clear that, when he talks of “santri,” he’s only talking about modernists or those associated with Masyumi, and seems to put NU people closer to the “abangan” category.

  14. avatar Burung Koel says:

    I’m enjoying it, and learning a bit, too. Thanks guys.

  15. avatar timdog says:

    …And I’m enjoying it too.
    The slight delay in my response is due, appropriately enough, to the fact that I spent the last two evenings halfway up a mountain drinking coffee with mystically inclined people (and doing, I’ll admit, a little entirely casual observant participation myself, self-indulgent twit that I am). A very interesting place that perfectly demonstrates, as far as I’m concerned, the futility of attempting arbitrary categorisations amongst “Javanese Religion”…

    It also helps Geertz do what so many others fail to do: distinguish between the priyayi and peasant variants of heterodoxy, which are quite different from one another.

    That is a very good point, as is the one about the issues with Geertz’s use of “santri”…
    I suppose the conclusion is that there are fundamental flaws in any scheme which attempts classification of Javanese into a limited number of religious categories – unless of course you want to buy (special price for you!) my personal concept of most Indonesians actually, if you look closely enough, adhering to a single pan-archipelago religious foundation, no matter what foreign bits and bobs have shot their roots down through it… But I’m too sleepy to explain it now.

  16. avatar Odinius says:

    Categories are probably always, in some respect, self-defeating. All these things that seem so concrete–ethnic “groups,” “races,” even religious categories…they’re all fuzzy at the margins, and any definitional scheme we impose upon them necessarily limits our comprehension of their complexity. That’s probably more true of something as complex and non-institutionalized as Javanese religion than it is most others!

  17. avatar Domi333 says:

    Hi all, newbie here.
    I have read Geertz’ book ‘Religion in Java’, he would go to specific places and spend time there talking about those societies.
    I feel that’s the case with Beatty here as well, they’ve judged Javanese societies from specific places and with an outsider’s perspective.
    Any study can lead to an over-simplification of society, when Geertz was around there were, what 70 million? or so Javanese. Now there are 120 million…
    One of the arguments towards Geertz has been, that his categories, are no longer relevant because we do not live within that specific period anymore. (pre- Soeharto to our Reformasi period of today) What do you guys think of that?

    What, I also personally have been interested in is, the massive conversion to Hinduism Beatty speaks of, which has been renounced by many because the Javanists aren’t exactly Hindus either (Martin Ramstedt goes into this in Hinduism in Indonesia).

  18. avatar David says:

    What, I also personally have been interested in is, the massive conversion to Hinduism Beatty speaks of, which has been renounced by many because the Javanists aren’t exactly Hindus either (Martin Ramstedt goes into this in Hinduism in Indonesia).

    Timdog mentioned that a bit above, although is it ‘massive’? Where is he getting that idea from? My impression of things around Bromo is that the people there who are er Hindu or not Hindu, whatever they are, are drifting into Islam, and also, um a guy told me this so it’s just an anecdote, that Bethany is making inroads there as well. So there’ll be plenty of Happy Families up that way. But that’s a different thing to this conversion to Hinduism or just javanism business.

  19. avatar timdog says:

    Patung’s right – nothing “massive” whatsoever about the conversion to Hinduism amongst Javanese. Small pockets, on a village-by-village basis in the far east of Java, and a scattering through Central Java. Far more kejawen-inclined people probably converted to Catholicism than to Hinduism when the pressure to have a “real” religion was at its 1960s height…

    And the people around Bromo are not “converts” to Hinduism; they are still what they always were, and are, reportedly steadily slipping into Islam. I hadn’t heard about the Bethany thing, but Bethany certainly has some clout in urban East Java, so I’m not surprised.

    Domi333 – welcome to the forum!
    Naturally both Geertz and Beatty went “to specific places and spent time there talking about those societies”; that’s the only way you can do anthropological fieldwork.
    The difference between them is that Geertz to some extent tried to expand what he has seen in one small area as representative of “Religion in Java” as a whole (though perhaps it was his readers and successors who were more guilty of this than he himself).
    Beatty on the other had was looking specifically at the interactions between the different strands of religion within one community, and had no grand statements to make about “the bigger picture” (making such grand, definitive statements about cultures and societies on the base of observatory fieldwork is not something you can really get away with any more anyway). He gets pushed in the “mainstream” book to make a few tentative “grand statements”, but certainly not in his accademic work – which is very strong indeed.

    The argument against Geertz should not be that his categorisations are no longer relevant; it should be that they were never relevant outside the limited area which he studied. This is the point that we were going over above…
    It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t still learn something valuable about Java from his work – it’s just you mustn’t read it as definitive (either then or now)…

  20. avatar Odinius says:

    I think that, at that time, wherever you went in Central or East Java, you would likely find certain social distinctions–a mix of class/caste/ideoliogical; Geertz called italiran–that fit the Priyayi, Santri and Abangan categories he describes. These were politically consequential social distinctions.

    Where I get off the bus with Geertz is when he gives them “bounded group” characteristics, but then is inconsistent with what’s inside/outside the boundaries. Personally, I think that’s because the groups are not so tightly bounded, but rather are fairly fuzzy at the boundaries.

  21. avatar David says:

    I hadn’t heard about the Bethany thing, but Bethany certainly has some clout in urban East Java, so I’m not surprised.

    The guy who told me about Bethany lives in Nongkojajar so that’s close enough. I guess Surabaya having such a big and wealthy evangelical population is a sort of Christianising base for East Java…

  22. avatar timdog says:

    And apropos of nothing, who is this bloody I BelonG 2 Jesus girl who is being advertised at every intersection? I know nothing about her music, but she aggravates me intensely…

  23. avatar David says:

    I’ve been meaning to take photos of that and….story about her is she had a baby out of wedlock, but she’s still up there singing about how she belongs to Jesus and not the guy….money, money, money I guess.

  24. avatar timdog says:

    story about her is she had a baby out of wedlock

    Good grief! But she’s about 14 years old, surely? The brazen hussie…
    I hope you’re going to do a post about her…

  25. avatar David says:

    I’ll ask the wife further about her….I didn’t mean to sound so cynical and all actually, I’ve got to say there’s a song, it may even by sung by Cilla, the chorus goes ku mau cinta yesus selamanya, and it’s an awfully beautiful song…

  26. I will have to check out this book. Pity it’s been marketed with the real (evil) Muslims are threatening fake Javanese mystics formula. Wearing jilbab means nothing about whether someone engages in ‘mystic’ rituals and the like. Just go down to Parangtritis beach on malam Jumat Kliwon or Selasa Kliwon and you will see plenty of jilbab-ed women performing rituals at the place where Kanjeng Ratu Kidul and Panembahan Senopati supposedly met. Some even work as prostitutes there!

    @ timdog

    I also think Geertz’s santri/abangan/priyayi trichotomy is useless. A good counter to this is Mark R. Woodward’s book Islam in Java: Normative Piety and Mysticism in the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. I haven’t actually read it, but have read a fair share of Woodward’s published academic articles and he seems pretty on point.

  27. avatar Odinius says:

    durka’stan,

    agree with your first point…that cliche is tired and done.

    But Woodward’s book isn’t really a counter-point to Geertz, but rather an update, or sequel. Geertz’ analysis was really heavily steeped in the “now” (as in then), and not meant to be timeless whatsoever.

  28. avatar Andrew Beatty says:

    I picked up this thread today with an eavesdropper’s sense of forboding. The posts weren’t intended for me, so I shan’t thank or whinge. But since I know the author’s intentions, allow me a response.

    Rewrite?
    As timdog notes, A Shadow Falls refers to the same experience as my academic book Varieties of Javanese Religion. Unsurprisingly some dialogues are the same. If I had made them up they would be different! (nb. there’s not much talk in the older book.) In fact, the overlap is tiny – cut and pasted it would fill six pages out of 336. One has to be clear about this for copyright reasons.

    A narrative account
    Naturally, the knowledge, hard thinking and soft living that went into the first book inform the second. But unless you think that books are to be filleted for information, and that you can reduce a narrative to a list of facts, they do not have much in common. One book is scholarly, the other literary (whether good or bad is for others to judge), and the reader’s experience should be quite different. “Varieties” was about religion and syncretism. “A Shadow Falls” is about people. And the source material was different – fieldnotes in the one; diaries and memories (plus hundreds of hours of tape recordings) in the other. In the new book, I recreate the experience of fieldwork and try to convey the texture of village life. What’s it like to live in a peasant community for two years as an anthropologist-villager, to be on intimate terms with a range of personalities, and to see the Islamic revival as it affects ordinary families? What goes on inside those families where people divide over the big questions – how to be a decent human being, what counts as religion, how to make sense of the world?

    Publishing sequence
    Time spent blissfully in Java was nothing to do with a PhD: that harsh apprenticeship was served in Nias in the 1980s. Nor is the work-in-progress that timdog mentions a rehash of the PhD (already published as a dryish academic book in 1992) but a personal account. I am writing it now because it has lived inside me, untold, for twenty years and I want to bring it to light. Ditto the Java book – a year in writing but long in gestation. I didn’t bring the Javanese account up to date because my active role ended in 1997, near the end of the Suharto era as the witch craze broke in Banyuwangi. (This is mentioned – “hyped” – in the blurb, as someone complains, but 250 lynchings hardly need hyping: and yes, it happened first on my watch.)

    Why write it now? Why not write about now?
    The span of fieldwork, 1992-7, saw a sea-change in the life of the village that reflected similar changes in other parts of the Islamic world. (Though, as we all know, Java is special.) I was lucky to be on the spot, but it has taken me a long time to discern the shape of things and find a suitable narrative form. A journalist would have produced a different, more topical book. This is a portrait of a community and a way of life whose broader significance – how to live with cultural difference – goes beyond the immediate. The changes depicted – the resurgence of puritan Islam, the decline of a tolerant syncretist culture – have deep roots. I try to make sense of them through the struggles taking place within families and between generations. These struggles continue, but “what happened next?” is not the right question. An anthropologist can give the view from the inside, borne of long familiarity and personal knowledge. Yesterday’s news have a shorter shelf-life.

    Beyond the Blurb
    Finally – to answer another criticism (what cynics some of you are!) – I am too close to this story to have shaped it for purely commercial ends. (Nor would Faber and Faber, an independent literary publisher, pressure an author to write in a particular way.) Covers, in contrast, are a simple matter of product placement: any publisher has to ensure the book lands on the right shelves or it will flop. If some people are expecting a blockbuster and find themselves learning something about Indonesia or practical religion – or just enjoying the story and the characters – that’s fine by me. The blurb invites you to open the pages and see what lies within. What lies within is my own. The story is the one I want to tell, told as I want to tell it.

  29. avatar Burung Koel says:

    Thanks Andrew.

    My ex is also a writer, and there’s no way that she could have dealt with comments about her work in the same generous, informative and sensible way that you have.

    At the risk of making another assumption about you, I suspect that these are the traits that enabled you to survive and prosper in the villages that you write about.

    Cheers

  30. avatar traveller says:

    A really engrossing book. For me the best thing about it was that it gave me at least some idea of the that elusive practice known as Javanese mysticism. In other books on Indonesia writers are always referring to it, without seeming to know very much about its details. This is perhaps not surprising, as it seems such a subtle, fluid creed that you would have to live in a Javanese village for quite while to get any sort of understanding of it, as, of course Beatty did. As he describes it, it really does seem to be a substantial and unique philosophy. As to the understated nature of Javanese mysticism, its interesting that the author writes that his fellow villagers see the religious practices of nearby Bali as being too dramatic and extravagant.

    The author does not demonise Islam, but his description of the rise of a more strident kind of this faith in the village is nonetheless disquieting. This is another theme which is most effectively described by an ‘insider.’ I never appreciated, for example, how forcefully Mosque loud speakers could be used as a weapon. The donning of the headscarf by the village girl, Sri, is also sensitively dealt with. As described by the author, modernisation had given Sri hopes of a western-style life as depicted in glossy magazines, and when these didn’t come to fruition she turned to Islam and the headscarf as a kind of solace. Interesting that other village women saw this new wearing of the headscarf as a kind of personal reproach.

    In my view many anthropologists live interesting lives, and observe fascinating things, yet end up writing dull books. Perhaps this work can act as an inspiration to them.

    One last observation. As an Australian I was deeply disturbed to note that when anybody in the village expressed amazement at the wild acts of tourists in Bali it was explained that it was all done either by Australians or exiled prisoners, and that seemed to end the discussion

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