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. sublime says:

    blah blah de blah whatever trip you academic/intellectual groupies are on the bottom line is this book is a engrossing read that had me by the balls……love it Andrew!!. Magical Java I have travelled remotely many times over the last 20 years, although not remaining in any one place for long but enough to sense the old and the new and this book has joined many dots for me…. big ups….cheers

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