Social anthropology, a ‘discipline’ of theories and hear-say ? (à propos of Geertz on Bali)

Social anthropology, a 'discipline' of theories and hear-say ? (a propos of Geertz on Bali)

Antropologi sosial, 'disiplin' teori dan mendengar-katakan? (proposal Geertz di Bali)

To a certain extent I sympathise with Geertz. He likes an alliterating title for a book just like I do. 'Peddlars and Princes' sounds very well and the subtitle gives the necessary precision. I tried the same with my books 'Sûrya-sévana' (worship of the Sun), 'Stuti and Stava' (hymns in honour of the Gods), 'Cosmogony and Creation' (in Balinese Tradition). Here we row in the same boat and I wish to add that some sweeping statements and the material make-up of his latest book 'Kinship in Bali' (by Hildred and Clifford Geertz) arouse my full admiration.

After this familiar introduction I can not do without a fundamental one. It is only self-evident that for obtaining knowledge and insight with regard to social behaviour and ideas of the human being the researcher has to talk with him. He must feel attracted to much talk, for every clause and statement has to be checked by talk with people of another village, another age-group, another education, if possible the other sex. The own witnessing of situations described is a most useful completion. In cultural anthropology the value and need of consultation of native written sources, if existing, has been a point of controversy ; alas. One has to be as critical on these sources of information as on his informants and must check them as much as possible, but one cuts himself off from credibility by ignoring them.

This is the fundamental introduction to the airing of some criticism! on the work done by Clifford (and Hildred) Geertz. I am fully aware of the fact that they hold honoured and influential positions and draw numerous readers to their works. In their writing about Bali, which happens to be my field, time and again I come across passages which I admire. But on the other hand I find many serious mistakes which spoil my appetite and confidence.

The eldest one is that found in the paper 'Internal Conversion in Contemporary Bali', forming part of 'Malayan and Indonesian Studies' ... edited by John Bastin and R. Roolvink, Oxford 1964. Here Geertz tells us about post-war Bali, to be exact the year 1957, that new era (after centuries of manuscript-copying) of mimeographed and sometimes even printed pamphlets. Some of them are done in Balinese and others in Roman script, some of them in Balinese language and others in Indonesian. Nearly weekly they were produced by publishers, in the island-capital Dènpasar mainly, but also in the provincial capitals Gianyar, Klungkung and Tabanan (names not to be forgotten). 'When I bought some books of this sort', Geertz writes on p. 297, 'and left them around our house in the village our front porch became a literary centre where groups of villagers would come and sit for hours on end and read them to one another, commenting now and then on their meaning, and almost invariably remarking that it was only since the Revolution that they had been permitted to see such writings, that in the colonial period the upper castes prevented their dissemination altogether. This whole process represents, thus, a spreading of religious literacy beyond the traditional priestly castes, for whom the writings were in any case more magical esoterica than canonical scriptures, to the masses, a vulgarization, in the root sense, of religious knowledge and theory. For the first time, at least a few ordinary Balinese are coming to feel that they can get some understanding of what their religion is all about ; and more important,, that they have a need for and a right to such understanding'

From these assertions the unbiassed reader can only get the impression that they were true, found to be true, checked, and that the author is a sympathising and participating researcher.

The painful reality is that the author here straight-away believed a few young village lads*, probably not yet born when in 1928 the Kirtya, Foundation for palmleaf manuscripts was created in the then capital Singaraja. Soon it had its own modest building : a spacious room for clerks and European books of reference on Bali and Lombok, a very sufficient store room for the well-preserved manuscripts, a well-visited room for anybody interested, opened by the then acting Governor General. Mid 1939 I was appointed by the Netherlands East-Indian Government to be a 'taal-ambtenaar' for Bali and Lombok (in those days and in those regions after a six years study at the University of Leiden and an indispensable doctorate one was expected, let us say, not to blunder too much in writing justifiable papers, books and advices to Government in the fields of language, literature, history, religion). Between the outbreak of the German-Polish war of September 1939 and that of the Pacific war in december 1941 I spent much time at the Kirtya. During those two and a half years I can not remember that the Foundation's readers' room was ever unoccupied. The Board of 'Curators' ('consuls' of distinct position in seven subdivisions of Bali and the few of Lombok) counted six brahman priests (padanda, pandita) amongst its members. The Netherlands East Indies Government had suggested to create such a Foundation and had taken the first steps for its realisation. In this case there is no room for 'reflections' on obscurantism in any direction, Western Govt. or Balinese clergy. We have plainly to do with ignorance of young village lads, the cheap tendency of giving a smear to the colonial period, and above all the author's own ignorance and 'lack of check', to use a rime dear to both of us. I deplore that his readers, here and elsewhere, are treated on a lot of gossip, but that facts are withheld. That Kirtya, library mainly of palmleaf manuscripts, at the moment lodges some 3700 MSS and during the colonial period wrote and financed a dozen publications, an average of one yearly. Its Western reference library is a source of information on Bali and Lombok. Ignorance about these facts or ignoring them can lead to serious derailments and disappointments.

Though I never had the privilege of visiting the U.S., I have only too often heard that a book, or better : manuscript, does not reach the compositor before it has passed the authors' beauty-parlour, I think manned by 'editors'. This procedure may add considerably to the book's readability, but a blind trust in the possible corrections may play nasty tricks, specially when the authors) cannot find the leisure for proof-reading. When on p. 108 of 'Kinship' we read: 'Pan Fugeg and his son, a teacher, are Communist party members', I conclude that this book has been written ten or fifteen years ago, before a few hundred thousand Communists in Indonesia were butchered, and the party forbidden, but this escaped anybody's attention In the whole of this book this flaw is an insignificant detail and there is an obvious excuse. But the following stumbling stone is not so insignificant or easily to be excused.

Speaking about Krambitan (p. 131), the author locates this 'royal subdadia of Tabanan', the province-capital where he lived for five months in 1957, at 'some fifteen miles west of the court town'. It happened that I visited Krambitan in 1959, stayed there for some eight months 1966-67 and again some five months in 1972. But in those years the distance was only four miles, seven kilometers from Tabanan; it was a lovely walk. Be that as it is, the author now engages in reflections about 'Krambitan's anomalous position' and ventures two suggestions which he subsequently qualifies as 'tailored tales' (high marks for this elegant alliteration and deserved self-criticism — but why to dish up such stuff?). He continues: 'Neither version explains, however, how Krambitan maintained its high status over the generations. One explanation might be its geographical location, in fertile valley located right on the border between Tabanan and its rival, Jëmibrana. Its rich land provided wealth, and its position as a buffer state guaranteed its autonomy against Tabanan.' Statistics show that scarcely populated Jëmbrana can never have been a serious menace for Tabanan. European experience with the buffer-state Poland between Germany, Russia and Austria does not point in the direction of guaranteed autonomy ; to the contrary. But the whole situation, as sketched by the author, is a mirage or a hallucination, for Krambitanj, at 7 kilometers distance from Tabanan, is separated by about a hundred kilometers from Jëmbrana. There is now a viable road, part of the tract Bagdad-Badung, as the Balinese are proud to say with their alliteration, leading through at least 80 kilometers of nearly uninhabited country. Covarrubias's charming book on Bali, known to the author, has a useful map, sufficient for the purpose. Why a long reasoning instead of a glance at palpable reality ?

Why speak about 'palaces' for a 'king' and even a brahman (who is satisfied when his enwalled courtyard with its different buildings is called griya), when most of them are manorial courtyards, frequently on their earthen ground offering food for chickens and ducks ? The map showing the palace of the Déwa Agung of Klungkung is definitely more neatly drawn in this excellently produced book than that found in 'Silsilah Orang Suci dan Orang Besar di Bali' oléh Sri Reshi Ananda- kusuma, T.B. Tirtanadi, Klungkung [1974]. It does not differ too much to exclude comparison. In the author's groundplan we find a bottom rectangular court provided with : 'impure area for menstruating women and pigs'. I know of such a court. It makes the impression, first of all, of being a cool and luscious plantation of banana- vegetations, completely in style with the rest of such a 'palace'. For the trees and shrubs planted in the courtyards serve for the need of fruits and vegetables of the inhabitants, the chickens and ducks for their needed eggs, the pigs for their meat. The groundplain in the Silsilah, a pamphlet written in Indonesian, for this cool court uses the Balinese word tèba, that is 'lowest part', destined for urination and defecation, washed away by the rains through a hole in the wall where offerings for demons are brought. The Kinship book destines the adjacent court for 'Kitchen for King and his family' but the Silsilah gives another destination to this court and locates this kitchen at a considerable distance.

No use speaking about 'holy writings which are sometimes in Sanskrit' (p. 68). The writings only exceptionally are considered to be more or less holy, i.e. when kept in a temple. And they are never in Sanskrit, a language unknown to the author, his informants and the rest of the population.

A mixed geographical and historical confusion occurs on p. 33 where we read : 'In the centre of the town is a large open public square, where once the palace of the king of Tabanan, the Cokorda, stood. In 1908 the principality was invaded by Dutch troops, who razed the palace to the ground, imprisoned the Cokorda and the crown prince (both of whom committed suicide)'. That large open public square, where once a Balinese palace stood, is found in Dènpasar the capital of Badung, at some 15 miles (N.B.), 22 kilometers S.E. of Tabanan. There had been fighting, followed by a suicide massacre pupUtan, 'putting an end to it'). After that the Co- korda of Tabanan, seeing the Balinese cause as lost and accompanied by his heir, came to the Dutch to negotiate a kind of surrender. The palaces are still there in Tabanan and no reason for destruction. Tabanan has no large open square. Could one surmise that the author's informant, only half a century post eventum, could have blundered to that extent, or did the expected editor fail, or did perhaps the author himself mix up things when Consulting his old field-notes ?

Next I find difficulty with pages 9 & 34, where the same events are narrated in much the same way, but with important differences.

(9). 'When in the fifteenth century the great Hindu-Javanese kingdom of Madja- pahit fell to the onslaught of Islamized coastal sultanates (the traditional date is 1478), many of its princes, scholars and priests fled to Bali, bringing with them a vast store of religious lore and classical literary manuscripts, and — so the cour chronicles declare — established themselves as Bali's cultural political elite' (italics here and infra from C.H.).

(34) Klungkung has been, according to tradition, the cultural summit of Bali. The princes and holy men of Madjapahit, fleeing from Java in the fifteenth century, were said to have landed on the shore nearest Klungkung and to bave established their first kingdom nearby. The Klungkung lords are the direct descendants of these Javanese immigrants'.

It will have struck the critical reader that the same disaster in Java and blessing in disguise for Bali the one time are ascribed to the declarations of the court chronicles, the other to the men in the street. These events seem to be common knowledge, though five centuries separate us from them. Working in the library of palmleaf manuscripts, of which I had copies made for my private use, I never came across this course of events^, though scores of Pamancangahs and Babads, in prose and in metrical form, passed through my fingers. Not satisfied with the Kirtya collection and worried about Bali's manuscripts going lost, three years ago I restarted collecting (cf. Archipel 6, 1973). This brought me to the number 1500. Numerous are the newly acquired copies of historical texts, but never did I come across events as narrated to the author or found by him in the chronicles. I would be most grateful if he could help me here.

I have more often come across that story of fugitives, laden with manuscripts and becoming culture heroes in Bali. Unfortunately twice in my life I have seen real (not fictional) fugitives of war. Once ito 1914,, /after the German siege of Antwerp. The second time when in Birma the population fled from the Japanese and I was a prisoner of war (1943). It is my experience that fugitives at the best have a cooking pot and a blanket, but I never saw them burdened with the Encyclopedia Britannica. Neither can I imagine that Javanese fugitives five centuries ago cared for taking the century's equivalent with them. But then, the author's fugitives were of another brand ; they were sailors. Escaping the sword of the Musulmans they despised all the usual anchorages of both the southern or northern route and chose to land on the strand opposite Nusa Penida. And then, with firm design, they established their first kingdom nearby. Yes, that is how things go in (no, not science) fiction.

An important (but not documented) role given to these fugitives is vieux jeu ; I did not know that it could still be found anywhere. Reality is that after centuries of direct and indirect hinduisation Bali in the middle of the fourteenth century was conquered by the Javanese. Javanese courtiers; captains and colonels were spread over the island, built themselves a hundred baronial courts (puri) and accelerated file earlier process of hindu-javanisation. Not impossible that the fugitives, a century and a quarter later, gave some help. That is what we learn from Coedèsv Krom and De Graaf. The documented findings and the insight of these researchers make more impression upon me than the undocumented 'declarations of the Klungkung court chronicles', alternating with the voices of the informants and the man in the street.

By way of interlude in this paper which by now might really begin to hurt : Several years ago a team of TV reporters interviewed the Paris public, trying to find out what it still knew about Stalingrad after a quarter of a century. The results were devastating. I have only to remind the author of the third clause of his own boofc : 'Two fully cooperative and intelligent Balinese from the same village may give completely variant accounts on matters that the ethnologist believes to be crucial to his formulations'. Quite so, but then why not consulted proper books ?

(p. 49) The construction of such a yard is not a matter left to individual taste but follows exact prescriptions in the ancient Balinese palm-leaf law books, the Ion- tar. These sacred writings ' Right so, the author means the asta-kosali (hasta- kausalya, 'ability of the hands'), treatises dealing with traditional locations, measurements, etc., etc. But they are not law books — that is quite a different matter. They belong to ancient lore», certainly, but they are not sacred. Neither are they holy, a word which the author frequently gives to brahman priests, who, however, make claims in this direction. I must admit that, when given a chocolate, my niece (my informant here) cannot help using the Dutch equivalent zalig for English blessed or bltssfull, but these words as well as sacred and holy are highly laden technical terms from the field of divinity /theology and should not be used easily.

The italicised words above are not the only ones against which I object. On p. 132 we find that 'the king of Tabanan and the lord of JCrambitan are close friends', that is to know, 'for the current political situation'. Elsewhere the author fortunately uses the word Cokorda instead of 'king', for in a case of a few hundred thousand subjects that word 'king' is so heavy. And then : seven kings on one tiny island ! The last Cokorda committed suicide in 1908. Then followed Dutch colonial rule, working indirectly by means of a member of the former court. The Republic of Indonesia rules directly and sends the former barons home. The author's 'king of Tabanan' in 1957 was a private person ; he had his baronial court to live in and the output of his lands to live on. And similar was the situation of the other gentleman. Their friendship and alliance presented as lying in the political sphere, belongs to private relations.

After geography and history the field of philology worries me. The author is not to be blamed for a too frequent use of Balinese words, but when he uses one, as a rule he is wrong. P. 138 bottom Mëcutan (or Pamëcutan) is not 'blow-pipe' but 'action/place of whipping'. On p. 129 we are told that the feudal title Gusti (elsewhere in the Archipelago Gusti Allah = the Lord God) followed by Ngurah has 'roughly' the meaning of 'pure Gusti'. Lurah/rurah/ngrurah/ ngurah has neither roughly nor refinedly and even not reputedly anything to do with purity but only with power, ruling.

A pandita (p. 209) is not a 'holy man', neither to be sought nor to be found in Bali but in Benares, but a learned man, a pundit and in Bali the usual descriptive term for a padanda, brahman priest. One confided me that it had taken him no less than seven years before he was an ordained priest, but then he had to start from illiteracy.

Onp. 133 the author introduces the famous padanda Wahu rawuh/Wau raiih, a namewhich he misspells Wauwerauh. This misspelling must originate from an illegiblenote in combination with insufficiant familiarity with the Balinese culture hero.

On pp. 189 and 190 the author introduces his readers to that most common of Balinese feelings, the need of expiation for involuntary imperfections. No wonder in a society constantly using formulas in 'sanskrit' and Old- Javanese which it understands only to some extent and always mispronounces. No priest will finish any ritual without invoking forgiveness for his shortcomings ; any layman will assure us of His ignorance and dullness of mind. Expiation is the order of the day, in full the Sanskrit word pmyascitta in common parlance pros, the name of an offering. The author on p. 189 mentions meperascita, on p. 190 perasascita, proofs of insufficiant familiarity with the subject.

In his App. C, p. 184, the author gives his translation of the village rules (awig-awig) of a small village. The villagers add the word wikrama, 'step', 'measure' to the word awig-awig and soon speak about tri-wikrama, probably meaning: three main subjects. Even if a considerable part of the villagers of Aan are illiterate, I expect that the village is not ignorant about the mythological three steps, tri-wikrama, with which an angry God Wisnu crossed the heaven from one horizon to the opposite one. This tri-wikratna is explained by 'good actions', consisting of 1. Dharma, translated by 'God' (instead of 'eternal as well as mundane law') ; 2. Siwa, translated by 'sacred heirlooms', unknown to the dictionaries and me (instead of: God of the Sun, and His priest in relation to his client) ; 3. tirtha, translated by cleansing with holy water (instead of: holy water, without more ado). For lack of the Balinese text it is impossible to decide whether the villagers took some considerable freedom or the author. But in any case he should have warned his innocent readers against these arbitrary 'translations'.

On p. 110 the author repeats the pun that the feudal title Pulasari has been derived from pules, to sleep, and ari, day, hereby inferring that the baron of that region was lazy and slept all day.

On the same page he quotes the name K€bon Tubuh, assuring us that 'kebun' means garden, tubuh body, and adding that the Gusti of that fief 'was caught stealing in the king's garden and tied there as punishmenf , hence this heriditary title.

Those lovely anecdotes have only one shadowside and that is that three of the four words have a different meaning in Balinese. With the exception of the word pules, which is Balinese, the rest happens to be Indonesian. Did Indonesian language spread to that extent in the author's villages or do the puns originate from his research assistant with his un-Balinese name ?

The whole book deals with dadia, a group or kin the being and influence of -which -the author tries to explain. At the very end of his book (p. 199) an endeavour is made to explain this word. 'Literally, dadia means "in" or "at" the direction "toward the mountain center of the island" (i.e. north in southern Bali, south in northern ; the term for the direction as such is kaya), the sacred pole of Bali'.

This piece of learning fails to give the final touch of intelligibility of the word dadia, after 200 pages, and perhaps not only in my private case. It is moreover completely wrong, for the book's theme dadia/ dadiya/dadya has nothing to do with daja and kaja, containing a / like that in John and not the dy of the Adyar Theosophical Centre.

A westerner, for the first time installing himself in Indonesia, is astonished when the removal people feel urged to put a bed or a chest 'more to the North' or 'slightly to the West', and still more so when the same activity is applied to sugarpot and teacup. Since Colin McPhee's delicious book 'House in Bali' we know to which extent and depth the Balinese are beset with being duly orientated, and Ithat feeling himself disorientated causes mental disorder.

The author, in this connection of the directions of the compass, on p. 175 tells us that 'kanginan means west and kawan means east'. It is unfortunate that the opposite is true, and even more so that in Balinese eyes and mouth failure of mastery of these words is the proverbial expression for complete ignorance.

Since this book at the end is provided with 55 notes, I miss concrete references to the Balinese treatises of history which the author mentions (for Gianyar, Klungkung, Tabanan) as well as to the writers/ authors criticised but hot named! on p. 24. When on p. 25 the author disagrees with Dr. Goris' findings on the great temple of Besakih he should have named Goris and reasoned his deviating .findings. Likewise on p. 134 he should have named source and page.

In his own field the author baffles me by saying : 'one cannot, as in Islam and Christianity, step in at any temple and pray ; for this privilege, in Bali, one must be in some sense a regular member of the congregation' (p. 13). I had the opposite experience. Making a rather far walk in the Karang Asëm hills with a Balinese friend, he astonished us and caused some loss of time by entering any temple on our way and taking time for his prayers. He had no internal difficulty to overcome, to the best of my knowledge, and nowhere was he hindered — and why should he ? Other Balinese co-travellers did not feel that unusual urge, but the author's sweeping statement at the best is valid for 'his' villages.

If after these pages I still have a reader, I hope he will forgive me that I do not proceed into the anthropological reasonings. What I found on other fields of experience and research,, more familiar to me, may have relieved me from tins task. I think that it is up to the professional social anthropologists to discuss and in the end to decide whether this book belongs to their discipline.

sumber: Hooykaas Christiaan. Social anthropology, a 'discipline' of theories and hear-say ? (à propos of Geertz on Bali). In: Archipel,volume 11, 1976. pp. 237-243;

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