Gandrung: A Look at “Cultural Preservation” Through Dance

Dance has always played a big role in Indonesia and it has changed dramatically over time. The research methodologies course I am currently taking at UGM featured a guest lecturer recently who grew up in West Java. Dyah–a professor of Dance and Southeast Asian Studies–talked to us about narrative and memory in Indonesia throughout the Soeharto period. She talked about a traditional dance that has undergone many changes since 1965: Gandrung. She broke up her lecture into two parts: the narrative of the dance, and the impact of surveillance on its role in the community.

Professor Dyah at UGM.

Professor Dyah at UGM.


Dyah learned the Gandrung during her childhood in West Java, from her grandmother. Before the massacres of 1965, the traditional dance was performed by women in order to ensure the prosperity of the year’s harvest. It was not a performance in the modern sense of the word (with makeup and costumes), but an important ritual that brought prosperity to the village. To Dyah, the dance was empowering because it enabled the women of the village to be leaders in providing for themselves and others; a feminist ideal very engrained in the community’s culture. Today, however, the narrative of the dance is quite different.


Before 1965, in a stereotypical household, the mother planted rice, and the father tended to the buffalo. This created a sort of equality between the role of the husband and wife in a family in which both supported the land and the family. In 1965, Soeharto’s new regime brought about an anticommunist movement, which violently changed Indonesian culture. The “equitable” way the men and women of Western Java shared roles in the household was deemed inherently communist by the state, and was therefore terminated. The military massacred many villagers in the name of “democracy”. This changed the way villages farmed and because the state mandated a male-dominated economic system, there was no longer a reason for the women to perform the Gandrung.

In 1998, when the anticommunism movement ended, the dance returned as a way for Indonesian people to discover their identities and to remember their history. It was brought back–under the supervision of the state–in the form of grand performances with a large focus on aesthetics. The purpose of the dance for the dancers changed from nourishing the village in the pre-1965 period, to discovering personal identity today. The modern version of the dance also attempts to tell people how to remember the past. Because the state supervises national performances, it effectively rewrites memory to shape morale. Dyah implored us to consider the possibility of revisionism when conducting our research projects.

The Soldier and the Frog: Jerusalem on a Friday Morning

The profile of the IDF soldier reminded me of my science lab partner in the twelfth grade. We were put together because both of us had been sick the day lab partners were assigned. Neither of us had spoken to the other person before our senior year, and we often argued over the answers to lab reports or who got to dissect the frog. The soldier had the same straight nose, the same tension in his shoulders that I had seen when my lab partner peered over his text book or scantron test sheet, he was a nervous test taker and would chew on the ends of all his pencils. I wondered if the soldier would have argued with me, and if he, like my lab partner, would eventually give in and let me make the first incision in the frog dissection .

I was staring at the soldier, blatantly staring, in a way that was probably impolite and thinking about frogs as our tour guide hustled our group through the barricade recently placed in front of the gate we had just hours before passed through easily.

I spent the days leading up to this blog post thinking about what I was going to write about. I realize now that this was a bit silly, since its hard to plan on a reflection on something that hasn’t happened yet. I knew all week that Friday would be our trip to the Mount of Olives, and my plan was to have a section about how the Mount of Olives was a difficult sight to miss, and how it would still surprise me when I turned my head and looked over at the ascending gravestones, and about how even though we didn’t tour it until Friday it had been a continuous presence among all our tours of the Old City. I expected there to be something strange about reorienting ourselves and looking out at a city where we had spent the last week wandering through searching for good falafel and cool cotton pants with elephants on them, neither of which was hard to find.

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Mary Magdalena Church and View of Old city from Mount of Olives

But, of course, its ridiculous to try and write about a view before seeing it (forgive my cheesy statement). Although, being on the Mount of Olives was a moment of “reorientation,” reframing the city once again. Being on the Mount of Olives, much like being in the city of Jerusalem itself, was a moment of locating ourselves within centuries of text and the space within a city that is very much a part of current world.

When I remember the Mount of Olives I remember the centuries of gravestones along with the woman I met on the path who told me she liked my scarf and asked where I was from. I remember our tour guide pointing out the views of the Temple Mount as I shared water bottle with classmate on what was the hottest day of the trip. And in what was perhaps the most jarring moment of the trip I remember reentering the Old City after a potential suicide bomber had been caught in the West Bank – I remember staring at a boy with the gun who reminded me of the smell of sharpened pencils and high school science classrooms. We walked through the same streets that we had been exploring for the past week, retraced the Via Dolorosa among barricades and chaos. The place that had become increasingly familiar was once again distant, and I was no longer tasked with locating myself within the city but only with moving through it.

As the trip progressed it became increasingly clear how much time we needed in Jerusalem…and how extraordinary it was to get to spend ten days in the city. Now, after being back for six weeks (oh gosh, this blog post really is late), I can picture the walk from our hostel to Jaffa gate, see the Old City, the Mount of Olives and retrace the paths we walked. The most extraordinary part of the trip (and perhaps this is something unique to the city itself) was that “reorienting” ourselves was a continuous process – and one that continued even after our return home.

Brigitta Schuchert

A Weekend in TC

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It was 4:30 am on Saturday July 12th. With bleary eyes, I filled up my water bottle, tied on my running sneakers, and pinned my bib number to my shirt. Trotting towards town, I was struck with how dark it still was even as the time crept past 5:00 am. The town was busy with excitement with everyone setting up for the parade later that day. I spotted my friend Angela all dolled up in a tutu and a cherry shirt, clearly ready to run a half marathon. From there, Tiffany, another runner from the Traverse City Track Club, drove us to where they were busing runners to the start line all the way up the peninsula. Once there, we warmed up, hydrated, and waited for the beginning of the race.


This past week was the Cherry Festival, which is a huge cherry themed festival (as you could have maybe guessed with the photo at the top of me and my friend Angela inside a giant cherry) that draws a million people to Traverse City for the 10 day long spectacular that includes a full carnival, fireworks, parades, and other events around the city. The festival also includes a series of races, including a half marathon that I decided to run. The race was great and I had loads of fun. Here is a picture of me finishing: 21_1405449896-img_8414 3.20.26 PM

On Sunday, to top off the weekend, I headed to Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is a national park that is known to be one of the most beautiful places in Northern Michigan. DSC_0001

My roommate Wendy and I went for a hike and spent some time in the historic town of Glen Haven.


It was incredibly beautiful, just as beautiful as everyone had been telling me. I was glad I had the chance to go and to see another gorgeous place in Northern Michigan! DSC_0034

Keeping Inupiaq Alive

This week was jam-packed with both work and fun. We had 7 people come in and present to the IDEA (Intergenerational Dialogue, Exchange and Action) project that our research team is coordinating. Each person had a unique perspective to offer on topics like leadership, culture and community engagement. It has been really interesting for me to hear people talk about how they navigate both Western/American society as well as Eskimo/Inupiaq society and culture. One couple who spoke to us was especially inspiring. As children they had been sent to American boarding schools where they were forced to assimilate and speak English. Throughout their lives they have continued to watch the Inupiaq language slowly die out. To counteract this, they founded an Inupiaq immersion school here in Kotzebue called Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat, which roughly translates to “There are no boundaries, anything is possible, a place of learning.” The school helps to pass on the Inupiaq language and culture by immersing its students (preschoolers through first graders) in the Inupiaq language. It also follows a curriculum based on traditional seasonal activities. For example, in the fall hunting season the students learn how to process a caribou, and in the winter they learn how to sew traditional items like mukluks (boots) and parkees (jackets) from animal skins.

Everything is labeled in Inupiaq

Everything in Nikaitchuat’s classroom is labeled in Inupiaq.

While we are here, a second project that Idun and I are working on is helping Nikaitchuat design a survey for their alumni. In order to expand and receive more funding, the school wants to track the experiences of their alumni as they transition from Nikaitchuat to the public school system and then on to jobs and college. So this week we finished creating the questions we will ask the alumni, and then began contacting people and conducting interviews. While we are hopefully collecting useful data for the school, it is also a valuable opportunity for us to learn about one challenge this community is facing. Many of the people here in Kotzebue have explained to us that the loss of their culture is not just something of the past, but is actually something that is happening right now. The Inupiaq language is in the process of dying, and with it much of the culture’s traditional knowledge and skills as well. Many of today’s elders grew up speaking Inupiaq, but young people my age know very little, if any, of the language. Nikaitchuat is working to change the tide for Inupiaq, and it is a very inspiring group of people to work with and learn from!

Outside of Nikaitchuat

Outside of Nikaitchuat

Idun hard at work inside the school. This is also the space where the IDEA project takes place.

Idun hard at work inside the school. This is also the space where our IDEA project takes place.

Research in Haverford’s Backyard

I finally have a picture of myself at RFA! At this point in the summer, I have spent many, many hours in front of this computer. Because my internship is entirely office-based, I’m thankful that my projects and assignments have varied considerably over the course of the past eight weeks.

I’ve just begun work on a short-term project for the organization, one that is quite literally in Haverford’s backyard. We’re contributing to the five-year strategic plan of a school district on the Main Line, analyzing survey data to make recommendations about what students, parents, teachers, and other community members would like to see from their schools. I’m working with a much larger set of data than I have previously, with well over 2,000 survey respondents. Coding all of this data is incredibly time-consuming, but I’m also beginning to gain a sense for the spirit and character of the community.

It’s really exciting to be working on a project that is so relevant to Haverford’s direct surroundings, and to play such an active role on much of the data analysis!

An Indian Summer

Namaste from India.
I’m here in Northern India for the summer working and learning about migrant populations in India, as well as their access to education, healthcare, and other services.
Despite some organizational difficulties, my time here so far has been fascinating, fun, and filled with awe-inspiring landscapes. I spent my first week in Himachal Pradesh living with a homestay, and this was the view from their house:

Although the Himalayas in the background look close, they’re actually several weeks’ trek away.
As for the migrants here, those who I’ve encountered so far typically fit certain profiles: they are originally from Punjab or Rajasthan (two states just south of Himachal Pradesh); they work in the home, or as agricultural laborers, trash pickers, or dog breeders; and they live in semi-permanent camps of a few dozen people, in structures made of bamboo and tarps and with mud stoves for cooking.

(Picture credit to Paula.)

Before I came here, I thought that as agricultural workers, the migrants would move around every few months. But in fact, the groups I’ve met stay in one place for 6-8 years at a time! The reason they are still ‘migrants’ is because they generally do not have official citizenship in the places they go, are not connected to public utilities like electricity and running water, and do not send their children to local schools.
So, why not? I’m still trying to answer that question, but I can hazard a few guesses. The migrants I met, it turns out, do have citizenship papers-but in Punjab. They intend to go back there some day, and even own land in the state, so they don’t want to give up their Punjabi citizenship for papers in Himachal Pradesh. As a result, however, they can’t access many of the charities and services provided to the rural poor in the state.

A child drawing at a migrant camp. (Picture credit to Paula.)

As for school (my main focus), the picture here is interesting. There are a variety of reasons why the migrant children do not go to school:
-they are needed for household chores and work at the camps, such as cooking and fetching things
-as dalits (low caste Indians), they risk discrimination and teasing by classmates and teachers at school
-because most of the migrant children haven’t received formal education, they would need to enter school in classes with much younger children
-the children and their parents do not necessarily see school as relevant to their lives

All of these points deserve deeper analysis than I can provide right now, but the last point is especially complex. Most of the migrants I’ve worked with (both children and parents) have shown strong interest in learning subjects like math and English, but much less interest in formal school (though it’s worth noting that several of the children attended school previously in other states). This overall disinterest in school may be due to the other factors above, or there may be more to the story. Language barriers make it difficult to discover these nuances, and it’s also important not to assume that standardized education is the best path for all people. But I hope to continue learning during the rest of my time in India, and will seek to understand more of the migrants’ backgrounds, needs, wants, ideas, and worldviews while I am here.

Ollantay Raymi: The day I became an Inca.

Last Sunday, I got to experience an important cultural event in Ollantaytambo: the Ollantay Raymi festival, which is an annual production dramatizing the history of the town.  And by ‘experience,’ I mean that I actually had a role (albeit silent) in the play!  I donned the costume of an Inca princess or ñusta and performed in front of a large audience of tourists and locals alike.  Along with the other ñustas, I climbed the grand terraces of the Ollantaytambo ruins and posed behind the Inca chief and his generals and courtiers as they acted out, speaking only in Quechua, a story of Ollanta’s past. Since, during the Inca Empire, blonde hair was nonexistent, I had to choose between hiding my hair under a shawl or (semi-permanently) dying it black to be more Inca-esque. As you can see from the photos below, I chose the latter option! It was a sacrifice worth making for this once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience.


Posing in my Inca costume with my offering of golden corn.


Procession of the ñustas (Inca princesses) in front of the Ollantaytambo ruins during the Ollantay Raymi production. I’m at the far left!

Happy Fourth from Philly!

Happy Fourth of July! Philadelphia hosts a huge free concert and festival, with lots of big-name artists: Ed Sheeran, Nicki Minaj, and Jennifer Hudson, to name a few. Despite some rain in the morning, it was a beautiful evening.

Fourth of july

Over the holiday weekend, I also took advantage of Free First Sunday to visit the Barnes Foundation, a museum with a formidable collection of Impressionist and Modernist paintings. Once again, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore Philadelphia beyond the daily rhythms of my internship.

At my work with Research for Action, I’m becoming increasingly familiar with the organization’s various research methods. Last week, I learned how to code data using Atlas.ti, a software program for qualitative data analysis. I’ve then been continuing with my cross-year analysis, examining developments and trends across the first three years of RFA’s study. Interning with RFA has led me to consider the importance of mixed-methods social research, which employs both quantitative and qualitative methods to gain both depth and breadth of understanding.

My appreciation for qualitative research was also fostered by the CPGC intern retreat in April, during which Dr. Stephen Danley of Rutgers ( spoke on the importance of local knowledge in shaping urban policy. Dr. Danley is vehemently opposed to large-scale quantitative studies such as the randomized control trial, the experimental model that has become the “gold standard” in social research.  Instead, he argues that research should be guided by a more equal and informal relationships between researchers and citizens, allowing communities to shape their own research and policy agendas. Dr. Danley’s philosophy is, to some degree, at odds with my work at Research for Action, where the large-scale randomized trials have played a consistent role in our mixed-methods studies. Rather than discount either research practice, however, I have come to understand the two styles as complementary rather than contradictory: mixed-methods research recognizes the scientific rigor of the large-scale quantitative study, while still honoring the depth and nuance of qualitative research.

The IDEA Project

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve already been here in Kotzebue for 3 weeks. Those three weeks have been jam-packed with new people, new experiences, and lots of work. So first, let me explain a bit what that work is looking like.

The project that Idun and I are working on is called Intergenerational Dialogue, Exchange and Action, or IDEA. The goal of the project is to facilitate inter-generational dialogue on topics like leadership, culture and community engagement. Basically, we are working with about 10 local students from here in Kotzebue who are between the ages of 15 and 21, and are working with them to identify leaders in the community who they would like to learn from. Then we go out into the community, meet with those leaders and invite them to participate in our project. Each day we bring in one of those leaders and have an informal question and answer session, where both we and the students from Kotzebue can ask them questions and listen to their stories. So far these people have included the Kotzebue Fire Chief, a woman who coordinates the environmental programs for the Kotzebue Tribal Council, and a couple who started an Inupiaq language immersion school here in Kotzebue. They have all been interesting to listen to, and have each offered really unique perspectives on things like what it means to be engaged in your community, or how exactly you can go about working to preserve your culture. Big ideas, but ones that seem much more concrete when you’re talking to specific people about their actual lives and experiences.

The second part of the IDEA project is called Photovoice, which is a method of community-based research that involves giving each participant a camera and having them go out into the community to take pictures based on a specific prompt. So far our prompts have ranged from “Something that makes you happy” to “Something you want to be better at” to “Someone you look up to”. After everyone has had a chance to take pictures, we come together as a group to share and discuss the photos. Because we are participating in the photography along with the local students, the project has become a really effective way for us to learn about each other and share our perspectives on community and culture. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the photos end up showing a lot about how each person experiences their daily life.

Before we got to Kotzebue, Idun and I had been prepared to do research on environmental issues like climate change and resource extraction, as we explained in my previous post. But what I didn’t really understand was exactly what a “community-based participatory research” project really is and how you go about conducting one. Basically, it comes down to the fact that there are two ways of doing “research”. One way is to come in with your own questions and hypotheses and study the residents of the community in order to come up with your own results. The other way is to come in to a community and work with groups in the community on what is actually important to them. So while Idun and I are still looking at environmental issues and political engagement, we are doing it while also working directly with members of the community on issues that are important to them. While this was an unexpected change at first, my short stay here in Kotzebue has already convinced me that it is a really important one. This project has turned into something that I am really enjoying and am grateful to be a part of!


Oil and Water Don’t Mix

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This week I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in a campaign the Michigan Land Use Institute is running called Oil and Water Don’t Mix. It’s working to remove the Line 5 Enbridge pipeline from the Mackinac straits. It doesn’t take a lot of time Up North to understand how attached people are to the water. Beyond beauty, some of the areas around here are entirely dependent on the tourism that the beautiful scenery brings. Places such as Mackinac Island would be ruined if a spill were to occur.

The issue with this particular pipeline is that the company that owns it, Enbridge, was responsible for a pipeline break in Kalamazoo in 2010 that was the biggest inland oil spill in history spilling a million barrels. To say that people don’t trust Enbridge is an understatement. Also, this pipeline is older than the one that burst and is in a more vulnerable area.

I’ve been involved in the campaign by sitting in on meetings to talk about where the money would be best spent to get the word out, calling up radio stations to figure out rates, attending a meeting in Petoskey that included a presentation about the safety of the pipeline from Enbridge themselves, and going up to Mackinac to help film the commercial that will be aired in most of Northern Michigan raising awareness about the existence of the pipeline.


In Mackinac, I was able to join the crew that was filming the commercial that would exhibit the beautiful scenery that is the Mackinac straits and discuss what would happen if this vulnerable area were to suffer an oil spill in order to raise awareness about the pipe and create a campaign to get it removed.


My impressions of working to film a commercial were that it is unbelievable how much time goes into creating the scene, setting up the equipment, and shooting the same scene over and over again to get it perfect. It was extremely time consuming and the work isn’t done as the footage enters the editing stage. I am very excited to see the final product!