I realize that I haven’t devoted an entire post to my research yet. The topics I prefer to write about — playing with the Taman kiddos, attending cultural events, eating delicious things, etc — certainly make up a huge part of my experience here, but so does my research.
I wrote a couple-hundred-word-long post about my mini research project and started to write one about my big research project, but I haven’t been able to finish them or make better ones. The reason is simple: I’m not sure what to say. For one thing, I don’t know how to summarize what I’ve been learning into a short post. We’ve learned so much about so many things and it’s hard to know where to start. The more I learn and the more I care about the people I’m working with, the more concerned I am with giving an accurate representation. Which is difficult. There’s so much context that is needed for just about anything I could tell you; some it has been explained to me, some of it I know intuitively by being here, and most of it I don’t completely understand myself. I suppose any description entails selection, but I find that stressful. I’ll try quickly now.
For my mini-research project I worked with Aisha and Rere on the topic of rumah asal, family origin houses. We did about a dozen interviews with people from Taman and neighboring compounds. Here’s some snippets from the writeup we did after our presentations a few weeks ago:
For our proposal, we came up with three main questions: How do people understand rumah asal? How do understandings and opinions change between generations? How have the physical and social structures of rumah asal changed within the lifetimes of the people living there?
… Upon analyzing our research we identified four major themes. The first – and maybe the most important – was religion. Coming into the research, Aisha and Madeline did not understand the importance of religion in the very definition of rumah asal. Many of our informants, however, defined rumah asal by the presence of ancestors and family temples. We learned that rumah asal is where the temple is, and religious beliefs require that family land not be sold or abandoned. Tradition and obligations came up in our interviews a lot, especially from women. One woman in her 70s said that she had been living in her rumah asal for about sixty years and had never considered living elsewhere. She added that younger generations should decide for themselves where to live, but that it was important that they return to the rumah asal for ceremonies. Similarly, another woman acknowledged that the world is changing and expressed a hope that her son would travel far for his education. She insisted, however, that it was still important that he return to the rumah asal when she and her husband had passed. A third woman felt that it was important to maintain traditions in a modernizing world because she believed in karma: if she “disobeyed” a tradition or ceremony, she worried that something bad would happen to her family. Furthermore, among our informants that had moved out of their rumah asal for whatever reason, most mentioned that they felt it was important to return for ceremonies.
A second theme essential to the discussion of rumah asal is family; all the informants we spoke to talked about what they saw as advantages and disadvantages of living with one’s extended family. Something many people liked about rumah asal was the existence of a close-knit community and support network, in which family members could assist each other in hectic or difficult times. A man in his 30s who now lives in a kos told us he prefers not to live in a rumah asal because he wants more privacy, but that he still values the strong community ties of family compounds and believes that this network of supportive relationships should be maintained even in the absence of rumah asal. A mother in her 20s who lives in her husband’s rumah asal said that she likes having people around to watch over her children when she’s busy with other duties. A young child told us that he likes living in his parents’ house outside of their rumah asal because it is more spacious, but he enjoys spending most of his time at Taman 65 with his friends who live there. However, many informants also mentioned what they see as the darker side of such tight family ties and close living quarters: they said that a disadvantage of rumah asal is the lack of privacy, which can result in gossip and interpersonal conflicts. Several people told us that it is impossible to keep anything private when everyone lives so close together. A man in his 30s who lives with his parents and wife outside his rumah asal said that he prefers to visit family and friends in houses outside of their rumah asal so that they can speak more freely without a relative passing by and overhearing (and possibly joining in) their conversations. Several people also mentioned conflicts among family members over inheritance of land both inside and outside the rumah asal; if there is no son to inherit the compound, or if he does not want to live in the rumah asal, it can be difficult to choose an alternative successor without offending anyone. Shared bills are also sometimes a source of conflict if certain parties feel that they are paying more than a fair portion of the bill.
Finances, in fact, made up our third major theme. Families living in rumah asal face not only economic obligations arising from bills that must be split, but also economic obligations relating to religious ceremonies. One older woman told us that in her lifetime there had been a government reform that transferred the responsibility of paying for renovations of temples from families to the government, making it economically easier to live in a rumah asal. Other informants emphasized economic benefits to living in a rumah asal. One man told us that an advantage to rumah asal is that he didn’t have to pay for his house – which he inherited from his father, who had inherited from his father. Land of course can be expensive, and as the head of a large family, the man was thankful to not have to worry about it.
The fourth major theme we noticed was the way in which gender roles affected our informants’ experiences in their rumah asal. Men are expected to inherit the rumah asal and live in it since the family temple cannot be abandoned or sold. Traditionally the rumah asal goes to the eldest son, but we spoke to one man who had inherited his compound even though he was a third son because his two elder brothers had jobs that required them to live elsewhere. Men are also expected to look after their aging parents. One of the men we spoke to said that he was under a great deal of pressure as the head of his rumah asal because he had to support seven other people with his income alone. Women, on the other hand, have many religious obligations occupying their time. They must make large quantities of offerings every week and perform rituals in the family temple and shrines of the rumah asal and at larger temples outside the compound. On holy days, they are also expected to visit their parents’ rumah asal to pray at their original family temples. Women who follow the tradition of living in their husband’s rumah asal must also adjust to a whole new set of social relationships; a mother we spoke to said that, as a daughter-in-law, she sometimes felt a bit like an outsider in her own home.
We were also asked to present and write about the difficulties we encountered:
We encountered several difficulties in the course of our research. Some were trivial, such as our experience at the Bali Museum. The three of us borrowed a car and drove to the museum because we had heard that there was an exhibit there about rumah asal that would be helpful. Upon arrival, we could not find the exhibit and were told that no one would help us unless we paid for a museum guide. Finally we found out that there was in fact no rumah asal exhibit anymore. However, we made the best of the experience by touring the museum and Rere quickly interviewed a few of the guards. Another obstacle in our research was finding people. Many people we asked to interview said they were simply too busy. Others felt they did not speak good enough English, putting the burden on Rere to be present for almost every interview we conducted. Indeed, the three of us struggled with the language barrier throughout our research. Aisha and Madeline found it hard to only be able to experience the interviews secondhand, losing the many little details of speech that simply cannot be translated. On the other hand, Rere had difficulty balancing the need to keep up the rhythm of an interview with our need for translation. The cultural barrier, too, was a difficulty. There were so many things we encountered in our interviews that Aisha and Madeline – and sometimes Rere, from Java, as well – could not understand because we lacked cultural fluency. This was often an issue in our interviews, because our lack of a Balinese background made it difficult to understand what our participants were saying or to formulate appropriate questions.
We ended our presentation and paper with a note that our “findings” could not be generalized and our conclusions were only provisional, based on only a week of research.
For my main research project, which will conclude next Tuesday, I am partnered with Angga. Angga, Louis, Kelsey and I are all researching similar topics, so we’ve been doing a lot of our brainstorming and interviews together. My specific interest started out as women’s political participation: to what extent and in what ways women feel like they can be a part of the political sphere. However, my research has taken me in a lot of different directions. For example, you can’t talk about women in the legislature without talking about the politically repressive era of President Suharto. You can’t ask elderly women about past political activity without understanding that the terrible violence of 1965 still inspires fear in both men and women. You can’t compare political activity to that of the US without understanding that the current government still keeps close tabs on outspoken people, and that threatening visits from the military are not unheard of.
I’m not sure what I will say in my presentation next week. I’ve learned a lot of really interesting things and there’s already an analysis budding in my head, but I have no idea how to express it. As Degung said to us when we met with him today, “You have a headache from all this? Good.”