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April 12, 2007


One of Four Fulbright Fellows, Elizabeth Rhoads
Will Study Land and Cultural Identity in Bali


Four Bryn Mawr seniors have won prestigious Fulbright awards for 2007-08 — two as research fellows and two as Fulbright English Teaching Assistants. Coincidentally, both research fellows — Elizabeth Rhoads and Hannah Reiss — will study in Indonesia. The teaching fellows, Laura Brymer and Laura Kramer, will teach English in Hong Kong and Madrid, respectively. Over the next four weeks, Bryn Mawr Now will profile one Fulbrighter per week. We begin with Rhoads.

An anthropology major with a concentration in peace and conflict studies, Rhoads will spend her Fulbright year studying the complexities of cultural identity and land ownership in an environment where both are hotly contested and have undergone significant changes in recent years. Land distribution and ownership in Bali, she says, is an understudied topic with profound political and economic implications.

Rhoads, who hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, is not a newcomer to Bali. She spent the second semester of her junior year there in the School for International Training's study-abroad program, which provided intensive Indonesian language training and a lecture series on Balinese history, culture and art. The program culminated in an independent study project; Rhoads was able to expand the scope of her project and the length of her stay through an Asia Network/Freeman Foundation Grant.

Through last summer, Rhoads used the grant to work with Haverford College anthropologist Leslie Dwyer to study the effect of a resurgence of interest in Balinese cultural identity on Balinese punk and metal bands. She found that more opportunities were open to bands that sing in Balinese than to those who sing in Indonesian or in English.

The "Ajeg Bali" movement (the name translates roughly as "Bali standing strong") has rapidly gained popular support since the terrorist bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005, Rhoads says.

"Bali 's population is primarily Hindu," she explains. "The bombings were carried out by Islamic groups, and since then, there has been a tendency to blame outsiders — especially Muslim immigrants from other parts of Indonesia — for all kinds of social ills. The Ajeg Bali movement aims to strengthen Balinese identity and 'cultural confidence,' emphasizing Balinese language and elaborate traditional religious ceremonies. A lot of communities in Bali have enacted ordinances that impose taxes on outsiders or put them under surveillance.

"As a result, bands that perform in the Balinese language get preferential treatment. Venues that used to be open to all bands are now reserved for those that sing in Balinese. Balinese-language bands get all kinds of free publicity from Balinese newspapers and television stations — for instance, reporters will follow them around and film them praying at all six of the famous Hindu temples on the island before they perform. And bands that sing in Balinese get away with social criticism that other bands can't."

Rhoads incorporated the research she did in Bali last summer into her senior thesis, which examines the phenomenon of culture-preservation movements and "who is left out when cultural identity is codified."

When she returns to Bali as a Fulbright fellow, Rhoads will take another look at the Ajeg Bali movement, this time focusing on the high-stakes issue of land ownership.

"Since the bombings," Rhoads says, "many people in Bali have come to see the tourist industry as unstable and urged a return to their 'cultural roots' in wet-rice agriculture. But that isn't really feasible. Tourism is the basis of about 70 percent of the Balinese economy. Most people have sold their land, and the price of real estate on much of the island is now astronomical."

Before the explosion of tourism, Rhoads says, the island of Bali consisted of a complex, overlapping patchwork of communally-owned land.

"There is village land, temple land, the land of clan or family temples, and land owned collectively by extended families."

Several factors contributed to the erosion of traditional patterns of communal land ownership in Bali, she says.

"During the colonial period [1908 to World War II], enormous taxes were imposed on land. In the 1960s, an Indonesian Communist movement that advocated land reform was crushed after an attempted coup and hundreds of thousands of Communists and suspected Communists were killed; Bali was hit especially hard.

"Then, when the island began to be developed intensively for tourism in the 1970s, the World Bank began issuing land-ownership certificates to individuals who could then sell their land to developers or use it as collateral for loans.

"But who got these certificates?" Rhoads asks. "They were generally issued in the name of a single person, rather than the communities or families that collectively owned the land before. And the descendants and relatives of suspected Communists were often denied the opportunity to claim land as theirs."

This is among the questions Rhoads will address during her Fulbright year. She will also look into the Balinese conception of the value of land in symbolic, religious and cultural as well as economic terms. By examining government records and interviewing farmers, landholders, land brokers and government officials, she hopes to trace the history of Balinese land ownership and to reach an understanding of the complex Balinese relationship with land.


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