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My work as  an anthropologist (for a C.V. click here) has focused primarily on Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia where I have done fieldwork and taught: the Priangan area of West Java (1970-72), Aceh (1980-82), East Java and Madura (1989-93, 2004), and the Banten area of West Java (1996).

Although over the years my interests have varied the main focus of my research has been on belief systems and symbolic representations as these relate to daily life, both how these can be understood in their own right and in the light of anthropological explanations. Iíve written a book on beliefs about tigers in Southeast Asia (especially Indonesia) and a major paper on Javanese spirit beliefs was published in 2006 (Crossroads vol. 18, #1).
More and more I have been asking how communities symbolically define themselves through the interlocking and sometimes conflicting stories that their participants tell and accept as reality. Recently I have looked at how perceptions of myths are shaped by the media and how the influence of the latter varies with the location of the community and its local concerns. I presented a paper on this topic at the 14th Workshop of the European Social Science Java Network (ESSJN), Salatiga/Yogyakarta 12-15 January 2005 (for the ESSJN see: http://www.ceas.gu.se/essjn/).

At the same time, the movement of mythologies into the new niches created by film, television, and the Internet provides them with a non-local space in which their veracity does not depend on local icons. This releases them from local constraints and makes it possible for them to be recombined with other beliefs. Work on this topic is on-going.

In October 2007 I participated in an experimental seminar on ritual at the Royal Holloway, University of London where we explored how far a ritual can be taken out of its context without losing its original meaning.


  ohlesari dancer

Some time ago I did a study of the songs sung during the seblang ritual performed by the Osing people of Banyuwangi. These songs had become corrupted over time, as their symbolic referents became more and more obscure, which led to the invention of alternate explanations for them. Attempting to reconstruct the verses I was able to analyze their content and place them in the parameters set by the ritual during which they are sung. This turned into an 84 page manuscript, which is rather difficult to place. In 2010 I attended the Keboan ritual in two Osing villages in the Rogojampi area of East Java. In this ritual men are possessed by wild fertility spirits and begin to act like water buffaloes. The data I collected has now been written up and combined with the study of the songs and an article on the Seblang dance itself. Hopefully this package can be brought out as a short book.

keboan1  keboan2  keboan3


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