Feb 20, 2018 Last Updated 12:49 AM, Feb 16, 2018

Silent resistance - review

Published: Sep 22, 2007

Laine Berman, Speaking through the silence: Narratives, social conventions and power in Java, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998, Hbk ISBN 019-510-8884, AU$140.

Reviewed by DAMIEN KINGSBURY

There has been much acknowledgement of the 'levels' of language in Javanese society. Many observers - usually half informed - have noted the 'polite' and 'refined' aspects of the language. However, with Speaking through the silence, Laine Berman not only offers one of the most detailed accounts of Javanese culture, she identifies the quite pronounced power relations inherent in the Javanese language.

Berman's understanding of Javanese language and culture is based on her years of living and working in Yogyakarta, with ordinary families as well as within the confines of the palace. The focus of her study identifies the hierarchical power relations between different social levels in Javanese society, as well as between men and women.

Several characters in Berman's book are well brought to life, but she saves the most attention for a young woman who works in a local garment factory. Conditions are slave-like, but she has difficulty in even talking about them, or having them listened to. The 'silence' here is that which speaks most, though the gaps in communication are noticeable throughout. 'Politeness' is maintained through a use of non-language. One cannot offend or challenge if utterances are devoid of meaning.

When the protagonist does finally break loose of her restrictive 'cultural' bonds she is sacked. The lesson is that while what is defined as Javanese culture and its so-called refinement remains intact, there is little hope for the social or political emancipation of ordinary Javanese (and hence Indonesian) people.

From a scholarly perspective, Berman's work is thorough and detailed and it rewards close reading. Indonesianist academics and more general anthropologists and linguists should all find this book essential reading. It is a strong work and will undoubtedly find its well deserved place within the canon of texts on Indonesia. Only those with a vested interest in the Javanese status quo, or who have a misplaced sense of appreciation for what passes for Javanese 'politeness' and 'refinement', will come away from this book disappointed.

Dr Damien Kingsbury Damien.Kingsbury@arts.monash.edu.au is Executive Officer at the Monash Asia Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

Inside Indonesia 58: Apr-Jun 1999

Latest Articles

Diplomasi pendopo dan gamelan sekar laras

Feb 16, 2018 - DUNCAN GRAHAM

Crossing the finish line

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG 2

Wilson Tjandinegara (photo courtesy of Guoji Ribao)

Bilingual Chinese-Indonesian writer Wilson Tjandinegara built bridges within Indonesia’s literary culture

A showcase of harmony

Feb 13, 2018 - JOSH STENBERG

The Leyun Choir (樂韻合唱團) performs

Celebrating Indonesia’s birthday with the Mandarin choirs of Jakarta

Review: Ending the silence

Feb 07, 2018 - JOOST COTE

Social exclusion in a state urban mega-development

Feb 01, 2018 - SARAH MOSER & ALYSSA WILBUR

Multi-generational villagers’ land and homes are being expropriated for the new capital  Credit: Alyssa Shamsa Wilbur

Indonesia’s first new city, like many others, may not be addressing the urban problems it was supposed to 

Subscribe to Inside Indonesia

Receive Inside Indonesia's latest articles and quarterly editions in your inbox.

 


Lontar Modern Indonesia

Lontar-Logo-Ok

 

A selection of stories from the Indonesian classics and modern writers, periodically published free for Inside Indonesia readers, courtesy of Lontar

Readers said:

  • Marriage denied
    Sayed - 30 Nov
    I am from Pakistan and living in Indonesia and I am refugee here. I have been here a long time for 5 years but still I did not get any answer from ...
     
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Duncan Graham - 12 Nov
    Thanks for this detailed account - most reports have been superficial. The politics have been done well, but what about the people? I would have ...
     
  • When a history seminar becomes toxic
    Jose - 11 Nov
    Inciting violence is a purpose in itself - violence begets more violence. Turning a peaceful event into a violent confrontation serves its own purpose ...
     
  • Mining – who benefits?
    uhaibm@yahoo.com - 04 Nov
    This paper has been inspired in relation to the exploitation of natural resources, specifically the coal mining industry. I am doing some research ...

30th Anniversary Book

Inside Indonesia - 30th Anniversary Photo Book

 

Have you bought your copy of Inside Indonesia's 30th Anniversary book yet?

The book features 30 of the judges' favourite images from the 2013 Inside Indonesia Photography Competition.

Preview the book  and order your copy online (Soft cover approx AUD$23.00 / Hard cover approx AUD$35.00).