The colloquium was “In honour of Ann Dunham Soetoro and Prof. Dr. Mubyarto.” I spoke on Ann Dunham Soetoro’s book, entitled Surviving Against the Odds (Duke University Press, 2009) and used her title as the title of my talk. Ann Soetoro, the late mother of US President Obama, is rightly recognized as a champion of craft producers whose voices have systemically been unrecognized and poorly represented in decision-making processes. In my review of this published and abridged version of her doctoral dissertation, however, I was critical of the exclusively economic slant that left out “the cultural stuff”. The theme of the WISDOM conference was inspiring: “It is important to focus on how local wisdom can thrive in the sea of globalization, and how indeed it can make a significant contribution to humanity’s future.” I was emboldened by it and by the work of Wade Davis (most recently, The Wayfinders, Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, House of Anansi Press, 2009) to make the exclusion of Ann Soetoro’s cultural data the focus of my review. I argued that if we wish to rely on local wisdom, we will first need to ensure that it survives. Download my paper.
In advance of the conference, I visited the village of Kajar where Ann Soetoro did some of her fieldwork.
|The perapen or metal workshop had changed little or not at all.
There was nobody left in the village of Kajar who made kris. The tradition had died out. I met the son of the kris-maker that Ann Soetoro had known and mentioned in her book.
He was quite old but continued to labour on some simple production metalwork.
While he claimed to have learned how to make kris from his father, what he showed us was so simple and rough that I knew that very little had been handed down to him.
|Simple implements lying atop Ann Dunham's book about Kajar village craft.
The Groneman book on The Javanese Kris is lying beside Dunham Soetoro's book.
Interest in Ann Soetoro's book, on the other hand, was great. People remembered her, but none of the villagers had seen her book. They loved seeing their fellow-villagers and workshops in the photographs.
In the end, I gave my copy to the family of Pak Sastro with whom Ann had spent the most time. They recognized themselves in many of her photographs.
|Pak Sastro's widow and daughter. (I am wearing the "WISDOM T-shirt"!)