Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Stealing Women, Stealing Men: Co-Creating Cultures of Polygamy in a Pesantren Community in Eastern Indonesia

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Stealing Women, Stealing Men: Co-Creating Cultures of Polygamy in a Pesantren Community in Eastern Indonesia

Article excerpt

Abstract

The article examines how particular elements of Sasak society structurally facilitate a culture of polygamy in a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) which is managed by male Muslim teachers and preachers (Tuan Guru) who maintain a paradoxical position in society that implicates women in the co-creation of polygamy. By culturally situating Muslim women's experiences in wider Indonesian and local Sasak discursive contexts, and based on anthropological field research techniques, the article elucidates how Muslim women draw on a range of magical forces and prayers that they learn from their Muslim teachers in the pesantren in response to customary marriage laws of 'bride stealing' and orthodox Islam that enable the reproduction of polygamy on the island of Lombok in Eastern Indonesia.

Keywords: Indonesia, polygamy, pesantren

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This article (2) examines how particular elements of Sasak society structurally facilitate a local culture of polygamy (3) which Muslim women resist, embrace and co-create in different contexts in their daily lives on the island of Lombok in Eastern Indonesia. Cases of polygamy are high and are complex sites of conflict which structures founded on cultural integrations of Sasak customary law (adat) and orthodox Islam cultivate and maintain, particularly through traditional marriage practices of 'stealing' women (kawin lari) which in some cases can also translate as 'stealing' men. My data underscore a theory of structuration which evidences that women are born into predetermined social structures of adat, particularly kinship and caste elements that perceivedly disempower them, and that within these structures are a range of Islamic and indigenous discourses, forces and latent powers that women draw on and bring alive as they grapple with their statuses at the intersection of gender, adat, and Islam in their society.

I demonstrate how Sasak Muslim women draw on a range of magical forces and prayers that they learn from their Muslim teachers in response to adat and orthodox Islam that enable the practice of polygamy as it is played out in a pesantren (4) and its surrounding village community. In this pesantren community the reproduction of and resistance to polygamy occurs paradoxically: the Muslim men who manage Islamic discourses and promote polygamy at the same time teach women methods for resistance and self-protection against the troublesome practice. Particularly, Sasak women's lived experiences reflect Sherry Ortner's (2006) claim that the 'ambivalences and ambiguities of resistance ... emerge from the intricate web of articulations and disarticulations that always exist between dominant and dominateri' (p. 62), a condition of domination which Pierre Bourdieu (2001) says 'perpetuates itself so easily ... and that the most intolerable conditions of existence can so often be perceived as acceptable and even natural' (p. 1).

My analysis takes place in a pesantren that belongs to the Nahdlatul Wathan (NW) Islamic organisation in East Lombok where I conducted anthropological fieldwork during 2008-09 by using the traditional anthropological technique of participant-observation to collect my data. There is not yet substantial anthropological work on the NW pesantren in English, and although Indonesian male scholars continue to dominate research on the NW organisation, female researchers (foreign and Indonesian) to-date are lacking in published work on this. I was able to access with relative ease the personal worlds of Muslim preachers and students at the pesantren because my Sasak partner belongs to the NW organisation and his family live in the pesantren community.

My ethnography concentrates on the pesantren community because my informants were involved to various degrees with religious life there. The article begins by contextualising Islam and polygamy in Indonesia, orthodox Islam and marriage in Lombok, and then moves to an ethnographic description of the pesantren field site, before finally turning to my discussion of how women are involved in processes of co-creating polygamy. …

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