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

This article (2) examines the ways in which polygamy (3) is maintained in a Sasak pesantren (a traditional Islamic boarding school for the study of the Qur'an, Hadith and classical texts) in Lombok, eastern Indonesia. It explores how Muslim women resist, embrace, and co-create polygamy across a range of contexts. Polygamy is a popular practice in Lombok and is a complex site of conflict maintained by cultural integrations of Sasak customary law (adat) and Islamic teachings. I explore aspects of women's agency in the traditional marriage practice of elopement (kawin lari) which, in some parts of Lombok, is also referred to as a male act of bride stealing or capture (kawin curt). Departing from dominant accounts of Sasak elopement practices, I emphasize the need to distinguish between elopement and bride theft as situational, and, in doing so, I present an alternative interpretation that situates the practices in the context of polygamy.

My interpretations indicate that kawin curi does not only refer to male acts of "stealing" women but also translates into acts of women "stealing" other women's men in the context of women who willingly embrace polygamy as co-wives. My arguments about varieties of marriage "stealing" practices are anchored by data that show how women are born into pre-determined social structures founded on adat, particularly kinship and kasta (4) elements that perceivably disempower them, and that within these structures are a range of Islamic and indigenous discourses, social 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 Islamic teachings that encourage the practice of polygamy as it is played out in the pesantren and its surrounding village community. In this pesantren community, the reproduction of and resistance to polygamy occur somewhat paradoxically: the Muslim men who manage Islamic discourses and promote polygamy at the same time teach women methods for resistance and self-protection against it. Women's experiences with polygamy can be situated in 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 dominated' (p. 62). Ortner's understanding of resistance can be located in 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 concerns a pesantren belonging to the Nahdlatul Wathan (NW) Islamic organization in East Lombok, where I conducted anthropological fieldwork from 2008 to 2009. Very little anthropological work in English has explored the NW organization and its pesantren network. The article begins by contextualizing Islam and polygamy in Indonesia and marriage practices 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.

Islam, Polygamy and Formal Discourse in Indonesia

In order to understand the choices Sasak Muslim women in the NW pesantren make about polygamy, it is necessary to provide background knowledge about the wider discourses and historical forces that shape women's lived experiences in Indonesia. The Indonesian Archipelago is situated in Southeast Asia. It is the largest Muslim majority nation in the world with a population of approximately 240 million (Vickers, 2013). The majority of Indonesian Muslims follow the Shafi'i school of Islamic law and can be described as moderate. The ways in which Indonesian Muslims practise Islam differs across its numerous islands and 300 ethnic groups, enmeshing with local culture. …

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