Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Localizing Modernity in Colonial Bali during the 1930s

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Localizing Modernity in Colonial Bali during the 1930s

Article excerpt

Local Nationalism, Local Intellectuals

In his path breaking book Imagined Communities [1] Benedict Anderson has demonstrated that, once invented, nationalism became a strong exemplary model which was "plagiarized" all over the globe. In the colonized world this resulted eventually in the conceptualization and formation of independent nation-states. Nationalism as a model was, however, not a simple "prefabricated" formula, or a political McDonald's, which could easily be applied or established in every new context. The appropriation of the notion of nationalism by new intelligentsia's and its translation into specific historical contexts was not an easygoing linear process. On the contrary, its protagonists faced serious risks when they started to explore new and unknown trajectories and their political journey implied an intellectual struggle in order to rephrase fundamental questions concerning their identity and to whom they belonged. Nationalism was therefore also an emotional experience since it involved the rise of radically new conceptions o f time, space and language, the questioning of the existing social order, and personal displacement. [2]

In Imagined Communities Anderson has concentrated on the activities of the main actors who had completed their educational pilgrimage from their home village to the colonial capital (and sometimes beyond) where they staged the making of their nations. The peripheral locality is something that was left behind by the aspiring nationalists. As a consequence, developments at the local level tend to be obscured. It would, however, also be wrong to assume that, once the nation was conceptualized at the centre, the regional and local peripheries would simply follow national leaders. For, the way nationalism entered the regions and localities of colonies was not an automatic process, in which the locality was merely the passive recipient of new concepts from the outside. Such an approach would leave crucial questions concerning the way nationalism has taken root in a local context unanswered. It was, in other words, not enough to invent nationalism at the 'national' level, it had to be re-invented, or at least re-co ntextualized, at the local level as well. Partha Chatterjee has in this respect rightly raised the question "[i]f nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain 'modular' forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?" [3]

In order to understand how early notions of nationalism were formulated and communicated at the local level in colonial Indonesia, we must pay attention to the role of local intellectuals. These men and women were born into a world that was still largely dominated by a local, albeit colonized, culture with its specific rules of behaviour. When they grew up they were often faced with rapid changes which were introduced by new forms of education and literacy, newspapers, increased mobility, new jobs and ways of dressing, and so on. From the end of the nineteenth century onwards the impact of new ideas on old ways of living and their moral foundations forced many people to rethink and re-conceptualize their world views and their own place in the new world around them. [4] Many of these local intellectuals have disappeared in the obscurity of the past, partly because they escaped the attention of conventional historians, who concentrated on successful national leaders and clear institutional categories, but also because the archival and documented remains of these men and women are few. However, without a serious attempt to uncover their role as interpreters of change the spread of modernity and nationalism throughout Indonesia cannot be understood. An elitist, or for that matter centralist idea of history "fails to acknowledge, far less interpret, the contribution made by the people on their own, that is, independently of the elite, to the making and development of this nationalism". …

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