Methodology Notes: Fieldwork and Reality Construction


This month I am following a Master course, “Fieldwork in Conflict and Post-Conflict Setting” with Gemma van der Haar and Peter Tamas. It is very good and gives me a lot of imagination to handle the practice and methodological thinking of doing fieldwork. I would recommend to do this course especially if you already had a fieldwork in mind. In each session, we discuss the delicate and intricate dilemmas based on experiences of other researchers, which is why it open my mind in a good direction. This is perhaps the only Master class (with big credits) that I will be taking in the course of my PhD and I am happy that it is very interactive, not a one way lecture loaded with cognitive material, but it deals with our emotions etc. The point is to put the study materials into a dialogue with our own thinking and research.

Today we study about what are we able to research? We encountered the “social construction of reality” line of thought that shows us how it is perhaps not enough to study hard facts. My own interpretation of today’s class is we are able to study three “layers” of research object: the first is the action or practice, the second is what people say about those action (what they think is knowledge or knowledge claim), and the third (the constructivist approach) is the “structures that enables some societal knowledge to be possible”, it means doing a historical study or an “archaeology” of the knowledge (claim). The implication of our discussion is the question of whether or not is it important that the content of the knowledge claims is true in the sense that it objectively tells the factual reality? Or does it matter more to see what are the frames within which such claims are possible? Does it matter so much that what people say has to be the real truth, or does it matter more to see how their claim, regardless of its “objective accuracy”, implicates their action?

I am a very beginner on this, it seems like the course is persuading me to study the third layer and not taking the first layer for granted. But I am not sure if I would be able to study the third layer, it seems very difficult. So for now, for my own research I would still stick with the first layer, at least initially, you can call me a positivist, it is okay for me. I would still need to have the concrete, material, practices and action, that is something I can research. Then only I will think about the next layers. And I think also each layers are interactive and constitutive of each other. As we discussed in class, it is a process (between the three layers), one does not exclude the other. Constructivist is studying the process of how knowledge comes into being, including within ourselves. We also problematizes how “representation” of realities are often seen as different and separated from “the reality” itself. But it is not separated, it has a dynamic relation. People act based on the representation of realities. “Representation is what informs action, not the brute reality but what they think is real,” said my lecturer.

The second thing that I will be following this week is a workshop on how to write an abstract. It is going to be more informal and intimate, I guess. I will let you know how it goes. Another thing that I am doing this month until December is a reading group on Marx’s Kapital. I am happy to do it together with friends and also a lecturer, Kees Jansen. It is a biweekly reading group and this week we are reading the third chapter about money. I am not doing this because it is trendy or cool to read Marx, but because the labour theory of value is very core in my theoretical framework. But I am also simultaneously struggling to learn the methods and how to do the research in practice. How to study labour relationship? Should I train some households to keep a diary of activities like what Michael Dove did in his research? Well, I am still in the search of different options.


Research Update: Introduction


Okay, long story short: I haven’t been updating my research process for almost a year now. Thanks to my office room-mate Britt Broekhaus today, we had a short chit chat on what our research is about. It is a challenge for both of us to say what our research is about in two words or one sentence. So, our chit chat helped me a lot to think about how to introduce my research in two words or one sentence.

How am I going to describe my research in two words or one sentence? At this point, I would say community rangers (that’s two words). In one sentence, it would be the relation between community rangers and farmers within and adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park, Aceh, Indonesia (like what you’ve read in my about page). I constantly ask to myself, why? Why do I want to research this? I am not quite done with this question but it is okay.

What concerns me now is my imagination that my research is actually not possible. Why? Because I imagine there is a clash between the rangers and the farmers in the buffer zone, because I imagine the rangers is doing a type of fortress conservation in some sort. But it is also possible that, because they are community rangers, they have a very close relationship in everyday life with the farmers, instead of being in some sort of a clash.

Another thing that I am concerned about is whether or not conservation has a real presence in the daily life of the community (farmers in the buffer zone). I can choose a very isolated area and not getting any conservation presence but it would be the area most likely located within the national park. I can also choose location with strong presence of conservation practices, but again, how to see and what is actually conservation presence? What if it is just an ad-hoc, one-off, temporary thing? It is an important conservation area in Indonesia, arguably one of the most important not only in Indonesia but also worldwide, but I imagine that that doesn’t mean people’s daily life are really heavily affected by conservation the way social scientist tend to describe.

I hope I can start writing this type of logbook under the “research update” menu. It is good to keep track of my thoughts, research process, inspiration, and worries. And it would be fun to look back later on.

… continually facing a problem which is very familiar to anthropologists: how to express a different system with a vocabulary which is inevitably moulded to the institutions of the society in which it is normally used. (Bloch, 1983: 34)

Current status: It’s our third day in the Netherlands and I kind of feel like I’ve started finding my rhythm. What a great feeling and what a beautiful place to be! I love every aspect of doing PhD in rural area with my little family 😀

Current status: When you’re almost done with your paper (only a couple of paragraphs left, perhaps another two or three hundred words and today’s the deadline) but you feel like you need to reread one or two literatures to write those last paragraphs and you decided to get a haircut instead. 2.5/100 days of accomplishment. Featured […]

Reading Notes: The Origin of Capitalism

Today at 2 a.m. I’ve finished reading “The Origin of Capitalism” by Ellen Meiksins Wood. It’s a must read if you really want to understand capitalism. A quick note:

Trade is not inherently capitalist. Profit is not inherently capitalist. Accumulation is not inherently capitalist (that’s why Marx refer to Smith’s terminology as “the so-called primitive accumulation”). Imperialism is not inherently capitalist. As this book clearly shows in history, there existed pre-capitalist imperialism, or perhaps we may also say non-capitalist imperialism. And bourgeois is not the same with capitalist, please read the history, it is absolutely different. Bourgeoises were office holder in France while capitalist refers to the tenant in English countryside. Even capital is not inherently capitalist, it depends on the term in which you relate to that capital. Because, capitalism is essentially social relationship. So what we need to think about is the social structure, the way society operates, its hierarchies and the implications.

It is important to understand this clearly, so at least we can allow the imagination of “reversing” capitalism without limiting ourself by thinking that such effort is impossible. It is possible to be non-capitalist but still do trade, for example, etc.

Capitalism is definitive when market has become an imperative, this is the keyword. Compulsion not opportunity. It happens when in order to access my means of self-reproduction (and survival), I depend on the market and have to make myself as effective and productive as possible under the principle of market competition. Let’s give an example. Because in real life I don’t have property, let’s say I am a labour. Capitalism means, as a labour, to utilize my labour and be able to reproduce my own subsistence, I am in a situation which, for example, there are one employee and two labour including me, and capitalism means I have to (to give an extreme example) pay some money to the employee to give the job to me. The amount of money that I have to pay depend on market mechanism, meaning it depends on how much I am able to pay and how much my competitor is able to pay. The highest bidder wins. To win the bid and have more dear sum of money to pay in order to get the job, both of us (me and my competitor, both labours) have to push ourselves to be as effective and productive as possible with the labour that we have.

Such illustration was what happened in the English countryside in sixteenth century. There was a unified monarchy and there were “landlords” that, unlike in other countries, depend on rents instead of tax. They hired surveyor to calculate the market price of lease, so lease price was not decided based on custom nor a fixed rate. And then there were capitalist tenant that have to bid and compete in order to get a lease of land, this is what a “farmer” means, so farmer is not someone who get their hands dirty to cultivate the land, they were people who employ others to work the land. The workers were, I read somewhere in this book, sometimes “seasonal” worker who were very common at that time. And there were also “peasants” who have access to common land or perhaps owned land and worked on it themselves for their subsistence, but I assumed that beside working on their own land, they were also permanently or occasionally worked for the capitalist-tenant-farmer. Capitalism happens because as the tenants depended on market (market as imperative) to get lease, they had to submit themselves to the principle of competition, productivity and effectiveness. They squeeze the farm workers (so labour in capitalism is not identical with factory workers in the city) “surplus” until the land concentration that was already extraordinarily very high became even more highly concentrated. At the end, it brought dispossession of a lot of rural people who had common use rights (for example), and these people went to inhabit London.

If only I’ve read this book earlier, I would have a different perceptions when I visited Somerset in 2011 for study trip. That was the closest encounter I’ve ever had with British countryside. As an Indonesian, it is very difficult for me to imagine British society in the sixteenth century. I mean, how did such social structure come about? I imagine at first nobody own the land, so why suddenly someone could become an aristocrat, someone else a landlord without extra-economic power but have to depend on the income from rent, someone become a tenant (who were these?), someone was a peasant. I think the most difficult one to imagine is the tenant. Were they used to be a peasant and had to lease larger land? Were the peasants sometimes also a tenant and other times also a worker? Thank goodness I have a dear friend who is a very intelligent native British who are coming over to my place on the 30th of January who might offer some clear explanation.

Otherwise Ellen Meiksins Wood herself had made a book, “Liberty and Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from Renaissance to Enlightenment.” Perhaps I have to read that too, only the chapter that talks about English countryside in sixteenth history. Or, for a shorter and more direct, quick answer for my confusion, maybe this article by her will also helps: (2009). ‘Peasants and the Market Imperative: The Origins of Capitalism,‘ in A. Haroon Akram- Lodhi and CristĂłbal Kay (eds), Peasants and Globalization: Political Economy, rural transformation and the Agrarian Question, Routledge: London and New York, pp. 37-56.

It is important for me to understand capitalism because things that are inherent of capitalism is its “crisis cycle” and “internal contradiction”. In my research, the conservation that we’re talking about is supposed to be “responding” to such crisis (financial crisis, and environmental crisis that capitalism evokes). So despite my wild guesses and having new questions on the British society, I had an absolutely great time absorbing “The Origins of Capitalism”. The new knowledge that I acquire and the new self-realization of what I don’t understand is important for me and illuminating for my research journey. I can’t wait to study more.

Featured photo source:

RIP Ellen Meiksins Wood

Ellen Meiksins Wood is my hero in the academic world. I am saddened by her passing last week, not only because I look up to her and want to be like her (though this is a far-fetched dream), but also because I wanted to meet her one day … and shamelessly ask for her autographs, maybe.

The first time I’ve come to know her work was when I studied at ISS (International Institute of Social Studies) in 2010. It was one of our earliest and basic course, “Development Histories, Theories, and Practices”. As usual, before class, students have to read some stuffs to answer the question of that particular session. Her article, “The Agrarian Origins of Capitalism” was to be read to answer the question of why capitalism first emerged in English and not elsewhere. It was a very intriguing question, typical ISS, and it’s an important question as it made us learn the distinctive features of capitalism that is often misunderstood (what makes it different from mercantilism, for example).

Now that she’s gone, I am preparing a tribute for her. I’ve finished reading two of her essays and I’ve been reading the longer version of her article that I mentioned above. It’s a book titled “The Origin of Capitalism: a longer view”. Today, I’ve finished 4 out of 10 chapters. Because I am already on her side, for me, the earlier part of this book is very lengthy and meticulous in explaining the flaws of opposing arguments that tried to teleologically explain the origins of capitalism by assuming that capitalism is “already there” and comes about by freeing its hindrance. She called it “the commercialization model”.

After reading that much of this book, I realized that it was not easy being her because a lot of (academia, highly educated! even Marxist!) people misunderstood capitalism, meanwhile she’s trying to be rigorous, precise, and accurate in understanding capitalism based on historical materialism approach. She got a lot of attacks on her rigidness, but her rigidness is exactly what makes me fall in love because it gives me the answer that makes sense and convincing, not just tiptoeing around the question and giving compromised sidetracks that abandons the real question.

I realized that her argument is standing strong to hold on to, as compared to the rests. She’s like a lone voice in her rigidness and she really slays the bullshits of other teleological arguments. If you read her works you know that she’s one of the most brilliant political theorist in our era. Another plus point is she has a strong integrity, in the sense that she didn’t feel obliged to be influenced by other arguments when it’s not consistent, although such arguments might be popular or having strong political supporters. But she’s not simply dismissing such arguments, she took the problem of really understanding what’s “missing”. For her, the most important thing is to deal with the core and she handle it radically (I mean to the root of the problem) without compromise.

I can imagine that she’s a person who never stop asking questions, at least in her mind. I can also imagine that she’s really studying everything to the core, at least starting with the right historical account.

From her book and articles, I got some idea and additional questions for my PhD research. Of course I will have to understand the history of what I am studying. I am really looking forward to be studying as hard as her!

No one belongs here more than you

Everywhere I go, I’m more of a novice or an outsider than the other people in the field.” Miranda July

I have a guess: people write fiction when they have repressed feelings. I am not like that. Not at all. I’m confrontational. I don’t have the tiniest bit of passive aggressiveness, unlike most fellows I know. Which is why I actually feel quite safe in the Netherlands, given the Dutch being notorious for having a quirk of absolute bluntness. It helps me, in a way. Everything is out in the open. I don’t need to risk a wild guess gone awry. I don’t need to secretly wish for cue cards in social relationship.

This revelation comes to me after reading Miranda July’s short stories, “No one belongs here more than you”. It’s as if a lightbulb popped in my head this morning, “this is why I don’t write fiction.” As you might have read in my previous post, my writing trajectory has barely touched upon the made-up world and I am totally blasĂ© about it.

It is not to say that I don’t appreciate fiction. I do, very much. I could claim to be a loyal fiction reader throughout my life. And I have no intention to stop. One of the reason is perhaps the effect of reading fiction. It directly boosts my comprehension of how to be more empathetic. I love Adichie and Zadie Smith, for example, because they are writers who talk about social issues too obvious to ignore but definitely, most obviously, had been mostly ignored by the rest of writers.

Not to imply that I don’t like Miranda July. I like the way she writes. It has a sense of free-style and cool vibe that is barely out of my reach. The only thing is, I am not one hundred percent sure of being empathetic to her – in my humble opinion – privileged characters. One of the blurb said her characters are exactly the strong point of her prose, the uniqueness, the voice that makes this collection stood out. It is about ordinary people living ordinary life, deep down having so many complication and repressed feelings. In a way, the author’s an artist as she could capture it all underneath and make it worth surfacing. Yet, I don’t know why is everyone so dysfunctional? What’s all the fuss? I don’t see them having problem other than internal.

Still, I enjoy reading her crafted words the way Lorde learn from her storytelling how to put words into songs. If you see tumblr feeds on this book and the author, it is full of quotes which represents exactly how July writes: with lots of implied attitude of quotables that could as well be gone. A lot of it are genius and on point. Perhaps it is the essence of her stories, not heavy on the plot or story line but rich of seemingly uncorrelated wildness and confrontation in each character’s mind.

If you’re like me, you might be suddenly confronted with some lines out of nowhere, in the middle of the story, that makes you mirror into yourself: do people always have to beat themselves up like that? Don’t we have enough of these “I don’t have any financial problems per se but I am still unhappy” kind of plot? It unleashes such unbelievable whirlwind of self-analyzing mode: is it wrong for me to be one-dimensional and not having any hint of tragedy in what I feel or experience? Does feeling tragic, or portraying yourself as tragic, makes you more likeable? What’s the point? For me, one can only be admirably, enviably tragic when they are not actually tragic. If they’re actually tragic, they’re just that: tragic.

Lorde’s interview at rookie magz was the reason I grabbed this book at the library, and I am happy to know that there are different character out there and we are living in different worlds. It basically pointed out that a lot of times people are unsure and having a lot of uncertainties, no matter how strong they tried to plan things out in advance.


Source of featured photo:

Thinking out loud

When I read a fiction about the hen who dreamed she could fly, I found that it fits perfectly with my research. I am neither studying about hen nor fiction, but the story demonstrates some elements that makes one rebels or conform to the rules.

When I was sitting on the floor at public library, watching my 10-months old baby crawling and learning to stand up, I got an insight on my research. Even as a baby, he didn’t limit himself to crawl only at the designated kids area. He explored far away to distant and uncharted territory. Perhaps not due to rebellion per se, but because his mind hasn’t been introduced to the concept of “regulation”.

When I was at home, I’ve had a conversation over lunch with my husband that made me realize how I have been practicing what I am about to research. It could be considered a crime, albeit small ones. I was violating the norms, not only once and not unintentionally. I rationalize my decisions by weighing its pro and cons and conceptualizing it as a “period of exploration and exception”. I hadn’t even thought that I would finally study exactly on that matter.

When we moved to a shared house last weekend, on our first night, our housemate became a blatant example of what I am supposed to be inquiring. He was doing illegal activity that makes our house smells like Amsterdam. In other places, this activity is totally legal, which makes me note that legal/illegal is contextual.

Then, at night, all five of us in the new house were gathering to watch a documentary. It was about Bajau Laut, the stateless “sea-people” who are considered illegal migrants everywhere. It really brought me into thinking a lot of unanswered questions on my research.

Suddenly, everything is about my research.
Suddenly, everything is related to my research.

Hence, I blog, first and foremost to keep me focused, to document my non-linear, seemingly irrelevant thought processes around my research project so it wouldn’t be gone. Oh yes, it could easily be gone in a blink and that is the last thing I would like to happen.

The research that I have been constantly talking about is my PhD research. This year, five days before my 30th birthday, I got the greatest gift of my life, a 5-year PhD scholarship from NWO (Netherlands Organisation on Scientific Research) at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. I am part of a team of seven (one principle investigator, one post-doc, two co-supervisor, and three PhDs each from Brazil, Indonesia, and South Africa) to investigate the idea of “exception”, where the legal and illegal blurs. We are going to study how it came to be, what constitutes and how things work in such situation, moreover, who decide that it is legal/illegal in first place.

This blog is also my study/research companion. Making a chronicle of what’s going on my mind to help me to learn through imitation. For example, on Bajau Laut documentary, I can learn about the story line and what aspects do the filmmaker pay attention to. Maybe I could emulate some of it on my own research. At the same time, I write to have a routine self-evaluation: is this really what my research about, am I heading to the right direction? Because the exception that I am supposed to be inquiring is not all kinds of exception, but it is around conservation, especially “crisis” conservation.

Last but not least, blogging is a good practice because the PhDs in our team are personally going to do ethnographic research (ps: I have always been dreaming of doing long fieldwork, finally it’s going to come true!). It is a good start to make me acclimatized to the habit of writing daily fieldnotes. Hence, this blog is the place where I would let my mind free flows. What you would read here is not a neat final product, but (in a way) raw materials, not only the thought processes but also daily life as a PhD researcher as it is a period in my life that I would like to remember. As I let my thoughts streams, here you would read a rather straightforward and unstylized language, because a lot of time, out of fear of being judged as not “polished” enough, I overanalyzed my language and the way I present my stories. When it comes to writing daily, those things makes me quite paralyzed and mute.

Well, I hope I don’t have to end this post this abruptly, but I don’t know what more to say. That’s all for now, then! Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy and follow my open-ended journey as the story line of an independent researcher in-the-making unfolds. Comments and suggestions are welcome, and looking forward to hear from you.

Yours truly,

Featured photo source:

Kisah sedih petani sawit perempuan

Rangkuman dari tulisan:

Julia and Ben White. 2012. “Gendered Experiences of Dispossession: Oil Palm Expansion in a Dayak Hibun Community in West Kalimantan”. Journal of Peasant Studies 39 (3-4): 995-1016


Pembukaan perkebunan kelapa sawit memberikan dampak yang berbeda-beda bagi masyarakat lokal. Dalam penelitian ini, Julia dan White menyoroti dampak yang dirasakan perempuan Dayak Hibun di Dusun Anbera, Desa Dabat, Kabupaten Sanggau, Kalimantan Barat. Sebagai gambaran awal, sebagian besar perempuan Dayak Hibun putus sekolah setelah menyelesaikan SD. Usia pernikahan rata-rata berkisar antara 13-20 tahun. Dewan Adat Hibun mengampu urusan adat masyarakat Hibun.

Sebelum perkebunan kelapa sawit dibuka, masyarakat menanam karet, beras, serta ladang campuran. Lahan adat terdiri dari tiga jenis, yakni lahan kolektif (poyotono), lahan milik klan atau satu keturunan keluarga (poyotiant), dan lahan individual dari warisan. Perempuan Dayak Hibun berhak mendapatkan warisan tanah sama seperti laki-laki. Mereka mendapat hak mengakses tanah komunal adat dan hutan, sama seperti laki-laki. Hanya saja, perempuan tidak terlibat dalam struktur formal kepemimpinan adat.

Ketika perusahaan hendak membuka perkebunan sawit, perusahaan mendekati pemimpin formal maupun informal, yang terdiri dari pemimpin adat, pemimpin masyarakat lokal, guru, pemimpin keagamaan, dan lain-lain. Perempuan Dayak Hibun Dusun Anbera tidak ikut terlibat dalam pengambilan keputusan pembukaan perkebunan sawit, sebab semua pemimpin tersebut berjenis kelamin laki-laki. Para pemimpin ini ditugasi untuk memberi tahu warga lain, termasuk para perempuan. Mereka mendapatkan bayaran untuk melakukan tugas tersebut, juga untuk mendaftar sebanyak mungkin petani kecil ke dalam skema inti-plasma. Di kemudian hari, mereka bersama dengan kepala desa, anggota kepolisian dan militer, direkrut sebagai Satuan Pelaksana (Satlak) perusahaan yang digaji tiap bulan.

Secara formal, konsesi lahan komunal diserahkan kepada perusahaan perkebunan dalam bentuk Hak Guna Usaha (HGU). Hal ini menghilangkan hak masyarakat adat terhadap lahan komunal. Mereka diajak bergabung dalam skema inti-plasma perkebunan sawit. Skema ini mengharuskan mereka menyerahkan lahan untuk mendapatkan sepetak kebun sawit dengan perbandingan 5:2 atau 7:2. Artinya, mereka memberikan lima atau tujuh hektar lahan dan mendapatkan dua hektar lahan yang sudah ditanami sawit. Sisa tiga atau lima hektar lahan tersebut menjadi milik perusahaan inti perkebunan. Meskipun kebun sawit yang mereka dapatkan itu lebih kecil daripada lahan yang mereka serahkan, setelah mendapatkan kebun sawit mereka harus membayar cicilan untuk melunasi kebun tersebut. Hasil bulanan yang mereka dapat dari panen sawit dipotong oleh perusahaan, antara lain untuk membayar cicilan, pemeliharaan infrastruktur, ongkos transportasi, pembelian pupuk, dan bibit.

Pemerintah memberlakukan sertifikasi lahan pribadi berkenaan dengan pembukaan perkebunan sawit. Proses formalisasi kepemilikan lahan ini menunjuk laki-laki kepala keluarga sebagai pemilik lahan. Perempuan dapat menjadi pemilik lahan secara formal jika suaminya meninggal atau bercerai. Satu perempuan bukan janda yang diwawancara dalam penelitian ini mengatakan bahwa ia membuat KTP dengan status janda supaya bisa memiliki lahan secara formal. Tadinya, secara adat, perempuan Dayak Hibun memiliki lahan, misalnya melalui warisan. Namun, akibat proses formalisasi kepemilikan lahan, sertifikat lahan itu harus atas nama suaminya. Akibatnya, kontrol perempuan terhadap penghasilan keluarga berkurang. Perempuan yang mengalami hal ini ada yang harus menjadi penderes karet di kebun tetangga untuk memenuhi keperluan sendiri dan pendidikan anak. Tanpa kepemilikan formal terhadap lahan, perempuan tidak bisa memberi jaminan kepada bank untuk mendapatkan kredit. Perempuan juga tidak bisa menjadi anggota koperasi sawit maupun Serikat Petani Kelapa Sawit, karena hanya petani sawit terdaftar yang bisa menjadi anggota.

Dampak lain yang dirasakan perempuan Dayak Hibun adalah pembagian tugas yang lebih berat bagi perempuan. Mulanya, ada perbedaan tanggung jawab yang jelas antara laki-laki dan perempuan dalam pekerjaan pertanian. Laki-laki melakukan pembakaran untuk membuka ladang, perempuan merawat ladang. Pekerjaan membersihkan lahan, menanam, dan memanen dilakukan bersama-sama oleh laki-laki dan perempuan. Hasil pertanian berupa beras tabu dijual, hanya untuk dimakan keluarga atau dibarter. Karet dideres oleh laki-laki dan perempuan. Hasil berupa latex dijual oleh laki-laki. Perempuan identik dengan tanaman yang tidak dijual, sementara laki-laki mengurus tanaman yang menghasilkan uang kas.

Pada perkebunan sawit, perempuan merawat pohon sejak pukul 06.00 atau 07.00 sampai pukul 16.00. Perempuan harus bertanam sawit di lahan sendiri, bekerja sebagai buruh perkebunan inti sawit, serta menjadi pemulung berondol sawit yang jatuh untuk menambah penghasilan dan mendukung keuangan keluarga. Meski mengerjakan lahan, perempuan bukan pemilik formal, sehingga tidak bisa menjadi anggota koperasi petani sawit. Perempuan menjadi kelas pekerja, sementara jabatan struktural perkebunan dipegang oleh laki-laki. Pemupukan, penyemprotan pestisida, fungisida, dan pemberantas hama dilakukan oleh perempuan. Mereka jarang dilengkapi masker, kacamata, sarung tangan atau sepatu, apalagi boots, meski kandungan kimiawi dari pestisida tersebut berbahaya bagi kesehatan. Perlengkapan tersebut harus dibeli dengan uang sendiri, padahal harganya jauh lebih mahal daripada penghasilan yang mereka terima. Di perkebunan inti sawit, pekerjaan memanen dan menjual hasilnya dianggap terlalu berat untuk perempuan, meski pada kenyataannya perempuan melakukan pekerjaan ini di lahan plasma. Karena pemanenan dan penjualan dilakukan oleh laki-laki, uang hasil penjualan dipegang, bahkan dikelola, oleh laki-laki.

Uang hasil penjualan tersebut seringkali habis di tangan laki-laki dengan alasan membayar tenaga pemanen, padahal sesungguhnya dihabiskan untuk membayar pekerja seks di kafe yang mulai bermunculan. Selain menimbulkan masalah sosial dan keluarga, fenomena ini membuat sumber penghidupan perempuan petani sawit hancur. Perempuan petani sawit harus bekerja ekstra untuk memenuhi kebutuhan hidup. Salah satunya dengan memulung berondol sawit yang jatuh meski harga jualnya lebih rendah daripada tandan buah segar (TBS). Jika tidak diambil pemulung, berondol tersebut hanya akan tergeletak dan membusuk. Hampir seluruh pemulung berondol sawit adalah perempuan. Polisi memperlakukan pemulung berondol sawit sebagai pencuri yang melanggar teritori perusahaan dan mengambil properti. Perempuan diintimidasi, dilecehkan dan diancam. Ada dua perempuan yang pernah diproses secara hukum karena memulung berondol sawit. Meskipun demikian, karena keterdesakan hidup, perempuan tetap memulung berondol sawit, terutama secara berkelompok.

Keterdesakan hidup semakin menghimpit karena perubahan hubungan masyarakat dengan pertanian dan lingkungan. Kelapa sawit ditanam secara monokultur di lahan. Luas lahan pertanian campur berkurang. Kebutuhan terhadap sayur tidak bisa dipenuhi dari lahan sendiri. Hutan rusak oleh perkebunan, sehingga tidak ada makanan yang bisa diambil dari hutan dari tidak ada bahan baku untuk membuat kerajinan rotan yang bisa dijual. Sungai tercemar. Bahkan, ketika perempuan mengambil ikan di sungai, mereka dilarang polisi dan harus mengembalikan tangkapan karena sungai itu milik perusahaan. Situasi ini menyebabkan perempuan mau tidak mau harus ikut mencari nafkah dengan bekerja keras. Mereka pun lebih paham untuk membela kepentingannya dan melawan tekanan dari pihak-pihak yang mengintimidasi.

Secara garis besar, setidaknya ada lima hal yang dialami perempuan Dayak Hibun akibat pembukaan perkebunan sawit. Pertama, perubahan akses dan kendali terhadap lahan dan sumber daya lainnya. Kedua, perubahan pembagian kerja antara laki-laki dan perempuan. Ketiga, penurunan kendali terhadap penghasilan keluarga. Keempat, perubahan strategi bertahan hidup. Kelima, peningkatan perlawanan terhadap tekanan korporasi dan patriarki. Di sisi lain, pembukaan perkebunan sawit membuat mereka pengetahuan baru. Pengetahuan baru tersebut antara lain tentang ekonomi modern yang bergantung pada uang tunai, karakteristik tanaman, naik turun harga sawit, pentingnya hak atas tanah dan variasi sumber penghasilan, serta efek lingkungan yang dihasilkan oleh perkebunan kelapa sawit.

To make mama Woolf proud

Last night, Julianne and me had dinner at a brand new, the first and maybe the only mexican food diner in town. She teaches English at a private university, and we had casual conversations about silly things, student loans in the US, food, tv series, and of course, books. Under dim light, girly song playlists and outdoorsy ambience, we both confessed that Virginia Woolf was quite a difficult read.

I’ve tried to read Mrs. Dalloway, but fell asleep instead. I’ve re-read her slimmest book, “A Room of One’s Own” twice, and still didn’t get it, until I read it from the last page backward. This way, I can read one paragraph at a time as a separate entity, without being chained by a supposedly forward-flowing “plot”. I put it inside my drawer, eager to share what I’ve got after finally rereading (for the fourth or fifth time) my favorite parts, for example the London part and the part when she got legacy from her aunt that made her free from “doing work that one did not wish to do”.

looks blurry, really need to fix the camera soon

Initially, she wrote this book as a speech about women and literature. But she kept on writing and it turned out to be too long. Perhaps the way this book had been written wouldn’t appeal to readers with preference for conventional “plot”. Still, some parts are inspiring to me, as a woman and human being who have been silent for too long and self-sabotaging my voice.

Personally, I think that the importance of her work (“A Room of One’s Own”), is to remind me not to sabotage my self.

Here are some passages that I would like to share. Enjoy!

Refering to woman in fiction and in reality:

“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.”

On writing/integrity:

“At any rate, where books are concerned, it is notoriously difficult to fix labels of merit in such a way that they do not come off. Are not reviews of current literature a perpetual illustration of the difficulty of judgement? ‘This great book’, ‘this worthless book’, the same book is called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing. No, delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most servile of attitudes. So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a fair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.”

And, emphasizing financial independence:

“I need not, I am afraid, describe in any detail the hardness of the work, for you know perhaps women who have done it; nor the difficulty of living on the money when it was earned, for you may have tried. But what still remains with me as a worse infliction than either was the poison of fear and bitterness which those days bred in me. To begin with, always to be doing work that one did not wish to do, and to do it like a slave, flattering and fawning, not always necessary perhaps, but it seemed necessary and the stakes were too great to run risks; and then the thought of that one gift which it was death to hide – a small one but dear to the possessor – perishing and with it my self, my soul – all this became like rust eating away the bloom of spring, destroying the tree at its heart. However, as I say, my aunt died; and whenever I change a ten-shilling note a little of that rust and corrosion is rubbed off; fear and bitterness go. Indeed, I thought, slipping the silver into my purse, it is remarkable, remembering the bitterness of those days, what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds. Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever. Therefore not merely do effort and labour cease, but also hatred and bitterness. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me. So imperceptibly I found myself adopting a new attitude towards the other half of the human race.

Finally, this post is a self-reminder to assert the spirit of an independent woman, who are genuinely happy with her life choices, who are living her always risky life with hard-earned courage, who are embracing her life experience as a source of lesson and treasure them as a stream of wisdom, who are trying her best to constantly develop herself and being ready for future accomplishments, instead of being stuck in an uninspiring situation where she is doing what she does not want to do, who are having relationships with the world and still staying true to herself.

Nobody said that being independent would be easy. But not being one is a lot more difficult.

Trust me, I’ve tried. 🙂

This post is a contribution to the Book Review Day.