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Custodians of the Sacred Mountains

Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali

Thomas Reuter

Publication Year: 2002

Custodians of the Sacred Mountains is the first comprehensive ethnography of the Bali Aga, a large ethnic minority that occupies the island's central highlands. The Bali Aga are popularly viewed as the indigenous counterparts to other Balinese who trace their origin to invaders from the Javanese kingdom of Majapait, who have ruled Bali from the fourteenth century A.D. Although Bali remains one of the most intensely researched localities in the world, the Bali Aga have long been overshadowed by the more exotic courtly culture of the south. A closer analysis of the changing position of the Bali Aga within Balinese society provides a key to understanding the politics and social process of cultural representation in Bali and beyond. The process is marked by a blend of representational competition and cooperation among the Bali Aga themselves, among the Bali Aga and southern Balinese, and later among the island's aristocratic elites and foreign colonizers or scholars, and state authorities. The study of this process raises important issues about the establishment and maintenance of status and power structures at regional, national, and global levels. Custodians of the Sacred Mountains explores the marginalization of the Bali Aga in light of a critical theory of cultural representation and calls for a morally engaged approach to ethnographic research. It proposes an intersubjective and communicative model of human interaction as the foundation for understanding the relative significance of cooperation and competition in the cultural production of knowledge.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi

This project would not have been accomplished without the kind support of persons and institutions too numerous to mention. My gratitude extends to them all, even though I will name only a few. I thank the Australian Research Council for funding this research, and the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne...

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pp. 1-21

This book offers a journey into the world of the Bali Aga, or Mountain Balinese. It tells of a people whose culture for centuries has been shrouded in the shadow of the more celebrated lowland kingdoms of southern Bali. In this interlocal ethnographic account of the elaborate alliance systems of the Bali Aga, highland Balinese culture and society is explored for the first time in all its...

Part I: Banua Ritual Domains and the Status Economy of Highland Bali

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Chapter 1: The Banua as a Category and a Social Process

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pp. 25-63

The social landscape of highland Bali is patterned by regional networks of ritual alliance among groups of villages. Such networks are locally referred to as banua, or “ritual domains.” How these regional associations are conceptualized and maintained, and how they generate a sense of shared identity among the mountain people and set the stage for a regional status economy will be explored...

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Chapter 2: Pura Pucak Penulisan: Temple at the Tip of the World

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pp. 64-82

The majority of villages in the mountain district of Kintamani (Bangli) and some further communities in the northern coastal district of Tejakula (Buleleng) take responsibility for the ritual and physical maintenance of a regional temple of great antiquity. This sacred location is colloquially referred to as Pura Pucak Penulisan, “the temple on the summit of...

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Chapter 3: Gebog Domas: The Congregation of Pura Penulisan

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pp. 83-110

Pura Pucak Penulisan is a popular place of worship among all Balinese Hindus. Pilgrims from the most distant corners of the island come here almost every day of the year, now that an age of motorized transport has made this temple easily accessible. But Pura Penulisan has a far deeper and more personal significance to the members of its principal congregation...

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Chapter 4: The Ritual Process of a Domain

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pp. 111-128

By far the most graphic and impressive display of Pura Pucak Penulisan’s role as the regional ritual center of a domain is the celebration of up to eleven days that marks its annual festival. This festival is the most complex synchronized activity involving the entire gebog domas and wider membership of the domain. It is a ritual performance in celebration of the domain’s...

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Chapter 5: Beneath and Beyond Penulisan: Three Related Domains

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pp. 129-166

Even though the banua of the ancient temple of Penulisan is exemplary, outstanding in terms of both its size and its regional significance, it is only through a wider comparison among several different domains that the general conceptual and organizational features of banua can be established. With this chapter I begin a comparative exploration of several ritual domains...

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Chapter 6: A Ritual Map of the Highlands

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pp. 167-218

The institution of the banua is of significance well beyond the geographical sphere of Pura Pucak Penulisan’s direct or indirect influence. Several other domains will be described in this chapter in brief comparative sketches. These case studies are designed to reveal similarities and variations in the conceptual and ritual organization of banua without exploring...

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Chapter 7: The Status Economy of Highland Bali: From the Banua to Smaller Spheres of Social Organization

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pp. 219-249

Exploring the lifeworld of the Mountain Balinese from the perspective of their regional alliances within ritual domains (banua) has relegated to the background the more immediate community and family settings that form the stage for many of their mundane and ritual activities. This chapter is concerned first with the internal social organization of Bali Aga communities...

Part II: In the Shadow of Paradise: The Bali Aga and the Problem of Representation

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Chapter 8: Representation Beyond the Highlands: Preliminary Reflections

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pp. 253-263

Processes of mutual representation within the regional status economy of Bali Aga society are based on voluntary association, and status differentiating relationships are perpetually negotiated in the terms of an inherently process-oriented idiom of fluid temporal distinctions in an order of precedence. Moving beyond the highlands, to the larger world in which the...

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Chapter 9: People of the Mountains and People from the Sea: A Balinese Model of Society

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pp. 264-291

Moving beyond the ethnography of highland Bali, I now explore how Bali Aga people and their culture are situated in the representational landscape of Bali as a whole. Insofar as the Bali Aga have been portrayed with a negative bias by other, more powerful Balinese people, I assume that there is a moral responsibility to amplify their counterdiscourses...

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Chapter 10: The Anthropological Coproduction of the Bali Aga: A Mirror of Changing Relations

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pp. 292-321

The situation of the Bali Aga within changing Balinese representations of their society is part of a contested and emergent knowledge system, drawing on a range of culturally specific metaphors of time and movement and, more recently, on a more “global” and Western-influenced vocabulary of modernity. But how do these local representational models compare and relate...

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Chapter 11: Representation and Society: A Bali Aga Perspective

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pp. 322-346

This final chapter asks what people generally and social scientists in particular can learn from the highland Balinese and from their approach to representation. We all have a practical interest in representational models insofar as they have a tangible effect on all of our lives, for better or worse, as models for living. Social scientists also have a theoretical interest...


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pp. 347-383


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pp. 385-394


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pp. 395-400

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862107
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824501

Publication Year: 2002