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Through the Eyes of Researcher: The Nature of Balinese Babad Literature  

by on Thursday, 7 May 2009No Comment | 1,428 views

Lontar Here is an interesting excerpt on balinese babad literature taken from Helen Creese’s writing entitled “Balinese Babad as Historical Sources: A Reinterpretation of The Fall of Gelgel”, that will give you an interesting insight on Balinese social-cultural life.

Genealogical chronicles and dynastic histories are found throughout the Indonesian archipelago in both oral and written forms. In Bali, as in Java, these genealogical texts are known as babad. The study of Balinese babad literature is one of the most neglected areas of Balinese studies. Since Berg’s pioneering work on Balinese babad in the early part of the twentieth century (1927, 1929, 1932), Balinese historical writings have remained largely unstudied by Western scholars. Although on Bali itself considerable interest is shown-in these historical works, and a number of babad and geguritan dealing with historical topics have been published, often with an Indonesian translation, over the last twenty years, the only extensive study of a Balinese babad work is Worsley’s edition of the Babad Buleleng (1972). More recently, however, anthropologists and historians have begun to make considerable use of Balinese historical writings in multidisciplinary studies (Vickers 1986; Guermonprez 1987; Stuart-Fox 1987; Schulte Nordholt 1988).

The neglect of Balinese babad writings by Western scholars, both philologists and historians, can be attributed to a number of factors. When Western study of Bali began at the beginning of the nineteenth century, early Dutch scholarly interest centred on the description of the life and culture of the Balinese and the recording of their social order and administrative structure. Bali was seen as a repository of the high culture of Hindu Java that had vanished from Java itself in the face of the spread of Islam. Bali’s own literary products and textual traditions were considered to be little more than the faded vestiges of what had once been the glory of Javanese literature, and philologists too focused their efforts on the Old Javanese classics that had been preserved in Bali. Nor did historians show much interest in the study of Balinese history or its historical writings. Despite Friederich’s (1959:28) optimistic opinion in the mid-nineteenth century that the babad texts of the Balinese princely families would certainly spread much light on the history of Bali, if carefully compared with each other’, little use has been made of them and their comparative study has scarcely begun. Balinese babad have generally been considered to be historically unreliable, or to belong rather more to the realm of myth and legend than to the realm of history or historiography.

Thus, although the importance of the use of indigenous sources particularly for the understanding of the history of ideas and for an understanding of indigenous perceptions of the past has generally been acknowledged (Ricklefs 1972, 1974, 1987; Vickers 1990), it is the more prevalent judgements of Friederich’s nineteenth-century contemporaries concerning the worthlessness of indigenous views of the past that echo and re-echo throughout the discussion of Balinese historical writings. Berg himself remained unconvinced of the historical value of Balinese works (1938:126-7). Worsley (1972:vi) has characterized Balinese babad as essentially ‘ahistorical’ and as ‘having more in common with myth, legend and parable than with history’. Ricklefs (1981:52) goes further in declaring them ‘so mythological and devoid of chronological order that they are of little value as sources of political history’, while anthropologists such as Boon (1977:70) and Geertz (1980:161) see them as devices for the enhancement of the status of the family by which they would be most often consulted and therefore subject to continual ‘reinterpretation’. A major problem confronting those who wish to study Balinese babad is the lack of an adequate definition of what actually constitutes a babad in the Balinese context. Western perceptions of both the nature and the usefulness of Balinese babad have inherited much from the discussion of their Javanese counterparts. Despite their common name, works designated babad in Javanese tradition and those similarly labelled in the Balinese tradition do not on the whole share the same characteristics. Even the name babad for these Balinese works dealing with the past appears to be a fairly recent phenomenon. The authors of these works do not themselves designate their writings as babad, although a number of Balinese historical writings are listed as babad’m catalogues of Balinese manuscripts (Brandes 1901-1926; Pigeaud 1967-1970; 1980), as well as on the cover leaves and transcriptions of recently produced copies. Balinese babad differ in content, form and function from their Javanese counterparts. Javanese babad arc generally written in verse form, deal with a single event or series of events of limited duration, and are concerned with reporting a particular view of those events. Although there are some examples of Balinese historical works that are written in verse form, such as the Babad Blabatuh (Berg 1932) and Kidung Pamancangah (Berg 1929), most Balinese babad are written in prose. The majority of them are dynastic genealogies which record the history of the family concerned from the time of its origins, often over a period of hundreds of years. Many show evidence of multiple authorship. Although the study of Javanese babad undoubtedly has lessons for the Balinese context, Balinese babad and Javanese babad are products of different textual traditions and concerns. What is true of Javanese babad will thus not necessarily apply to the Balinese works. Much of the discussion of Javanese babad has centred around the debate concerning the reliability of indigenous historical writings.

More recently, arguments have been put forward for a careful consideration of the nature and function of Javanese babad, in particular the need to consider them as literary works (see forexample Ricklefs 1974, 1979; Day 1978:367-70; Kumar 1984; Teeuw 1984; Ras 1986). Questions of reliability, form and function have still to be addressed in the Balinese case. Only one study of a Balinese babad, Worsley’s study of the Babad Buleleng (1972), attemps to discuss a Balinese babad as an integrated work. Worsley argues for the consideration of the Babad Buleleng from the standpoint of literary analysis, in which historical fact might sometimes be used to explain inconsistencies in the babad narrative. Worsley provides valuable insights into the literary nature of the Babad Buleleng. Nevertheless, the question of the form and function of Balinese babad.requires further research. A work written in verse form, with its formal restraints on language use, clearly signals the writer’s intention to produce a work of literature. The composition of a prose work, such as the Babad Buleleng, suggests a somewhat different purpose, particularly as the Balinese themselves clearly distinguish babad as ‘history’ (Hinzler 1976). It is largely a spurious undertaking to seek to separate ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’ or ‘history’ from ‘literature’ in Balinese babad. Each babad work must be examined individually, and each work can be viewed from a number of perspectives, including the historical one. Any comprehensive discussion of Balinese babad works will obviously require both historical and literary analysis. However, the literary analysis of the works discussed here is beyond the scope of this article, which deals only with one side of the question — the historical dimension.

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