Shadow plays: a dark time in Indonesia, seen through two complementary prisms

Document Type

Book Review


Graduate School of Media and Communications


In 1997, as Indonesia's economy was crumbling, I moved my family from Jakarta to Bali, putting some distance between nay children and the gathering stoma clouds in the capital. We settled on a house in a village near the island's spiritual heart, Ubud, built by a well-known documentary-maker who had been killed in a freak accident. Just before we moved in, my wife visited a dukun, or traditional seer. The spirit of the land on which the house was built, the dukun warned, took a human life every few years. It intended to take a female life next.

For my wife, whose own bloodline extends back to Indonesia's other mystical power center, the royal kraton (palace) of Solo on the island of Java, there was no question. We had two daughters; we would find another house. I did not object. I had been in Indonesia long enough to know one did not challenge the unseen forces. "There is light and there is darkness" the village headman had told me a few days before the warning. "They must always be kept in balance."


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

Columbia Journalism Review