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Ethnic and religious dimensions:
America the Evil Empire

By Amelia Hapsari

The sea cucumber guys who were asking jokingly whether the name Amelia had any relations with America. His name was Saddam, like Saddam Hussein, he said. But these questions were not only jokes. Other people in Balobaloang were curious on the intention of Gene Ammarell as an anthropologist, and Amelia Hapsari, his student.

The participatory video project started in April 2004. Although Balobaloang was very remote, some families owned satellite dishes. The tragedy of September 11th, 2001 in the U.S. as well as the U.S invasion to Iraq had become part of their discussions. Most people in Balobaloang perceived America as the evil empire. People in Balobaloang was aware that the United States had use 9/11 to attack Iraq and call on a war on terrorism which was directed to the Moslem world. 100% of Balobaloang people and inhabitants of neighboring islands were Moslem. They wandered whether any of them had the intention to expand Christianity to Balobaloang or to obtain a coveted American interest in their community.

The questions were rarely direct. It was usually asked at informal conversations or via a mediator. For example, Amelia was often asked about Gene, while Gene or Bonnie (Gene's wife) were often asked about Amelia's identity. Most people asked whether Gene was a rich man in America. One time, Nawir told Amelia that people in the island was questioning his purpose here. People were asking him, "America is our enemy. Why do we let Americans come and go freely here?"

Amelia explained that the American administration under George W. Bush had insulted the Moslem world by its anti-terrorism war. However, not every American supported this administration and its decisions. She tried to acknowledge their concerns while pointing at how the project would benefit them. She confirmed that a quick change was not possible, but change could only happen when people in Balobaloang did something about the situation.

At another occasion, Nawir, a ship owner involved in the video production, brought a VCD on a nun who converted to Islam. She warned the Moslem community on the danger of Christian missionaries. Nawir asked Amelia to watch the VCD. He wanted to know her opinion.

Amelia Hapsari was an Indonesian Catholic. She knew that this proposition was to question whether she intended to bring Christianity to Balobaloang. This religious dimension could become a barrier to gain trust from Balobaloang community. She explained directly that she did not intend to interfere people's faith. As a Catholic she understood the violent history of the Catholic Church and its involvement in wars, and colonization. She understood the people suspicions on missionary actions. She assured Nawir that she would not try to convert Balobaloang people to Christianity.

The VCD that Nawir brought contained a monolog of an ex-nun who testified that she had been brainwashed by the Church. She said that her Christian education had demonized Moslems and said many things against Islam. She also revealed a secret plot to expand Christianity among Moslem population in Indonesia by getting Moslem girls pregnant by Christian boys. After the Moslem girls got pregnant, the family would pressure her to get married, and the boy would insist that she first converted to Christianity before he would marry her. This VCD was quite popular in Balobaloang because many people knew about it. Nawir was not the first person who asked Amelia about this issue.

Amelia confronted the hoax perpetuated by the VCD. She tried to convince the villagers that she respected Islam as a blessing for all mankind and she did not believe that only Christians would go to heaven. Whenever the question about the VCD came up, Amelia asserted that she would not trust the information in the VCD that Christian boys would try to get Moslem girls pregnant to expand Christianity. Maybe it was done by a small group of fanatics, but it was not a pursuit of every Christian.

Questions on religious background diminished as the community members had more conversations with Amelia. But there was another set of questions that Amelia had to handle before gaining trust from the community.

In this chapter:
Ethnic and religious dimensions:
Chinese, the emperor of the market

Also in this section :
The making of Sharing Paradise
The making of Sharing Paradise: An anthropologistís footnote
What is a participatory video?

Challenges:
Participation
Getting the fishermen involved
Sharing Paradise: Living in a tangled web of relationships

Patron-client relationships and the participatory process

Language dimension

Reflections by the filmmaker

 

 

 

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