Indonesian Indigenous Studies

Men with Hello Kitty’s Heart: Ecofeminism of the Resan Community in Gunungkidul

Puja Alviana Dewantri

When I first met the Resan Gunungkidul community, I wondered why the community members involved in environmental issues were dominated by men and the fact that there was only one female member at that time. After participating in this community activities for several times, the masculinity of the youths and gentlemen who looked fierce in all-black clothes, long hair, and some punk fashion became more apparent. “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” wise people say, and these men seem to deserve the term “men with hello kitty’s heart” which is often heard in the ears of the Indonesian people as laki-laki hati hello kitty. The term usually refers to a man who appears frightening but whose feelings are easily touched or empathized with when he is sad or concerned about something.

The sensitivity of the men of the Resan community is also depicted in a documentary film entitled Jejak Bentala: Jaga Jagat Lewat Adat, which was produced by a group of MMTC students. The film shows how the Resan community performs its traditional rituals. Aside from that, there are several people, mostly men, who serve as sources of information about their community’s values, particularly those related to nature. I’m interested in exploring this phenomenon through the lens of ecofeminism. Therefore, this essay examines how ecofeminism is actually a concept that is not limited to gender differences in relation to ecological issues.

Nglangse: The Encounter of Ecofeminism and Efforts to Preserve Local Culture

Instead of returning to questioning or criticizing the domination of masculinity in the environmental movement or further drawing it to patriarchal issues which are difficult to separate from historical roots, a little bit away from the mainstream of ecofeminist studies seems more interesting. Unlike in India, where Vandana Shiva popularized the Chipko Movement as an eco-feminism mascot with local women, Gunungkidul has the Nglangse ritual with local men who are Resan community members. Nglangse is a ritual in which resan trees (conservation trees) are covered with mori (unbleached plain cloth). According to one Resan activist, Sigit Nurwanto, this ritual is (symbolically) intended to protect the sacred of the resan trees, just like women who wear the hijab. In addition to preserving the local cultural identity of Gunungkidul, these trees are sacred based on intersubjective relations: respect and gratitude to the mother (earth) who works sincerely. Resan trees are one of the images of Mother Earth in Langse/Nglangse and nobody can disturb them, let alone cut them down so that the springs beneath them are maintained so that they can support the environment around them in the same way that a mother looks after and supports her children.

From the explanation above, is ecofeminism considered enough in this case? What is the significance of ecofeminism as an understanding, movement, and even gender struggle and preservation for local customs and communities? To begin, it is critical to recognize that women are not the only ones who must fight for gender equality. Second, like other sociocultural ideas, ecofeminism is a fluid concept that has an impact on local culture. Similarly, according to Ambelin Kwaymullina in her study entitled You Are on Indigenous Land: Ecofeminism, Indigenous Peoples and Land Justice, fostering the relationship between ecofeminist subjects and indigenous peoples and the motherland is to respect customary sovereignty. In other words, ecofeminism can be effective in advancing justice for women and the environment only if it is implemented in a way that respects customary sovereignty and local culture, regardless of the actors.

Beyond Binary: Multifaceted Dimensions of “Women”

Without a doubt, if questions like “Who is meant by ‘women’ in ecofeminism? Is it a woman in terms of sex or gender?” In line with Ambelin’s opinion, ecofeminists must examine their own privileges and position as settlers, raising the possibility that the term “women” in ecofeminism refers to issues other than sex or gender, such as race, class, and colonialism (in various forms). Both men and women can break free from oppressive roles and contribute to the creation of more inclusive and egalitarian societies. In this regard, the Resan community demonstrates this through the equal role of men and women in preserving nature. Based on indigenous values, people living in their place need to understand that nature has provided a lot of livelihood for humans, which is why humans need to be aware of the need to protect their environment.

Roles such as ‘caring’ are not tied to one gender or sex, nor are roles that are considered masculine, such as ‘fighting’. This can be seen in one of Resan’s activities, Tilik Anak (visiting children). This activity involves caring for the seeds that have been planted, such as providing water and fertilizer. The ‘fighting’ role, on the other hand, is inspired by the Nglangse activities mentioned earlier. It is not without struggle, while maintaining local culture the Resan community is trying to fight the tide of modernity and the identity crisis of the local Gunungkidul themselves, who are widely known as migrants as well as the mushrooming of tourist areas which more or less affect the way of life of the local community to become instantaneous. In addition, Resan’s tree-planting activities are also a response to the negative impacts of unsustainable development on the lives of local people, including women. Recorded in the documentary, Henny, a mother and the wife of a Resan activist, expressed her hope that more and more people would be involved in Resan activities so that even though the unsustainable development continues, her children will still be able to see and enjoy the affection of the resan trees in Gunungkidul.

Puja Alviana is a graduate student in the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), Graduate School, Universitas Gadjah Mada

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