The Balinese devotion to their temples is both legendary and conspicuous, but the ways in which they enshrine their innermost desires have long been hidden. This ethnography seeks to draw back the veil by focussing on the romantic experiences of women in a rural village (Punyanwangi) in North Bali from adolescence to maturity. Delving into the intensity of passion that exists just below the harmonious veneer of traditional patterns of courtship and marriage, motherhood, and connubial fidelity, this text overturns Margaret Mead's assertions of passivity in Balinese social life. Punyanwangi's proximity to a thriving tourist centre allows Megan Jennaway to explore the striking gender disparities in the ways sexuality and desire are culturally mediated. Aside from service work, women are excluded from entering the tourist domain, yet male sexual adventurism is expected and even encouraged. The bodies of foreign women are thus invested with potent fantasies of exotic desire, while those of local women are muted-denied legitimate avenues of expression.
The author invokes post-Freudian and feminist concepts of sexuality to explain culturally specific psychiatric disorders to which Balinese women are prone, interpreting them as expressions of frustrated desire. She thus reveals Balinese society as anything but unemotional or stagnant. Rather, it is swept along by currents of emotionally-charged desire. The volume includes the stories of Balinese women in their own voices.
Megan Jennaway is an honorary research advisor, Department of Asian Languages and Studies, University of Queensland.