The overarching theme of my book Christianity, Colonization, and Gender Relations in North Sumatra (2018, KITLV/Brill) is the interaction between two external agents – a German Missionary Society and the Dutch colonial Government – and the Toba Batak chiefs of clans on the subject of Toba Batak marriage customs and matrimonial law. The discourse on this subject covered a period of 80 years and resulted in changes accepted by the chiefs, but others were rejected. These outcomes reveal a structural tension between norms and laws – formal and customary – that to a significant extent can be traced back to the different kinship systems prevailing in the societies of the three actors: a patrilineal system on the part of the Toba Batak and a bilinear system on the European sides providing more space for legal equality between men and women. Preliminary research on another patrilineal society in Indonesia, contemporary Bali, points to a similar tension in relation to the Indonesian state. Not surprisingly some of the contested issues are the same as in North Tapanuli in the colonial period. The message: research on family law in developing countries where legal pluralism is evident may benefit from the use of a structural anthropological framework.
Sita Thamar van Bemmelen’s PhD thesis titled Christianity, Colonization and Gender Relations in Sumatra. A patrilineal society in flux has been published in 2018 by Brill/KITLV. Sita has been working in Indonesia since 1991 as a gender consultant for several international agencies, as manager of the project ’Strengthening Gender and Development Studies’ (a cooperation between Leiden University and University of Indonesia), a resource person for the Bureau of Women’s Empowerment Bali and as an adviser of the Association Legal Aid Offices Indonesia and the NGO Kapal Perempuan. She is also co-founder of the local NGO Bali Sruti.
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