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Student profile: Dimas Romadhon

November 17, 2017

This week, we are featuring our graduating MA student Dimas Romadhon, who has been keeping himself very busy even between quarters. Let’s find out exactly what he did last summer.

You are doing your MA Thesis on the oral tradition of leprosy in your home island of Madura, east of Java. What was your experience like researching on your homeland? Did being Madurese help you or hinder you in your fieldwork?
Being a native ethnographer—ethnographer who study his own homeland—is somehow very difficult and might place the researcher into a dilemma. That was what I felt from my research in Madura. Surely language and culture were not a problem for me, but because I shared the same knowledge with my respondents, I felt like I knew what they were going to say but I had to keep silent so they can share complete information.  No culture shock happened, but I tried hard to keep my objectivity and not get distracted by contrary perspective to my own perspective as a native.
Coming from the same ethnicity with me as the interviewer, I found that the natives were prone to be free to express what they feel; in that way, being a native ethnographer helps me to collect data from people without them feeling like they need to ‘mask’ their true ideas or feelings. I believe that the natives would not be as frank as if the interviewer were a foreigner, or at least, they need a longer time to be willing to share their information.
However, I also struggle hard to make sure that I report all I know, not masking them, as I know that my report would be read by international readers and any bad things that I wrote about my homeland will affect me as a native too, but as a researcher, I need to present all findings as they are.

Did you learn anything new about your homeland that you never knew before?
I focus my research on how the Madurese remember the case of leprosy in their oral tradition. Before coming to this issue, I have never realized that Madura had the most leprosy cases since Dutch colonial era until nowadays. I remember that during my childhood, I met several people who mysteriously lost their fingers or were having so many wounds on their skin, but I never knew that that was a contagious disease. I, and many Madurese, were not familiar with the word kusta or lepra (both are Bahasa terms for leprosy); even I thought those were different diseases.
From my research, I found that many Madurese were not familiar with both terms, but they/we have our own terminology for the disease: dhaging bucco’ (means Rotten Flesh).  I remember that people around me used to treat the sufferers of Rotten Flesh like they were just suffering an ordinary skin disease, not a contagious and deadly leprosy. But, I also remember that me and my friends deeply stigmatized leprosy; we defined it as a disease that makes your body full of maggots.

In addition to doing fieldwork, you also helped organize the Annual Malang International Peace Conference. Could you tell us more about that, and why this work is so important to you?
There is a long story behind this conference. I have organized the peace conference since 2015 in order to enhancing inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue among global leaders and thinkers. This conference is presented as collaboration of Nahdlatul Ulama Organization and Universitas Islam Raden Rahmat in Malang.
In the first two years, we had a number of inspiring speakers like Xanana Gusmao (former Prime Minister of East Timor), Luhut Pandjaitan (Coordinating Minister of Maritime Affair of Indonesia), Chong Ming Hwee (Baha’i International Community Representative), Joel S. Kahn (University of Melbourne), Nadirsyah Hosen (University of Monash), Kyai Haji Lukman Hakim (Jakarta Sufi Center), and so on.
This year, I did not contribute as much as the last two years, but the committee asked me to be the moderator for the keynote panel forum. On the keynote-speakers board, we have Muhammad Ali (from University of California), Magdy Behman (UIN Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta), Tim Young (Economic Daily, China) and Iqbal Hariadi (co-founder of a crowdfunding website
This conference is very important for me, besides I was the initiator; the conference helps me to broaden my perspectives and provides me opportunities to know many inspiring peace supporters in the world.

To top it all off, you also went to the Netherlands! What did you do there?
I went to Leiden to do a library research for my thesis. I collected a number of colonial administration archives related to leprosy control policy in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Madura.
For my research in Leiden, I was affiliated to the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, or familiarly known as KITLV. With their help, I received my own Leiden University card which allowed me to access various references from the library’s special collections. I also visited Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and House of Anne Frank in Amsterdam.
In KITLV, I met many researchers whose works I used for my thesis. I attended their meetings, shared my research with them, and got a bunch of input to develop my research. Indonesian community in Leiden is very big, compared to in Seattle, and they were very nice and very helpful to me.

Did you have time to do some research in Leiden? If so, were there any particularly relevant or unexpected document/photo/material that you may have found in the archives?
Sure, I got many documents from decades or even hundred years ago that are not available online due to their condition. These documents are very important for my thesis, as well as for my future academic purposes since I had them scanned or took them with my camera.
From the documents, I can understand the flowing debates happened around 1850-1940 regarding leprosy control policy in Dutch East Indies, and that the debates are closely related to the documentation of Madurese leprosy folktale by Dutch scholars during that era.

You were very busy this summer! Did you find any time at all to rest and relax?
Sure, I enjoyed my summer research. When I needed to go to Yogyakarta, my wife and son also came with me. We visited Prambanan temple at night and watched Ramayana colossal dance. We visited Malioboro, at night too, because I did my research in the morning and afternoon. I tried to balance my travel for research and for my family. But surely, I did enjoy my vacation.

Did you have any funny and/or embarrassing moments during your travels this summer?
I think the most interesting moment to tell is when I was invited to KITLV researchers’ lunch. It was a regular lunch meeting for KITLV researchers. It was an opportunity for everyone to talk about their research, share interesting references, or plan on the next research. I was told that, traditionally, the lunch meeting was a potluck. I assumed that it would be like American potluck, where we brought sufficient amount of dish for all attendants, shared our dish with them, and tasted their dish. I brought 5 lbs grapes to the meeting, until I realized that everyone brought their own sandwich for themselves and no one, except me, shared the dishes. Unluckily, I did not bring my own sandwich because I expected someone to share dishes for my lunch, so I just ate the grapes. Finally I knew the meaning of going Dutch phrase, hahaha.