Fieldwork in Indonesia

Jet Bakels studied cultural anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, with Indonesia as a regional specialization. She took a language course in Bandung at the Universitas Pajajaran.

In 1983-1984, and again in 1988 (with a grant from the Treub Society) she conducted fieldwork at the Baduy in Lebak, Banten (Java). Topics include: cosmology and worldview, ecology, processes of change and the symbolism of traditional clothing. In 1988, together with Jakarta based Ethnodata, she organized a Baduy exhibition with an accompanying catalog at the Erasmus House in Jakarta.

In 1989 a fieldtrip was undertaken tot the Karo and Toba Batak, in the range of an upcoming exhibition on Batak textiles in the Museon in The Hague. Together with curator Anne-Marie Boer textiles were collected and their history and meaning documented.

In 1990, a more extensive Baduy exhibition was set up in the Museon in The Hague, based on the clothing, utilitarian and ritual objects just collected in the field (see publication list). In 2014, the Baduy were visited again to investigate the significance of the Baduy in present-day Indonesia, and how the Baduy do or do not allow their traditions to be influenced by current times.

Baduy, West-Java, 1988

Weaving a julu in Kabanjahe, 1989

Dead tiger transported respectfully

Batak Dance, coll. Museum of Worldcultures, The Netherlands

In 2014, the Baduy were visited again to investigate the significance of the Baduy in present-day Indonesia, and how the Baduy do or do not allow their traditions to be influenced by current times.

Fieldwork in Sumatra followed in 1992, 1993 and 1995 as part of the PhD research at Leiden University> the research was mainly conducted in the Kerinci Seblat National Park, with excursions to Mentawai, Nias, and the Kubu. The subject is the role and significance of the tiger - as a large predator - in the lives of the Sumatran people. And vice versa: what are the consequences of human views and actions for the tiger?

The thesis 'The Pact with the Tiger. Visions of man-eating animals in Kerinci' was published in 2000. Bakels wrote several scientific and more accessible articles about various aspects of her fieldwork: material culture, human-animal relations, ecology, worldview. 

Since 2023 she took up her Indonesian interest, and works with the team of the Coral Triangle Centre in Bali on the relation of fisherman and the Sea. Presently she is preparing a Baduy project, and is interested in the relationship between the megafauna on Borneo en Sumatra and their future.

See also publicatielijst) and exhibitions  

Weaving patterns of life
(click to read)

Baduy, West-Java 1988

Man possessed by tiger spirit, Kerinci, Sumatra, 1988

Baduy Artice in Art of the Ancestors, 2020
Click to read

The pact with the tiger. Perceptions of man eating animals in Kerinci, Sumatra

Few animals have captured the human imagination as much as the tiger. The tiger is graceful and mysterious, strong and fearsome, and above all, it is a man-eater. Wherever the tiger occurs, people have made it the subject of stories, dances, rituals, taboos and rules of conduct.

These express, sometimes in a poetic way, a strong bond with this animal. Remarkably, the tiger is rarely considered an evil creature. In Kerinci, a region in the mountainous region of Central Sumatra, the tiger is often seen as an ancestor figure. Myths tell of a covenant or pact that people once made and that partly  remains in force to this day. This stipulated that both parties must respect each other and should never attack each other. Only people who violate the traditional rules of life, the adat, are punished by the tiger. Thus the tiger in Sumatra is more of a guardian of social order than a threat to humans.

From a cultural-anthropological perspective, this book describes a world in which myth and reality are closely intertwined. The book is therefore also a sketch of a disappearing world.