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Anthropology to Understand Society

By: Teguh Iman Affandi

Understanding the community cultures is crucial to carry out program initiatives. For Ery Damayanti, a member of Kaoem Telapak, Anthropology is one of the methods that can help understand society better.

Ery Damayanti, member of Kaoem Telapak, Vice President of Kaoem Telapak for 2016 – 2020

Ery Damayanti was born in Jakarta. Since high school, she has been active in nature observation expeditions at the Green Indonesia Club (Klub Indonesia Hijau). From that organization, Ery began to get to know many colleagues who work on environmental issues.

Nearing her graduation in International Relations from Padjadjaran University, Ery worked at the Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program (GEF-SGP) in 1993. At that time, GEF had just started working in Indonesia. GEF-SGP is a program that provides financial and technical support to local civil society groups and community-based organizations to develop and implement local initiatives to tackle environmental problems, improve livelihoods and reduce poverty.

In 2005, after working for more than ten years, Ery sensed something was missing. “My bits of knowledge are not adequate,” she said. The realization Ery got after she worked a lot with the community. According to Ery, many things happen in a society that she does not understand. On the same coastline, each village has a different culture.

The shape of the boat, the name of the ship parts, and rituals towards the sea, each village is different, even though it is still on the same coastline. Another difference is in capturing marine commodities. In one area, people are good at catching lobster, in another place, the residents are good at catching fish. “There needs to be an explanation why people divide themselves like that, is this inherited by their ancestors, or is it their form of adaptation to nature?” she asked himself.

The coastal area of West Papua, Indonesia

For this reason, Ery decided to study Master in Anthropology at the University of Indonesia. Ery also concentrates on coastal communities and small islands because she loves the sea and beach. “I have to understand the people, the society, in which I work,” she said.

After graduating with a Master of Anthropology in 2008. Ery began applying the knowledge she got, to sharpen her analysis of what is happening in society. She is also increasingly convinced that getting to know the community is not enough to come once but must be in one cycle.

According to Ery, people’s behaviour not only depends on culture but also depends on the season. What people get in a certain season will affect what people do. For example, during harvest season, when food is abundant, there will be a wedding or harvest celebration. On the other hand, when savings run out, and food supplies run low, people will sell their valuables or land or owe money to local actors, such as moneylenders. “Things like that need to be known if you want to formulate a program,” he said.

Ery also said that if you want to carry out an intervention program, it must be following the community cycle. The goal is for the program to run on the target. “For example, if you want to create an agricultural program, you cannot implement the program during the dry season, or provide seeds that cannot be planted on community land,” he said. Therefore, for Ery, it is necessary to know how the community deals with the weather, behaves and finds solutions. “That must be understood before preparing the program,” said Ery.

Ery mentioned one example during the Aceh tsunami in 2004, where many boats from aid foundations for coastal communities in the province were inappropriate, and could not be used, because they did not accommodate the conditions of the sea landscape, such as waves and currents. “It turns out that Anthropology is one of the sciences that can help understand the needs of the community. Anthropology helped me to understand,” he said.

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