An Interview with Ethnobiologist Dr. Elizabeth Widjaja

Oleh: Cynthia Fowler and Amy Pittsensbarger

Sumber: http://wofford.academia.edu/  11 Desember 2011

Download file: Letter from the Editors_Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Widjaja 

In this Letter from the Editors  that caps the second volume of  Ethnobiology Letters , we are honored and excited to introduce you to Dr. Elizabeth Anita Widjaja who currently works as a Senior Researcher in the Botany Division of the  Indonesian Institute of Sciences  and is affiliated with the Herbarium Bogoriense. She served as Director of the Plant Resources of South East Asia (PROSEA) between 2004 and 2008. Our purpose behind our design of this Letter from the Editors is to present an interview with Dr. Elizabeth Widjaja and to spread the word about a successful female ethnobiologist from a developing country.

Photo 1 by Elizabeth Widjaja.Gigantochloa atroviolacea Widjaja Poaceae.

 Elizabeth first came to our attention on February 5th, 2011 when she delivered the presentation, “Economic Botany from the Herbarium Amboinense to the Plant Resources of Southeast Asia.” Elizabeth’s presentation was her contribution to the posthumous celebration of Professor E.M. Beekman’s life during  which his translation of Georgius Everhardus Rumphius’ legendary   The Ambonese Herbal, Volumes 1-6  (2011, Yale University Press) was unveiled and he was awarded the NTBG David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration. This event occurred on the Miami campus of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens (NTGB), which is known affectionately as the Kampong, meaning “Village” in the family of Malay languages that includes Elizabeth’s Bahasa Indonesia.

 Elizabeth was born in the Kudus Regency in Central Java Province. She received her undergraduate education at the University Padjadjaran in Bandung. Her M.Sc. and Ph.D. are from the University of  Birmingham, England. Among the awards Elizabeth has received for her scholarship are the Best Young  Scientist from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences in 1996-1997, the World Biodiversity Day Award from the State Ministry of Environment in 1999, the Indonesian President Award in 20400, the Harsberger Medal from I ndia’s Society of the Ethnobotanists  in 2001, and an award in 2010 for 30 years of service to the Indonesian government. Widjaja participates in the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group, which involves her Indonesian partners and their colleagues at the University of California at Davis, Berkeley, and San Francisco.

Photo 2
by Elizabeth Widjaja. Dendrocalamus asper (Schultes f.) Backer ex Heyne Poaceae.

Bamboo captures most of Elizabeth’s attention. She has studied the taxonomy, propagation, genetics, ethnobotany, and folk classification of bamboo. She is particularly knowledgeable about Malesian and Indonesia types of bamboo. Elizabeth is the Authority  for numerous species of bamboo, including her favorite Gigantochloa atroviolaceae Widjaja Poaceae. This Indonesian species, known by the common name “black  bamboo” is portrayed in Photo 1.  Black bamboo is Elizabeth’s favorite species because of its beauty and its utility for furniture construction.  Elizabeth’s second favorite species is Dendrocalamus asper (Schultes f.) Backer ex Heyne Poaceae.  She likes this species because of its, “large size and tasty young shoots which can be used as vegetables.” (See photos 2 and 4.)  Below, we present an interview with Dr. Widjaja.

Dr. Cynthia Fowler (CF): Talk about your work in the field of ethnobotany.

Dr. Elizabeth Widjaja (EW): My interest in bamboo began in 1975 with a study of musical instruments in West Java.  Back then, I realized that Indonesians do not pay much attention to bamboo, because it is so commonplace for them.  In other areas of ethnobotany, I have studied folk classifications of local rice and bananas in the northern region of Eastern Kalimantan.

Photo 3 by Elizabeth Widjaja. Schizostachyum brachycladum var. kuning Kurz Poaceae.

EW: Indonesians on Java, Bali, Lombok, and elsewhere use bamboo in thousands of ways. The Torajanese of South Sulawesi, for example, use bamboo to make roofs for their homes.  Torajanese use bamboo to mark almost every phase of life, from birth until death. They use the stems, roots, and leaves of bamboo.

CF: How is bamboo used when people die? What communities use bamboo for funeral ceremonies?

EW: Bamboo biers are constructed to carry corpses to the graveyards.  The Balinese wait several days before cremating family members’ corpses.  Balinese funeral ceremonies sometimes occur weeks or months after a person’s death.  A special species of bamboo – the yellow variety of Schizostachyum brachycladum Kurz Poaceae (Photo 3) – is used to catch the water that leaks from decaying corpses when the cremation or burial of the body is delayed.

CF: Please describe the use of bamboo in the birth of children.

EW:  Midwives cut the umbilical cords of newborns with slices of bamboo. Many Indonesian communities, including the Javanese, Sundanese, Balinese, and Melayu, use this practice.

CF: Do you have any bamboo in your home or office?

EW: I used to have items made out of black bamboo (Gigantochloa atroviolacea) but they were worn out after more than twenty-five years of use.  Currently, my home garden is only 2 x 5 meters, so I grow bamboo in containers.  Several species are growing there.  One that I recently planted is a climbing bamboo and I am waiting for it to flower. Thyrsostachys siamensis Gamble Poaceae, Bambusa multiplex(Lour.) Raeusch.ex Schult. & Schult.f. Poaceae, and Melocanna baciffera (Roxb.) Kurz Poaceae are also growing in my garden.

Photo 4 by Elizabeth Widjaja. D.asper.

EW: [I am] a Senior Researcher.  I have a lot of meetings. When I am not in meetings, I do research in the herbarium or I work in my office on proposals and manuscripts.

CF: What professional meetings have you attended recently?

EW: I mostly attend meetings about bamboo.  I am interested in any sort of meeting about bamboo. Sometimes I am not able to attend conferences because the registration fees are too expensive and I have no funding to pay for my travel and accommodation expenses.

The most recent conference I attended was the Rhumphius celebration [at the NTBG Kampong in Miami].  I have attended the Flora Malesiana Symposium where we discussed the revision of flora in the Malesia and I presented a paper on the flora of Mekongga Mountains in southeast Sulawesi.  Another meeting I have attended was for the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation where I presented a paper about the loss of floral diversity on Java.

CF:  What are the most critical issues in the ethnobotany of Indonesia today?

EW: Medicinal plants, natural dyes, and traditional knowledge concerning the conservation of nature are all current issues in Indonesia.

Elizabeth has written two books about bamboo plus over seventy-five papers about her varied research interests.  A selective list of her publications appears below.  To conclude our Letter from the Editors for Volume 2 of Ethnobiology Letters we reprint this quote in which Widjaja describes her observations in 1977 of Torajan funeral ceremonies.

“When a Torajanese dies, a kind of undertaker called tomabalun will prepare the body for the ma’ dio’ tomate ceremony (Tangdilintin 1975). First he will make a mixture of various herbs for spicing and perfuming the water to be used in bathing and smearing the body or pouring into the mouth of the deceased (Wellenkamp 1984).  The herbs used by one of the tomabaluns consist of leaves of lemo (Citrus hystrix DC)  and young leaves of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) and banana (Musa paradisiaca L.) which are boiled in water.  Other tomabaluns many use different kinds of plants, such as the rind of pangi (Pangium edule Reinw.), the powdery substance obtained from the inner part of the culm of bamboo petung [Dendrocalamus asper (Schult.f.) Backer ex Heyne], and also powder made of buffalo horn.  Wellenkamp (1984) reported the use of dambu (Psidium guajava L.) during washing of the body.  Bathing of the corpse has a dual purpose: to purify it and to embalm it for long-term preservation.  Herbs and other material or secret formulas used in preparing the corpse but not disclosed to me by the tomabalun apparently have preservative properties…” (Widjaja 1988:251).

References Cited & Selected Bibliography

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1980. The Angklung and Other West Javanese Bamboo Musical Instruments. In Bamboo Research in Asia: Proceedings of a Workshop held in Singapore, 28-30 May 1980, edited by Gilles Lessard and Amy Chouinard, pp. 201-4. International Development Research Centre, Ottawa.

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1988. Ethnobotany of the Funeral Ceremony of the Torajanese. Economic Botany.42(2):250-254.

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1995. Document on Bamboo Genetic Resources in Indonesia. Report of FAO Project No. 94729. Herbarium Bogoriense, Bogor.

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1997a. Jenis-Jenis Bambu Endemik dan Konservasinya di Indonesia.Prosiding Seminar Nasional Biology XV. PBI and Universitas Lampung, Lampung.

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1997b. Konservasi Flora Bambu Indonesia. Paper presented in the Syposium of Botanical Gardens, Bogor.

Widjaja, Elizabeth. 1998. State of the Art of Indonesian Bamboo. In Bamboo: Conservation, Diversity, Ecogeography, Germplasm, Resource Utilization, and Taxonomy,edited by A.N. Rao and V. Ramanath Rao. International Plant Genetic Research Institute, Regional Office for Asia, the Pacific, and Oceania, Malaysia.Available at http://www2.bioversityinternational.org/publications/Web_version/572/ch26.htm.Accessed on December 8, 2011.

Widjaja, Elizabeth and Sri Nurani Kartikasari. 2001. Identikit Jenis-Jenis Bambu di Jawa. Puslitbang Biologi-LIPI, Bogor.

Widjaja, Elizabeth and Sri Nurani Kartikasari. 2001. Identikit Jenis-Jenis Bambu di Kepulauan Sunda Kecil. Puslitbang Biologi-LIPI, Bogor.

Tabata, Yasunori, Elizabeth Widjaja, Tri Mulyaningsih, Ir Parman, Harry Wiriadinata, Y.I. Mandang and Takao Itoh. 2003. Structural Survey and Artificial Induction of Aloeswood.Bulletin of the Wood Research Institute. 90: 11-12.

Widjaja, Elizabeth, Inggit Astuti and Ida Arinasa. 2004. New Species of Bamboos (Poaceae-Bambusoideae) from Bali. Reinwardtia 12(2):199-204.


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