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A Shadow Falls

Andrew Beatty

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This is a unique report from deep inside the largest Muslim country in the world. It is not another work of journalism; instead it is a picture of how Islamic fundamentalism can displace older and more easygoing forms of belief, inside families and small communities. The author lived with his family for two and a half years in a village in Eastern Java, and gives us an intimate experience of a process that is taking place all over the Islamic world, a microcosm of threatening change. Andrew Beatty has also written an unforgettably human story set in a beautiful place.

When he first visited this idyllic-seeming village in Java, he was entranced by its strange and sensual way of life. Javan mysticism, Hinduism and Islam coexisted without competing with each other; and the ancient traditions of the shadow and dragon plays, of celebratory feasting, of communion with the spirits of the dead and belief in werewolves seemed set to endure as they had always done. Public tolerance of transvestism and of short-lived affairs gave the village a most unpuritanical atmosphere.

But the village was shadowed by a dark past, like the rest of Indonesia: in 1965 local people suspected of communism were murdered in huge numbers. And in the present, the chill wind of Islamism was driving apparently modern young women to take the veil, and young men to announce that they would no longer participate in the old rituals. The loudspeakers fixed on the local mosques grew more intrusive and strident, blaring intolerance at all hours of the day. Violent incidents multiplied, and boundaries sharpened: Beatty and his family began to feel like vulnerable outsiders. And out in the countryside a hysterical fit of killings began, a kind of witch-craze.

This is a story of how one of the biggest issues of our time plays out in ordinary lives.


Andrew Beatty is an internationally-respected anthropologist, who has spent five years in Indonesia. Before he became an anthropologist he spent another three years travelling in Asia. He teaches at Brunel University and lives near Oxford with his wife, who is from Mexico, and their two children.

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