Bali's Subak museum faces the threat of closure

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The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Thu, 07/08/2004 10:40 AM | Life

Anton Muhajir, Contributor/Tabanan, Bali

The fact that most young Indonesians would rather be anywhere else but a museum on their days off is not so much a cultural problem, as a management failure on the part of our museums.

Take, for example, Subak Museum in Kediri village, Tabanan regency, Bali, which is dedicated to Bali’s traditional irrigation system, called subak, and its meaning to the survival of the Balinese.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Australian Tony Brawn, 78, and his wife Judy, 73, were just completing their tour of the museum. As soon as they left the building, an employee turned off the lights, leaving the museum lit only by the light filtering through the windows.

“”We have to cut expenses,”” said Ni Luh Kadek Wiranti, the museum’s coordinator.

The Brawns were the last visitors of the day. Earlier, a student from France and a young couple from Germany toured the museum. There were no other visitors.

Subak Museum seems to be just marking time until it is closed down for good. Visitor numbers continue to fall and the museum falls deeper and deeper into debt.

Wiranti said the museum only received Rp 22.125 million (US$2,500) annually from the local administration, after an 11.5 percent tax deduction.

“”That means we receive less than Rp 2 million a month to manage the museum,”” she said.

Most of the money is used to maintain the museum’s collection, which should be cleaned daily. The museum also has 14 staff members, including Wiranti.

Wiranti said all of the employees received honorariums for each they worked. They do not carry the status of permanent employees or civil servants, though the museum has been managed by the Tabanan regency Tourism and Culture Office since January.

Before this it was under the management of the Bali Culture Office.

Subak Museum was established on Oct. 13, 1981, to collect any items and data related to the subak. The museum tells the story of the traditional irrigation system, including its management according to Balinese wisdom and customary laws.

Under the system, which has social, religious and agrarian significance, farmers share the water supply so they can work their fields throughout the year, regardless of the season.

This system is only found in Bali and the subak has become inseparable from Balinese society.

Among the museum’s displays are descriptions of the subak and its implementation. The displays are in the form of graphics, items, pictures and statues, all contained in a room measuring 10 meters-by-20 square meters.

Visitors can learn about the system, irrigation tools and farming tools in general, as well as traditional Balinese methods of preparing food from the harvest.

“”They are very smart,”” Tony Brawn remarked after his visit to the museum.

The museum’s displays include a pemasih (list of members of the traditional irrigation system), awig-awig (customary regulations), yokes and traditional farming tools.

Two wooden yokes dominate the middle of the room. There are also mortars used by farmers to pound the rice.

However, the museum has been unable to use all of these interesting items to attract local visitors.

“”Visitors to the museum are usually students from Java who are on holiday in Bali,”” Wiranti said.

The lack of promotion by the Association of Balinese Museums might also account for the few visitors to the museum.

The staff’s professionalism and qualifications can also be questioned.

“”I am only a high school graduate and have never received any education about museums,”” Wiranti said.

She stressed that the biggest problem facing the museum was financial constraints. It is a bit disheartening that the amount of money received by the museum for its operations is less than what the last group of Balinese councillors got at the end of their term, which reportedly was hundreds of millions of rupiah each.

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