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The democratization of the stapler on Bali

by: Diana Darling

This article was originally published in Latitudes magazine, a renowned bi-monthly magazine focusing on Indonesian culture. The magazine hailing from the island of Bali previously existed in paper form and was especially known for its in-depth critical articles and beautiful photography. As a tribute to all contributors of this magazine Latitudes.nu presents a selection of articles published in the years 2001-2004.


staplerThe staple—a tiny bit of wire with pointed tips, which, with one crunch of the hand, can join papers together tightly and neatly, until the staple itself rusts—has, until recently, been a tool of the elite. Teachers always had them, displayed on the privileged field of their desks. Bureaucrats (in a manner very like teachers) still wield them with a flourish of authority as they compile photocopies of your documents and tuck them neatly into your dossier.

 

In Bali, it is only recently that civilians have been allowed to have staplers. The democratization of the staple in Bali has brought about sudden changes in cultural practice.

For many millennia, Bali did not know the staple at all. It is said that kings, and indeed the gods themselves, fastened their documents together with bits of rice. Then, after the fall of Suharto, a plethora of new political parties arose all over Indonesia, all of them armed with staplers. They used them to fasten posters to plywood placards and to order into neat files the documents they generated as they built up popular institutions in the image of national ones.

Before long, the leaders of traditional institutions in Bali—such as banjar (community associations) and temple congregations—began to see the opportunities embedded in bureaucratic structure, and soon they, too, adopted the stapler. In late 20th century Bali, the stapler—along with such other regalia of state as the keris, the banner, and the rubber stamp—was venerated and given offerings on the full moon, the dark of the moon, and certain auspicious conjunctions in the complex local calendar.

Although scholars differ on this matter, some observers of Balinese society contend that it was the aftermath of the catastrophic Kuta bombings in October 2002 and the subsequent rise of Ajeg Bali (a public slogan of Balinese cultural protectionism) that led to the democratization of the staple in Balinese culture. Suddenly, with the influx of international sympathy and material aid, staplers were freely available to anyone claiming to be associated with a foundation in support of the people of Bali, or an informal grief-counselling group, or a performing arts troupe dedicated to the support of grief-counselling for the Balinese people. There were rumours of the delivery of a container full of staplers (and of spare parts, i.e., staples) into Benoa harbour in December 2002, with a secret military escort by the navy of a certain superpower.

Now staplers are found in every Balinese banjar and in every middle-class Balinese household.
Some observers suggest that young Balinese have adopted the stapler in the fabrication of Balinese offerings (banten) as an expression of support for the Ajeg Bali brand of ethnic solidarity. Others disagree. Recent informal surveys indicate that many professional offering-makers in priestly houses in urban Denpasar use staplers instead of semat (fasteners made from tiny slivers of bamboo) because it’s easier (lebih gampang dong).

Whatever propels it, there is no disputing the trend to employ this empowering new tool. Laundry, soybean curd, soup, cash—anything of value that can be contained in a wrapper of any sort is now stapled into its wrapping. The crunch of the stapler gives the wielder of the stapler—one imagines—a nice sense of punctuation between her self and whoever is on the other side of the desk.
Meanwhile, be careful if you’re going barefoot.

 

 




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