Gamelans, made up of gongs, bamboo xylophones and flutes, have always been heard on Java and Bali, but usually after dark and as accompaniment to all-night shadow plays or classical dance performances. And played, for the past 3,000-4,000 years or so, by men. Recently, all-women orchestras have come into being. They announce weekly meetings of village mothers' clubs. But they also proclaim that Indonesia's women are coming into their own.
Today, there are 40,000 village women's clubs in Indonesia and the other 20,000 villages will be getting them soon. They meet once or twice a week to discuss diet, family relations, clothing, housekeeping, gardening, child care, health, finances, culture and what one woman called "peace of mind."
To most men's surprise, as a local women's club grows strong, fertility and infant mortality tend to fall and the local economy to prosper. There is also a lot of minor development around village homes: better fish ponds, better fruit trees, better gardens, more poultry and more handicrafts such as weaving cloth and mats or making earthenware.
Women apparently wanted a symbol of their newly liberated role and found it in the gamelan orchestra. Go where there is an all-girl gamelan today and you find a different sort of village. You may meet the head village couple and start out interviewing him, but before long you find you are interviewing her.
Ask a male in Java what his village needs and he will probably say better irrigation, more roads, electricity or some other abstraction.
Ask any woman what her village needs and you'll get a shopping list: "Four bottles of vitamin A, a scale to weigh babies, a typewriter, a sewing machine, manuals on nutrition, child care, cooking, health, handicrafts."
This is not quite women's liberation in the western sense; no village woman is trying to realize her individualistic self. What she wants is more of a role in family decisionmaking, more technology to improve her earning capacity and practical knowledge to enable her to be a better wife and mother.