Book by Obama's late mom released


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

President Barack Obama's mother helped Indonesian village handicrafters finance and market their products in work she chronicled in a 1,000-page doctoral dissertation.

The late Stanley Ann Dunham's story rolled off the presses last month, whittled down to a 300-page tome that was unveiled Dec. 3 at the American Anthropological Association's annual conference in Philadelphia.

Alice Dewey, University of Hawaii emeritus professor of anthropology, and UH adjunct professor Nancy Cooper edited their friend and colleague's work into a publishable product over the past 18 months in what was largely an unpaid “;labor of love.”;

“;Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia”; began as a “;spectacularly good dissertation,”; Dewey said.

Dunham, who died in 1995 at the age of 52, earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. After her second marriage to Indonesian graduate student Lolo Soetoro, she and her son moved with him to Indonesia. Her daughter Maya was born there.

Dunham held jobs as a research coordinator for Bank Rakyat Indonesia and program officer for Ford Foundation in Indonesia, helping villagers get small loans to develop cottage industries and pull themselves out of poverty.


Dewey said Dunham's research during 14 years of visits to rural villages covered a broad span of craft manufacturing including leather shadow puppets, basketry, batik fabric, ceramics and metalwork.

“;We told her to focus on one, so she did 1,000 pages on blacksmithing,”; said Dewey “;In some ways, it was the most complex. The Javanese feel there is power in the whole process, to take soil and turn it into iron, then beat the iron into shapes.”;

The narrative focuses on entrepreneurs in the village of Kajar on the island of Java.

Dewey said the book is Dunham's “;legacy that remains relevant today for anthropology, Indonesian studies and engaged scholarship.”; By the time Dunham had finished writing the dissertation, she intended to publish it but her early death from cancer ended that plan.

At the end of the book, Dunham analyzed government programs and “;what is good, what is bad, what should be done, what should be changed.”;

The celebrity factor may lure readers. Dewey said, but there's also a narrative story.

“;The village is fun if you like adventure in foreign places. She goes off and she knows everybody. Then it starts getting into politics, finance, marketing, corruption ... anybody could find that kind of interesting.”;

Maya Soetoro-Ng found her mother's three-volume dissertation and handed it over to Dewey, who had been Dunham's graduate advisor. She wrote a foreword to her mother's book. The first copy of the book was presented to Soetoro-Ng at the anthropologists' conference.