DER Documentary

The Goddess and the Computer


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by J. Stephen Lansing and Andre Singer
color, 58 min, 1988




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For centuries, rice farmers on the island of Bali have taken great care not to offend Dewi Danu, the water goddess who dwells in the crater lake near the peak of Batur volcano. Toward the end of each rainy season, the farmers send representatives to Ulun Danu Batur, the temple at the top of the mountain, to offer ducks, pigs, coins and coconuts in thanks for the water that sustains their terraced fields. Outsiders have long considered the rituals of Agama Tirtha, "the religion of holy water" an interesting but impractical way to grow crops. Development companies have spent millions trying to improve on the ancient system.

With the help of an ingenious computer program, anthropologist Steve Lansing and ecologist James Kremer have shown that the Balinese rice growers have been practicing state-of-the-art resource management. Besides placating the goddess, it turns out, the island's ancient rituals serve to coordinate the irrigation and planting schedules of hundreds of scattered villages. And as a new computer model makes clear, the result is one of the most stable and efficient farming systems on the planet.

Andre Singer and Steve Lansing have made an innovative film about the water temples, the dams and the development of the computer program at the University of Southern California. In the film we see the government officials call upon the priests and recognize the importance of their role. We also see the power play that results, as each group wants to control the use of the computer.

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