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Caged in on the Outside

Caged in on the Outside: Moral Subjectivity, Selfhood, and Islam in Minangkabau, Indonesia

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Caged in on the Outside
    Book Description:

    Caged in on the Outside is an intimate ethnographic exploration of the ways in which Minangkabau people understand human value. Minangkabau, an Islamic society in Indonesia that is also the largest matrilineal society in the world, has long fascinated anthropologists. Gregory Simon’s book, based on extended ethnographic research in the small city of Bukittinggi, shines new light on Minangkabau social life by delving into people’s interior lives, calling into question many assumptions about Southeast Asian values and the nature of Islamic practice. It offers a deeply human portrait that will engage readers interested in Indonesia, Islam, and psychological anthropology and those concerned with how human beings fashion and reflect on the moral meanings of their lives. Simon focuses on the tension between the values of social integration and individual autonomy—both of which are celebrated in this Islamic trading society. The book explores a series of ethnographic themes, each one illustrating a facet of this tension and its management in contemporary Minangkabau society: the moral structure of the city and its economic life, the nature of Minangkabau ethnic identity, the etiquette of everyday interactions, conceptions of self and its boundaries, hidden spaces of personal identity, and engagements with Islamic traditions. Simon draws on interviews with Minangkabau men and women, demonstrating how individuals engage with cultural forms and refashion them in the process: forms of etiquette are transformed into a series of symbols tattooed on and then erased from a man’s skin; a woman shares a poem expressing an identity rooted in what cannot be directly revealed; a man puzzles over his neglect of Islamic prayers that have the power to bring him happiness. Applying the lessons of the Minangkabau case more broadly to debates on moral life and subjectivity, Simon makes the case that a deep understanding of moral conceptions and practices, including those of Islam, can never be reached simply by delineating their abstract logics or the public messages they send. Instead, we must examine the subtle meanings these conceptions and practices have for the people who live them and how they interact with the enduring tensions of multidimensional human selves. Borrowing a Minangkabau saying, he maintains that whether emerging in moments of suffering or flourishing, moral subjectivity is always complex, organized by ambitions as elusive as being “caged in on the outside.”

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3832-4
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    This is an ethnographic study of moral subjectivity among Minangkabau people, who form an Islamic society in the Indonesian province of West Sumatra. In using the term “moral subjectivity,” I mean the ways people think about and experience the realization of human value or the failure to realize that value. This book focuses on moral subjectivity among Minangkabau people in the early twenty-first century in the small city of Bukittinggi. It examines how they imagine the nature of human value and the work involved in fashioning themselves as moral—cultivating a sense of their own “moral selfhood,” in my terms—...

  5. 1 The Village and the Marketplace: The Moral Structure of a Minangkabau City
    (pp. 16-38)

    Along the western coast of central Sumatra, the lowlands rise steeply into the Bukit Barisan, the mountainous spine of the thousand-mile-long island. Covered by the cool tropical weather of the highlands and planted in its rich volcanic soil is Bukittinggi. The best place to get a view of the city from within is Fort de Kock, which sits on a hilltop at its very center. Established in 1825 by the Dutch with an eye on controlling commerce in the highlands, Fort de Kock has now become a commodity itself, earning its keep as one of the city’s tourist destinations. Although...

  6. 2 Being Minangkabau: Imagining Adat, Islam, and Ethnic Character
    (pp. 39-62)

    People in Bukittinggi had a lot to tell me about being Minangkabau—and about being Muslim, an intrinsic part of Minangkabau identity—and almost universally exhibited pride in identifying themselves with this label. In contrast, when I asked what they were proud of about being Indonesian, people oft en fell silent. While some went on to express pride in Indonesia’s vast resources, a more common reply was that there was nothing of which to be proud. The economic and political turmoil of the years leading up to my fieldwork surely had much to do with this response, wedding Indonesian identity...

  7. 3 The Awak People: The Moral Aesthetics of Social Unity
    (pp. 63-85)

    In learning to speak Minangkabau, the use of the wordawakmade a particular impression on me. In Indonesian,awakhas a primary meaning of “body” or “self” (Echols and Shadily 1989), although its use is usually limited to references to crew members of ships or airplanes. At first I was told that in Minangawakmeant the same thing askito:“us” in the inclusive sense. Yetawakis frequently used to mean “me,” “you,” “him/her,” and sometimes “us” exclusive of the listener.¹ In all cases, usingawakevinces a polite inclusiveness: it refers to “you” or “me” or...

  8. 4 Living with the Devil: Pure Selves and a Corrupting World
    (pp. 86-121)

    In a regular feature of thePadang Ekspres,a popular West Sumatran newspaper, the previous day’s headlines are paired with brief comments. The headlines appear in Indonesian, but the comments also make liberal use of Minang and are designed to come across as a typical reader’s reaction to the news. In the days before America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, the coming war was the top story in Indonesian newspapers, and U.S. policy was nearly universally condemned throughout Indonesia. What caught my attention about this particular comment was the way it attributed the immoral behavior of the United States to...

  9. 5 Fashioning the Paribadi: Indirection and Spaces of the Personal
    (pp. 122-169)

    The first time I met Ni Saia, she told me about her poem. I was conducting a general survey of her neighborhood and she wanted to be the first person I returned to when I was ready to talk to people in more depth. When I saw her occasionally in the months that followed she always mentioned the poem, promising to recite it for me. It would tell me her whole, sad story, she said. She wanted her story to be told in the United States, though she would bemalu(ashamed) to have it told in Bukittinggi.

    Ni Saia...

  10. 6 Being Muslim Subjects: Essential Tensions and the Promise of Transcendence
    (pp. 170-208)

    When I arrived in Bukittinggi a few months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden’s image dotted the city, sold in the marketplace on shirts worn by young men and depicted on the side of the occasional public car. Along a narrow street leading from Bukittinggi’s Lower Market, on a low, plastered wall, someone had painted his portrait (fig. 1). A tranquil expression on his face, and without a body to weigh him down, bin Laden gazed toward the sky, past the likeness of Bob Marley painted immediately to his right. In Marley’s slightly more weathered portrait...

  11. Coda: Subjective Tensions, Flourishing, and Multidimensional Selves
    (pp. 209-214)

    This book has demonstrated that both autonomous and socially constituted dimensions of self—as well as attempts to manage the tensions between them—are complexly elaborated and morally celebrated within Minangkabau society. They are highly salient elements of social experience for people living in this society, as they are likely to be elsewhere for people who find themselves both deeply enmeshed in relationships with others and very much dependent on autonomous activity in a competitive marketplace. Islamic practices and discourses, reaching out toward notions of social unity, submission to authority, and individual responsibility, form one arena in which these tensions...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 215-230)
    (pp. 231-246)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 247-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-263)