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Potent Landscapes

Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia

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  • Book Info
    Potent Landscapes
    Book Description:

    The Manggarai people of eastern Indonesia believe their land can talk, that its appetite demands sacrificial ritual, and that its energy can kill as well as nurture. They tell their children to avoid certain streams and fields and view unusual environmental events as omens of misfortune. Yet, far from being preoccupied with the dangers of this animate landscape, Manggarai people strive to make places and pathways "lively," re-traveling routes between houses and villages and highlighting the advantages of mobility. Through everyday and ritual activities that emphasize "liveliness," the land gains a further potency: the power to evoke memories of birth, death, and marriage, to influence human health and fertility.Potent Landscapesis an ethnographic investigation of the power of the landscape and the implications of that power for human needs, behavior, and emotions. Based on two years of fieldwork in rural Flores, the book situates Manggarai place-making and mobility within the larger contexts of diverse human-environment interactions as well as adat revival in postcolonial Indonesia. Although it focuses on social life in one region of eastern Indonesia, the work engages with broader theoretical discussions of landscape, travel, materiality, cultural politics, kinship, and animism.Written in a clear and accessible style,Potent Landscapeswill appeal to students and specialists of Southeast Asia as well as to those interested in the comparative anthropological study of place and environment. The analysis moves out from rooms and houses in a series of concentric circles, outlining at each successive point the broader implications of Manggarai place- and path-making. This gradual expansion of scale allows the work to build a subtle, cumulative picture of the potent landscapes within which Manggarai people raise families, forge alliances, plant crops, build houses, and engage with local state actors. Landscapes are significant, the author argues, not only as sacred or mythic realms, or as contexts for the imposition of colonial space; they are also significant as vernacular contexts shaped by daily practices. The book analyzes the power of a collective landscape shaped both by the Indonesian state's development policies and by responses to religious change.20 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3799-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Introduction: The Shape of the Land
    (pp. 1-16)

    When you visit a village in southern Manggarai, one of the first things that people say to you after they have gently shaken your hand and offered a greeting is “This is the shape of our land here.” They do so in a manner that combines humorous apology with modest pride. The statement implies both “this is the way we do things here” and “what you see is what you get.” This is not a land of modern houses, busy highways, or electricity, but of steep slopes and stony fields, where hardworking people enjoy the products of their land and...

  5. 1 Rooms: A Place for Souls
    (pp. 17-43)

    Let me invite you, reader, inside a Manggarai house. Having entered through the front door, leaving your sandals by the house ladder, follow me through, past the main guest-mats, to a small door curtain. Lift up the curtain and step inside, ducking your head if necessary under the low ceiling. As your eyes adjust to the dim light inside, you will see either that the floor is covered in sleeping mats or that the room is almost completely filled by a wooden bed, over which is hung flowery fabric to keep out mosquitoes. In the room’s wooden chest, you will...

  6. 2 The Permeable House
    (pp. 44-72)

    One of the earliest accounts of architecture in Manggarai can be found in a published description of roof finials and changes in house form by C. Nooteboom (1939), a Dutch administrator who stayed there for eleven months in 1934. Nooteboom outlines two types of large houses that were once found in Manggarai, “often inhabited by several dozens of families” (1939, 221): an elongated, oval house and a round house.¹ He noted that in many villages the entire population was housed in one of these large structures, which were “pitch-dark in broad daylight and always stuffy by the smoke of the...

  7. 3 Paths of Marriage
    (pp. 73-96)

    Iné Teres is a small, wiry grandmother with soft white hair tied up in a bun and strong hands for pounding maize with flat stones. She and her husband, the ritual speaker Amé Bertolo, preside over a large Wae Rebo house, home to several unmarried women and to Niko, a young boy with learning difficulties whose antics are the delight of the village. Iné Teres is often to be found watching the young women weaving in the shade underneath the house or feeding the two large pigs she has tethered to posts some distance away. The latter task fills her...

  8. 4 Earth, Stone, Water: The Animate Landscape
    (pp. 97-126)

    In March 1999, a young man called Lorens went missing in the forests around Wae Rebo after going there to gather rattan. News of his disappearance emerged on the evening of my own leaving party, when villagers had gathered in my house for food, songs, and dancing. Someone coming in from outside reported that they had seen flames on the mountain slopes to the east. At first, there was alarm that one of the garden-huts in a far-off field was on fire. A woman whispered that it might be theapi-ja, a kind of spirit that appears as a walking...

  9. 5 Drum Houses and Village Resettlement
    (pp. 127-150)

    Amé Dorus, the ritual leader of Wae Rebo-Kombo, cuts a stern and imposing figure, but when he plays the drums or sings tales of past warfare between villages, he becomes lively and animated. As we have seen, Amé Dorus has strong opinions about the connection between rituals and the land, and about the necessity of keeping such adat matters separate from those of “religion.” As in much of eastern Indonesia, authority in southern Manggarai is traditionally divided between a political leader known as the “head of the hill/village” (tu’a golo) and a ritual leader known as the “head of the...

  10. 6 Roots and Mobility
    (pp. 151-177)

    Tanta Tin is an unmarried woman in her late forties, unusually tall and with a reputation as a talented weaver. Like most older spinsters in southern Manggarai, she faces no stigma due to her unmarried state but is respected for her economic and practical contributions to her household and wider kin group. From her house in Wae Rebo, Tanta Tin runs a small business refilling bottles of paraffin for her fellow villagers. This paraffin is bought in a small town several hours’ walk to the west and regularly carried through the forest by Tanta Tin’s sister’s son. Though Tanta Tin...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 178-186)

    In 1998, in the dying days of Indonesia’s New Order regime, the inhabitants of Wae Rebo began the long process of rebuilding their communal drum house with a ritual in which a line of elders faced a chain saw placed at the base of a central house-post. The chain saw belonged to a man employed by the rebuilding project’s official coordinators to cut some of the major timbers for the new building. The purpose of the ritual, pragmatically named “sharpening the machete and the axe,” was ostensibly to request permission to fell timbers in the forest from its spirits, or...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 187-198)
    (pp. 199-214)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 215-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-229)