Geopo- Litical Concept Invented During World War II
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Geopo- Litical Concept Invented During World War II
292 Part IV: East Asian Civilization
Chapter 7 China
INSULAR SOUTHEAST ASIA
s we noted in the introduction to part V, “Southeast Asia” is a geopo- litical concept invented during World War II to denote a theatre of war. It never had a civilizational center such as South and East Asia
have had, although it had a pattern of nagaras, small state centers or sacred cit- ies with a god-king and a ruling ideology based on Hindu-Buddhist notions of legitimacy. These were to be found both in insular and mainland Southeast Asia. Chapter 10 focused on some of the better-known examples, particularly Bali (in Indonesia), Angkor (in Cambodia), and Thailand. Chapter 12 will return to this region as we conclude with a discussion of colonialism and the creation of the modern nation-state across the region.
In this chapter, we take a somewhat different approach to several cultural traditions distributed across much of mainland and insular Southeast Asia out- side the nagara-style systems, among peoples who resisted the reach of these labor-hungry states. Standard histories tend to overlook these peoples and their customs, as we discussed in chapter 4, because they are determined outsiders to the “civilizing mission” of ever-growing states. Their lifestyles, religious prac- tices, life-cycle rites, and kinship systems have often been viewed as baffling and barbarous. In turning to insular Southeast Asia, with its thousands of islands and loosely incorporated ethnic groups, we have selected a few classic studies by anthropologists to illustrate some of these traditions (mortuary rites, head- hunting, child rearing, and cockfighting) beyond state centers. They take us to groups in Borneo (especially the Dayak and Berawan), the largest island in Indonesia and briefly to the Alor on a tiny island in Indonesia. To understand the lingering culture of head-hunting (without actual head-hunting) we turn to a group in Luzon (the Ilongot), the largest island in the Philippines. And finally we turn to villagers in Bali, the most studied place in insular Southeast Asia, for a famous study on character formation and another one on cockfighting.
Haddon in Borneo
At the end of the nineteenth century, a British administrator working in Bor- neo named Charles Hose learned that a respected anthropologist he had met in London was on a scientific expedition to the Torres Straits, a string of islands stretching between New Guinea and Australia. Why not come to Borneo? The two had met in London several years earlier, and Hose understood that Alfred Cort Haddon was pioneering a new approach to scientific research, the “intensive study
Chapter opener photo: Children playing on bamboo raft at Kuching on the Sarawak River.
of limited areas.” Haddon’s method involved spending significant time encounter- ing people in their own societies rather than chatting up travelers from distant shores when they got back to the comforts of London. “I will do my very utmost to make everything a success for you—I will have all sorts of feasts and native festivi- ties arranged to take place during the time you are here, you will see what others have never seen, and I will undertake to see you will never regret the time spent in Borneo” (Chiarelli and Guntarik 2013). It proved to be an irresistible offer.
© Robert Cribb 2009
Map 11.1 Borneo in 1901. Note that the island is divided into British and Dutch territories (dashed line).
414 Part V: Southeast Asia
Chapter 11 Insular Southeast Asia
The above Dutch map depicts Borneo in 1901, the year Haddon published his study of Borneo and the Torres Straits, Head-Hunters: Black, White and Brown. It bears a bit of scrutiny. Note that the island is divided into British and Dutch territories (the dashed line). Before lines could be drawn on maps, Bru- nei controlled much of the surrounding area from an ancient trade port that by 1901 had been reduced to the lines on the map (and is roughly the same area today). Sarawak (which today is a province of Malaysia) was under the control of a British adventurer who was called Raja Charles Brooke, the “White Raja,” until it became a British protectorate in 1888. Today, Sarawak and north Bor- neo (now Sabah) are part of Malaysia, which stretches across from the south- ern part of the Thai Peninsula (except Singapore) with a capital at Kuala Lumpur. The larger part of Borneo, south and east of the dashed line, was con- trolled by Dutch Indonesia, and is now a part of Independent Indonesia. (See also map 12.2.)
Charles Hose worked on the island of Borneo for Raja James Brooke, who had helped the sultan of Brunei put down a rebellion and, in 1841, was made governor of Sarawak in gratitude. The title governor wasn’t enough, and soon he was being called raja, in a process not all that different from the early British adventurers in India like “Clive of Bengal.” The dynasty of the Brooke family reigned over Sarawak for over a century, squeezing Brunei into its present con- figuration. For a thousand years prior to the period of the White Rajas, Brunei, controlling a large inland area that fed tropical goods into the global market, had been a major port city on the southern global trade route that began in Arabia and stretched through Goa, Calicut, Madras, Malaka, Jahor (Singa- pore), Brunei, Manila, and Canton. Both Arab and Chinese ship masters were sure to stop in Brunei for the goods that Brunei merchants collected from the interior tribes, “jungle produce,” much of which was crucial ingredients for Chinese medicines. Brunei ended up as a tiny independent city-state on the northwest coast of the island. (Not to worry: Today, the Sultan of Brunei, one of the few remaining absolute monarchs, is said to be worth $20 billion and was once the richest man in the world.)
Hose was an amateur ethnographer himself, having already established a museum, and collected a library of more than 700 volumes. His offer to host Haddon promised to connect his own amateur work with the foremost ethno- logical endeavors of the day. Haddon had all the latest equipment and hoped to move anthropology forward while bringing knowledge of the remote societies of Southeast Asia and Melanesia to the West. He could make photographs in stereoscope and in color. He could capture sound by wax cylinder. And he could capture moving pictures by cinematograph (Chiarelli and Guntarik 2013). Photography, according to these early ethnographers using these mod- ern recording devices, could capture the real world. Photography accurately reproduced reality in a way never before possible, it was thought; because of “its mechanical nature, and its automatism, [it] produced objective ‘visual evi- dence’ of the ‘real thing,’ averting the danger of any subjectivity of interpreta-
tion” (Daston and Galison 1992). He published his findings from Borneo and the Torres Straits in 1901 in Head-Hunters: Black, White and Brown. The Sarawak material was based on the itinerary Hose had prepared for him, illustrating the mutual support of early anthropology and imperialism:
It included excursions by boat along rivers and into the wilderness, visits to interior villages, religious ceremonies and opportunities to collect artifacts. Hose’s guests also attended a peace-making ceremony that attracted more than 6,000 members of many different ethnic groups. The gathering was organized as a means of pacification and of addressing tensions between the different ethnic groups under the control of the colonial administration. The event was doubtless also staged to serve Hose’s position of authority among local people. (Chiarelli and Guntarik 2013; Haddon 1901)
Some of these photographs have been reproduced by Chiarelli and Gun- tarik (2013), to whom they appear “mediocre” and “unremarkable.” There are shots of rivers from boats and of curious villagers gazing at the photographer. At least the photos appear unstaged, with no attempt at faux “authenticity” by keeping foreigners out of sight, a very common practice later on. White jacketed expeditioners in pith helmets mix with local people in traditional garb. Already at that time there were “best practices” being written up in a scientific publica- tion called Notes and Queries in Anthropology, and Haddon managed the section on photography, but he does not seem to have followed his own advice in Bor- neo (with his “mediocre and unremarkable” shots and foreigners in full view). Perhaps because Borneo was an excursion at the end of his primary work in the Torres Straits, and several of his companions had already departed, Haddon was himself disappointed in the Borneo images (Chiarelli and Guntarik 2013).
Another regret is worth noting. At this time (the end of the nineteenth cen- tury) scientists were attempting to put the identification of “races” and “tribes” and “ethnic groups” on a scientific footing. The hope was that this could be accomplished through biological data, and so fieldworkers like Haddon spent a great deal of time taking anthropometric statistics, identifying skin color, height, and head and face measurements. As Haddon writes in Head-Hunters: Black, White and Brown, “One of our objects in visiting Sarawak was the hope that by measuring a large number of people, and by recording their physical features, we might help towards a solution of the ethnic problems” (Haddon 1901:320; quoted in Chiarelli and Guntarik 2013). A measure called the “cephalic index” was a ratio of head width to height that produced three types: long-headed (dol- ichocephalic), medium-headed (mesocephalic), and short-headed (brachyce- phalic). There was an effort to classify the many inhabitants of Borneo into two original races in another widely read book by Haddon (The Races of Man and Their Distribution, 1909), but this effort was soon abandoned by anthropology. Even the term “tribe” became so laden with controversy and mistaken assump- tions that it has been largely abandoned as a technical term. It continues to be used as a rather generic term for nonstate cultural or ethnic groups of all types throughout much of Asia (as in the “Hill Tribes” of Thailand).
The people of Sarawak, and the dominant population of Borneo, are the Dayak, a term that now refers to all non-Muslim indigenous groups (Postill 2006). However, over a mere two centuries, the terminology and the group(s) indicated by it have undergone confusing shifts. In Raja James Brooke’s time, a distinction was made between Land Dayaks, who were timid, peaceful hill farm- ers, and Sea Dayaks, who were headhunters and pirates. More recently the Land Dayaks were known as Bidayuh and the former Sea Dayaks were known as Iban, a label popularized by Hose and reinforced by anthropologist Derek Free- man in the 1950s. The people themselves opted for “Dayak” in an effort to build political unity among all Sarawak peoples against Malays and Chinese at a time when Malaya was seeking independence from Britain (and then became Malay- sia after Singapore seceded). This brief history should illustrate the difficulties of identifying discrete “ethnic groups,” much less “races” in this part of the world. However, despite the tremendous diversity linguistically and ethnically, there are certain cultural commonalities across much of Borneo. These include residence in distinctive longhouses, bilateral kinship, and a history of head-
hunting. Here is Derek Freeman on Iban (Dayak) longhouses:
Anyone who has travelled in the interior of Borneo is familiar with the con- spicuous shape of a long-house: an attenuated structure supported on innu- merable hard-wood posts, it stretches for a hundred yards or more along the terraced bank of a river, its roof—of thatch, or wooden shingles—forming an unbroken expanse. Superficially viewed the Iban long-house has the appearance of being a single structural unit, and many casual observers have made the facile inference that the long-house is therefore the outcome of some sort of communal or group organization and ownership . . . but the Iban long-house is primarily an aggregation of independently owned family apartments. . . . Indeed the unbroken expanse of roof tends to conceal the fact that the Iban long-house is fundamentally a series of discrete entities— the independent family units of a competitive and egalitarian society. (Free- man 1992:1)
These longhouses and their populations could be enormous. There were longhouses with 40, 50, or 60 “doors” (i.e., apartments), and one was known to be half a mile in length with 100 doors (Metcalf 2010). These were essen- tially villages; apart from temporary huts out in the fields, no one lived in pri- vate single-family dwellings. The long verandah along the river side of the longhouse was a boulevard for sociable interaction; at night “the line of lan- terns, twinkling off into the distance, gave the house the feeling . . . of being enchanted” (Metcalf 2010:41). Voices could always be heard above the parti- tions; little was private. If a door was closed, the next person to come along would open it, perhaps to ask why it had been closed in the first place. Strang- ers coming upriver or downriver could count on hospitality, with trays of food—fish, game, and mountains of rice—being offered.
Of course there were practical reasons for the extravagant work of building these enormous longhouses. They were fortresses in times of warfare, which
Exterior of Sea Dayak longhouse, 1897.
mostly consisted of raids from war parties seeking loot or heads or slaves. The Iban were said to have an insatiable desire for heads (Metcalf 2010:52). Even in non-Iban areas, heads were prominently displayed on the verandas of virtually all longhouses, and most groups participated in head-hunting, which was required at the conclusion of mourning for an important person. Thus, work- ing alone in the fields or coming back along a trail at dusk could put you at risk of capture by head-hunting parties, but once you reached the shelter of the longhouse, you were safe.
Death in Borneo
Charles Hose, the administrator for the White Rajas who invited Haddon to Sarawak, was keen to put a stop to head-hunting. He collected and pub- lished documentation of the widespread practice of head-hunting in his area in the late nineteenth century, such as photographs of Iban women dancing with skulls (Andaya 2004:16). The war parties intent on taking heads disrupted trade and made travel in the interior dangerous; anyone’s head was fair game, and even an old woman gathering firewood was a good enough choice and an easy target. Hose tried to channel these warlike instincts by setting up annual races of the war canoes from all villages. This was apparently a great success, and Peter Metcalf tells us the races are still popular (1991:114). And because the taking of heads was the obligatory conclusion of lengthy funeral rites, Hose began keeping a store of heads that villages could simply borrow as needed (p. 114). These and other efforts by colonial governments proved effective, so that head-hunting has become largely a thing of the past since the end of World
War II, though there are still occasional bizarre instances and sentimental nos- talgia surrounding the topic.
Head-hunting was once extremely widespread across Southeast Asia, from Assam in eastern India to Taiwan off the coast of China and extending through the outer islands of Indonesia, including Borneo, Sulawesi, and the Philippine islands (Andaya 2004). Andaya tells us:
Heads were taken for numerous and often overlapping reasons: to enhance community status, to end a period of mourning, to vitalize a new long- house, to initiate manhood, to assert territorial claims, to affirm a chief’s prestige, to challenge rival tribes, to ensure the fertility of crops, or to gain revenge. (2004:14)
It meant different things in different places. Since there was no single meaning across that vast space, to understand head-hunting, its meaning in particular local cultures has to be understood. And even though it can no longer be observed in practice, head-hunting continues to be part of the social imagina- tion in many types of ceremonies, in mythology and songs, and in attitudes toward vitality and masculinity.
In the 1970s, anthropologist Peter Metcalf settled into a longhouse of 32 doors called Long Teru in northern central Borneo among a people who call themselves Berawan (unrelated to the more famous Dayak). Like the Iban, they live in longhouses and practice swidden agriculture. Other Berawan long- house communities had been converting to Christianity, but Long Teru main- tained its traditional religion.
The focus of Metcalf’s (1991) research was mortuary rites. At the end of lengthy, multiyear ceremonies, the final culmination is (or was) sending out a head-hunting war party to take the head(s) that would release mourners from all remaining food and sex taboos, especially the onerous seclusion of the spouse. These death rites involve everyone living in the longhouse, the most important of all communal rituals. Wakes go on night after night for eight to ten days, and everyone must be involved. They appear to be a lot of fun, with constant drinking, gambling, and hilarity, and in the openness of the long- house, it would hardly be possible to stay away in any case.
The mortuary rite consists of three stages: the initial treatment of the dead body; followed by a period of not less than a year in which the body is stored in a wooden coffin or a large jar in a cemetery at a distance from the village; fol- lowed by recovery of the remains of the dead, hopefully now reduced to dry bones, to be brought home again for final ritual treatment, concluding with the head-hunting events. This latter stage is often called secondary burial, or second- ary treatment of the dead, variations on which are commonly practiced in much of Southeast Asia (see chapter 10 on the death rites of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand). The Berawan do not always go on to the final secondary rites, but frequently do so, especially for persons of high importance in the community.
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