Incorporating the Foreign: The Social Meaning of Imported Goods in Eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Time & LocationSession 9
Fri 09:00–10:30 Room 1.505
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- A World of Clothes: Indian Textiles and the Germination of Polities in Eastern Indonesia Hans Hägerdal Linnaeus University
The early modern period saw a very comprehensive import of textiles from South Asia to the Malay Archipelago. Such cloths could be high-quality products which were coveted as status items as far as Maluku and beyond, such as the well-known patola (double-woven ikat). The imported goods also included less expensive cotton cloths. This trade has a long history that goes back before the advent of European economic and political interference. Europeans, especially the VOC, tried to control the trade flows with varying success. The paper discusses how the import of Indian textiles underpinned political structures and networks in Nusa Tenggara Timor and Maluku from the 16th to the 19th centuries, analyzing the way that import goods was indigenized and became important symbols for authority and redistribution, something that is mirrored in early-modern (mostly European) documents as well as later tradition. Through this, we may discern how a consumer culture developed in a mainly non-Western context which was however connected to early colonial economic management and shipping.
- Exploring the Question of Moko in Alor-Pantar Emilie Wellfelt Stockholm University
Starting from the assumption that foreign objects historically had a variety of trajectories as people incorporated them into local cultures across the eastern Indonesian archipelago, this paper explores the role of moko in the Alor-Pantar area. Moko are hourglass-shaped metal drums, imported from Java and elsewhere, that hold a significant position in local customs and practices among ethno-linguistic groups inhabiting the eastern extremes of the Sunda islands.
In his article ‘The Social Value of Elephant Tusks and Bronze Drums among Certain Societies in Eastern Indonesia’ (2016), Leonard Andaya argued that the symbolism of elephants and drums in India and mainland Southeast Asia travelled with the objects. Through long term trade contacts ‘the symbolism associated with these objects in those regions would have been absorbed by certain eastern Indonesian societies based on their use of one or both of these specific objects as representations of elite status and authority and as a symbol of fertility’ (Andaya 2016: 66).
This paper presents an alternative to Andaya’s theory. The investigation draws on extensive anthropological and historical research in the area (Wellfelt 2016). Knowledge based on fieldwork at the micro level enables a nuanced analysis that considers local variations. The original data is paired with comparative readings of research on foreign objects and social meanings in other parts of eastern Indonesia.
- The Long-Barrelled Musket as Weapon and Revered Object Among the Atoin Pah Meto of Timor James Fox Australian National University
The starting point of this presentation is Salomon Muller’s early 19th century assertion that “…the trade in flintlock rifles is the most advantageous trade that can be conducted on Timor…” Muller goes on to elaborate on this assertion insisting that the rifle or musket was an indispensable element of Atoin Pah Meto male identity. Significantly, from the 19th century onwards, virtually all representations of the Meto-Timorese are of warriors with their rifles.
The introduction of this object by the Topasses or Black Portuguese mestizos in the 16th century produced a transformation in Timorese society. The musket became a sought-after trade item but within a relatively short time, the Meto began manufacturing their own crude long-barrelled weaponry. By the time of the arrival of the Dutch in the middle of the 17th century, they possessed enough fire-power to repel the initial incursions into the interior by the Dutch East India Company.
The musket also helped propel an expansion of the Atoin Pah Meto throughout west Timor allowing them to assimilate other populations with less access to such weapons. In time, the musket (kenat in Uab Meto) became a revered object and the subject of ritual poetry. This paper explores aspects of the complex story of the Timorese musket and is intended to initiate further investigations.
- The Social Life of Carbon in Timor-Leste Lisa Palmer University of Melbourne
Through preliminary empirical work into the ‘materiality’ of place-based carbon, this presentation examines the entangled market and non-market variables of a reforestation program in the Matebian mountain range in eastern Timor-Leste, a project financed by a voluntary carbon offset program (WithOneSeed/CarbonSocial). The program is asserted to provide viable and environmentally sustainable livelihoods by restoring watershed services, enhancing farm productivity, improving access to cultural resources and, and contributing to more diversified local economic markets, skills and participation. The long-term aim is to assist Timor Leste to become carbon neutral and hence leverage the ongoing sale of the country’s carbon offsets. By exploring the extent to which we can discern in this program a process of commodity indigenization, and reflecting on the entanglements of such reafforestation projects with colonial plantations on the island, my aim is to pull apart (and together) the various logics and values associated with the social life of carbon in Timor-Leste. What exactly I ask is being transformed in these processes and what is travelling with it?
This panel draws attention to the role of material culture in social interactions and in historical practices in eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste. We are specifically interested in imported objects and the ways particular categories of foreign objects become a ‘social currency’. To speak with Arjun Appadurai (1986), certain things have social life – but how can we understand this life of things? What things appeal enough to gain social life in the receiving communities? What are the results/consequences of the social lives of imported things?
Working in a European-Amerindian context, the historian Marcy Norton has discussed potential processes behind the transfer of objects across the Atlantic Ocean (Norton 2012). She argues that there might be universal elements that make a category of objects desirable to humans. There might also exist convergences between cultures which allows an object to be valued and attributed meaning in the same way in both contexts. Marshall Sahlins (1999) has labelled a third process ‘commodity indigenization’. In this case, the receiving culture assimilates objects on its own terms, providing meaning according to its pre-existing conceptual world. Another possibility is that meanings travel with objects: in this option the ‘giving’ culture’s use and practices pertaining to an object migrates with the object. In actuality, some or all these processes will coexist. The point is that things and meanings, may, but do not necessarily, travel together.
There is rich evidence in the literature for the importance of foreign material culture in eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste, hence the focus on this region. The interdisciplinary panel brings together scholars from history, anthropology and human geography, presenting case studies that illuminate significant aspects of foreign objects and foreign approaches to natural resources.