Remaking Maluku – Social Transformation in Eastern Indonesia

Remaking Maluku – Social Transformation in Eastern Indonesia – Review

Phillip Winn

Chris Healey and David Mearns (eds). Special Monograph #1. Darwin, Australia: Northern Territory University, 1996. xiii, 185pp., maps, bibliog. $30, ISBN 0-949070-60-2.

Phillip Winn Anthropology, RSPAS, Australian National University

There are few anthropological volumes dealing exclusively with the Indonesian province of Maluku; fewer still that deliberately distance themselves from the influence of the ‘Field of Anthropological Study’ (FAS) approach associated with Leiden structuralism and its concern with ‘Eastern Indonesia’. In possessing both features this collection of eleven short papers should be of immediate interest to those with research concerns in the area, and in Indonesian anthropology generally.

In their Introduction, the editors describe the volume as representing a predominantly anthropological treatment of socio-cultural forms in modern Maluku (p.2). However, they pointedly distinguish themselves from previous efforts in this area, seen as dominated by the analysis of systems of exchange and symbolic structures stemming from the pervasive influence of the Dutch structuralist van Wouden (p.2,12). The editors seek to ‘break with this tradition’ (p.2) thereby providing ‘new perspectives on the contemporary circumstances of Maluku’ (p.12). This is one dimension of the volume’s title – a need for the ‘remaking’ of Maluku within anthropological accounts through a shift in theoretical focus and method.

The fundamental critique of earlier work is of an enduring ‘methodological and theoretical fiction of the boundedness of communities’ (p. 15). Instead the editors seek to draw attention to the incorporation of Maluku in the nation state and the global order (p.2). This process constitutes a second ‘remaking’ or transformation of the Maluku region and one which this collection of papers seeks to emphasise. To this end it is suggested that an examination of the links between local communities and the structures of the wider social environment will result in a greater sense of contemporary local realities (p. 15). This perspective is viewed as a common theme linking the contributions and it is suggested that such an approach constitutes a ‘new anthropology of Maluku’ (Healey, p.13).

In presenting this claim, I feel the editors have set too much of a task for such a slim volume. Certainly together the short papers in this collection serve to establish the density of connections between a number of Maluku communities, Indonesian state structures and (to a lesser extent) international processes. This is a point well made, particularly in the context of previous area ethnography to date. However the ‘new anthropology’ spoken of, in the sense of clear epistemological principles and/or methodological imperatives, tends to be alluded to rather than addressed in any detail.

The majority of contributors deal primarily with resource management and development issues, the focus being the central Maluku area, which includes the capital and administrative centre of the province. Clearly this emphasis lends itself to describing the locally felt influences of the central government, local bureaucracy, and state discourses. To select just a few examples, there are papers dealing with issues of marine tenure in East Seram (Soselisa), evolving forms of property law and traditional rights in Ambon (von Benda-Beckman and Taale), and the historical development of a transmigration community in West Seram (Goss and Leinbach). These and others are generally informative, timely and illustrate some of the larger processes occurring in the province at this moment. Mearns’ (p.95) discussion of the utility of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus in the context of an urbanised district of Ambon city is a reminder of the general neglect of urban areas by FAS-related studies.

However, such concerns are rarely linked to the kind of detailed exploration of the significance of local symbolic forms within everyday practices which would be necessary in order to fulfil the editors’ goal of more adequately addressing the ‘contemporary experience of the [Maluku] population’ (p.1), unless that (singular?) experience is somehow reduced to the sphere of the political-economic. The repetitive focus on national-global reverberations in local contexts leaves the reader with an appreciation of the larger processes a selection of Maluku communities find themselves enmeshed in, but less of the contemporary significance of other kinds of socio-cultural realities which are mentioned only in passing, for example, the persistence of clans mata ruma and clan associations soa on Ambon island (yon Benda-Beckman and Taale, p.42), or enduring moieties and totemic relations in the Aru archipelago (Healey, p. 19).

Whatever one’s views regarding the strengths and weaknesses of FAS-influenced approaches within Indonesia, I feel Remaking Maluku shows that careful attention to local symbolic systems and cosmologies, and the relation of these to the construction of local subjectivities is not easily replaced by focusing on wider political-economic dynamics. It is equally evident that these two areas of anthropological interest are not mutually exclusive, but should be examined together in a mode which renders both more meaningful. That this somewhat hackneyed observation must be made, and indeed that a volume such as this needs to draw attention to the issues it does, is indicative perhaps of the frequently limited engagement among numerous Maluku-oriented anthropologists with contemporary theoretical and epistemological debates.

The contribution of Pannell – both in this collection and elsewhere – represents something of an exception to this pattern. Pannell examines in some detail the role of the Indonesian Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga (PKK) programme in Amaya, on Damar island in South-East Maluku. Through reflecting on aspects of local (pre-existing) social practices and their relation to the newer state-linked discourse of PKK, she explores the implications of multiple influences in the construction of ideas of ‘woman’ within this particularly community. Similarly Laksono, drawing on data from the Kei archipelago, directly addresses aspects of the legacy of the FAS while simultaneously weaving detail regarding local cultural forms (such as social segmentation) with patterns of religious affiliation and the practical organisation of State-sponsored events.

In the final instance Remaking Maluku can be said to reflect a different set of research priorities from those of Leiden structuralism rather than being an exemplar of a ‘new way forward’ – not so much providing a greater coherence or holism to anthropology in Maluku, as indicating other, arguably neglected, areas of emphasis. As such the volume forms a salutary reminder of shortcomings in earlier anthropological approaches within the province, without in itself offering a corrective. Despite this, Remaking Maluku remains a topical collection of papers addressing relevant aspects of contemporary processes in a region seldom appearing alone as a focus of anthropological interest. Its editors’ call for new approaches to anthropology in Maluku represents an initial challenge which could ultimately prove useful in furthering an improving research output in the region.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Australian Anthropological Society

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