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Warriors of the Hornbill, victims of the Mantis : history and embodied morality among the Buli of Central Halmahera

Bubandt, Nils Ole

Description

This thesis is an ethnographic account of the Buli, an Austronesian-speaking and predominantly Christian group numbering some 3,500 people who live on the central east coast of Halmahera in the northeastern comer of Indonesia. The study focuses on the Buli category of gua, a cannibal spirit that possesses particular people and forces them to attack and devour the liver of fellow villagers. Such attacks cause serious illness and often death. Taking the events that surrounded gua attacks and...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorBubandt, Nils Ole
dc.date.accessioned2017-04-21T06:07:01Z
dc.date.available2017-04-21T06:07:01Z
dc.date.copyright1995
dc.identifier.otherb1945395
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/116149
dc.description.abstractThis thesis is an ethnographic account of the Buli, an Austronesian-speaking and predominantly Christian group numbering some 3,500 people who live on the central east coast of Halmahera in the northeastern comer of Indonesia. The study focuses on the Buli category of gua, a cannibal spirit that possesses particular people and forces them to attack and devour the liver of fellow villagers. Such attacks cause serious illness and often death. Taking the events that surrounded gua attacks and gua deaths as my point of departure, I attempt a semiotic and phenomenological analysis of the gua, its characteristics and its actions. I argue that the gua is a real social agent whose significance speaks to fundamental aspects of Buli ontology and whose presence is latent in most domains of Buli everyday life and world-view. I begin by analysing the symbolism of gua violence and propose that it is intimately related to Buli conceptions of the body and to the general corporeal construction of the world. This embodied conception of the world includes notions about how to secure the integrity of the human body and how to comport oneself properly, but also extends to rules of house and canoe construction as well as to ideas about space and topography. In all these areas, the gua constantly intervenes in a disconcerting fashion. Similarly, the actions of the gua, said to be motivated by envy, greed, aberrant hunger and lechery, are deeply entangled with Buli moral behaviour. This is especially clear in exchange behaviour which I divide into two related types: ceremonial exchange and everyday forms of food sharing. Exchange etiquette harbours an inherent tension, a tension of which the gua is the most cogent manifestation. I describe the other main spirit agents in Buli: the ancestors (smengit), the guardian spirits (suang) and the mythical hero Ian Toa. After analysing the myths and rituals associated with these spirit agents, I conclude that they, despite their strong moral opposition to the gua, each share significant features with it. None of these spirit agents nor the role they perform for Buli people can be understood without reference to the gua. The same ambivalent relationship with the gua also pertains to the Sultan of Tidore, once the political sovereign of central Halmahera. The Sultan is regarded as the bringer of customary law (adat) to Buli society and much of Buli cultural identity is tied up with their position vis-ä-vis Tidore and its place among the other three original kingdoms of the ‘Spice Islands’. The figure of the ruler of Tidore was central to the rebellions in which Buli was involved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the Sultan is still today an important symbolic presence in Buli ceremonial life. The embodied moral conception of the world that I describe for Buli contrasts with the Christian theology which they, like most Halmaherans, have adopted from a succession of Dutch missionaries up to the Second World War. I trace the history of conversion in Halmahera and argue that millennial ideas as well as concerns about sickness and death were powerful motivations for conversion. I propose that concerns with the gua or the suanggi (as it is glossed in Malay) have played a significant, if subterranean role, in the acceptance of Christianity in Buli and Halmahera. The importance of the gua in contributing to the creation of Buli history is not only restricted to the past, it is also detectable in the present. Conflicts ensuing from gua attack are thus often at the heart of confrontations between Buli communities and representatives of the Indonesian nation-state. In addition to serving as a medium for describing Buli society and ontology, the gua, in other words, also provides a perspective on the engagement of Buli society with modernity and its multi-faceted relationship to the Indonesian state. The gua is not, therefore, an isolated phenomenon of belief and I eschew use of the term ‘witchcraft’ to describe it because of the universalism and reductionism that it often implies. Rather, the gua stands in a complicated relationship to the whole of Buli society. It is an ambiguous reflection of Buli experience and ontology that highlights the other, unsettling, side of all social and cultural processes, including exchange, personhood, sociality and group identity. It emphasises that feelings of unease and dread are as much part of cultural experience as are feelings of certainty and comfort.
dc.format.extent413 p.
dc.language.isoen
dc.subject.lcshEthnology Indonesia Halmahera
dc.subject.lcshCannibalism Indonesia Halmahera
dc.subject.lcshHalmahera (Indonesia) Social life and customs
dc.titleWarriors of the Hornbill, victims of the Mantis : history and embodied morality among the Buli of Central Halmahera
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
dcterms.valid1995
local.description.notesThis thesis has been made available through exception 200AB to the Copyright Act.
local.type.degreeDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)
dc.date.issued1995
local.contributor.affiliationDepartment of Anthropology, Division of Society and Environment, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5d70f0a0bbc02
dc.date.updated2017-04-21T01:31:04Z
local.mintdoimint
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