Piercing the sky, cutting the earth: the poetics of knowledge and the paradox of power among the Wologai of central Flores




Aoki, Eriko

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This Thesis examines belief in the power of ola mbe’o (knowledge in poetic form) among the Wologai of central Flores in eastern Indonesia. Its goal is to elucidate the social epistemology of these people. After portraying the general background of the Wologai, the introduction analytically reviews various theories of poetic language in order to show the direction and the goals of his thesis. The exploration is worthwhile because they are theories with which the anthropologist is, at least partly, familiar, and they provide me with a framework for the analysis of ola mbe’o which is carried out in the last chapter. Chapter 1 considers how the category of Wologai is socially constructed as an encompassing collective identity. It examines people’s contentions made on the basis of the framework of the ritual-village (nua) as a shared reference point. While chapter 1 explores the Wologai ritual-village (nua) externally, Chapter 2 elucidates the Wologai ritual-village internally. It examines how the Wologai refer to the ritual-village and its components in their speculation about the world and in their discourse about ideological social world. The second half of this chapter considers the rationale for the authority of the Wologai ritual-village and its relation to the differentiation of the Wologai according to their ritual positions. The speculation, discourse and rationale presented in this chapter constitute ola mbe’o. Chapter 3 explores the great-ritual (nggua ria), one of the most important village-rituals. After describing a scenario of the great-ritual, this chapter considers how people play out the patterns embedded in the great-ritual, the social structure implied in Wologai social theory, and how the acting and experiencing of the great-ritual relate to personal interpretations of it. These personal interpretations of the great-ritual are an important part of ola mbe’o. Chapter 4 explores the semantics and pragmatics of tana, a word which constitutes a pivotal theme of ola mbe’o. The meanings of tana form a spectrum arranged along an axis in relation to alienability, past time and ritual importance. Chapter 5 discusses narratives about the past transformation of the world, which is based on the Wologai concept of ngee wa u (procreate/develop/move away, go out/descend), the other pivotal theme of ola mbe’o. These narratives are as crucial as those about tana in terms of construction of ola mbe’o. Chapter 6 provides an initial exploration of the concept of bhisa (mystically powerful and/or aw-inspiring) which forms not only Wologai belief in the power of ola mbe’o but also the paradox involved in the Wologai concepts of power and human existence. Chapter 7 deals with social situations among Wologai people, in which the belief in the power of ola mbe’o comes into play. It examines two modes of precedence coexisting among Wologai. Chapter 8 explores ola mbe’o in terms of its linguistic features. In order to elucidate what these linguistic features do in the Wologai beliefs about the power of ola mbe’o, I also describe examples of customary verbal forms, which have linguistic features common to ola mbe’o. In doing so ola mbe’o can be situated in its customary verbal environment, fostering a sensibility to ola mbe’o that is rich in particular linguistic features. Chapter 9 is the concluding chapter. Referring to my review of the theories about poetic language in Western scholarly tradition, I analyse the social epistemology of ola mbe’o among the Wologai. I then consider the Western scholarly tradition of a Wologai viewpoint.



knowledge, belief, power, poetics, Flores, eastern Indonesia




Thesis (PhD)

Book Title

Entity type

Access Statement

License Rights



Restricted until