Places, paths and persons : the landscape of kinship and history in southern Manggarai, Flores, Indonesia.
What is the connection between people and the landscape that surrounds them? How do
changes in that landscape affect social life? This study of a dual-sited village community
in southern Manggarai (eastern Indonesia) argues that places and pathways are crucially
implicated in the constitution of persons and social relationships. Manggarai life takes
place within a complex and contested 'landscape' of kinship and history, in which state
policies and religious conversion are leading people to reinterpret traditional notions of
growth, fertility and the land. In considering this landscape, the study connects literature
on the southeast Asian 'House' with the analysis of transformative journeys, and
descriptions of village layout and sacred geography with the ethnography of family
intimacy. Rooms are shown to be central to the constitution of households and notions
of siblingship, whilst ordinary houses are egalitarian collections of rooms, and sites of
ritual remembering. Clan identity is embodied in the drum house, but the significance of
this 'House' as a social institution is changing under the influence of state cultural
politics. Marriage is conceptualised as creating 'paths' of relatedness, and individual
alliance connections are maintained by emotional journeys along these paths. Within
origin villages, named fields and sacred, stone platforms are potent signs both in and of
history, but their absence in recently settled villages contributes to the ritual 'emptiness'
of these sites. History is also revealed in the landscape through topogenies that relate
ancestral journeys from place to place, and through the growth of seedling villages.
However, recent histories have created new interpretations of this landscape. In
particular, people engage with their community's division between a highland site and a
lowland, satellite village by 'swinging' between the power of 'the outside', and the
authority of the centred, ancestral interior.