Cooking Pot Politics: A Toraja Village Study

Eric Crystal
1974 Indonesia  
Studies of contemporary society in the eastern regions of the In donesian archipelago have lagged far beyond analyses of current devel opments in Java, Bali, and Sumatra. Discussions of entrepreneurial limitation, agricultural stagnation, ethnicity and urbanization in the post-colonial era have generally been limited to the core and western regions of the nation state. Most societies east of the Makassar Strait remain locked into descriptive, largely archaic ethnographic literature of past
more » ... es and centuries. This village study emerges from a fundamental curiosity concerning the nature of contemporary cul ture in regions far removed, in conceptual as well as geographic terms, from the Javanese heartland. Coastal Sumatra, inland Java, densely populated Bali continue to manifest dilemmas of population explosion, agricultural involution, economic dualism and urban expansion due to the impact of external cultural penetration, alien administration, and revolutionary dislocation. What might be the nature of the contempo rary political process in a hinterland regency where Islam is absent, indigenous Indonesian religion predominant, Christian evangelism per sistent and colonialism hesitant until the dawn of the twentieth cen tury? To what extent do remote eastern archipelago locales follow lines of historical development parallel to those well known for Java? Is the fundamental ethnic diversity and cultural heterogeneity of Indo nesia reflected in the configuration of contemporary political life in the provinces? Does social change proceed in a manner consonant with local cultural tradition and therefore differentially in regions cul turally, ecologically, and demographically distinct from one another? Stimulated by such questions, field research was begun in Sulawesi early in 1968. Twelve months of work focusing upon urbanization in the highland town of Makale, administrative capital of Tana Toraja Regency, were completed in April 1969. The dissertation which emerged from this field experience focused upon the integral relationship between contem porary urban political life and traditional ritual and belief systems. After a two-year interregnum further field word was carried out from July through December 1971; the village perspective was explored during the subsequent term of field investigation in the Makale region. Dur ing the brief interim of twenty-four months several important national events with significant local consequences had transpired which strong ly suggested a linear analysis of developments in Tana Toraja. The initiation of the Five Year Development Plan, the National Election of July, 1971, the commitment to the development of a local tourist indus try had, in sum, effected profound transformations in the political and social fabric of the regency. Ultimately the thrust of the research came to focus upon the persistence of archaic leadership prerogatives within the context of a rapidly changing local political structure. * Field research in Sulawesi was facilitated by grants from The Southeast Asia Devel opment Advisory Group of The Asia Society (1971) and USPHS Training Grant in Anthro pology GM-1224 (1968-69). 119 1. Edmund R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma (Boston: Beacon Press, 1954), pp. 15-16. 2. Ibid., p. 10. some systematic features."3 The authors of Political Anthropology assert that local-level political research comprises "the study of processes in determining and implementing public goals and in the dif ferential achievement and use of power by members of the group concerned with these goals."4 The political field in Tana Toraja embraces the traditional village as well as contemporary urban life and includes both ritual performance and regency-level development strategy. In a region where the colonial era spanned merely four decades, where indigenous religion continues predominant, and where the prestige and authority of the nobility en dure to the present, traditional religious rituals and status relation ships color all aspects of contemporary society. In describing the present-^ay Toraja social environment in terms as much ethnographic as developmental, I have in no way intended to suggest that the Five Year Development Plan, the National Elections, and local contests for vil lage leadership are less real concerns here than elsewhere in Indonesia where traditional culture has been compromised by long-term historical and economic processes. This paper commences with the view that tradi tional culture can in many ways be reconciled with the imperatives of twentieth-century administration. The Toraja case of an enduring megalithic culture highly integrated within the Indonesian national politi cal system should give pause to those who see in the process of develop ment an inevitable disintegration of traditional values, mores, and beliefs in the direction of rural proletarianization or urban anomie. Those dangers are always present; yet the interface of traditional world view with national political imperatives and economic priorities does not necessarily entail wholesale displacement of traditional cul ture. The events discussed below give some indication that political development in a modern nation state may not only arrest cultural dis integration, but positively enforce traditional status and belief pat terns. Under the proper conditions, set at the loci of national and provincial political power, traditional authority patterns and belief systems are seen to wax renascent under a national administration fully committed to development goals. Traditional World: Tandung Settlement The first crowing of chickens high in treetop roosts signals the beginning of Toraja day. Heavy wooden doors and shutters swing open to the stillness of predawn morning. The air is moist and cool as the stars ebb before the faint suggestion of dawn. Low clouds envelop the scattered homesteads, cascading rice terraces, and lush bamboo groves of Makale valley. The smoke from a score of kitchen fires wafts upward through thatched roofs melting smoothly into the mists of dawn. High above the valleys now golden with padi, fresh spring water runs strong and clear from rock-lined wells. Gourd-shell scoop in hand, villagers gingerly follow narrow hillside paths to bathe and draw off fresh water in long bamboo tubes. The spring-fed pool at Buissun is large; bamboo vessels gulp down great draughts of clear liquid with a deep resonance peculiar to these Toraja hills. The heavy bamboos are borne homeward over the shoulders of barefoot women clad simply in tightly wrapped sarongs knotted about the chest. Fires of dried bamboo soon boil fresh 3. Marc Swartz, Political Anthropology (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1966), p. 30. 4. Ibid., p . 7.
doi:10.2307/3350696 fatcat:5pq4khvribag7ffykyqjbghfo4