Carving In Time

Abraham Amelwatin

Between 1994 and 1995, I travelled to Tanimbar to undertake research into local traditions of sculpture. This research was funded by a Newcastle University Bartlett Travel scholarship and undertaken in conjunction with Pattimura University, Ambon and LIPI, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

The following is an online version of the report I wrote for the sponsors of this project. It is very minimally edited and remains very close to the original version. If would like to ask me any more about the work I undertook in Tanimbar, you can contact me.

(The following links are not yet all operational, but should be by the end of February 2006)

12. Appendix: Selling History - New Patterns in Tanimbarese Art

It may seem somewhat perverse to relegate two thirds of the sculptors within Tanimbar to an appendix whilst the main text of this study concentrates on the final third. However there are a number of reasons why this seems to me to be not only acceptable, but also necessary. The work of the sculptors of the village of Tumbur, which is the subject of this appendix, has been discussed in great detail by Annamiek Lenssen in her thesis “Main Tangan” It is not my intention to repeat her work here. Although much of what follows is based upon and owes a debt to the work of Lenssen, the reading of Lenssen has been supplemented by some independent fieldwork in the village. Tumbur presents a rather special case in the sphere of Tanimbarese art, and hence does not fit comfortably into the patterns set out in the main body of this work. This is not surprising given the very different conditions in which the Tumburese artist works.

Lenssen’s work will be summarised insofar as it is relevent to the main theme of this study, and then a brief consideration of the ways in which Tumburese art differs from the general Tanimbarese pattern will be given. Without further research into the way the Tumburese live in and construct their ideas of history, and in particular the ways they represent their history to the outside world, these comments must suffice.

All Tumburese sculptors with whom I spoke produced work which was intended for external sale to tourists. They claim Tumbur to hold a “traditional monopoly” over the production of sculpture within Tanimbar, and hence their work, they maintain, represents the true tradition of Tanimbarese art as a whole. The tenability of this claim is called into question by other evidence.

In the representation of this “tradition,” the Tumburese have developed an orthodoxy of style which is in stark contrast to the heterodox forms of other sculptures in Tanimbar. It is because of this stylistic orthodoxy that it becomes possible to talk of Tumburese art as a whole, and see it as only one possible solution to what I have termed above as the “unsatisfactoriness of the present”, amongst the many other solutions offered by the sculptors of other villages. Furthermore it is not necessarily a solution to quite the same problem, for the nature of the production of sculpture in Tumbur is such that its has had a radical effect on the restructuring of the social and economic background to life in Tumbur. In so changing the social, economic and ideological position of the artists involved, so the nature of the problem is changed. It is in the belief that the work of Tumburese sculptors is not addressing the same issues as the work of other Tanimbarese that it is considered in this section.

The Tumburese carving “industry” was begun in 1973 when the Catholic church development worker Hermann der Vries approached the carpenters of Tumbur with the proposal that they should produce works to be sold through the Catholic church. The Church and the Indonesian government (through the agency of the Dewan Kerajinan Propinsi Maluku, or Moluccan Provincial Committee for Handicrafts) have had an active role in the promotion and development of the woodcarving industry in the village, and the DKPM has had an increasing influence on carving not only commercially, but also stylistically and iconographically.

Within Tumbur there are four working groups (kelompok) which regulate quality and prices of carvings. Each group has from ten to fifteen members and they compete for larger orders, for sponsorship deals, and for the chance to promote their work at exhibitions. The kelompoks also keep sculpture in stock so they can respond to large orders rapidly. There are sculptors who work outside of these groups, but they are under pressure from kelompok heads who wish to gain fuller control over the market. One kelompok head told me, not without bitterness, that these non-affiliated sculptors sell their work on the Street to tourists “like fried peanuts,” which is not only undignified, but lowers the commercial value of the works. As kelompok heads are those more prominent members of Tumburese society, they are having some degree of success in controlling these “independent” artists.

The style of the Tumburese sculptors has an established market in the Netherlands, in Jakarta, and in Ambon. The work is characterised by a great delicacy, generally representing figures with long and delicate limbs, and usually carved from a kind of ebony (kayu arang). Although the Tumburese claim their work is an extension of the work of the precolonial period, they are in fact stylistically a long way from the complex unfolding spiral motifs of the kora ulu or the tavu. However the technical quality of these works is often considerably higher than those from other areas, where carving is often much cruder. In addition mass production in Tumbur is made possible by the economic system of the village, and hence prices can be significantly lower than for works from sculptors of other areas. However the market value rises steeply outside of Tanimbar. The example below is an approximate pricing for a 25cm figure:

{border:1px solid black}.
Tumbur|Ambon|Jakarta (shop)|Jakarta (airport shop)
7,500 Rp|10,000 Rp|40,000 Rp|80,000 Rp
US$ 3.25|US$ 5.00|US$ 20.00|US$ 40.00

Given the extent of woodcarving in the village of Tumbur it is an activity that involves, an in some way implicates, the whole village. The economy, having the advantage of a regular source of cash income the whole year round from the sale of sculptures, is not, as elsewhere, rooted in subsistence and the twice-yearly bonus of the cash income from the copra crop.

In around 1989, the DKPM issued a booklet called Patung (sculpture) to the carvers of Tumbur giving advice on ideal height ranges of sculptures, typical prices, preferred motifs n the part of the buyer, and methods of selling. One of the most illuminating comments in the book was that it is necessary for the sculptor not only to sell the work but also to make clear the meanings of the motifs used. A sculptor in Tumbur supplemented this by saying that they not only sold sculpture in Tumbur, but they also sold history and tradition.

It seems that in their sculpture the Tumburese are not wrestling with the forces of history, with the dynamics of fixity in tradition and growth in modernity, in the same way as their other Tanimbarese counterparts. Instead the primary concern is how Tanimbarese histories may be packaged and marketed, together with the sculptures which are the expression of them. When history becomes not something that is lived in and constantly reordered and restructured, but rather a commodity, then the work that reflects that history is not only disembedded from society as was, I claimed above, the witch of Abraham Amelwatin, but also disembodied. In representing their history to outsiders, and not only this, but in making it commercially attractive, the Tumburese are I believe beginning to base this history not on indigenous concerns, but on the whims of the market and the desires of the largely Western or Westernised buyers.

An example of this is in the DKPM booklet which advises artists that: “Differences in the anatomical forms of male and female sculptures must be clear. The sexual organs should not be seen as pornographic or unnatural.” Indeed a considerable number of Tumburese sculptures are striking for their pronounced genitalia: some sculptures depict women lifting their skirts as they ford a stream to reveal themselves in all innocence to the world, or men clutching their oversized penises. The question needs to be asked as to whether these sculptures say more about Tanimbarese concerns with history, time and change, or whether they say more about Western notions and fantasies of the “Primitive.” [See Price 1989 and Torgovnick 1990 for a discussion of “primitiveness” as a Western construct, and its influence on the work of artists from areas conceived of in the Western imagination as Primitive.]

In representing themselves thus the Tanimbarese are not solving the problem of the present discussed above. Whereas other sculptors are concerned with the defusing of their histories and their integration into the present, the Tumburese are not only constructing for themselves pasts that were never theirs – all sculptors in Tanimbar do that – but they are constructing pasts that have been dreamed of by others. In doing so they not only fail to address the problem between different levels of identification (as Tanimbarese, Christian, Indonesian) but they also lay the seeds for a tradition that is essentially moderen in that it is imposed by the outside world. What then happens to the dynamic between memory and aspiration that supports, maintains and promotes growth in the rest of Tanimbar?

Thus, the pattern of carving established by the Tumburese, for all of its sinuous beauty, is one that holds a threat of danger, as it surrenders Tanimbarese ideas of history to the outside world.

11. Conclusion.

The sculpture of Tanimbar exhibits a remarkable complexity and variety of forms, which can be seen as a reflection of a corresponding diversity of dynamic cultural forces at play in the life of the Tanimbarese. The challenge for the Tanimbarese – as they perceive it – is to renegotiate the relationship between those forces they see as external to Tanimbar and moderen, and those which they see as internal and tradisional, and hence bring about the transformation of tradition such that it no longer holds up aspirations toward material and spiritual development. On the other hand this tradition must, to qualify as tradition, have the illusion of remaining untransformed, unchanging and fixed.

The work of Tanimbarese gives a vivid example of the way in which this transformation is effected. Generally speaking, in accordance with the Indonesian state ideology of Unity in Diversity, the problem of the present is being solved by the preservation of the external signs of tradition in their own right, while the structures that supported them in the past either fall away or are deliberately dismantled. It is these structures and the dynamics that interrelate and animate them which the Tanimbarese refer to when they say, “We want to develop, but tradition is too strong.” When fundamental modes of thought and of being once rooted in indigenous ideology are replaced by those which are no longer rooted in indigenous ideology, but are rather orientated toward nationalist and Christian ideologies and aspirations, the symbols of tradition float free, disembedded from society.

The work of Tanimbarese sculptors is not only a passive reflection of these changes, but also has an active role to play in bringing it about. Moderen sculptures try to deal with the problems of reconciling the tradisional and the moderen for the Tanimbarese themselves, and an identity as tradisional is only maintained by taking the symbols of a disembedded tradition, and representing them back the outside world. Thus the tradisional sculpture of the Tanimbarese, and more importantly the existence of an audience for such demonstrations of tradition, plays an essential role in maintaining an idea of tradition.

Tanimbarese sculptors are not at the mercy of overwhelming impersonal forces overturning their culture. Instead they are reordering the relationships between tradition and modernity, memory and aspiration, history and the present, themselves and the outside world, and in doing so, attempting to achieve what is the best of all possible worlds, and to speed their advance towards a better future. The ancestors are, it would seem, being shown the back door, taken from their positions of power by various stages, and the law that they laid down, that of adat, being replaced by the Pancasila, the Ten Commandments, the proclamations of the church and the state. Yet the ancestors accumulate, the present becomes the past, and the living die. Earlier in this study the case of a sculpture produced in the 1970s which over time accrued ancestral power to become an adat good was cited. So what was moderen becomes tradisional, todays innovation becomes tomorrow’s rule, and the present remains, as ever, the unsatisfactory home of a struggle between the idea of the past, and of what the future could be. Sculpture is a well established battlefield for this conflict, and it is a conflict that seems to be ultimately beyond resolution. As Tanimbarese wrestle with new pasts and new futures the future of sculpture in Tanimbar seems as assured as is its past.

10. The Construction of Time III: The Jaman Moderen.

The jaman moderen is the contemporary age, an age of Christian belief, of the Unity in Diversity of the Indonesian peoples, and of development. It should, having all of these benefits, be a constant and glorious march towards ever greater wealth, bodily wellbeing, material comfort and personal happiness. The jaman moderen is the time of progress and its home is the West, seen both as the site of great material wellbeing as reflected by the mass-media and as the home of Christianity. There is a curiously double idea of the West in Tanimbar. On the one hand, I was told that the West was a place where there was a cure for every illness, a home for every person, a chicken in every pot, and the complete absence of suffering. On the other hand, however, I was also told that the West was a place of many ills – irreligiosity, drug abuse, sexual immorality, AIDS, extreme violence in the streets, gangsterism, and social decay. The question of the contradictory nature of the two opposed sets of ideas of the West in Tanimbar (and in Indonesia as a whole) is too complex to examine here, but even if the West is at times seen as the source of all iniquity in the world, there is another side of the West as the source of all that is desirable. With regard to the aspirations of the Tanimbarese it is the latter manifestation of the idea of the West that is relevant; with regard to their fears it is perhaps the former.

The art that the Tanimbarese produce to reflect their aspirations toward development and progress will be discussed in this chapter. This is work that, in contrast to the work discussed in the last section which seeks to root the present in an idea of the past, seeks instead to express new levels of identification which are based in the ideology of development, an ideology based in the conviction that Indonesia as a whole is developing, and continuing to develop, due to the heroic efforts of the government and the Indonesian people.

The sculptures that will be considered here can be divided into two broad categories: Christian art and Nationalist art. The first of these embraces such things as monumental cement works such as may be seen in Olilit Barn, Olilit Lama and Sifnana, small devotional figures, altar crosses and also decorative work such as doors or window frames, which often incorporate Christian symbols. The second embraces works such as “Garuda” figures (the Garuda is a mythical bird from Hindu legend which is now the emblem of the Indonesian state) and those works commissioned by government institutions or by individuals to express their patriotism and their identity as Indonesian citizens.
Christian Art in Tanimbar

Tanimbarese Christian art is generally of highly conservative nature, and often lacks in the freedom in the manipulation of iconography and of form that characterises much of the work which refers to the jaman pertengahan. Christian cosmology, of course, is future-orientated. Time began, and time will come to an end. It is the latter of these that is of present concern. Therefore it is that the ideology of development and the Christian conceptions of time are to some extent compatible in the sense that both look forwards to a better future.

Most Christian art in Tanimbar, if not all, is produced by and for Catholics. The Protestant church in Tanimbar does not commission works. This is not the case, however, in Ambon, where there are many elaborately decorated Protestant churches. However the work of Tanimbarese Catholics does to some extent highlight the problems of Christian identity for all Tanimbarese Christians, regardless of their affiliation.

Christ, for the Tanimbarese, is pink: from a subtle and refined blush tone to a more virulent and lurid puce. He appears neither with the skin tint of a contemporary Tanimbarese, nor with a colouration which might suggest some concern for historical accuracy. Although this may seem a rather crude point to make, it is clearly not without some significance in the implications it may have concerning the way in which the Tanimbarese view their own faith: the true image of Christ has a Western skin-tint and features. Those works which lie close to the ritual and conceptual “core” of the Catholic faith, the Cross and the Virgin as Intercessor, strictly, if not slavishly follow Western patterns in their iconographic programmes. Those patterns which they emulate are not, furthermore, those that are considered in the West as having particular artistic value, but rather the plaster saints of mass produced Catholic kitsch. The indigenously produced Tanimbarese variants (or invariants) upon these models are generally carved from wood, and painted. I was told by many sculptors that “religious” works had to be painted whilst tradisional works should be left uncoloured. The result is that these sculptures are often indistinguishable from their plaster-cast models. This automatically puts a ceiling on the price that can be asked for such a work, as plaster-casts are cheap to produce and imported en masse from Ambon.

One of the finest pieces of Tanimbarese Christian art which takes as its model Western Christian sculpture is the cross of Abraham Amelwatin in the Catholic Church of Alusi Krawain. There are similar crosses in the nearby churches of Meyano Das and Meyano Bab, both produced by Tanimbarese artists, but Abraham Amelwatin’s is considered to be the finest. On asking why this should be so, I was told it was because it was exactly like a “European cross.” This tendency to look to the West for models may change in the coming years, however. In late 1994 the last Dutch bishop of Amboina was replaced by an Indonesian successor, and the only remaining Dutch missionary in Tanimbar is due for retirement, and is expected to be replaced by an Indonesian successor. Whether the gradual dissociation of the Tanimbarese (or more generally, Indonesian) Christians from the leadership of Western priests will lead to new ways of conceptualising those images at the heart of the visual expressions of Catholic belief is not yet certain, but perhaps this reinvention and manipulation of Christian motifs can be seen as already occurring in those works which are more peripheral than central to the worship, ritual and ideology of Catholicism.

Two of these works will be considered below. These are not produced to be displayed in the confines of the church itself, but rather they are monuments to be displayed in the open air which express publicly the identity of the Tanimbarese as Christian. These works can be seen as a synthesis between the conflicting motifs and logics of the tradisional and the moderen orders, and thus are representative of a possible new direction in Tanimbarese Christian art.

The most extensive example of this type of work is that of Stanislaus Fenyapwain who has produced a set of sculptures displayed outside the church of Olilit Lama, and a monument for the church of Olilit Baru. The Olilit Baru sculture makes use of the boat as a central motif, something it has in common with much of this sculptor’s other work. The sculpture is made from earth-cast cement, and most of the finishing was carried out with a flattened dessert spoon. The base of the sculpture is modelled into the form of a boat, and this is surmounted by a panel exhibiting a relief carving of Adam and Eve, with the snake between them. They look upwards to a platform supported by four Greek-looking Ionic style pillars, and standing atop this platform is the figure of Christ the Sacred heart. Above Christ’s head is a light which is illuminated at night. There are at least two different ways of reading this rather complex work.

A traditional Christian reading in accordance with theological ideas of Sin and Redemption works quite well. Stanislaus Fenyapwain told me that the boat represented the vessel of Christ’s teachings. Thus Adam and Eve, representing Fallen Man (and Woman) are supported by the bark of Christ’s teaching which assures the possibility of their redemption as sinners. They look up at the figure of Christ, who is their Redeemer. Thus this is a story about time: about the beginning of what one might call ‘human time’ in Christianity with the moment of Original Sin; and about the end of this human and historical time with the coming of the Redeemer.

An alternative view of the sculpture, however, is as a work that speaks of the interrelationship between the dynamics of the tradisional and the moderen in Tanimbarese Life.This reading does not contradict the former one, but rather complements and enriches it, rooting the cosmic drama of Christian soteriology in Tanimbarese concerns.

It is possible to read off the motifs one by one, but with a more Tanimbarese framework; and this reading makes the sculpture incomparably richer. Beginning at the bottom, as has been seen, the base of the sculpture represents a boat. The boat fixed in stone – the natar is a deeply rooted Tanimbarese image. The concrete boat (which is its direct equivalent) therefore represents both fixity in the past – and doubly so because it not only refers back to what is considered as a part of the tradisional but also that part of the tradisional to which it refers itself represents the idea of fixity in the past – and at the same time it represents the motion of the village not through space (as wooden boats move) but through time. The location of the work is not without significance: outside the church of Olilit Barn, it is in the place which acts today as the direct equivalent of the natar ritual centre [McKinnon 1988. p. 160.]

The “prow board” of the boat is adorned with the spiral patterns of earlier Tanimbarese art, and is also characterised by the use of two motifs which, although small, are of considerable interest. In relief on the front of the boat are represented, on both port and starboard sides, small squatting figures and little lizards. The squatting figure is, as has been seen, the traditional pose of the walut which was either a representation of the ancestors or was seen as the site of their power, or both. The lizard is also linked to the ancestors, for it is through the lizard that the will of the ancestors becomes known. In adat ceremonies, according to those in Alusi Krawain, it is the chatterings of the lizards (cecak) which is the means by which the ancestors communicate with their descendants. Thus the boat motif not only is the equivalent of the stone boats that once stood at the heart of villages (and that conceptually still do), but also is marked with the signs of the ancestors and of their continuing voice in Tanimbarese society of the present. The boat is the setting of self-consciously traditional motifs in the very soil that bred them, and as such it stands as a fitting representation of the foundations of Tanimbarese identity. This reading of the boat may seem to be at odds with the reading given to me by Stanislaus Fenyapwain as the “vessel of Christ’s teachings,” yet it is perhaps in the containment of such contradictions within a single motif, and in the play of dual meanings at which Stanislaus Fenyapwain so excels, suggest that between Christian and Tanimbarese levels of identification there can perhaps be some resolution. It hints at the possibility of harmony between the jaman moderen and the jaman pertengahan.

The base of the sculpture is, however, in the selection of motifs, if not in the range of meanings given to them by the artist, wholly tradisional. In contrast the top of the work is wholly moderen. Here Christ stands, and in this most sublime light-becapped realm, there is no sign of any of the tradisional motifs that can be seen in the boat. In fact the figure of Christ was, significantly, the only part of the sculpture (except perhaps the pillars) which was not made in Tanimbar, but he was sent from Ambon. He surmounts the whole as a symbol of the higher worth of the moderen, and of the aspirations of the Tanimbarese.

Adam and Eve, on the other hand, seem to mediate between the two extremes of tradition and of modernity. Their flesh is European pink, as is Christ’s. They are not seen as being Tanimbarese. However they do sit in the posture and with the adornments of the ancestors. Their pose is strikingly similar to that of the little walut figures on the bows of the boat. Also they wear arm and leg bracelets which are seen as being a part of the tradisional. Thus in their substance they are not Tanimbarese, yet they are depicted as the ancestors of the Tanimbarese, which they of course are according to Christian belief. They are depicted as such by the addition of various accidental qualities – dress (what there is of it) and bodily posture.

Perhaps, then, this is another pointer to the solution to the difficulty of the tradisional/moderen conflict within Tanimbarese society. The solution is to become in substance modern, in thought, in social structure, in beliefs, in behaviour, and then to maintain tradition as a set of unessential cultural “accidents,” such as the different styles of ceremonial dress worn for special occasions, and different styles of artistic expression, without any roots in the deeper realities of modes of thought, behaviour and belief. Tradition is, in effect, reduced to a collection of attractive bangles, and the ancestors’ power is no more.

Another work which perhaps speaks of the interrelationships between Christianity and the tradisional within Tanimbar, although perhaps more obliquely, is the monument to the Dutch pastors Cappers and Klerks in Sifnana. Cappers and Klerks were the first two Dutch Catholic missionaries to establish a mission in Tanimbar. The monument is said to stand at the point where they (and hence Christianity) first set foot on Tanimbarese soil, disembarking just north of the present day village boundary. The monument was constructed in the late 1970s by “Pastor Egging and the people of Sifnana,” although it is difficult to gauge the extent to which the work was designed by the Dutch Pastor Egging, and to what extent by an artist or by artists from Sifnana. The monument represents the two brave men sailing to Tanimbar, one with a ramrod-straight back who, Bible in hand, peers commandingly through his extraordinary spectacles, and the other who stands brandishing a cross. The sun is behind them, and they glide in their small boat over a sea teeming with wildlife. On either side of the relief panel are side wings which are inscribed with details of the event the monument commemorates. In each of these wings there is a window through which the observer can peer out to sea.

Embedded in this seemingly modern sculpture there may be some typically Tanimbarese themes. It is tempting to see a parallel with the myth of Atuf discussed earlier, although such a connection can only be hypothesised. Atuf was a cultured individual who sailed to Tanimbar from the West, arriving first of all in Sifnana. By the miraculous agency of his lance he began to institute a new cultural order, finally spearing the sun into pieces and, begetting no offspring, become for the Tanimbarese their spiritual ancestor of the jaman pertengahan. Similarly Cappers (and his sidekick Klerks) sailed to Tanimbar from the West, and by the agency of the miracle-working cross, he too caused the transformation of time, and having instituted a further spiritual order in Tanimbar, he died without, we may presume, begetting any offspring. Is he not perhaps therefore the equivalent of Atuf, the spiritual ancestor of the jaman moderen? In this context the prominence of the sun (which Atuf caused to rise) may be of some significance in the background of the relief.

It is not my contention that this was a parallel that was consciously made, and it would be difficult to test my hypothesis some twenty five years after the construction of the piece. However the use of the boat motif is a typically Tanimbarese (a European artist might perhaps have depicted the moment of landing, for example in the iconography of Columbus’ coming to America) treatment of the subject matter. It may be that those who produced the sculpture were following a way of thinking, a logic, that is in a sense tradisional, a logic that also underlies the myth of the coming of Atuf, and that this myth, whether consciously or not, has formed the paradigm for the myth of the coming of Cappers and Klerks: the coming of a hero who, arriving in Tanimbar, effects the very transformation of time.

Nationalist Art in Tanimbar

It is not only in the production of Christian works that the Tanimbarese reflect the concerns and the aspirations of the jaman moderen, but also in the production of sculpture that can loosely be termed nationalist. These works, whether commissioned by individuals or by institutions reflects an identity of the Tanimbarese as citizens of the Indonesian state, and express the ideals and the aspirations of Indonesian nationalism. Of all the works I saw, it was the cycle in the SMA (High School) Budi, Saumlaki, by Stanislaus Fenyapwain which was the most complex and fully developed.

This work may be divided into three parts. The path of the school is flanked by two proud looking lions (described to me as lions – singa, despite their spotted coats) which open their mouths in silent roars. To the left of the path on entering the school grounds is a large monument which is rather more complex than the ferocious spotted lions. In some ways this monument acts as an analogue to the Christian work in Olilit Barn discussed above, although it is conceptually rather simpler. Beneath is a rather mysterious grey concrete face in relief which has been left unpainted. The origin of this is uncertain, however being unpainted, it is likely that is is tradisional, and the image recalls certain images used on heirloom gold pieces. In contrast to the greyness of this mysterious tradisional presence, whatever it actually does represent, is the bright yellow Garuda figure which, rather like a phoenix rising from the ashes spreads its wings above the sculpture below. The Garuda is the bird of Hindu mythology which has been adopted as the emblem of the Indonesian state being thereby transformed in the process into something not unlike the United States’ heraldic eagle. In its claws the Garuda holds the slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity, the motto of the Indonesian state. On the bird’s breast is a shield with the symbols of the Pancasila. The third part of the sculpture is the most revealing, for at the end of the lion-guarded path is the school flagpole. Here the weekly ceremony of the Indonesian flag, which is required of all schools and government offices every Monday, takes place. The flagpole is different here from in other schools, however, as it forms the mast of yet another concrete boat. The prow of this boat protrudes form the school, and the school itself forms the stern, so that the school itself can be seen as representing the stone boat that moves through time. The front of the boat is painted with symbols which were described to me as being tradisional, although I am uncertain as to their precise meaning.

Of this boat, the flagpole is the mast, and hence the flag is the sail. This suggests that although there is a unity (the school) expressed in the sculpted boat, it is a unity that only achieves its fruitful passage through time due to the activity of the Indonesian state: a boat without a sail only drifts. Thus the state is seen as being the animating principle that is essential for the continued success of the school’s “voyage” through time. The whole cycle unite two levels of identity, and tells of the proper relationship between the two. The tradisional is always subjugated to the moderen, the grey face of the past to the Garuda, the school’s passage contingent upon the vitality of the State. It expresses the way in which identity as Tanimbarese can be reconciled with identity as Indonesian if the former is contained by the latter. This sculptural cycle is a visual sermon on the words that the Garuda clutches in its talons: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.
The resolution of Contradictions

These sculptures that seek to unite or draw together different registers of identity – Christian, Indonesian, Tanimbarese – and hence resolve the contradictions between different ways of being in the world are all located close to Saumlaki, the main urban centre of Tanimbar. This is perhaps significant, for only in the town is the force of the indigenous order of the tradisional less strongly felt by the Tanimbarese. Hence it is not surprising that the works that seek to begin to resolve the tension between these different levels of identity should be produced not by those Tanimbarese who live in remoter villages, but by those who experience the forces of the moderen strongly enough to be able to break free a little of adat law. As communications improve it may be that these forms of sculpture begin to form a paradigm for other works which, not contented with the unsatisfactoriness of the present, seek to transcend the difficulties inherent in it to attain a state of unhindered growth, wealth, piety, and happiness, the future golden age of the moderen.

9. The Construction of Time 2: The Jaman Pertengahan.

The jaman pertengahan, the Middle Ages of Tanimbarese history, is the age of the ancestors, of a distinctively Tanimbarese way of life which embraces, as has been noted above, both the natural and the cultural orders. This ages was heralded by the coming of the nobleman Atuf with his sisters and his slaves from the island of Babar in the West, and made possible by the miraculous power of his lance which effected the severance of night and day, sea and land, male and female, and hence set into motion the dynamics of time, change and growth. [McKinnon 1983 pp. 41-42] This is the age of named culture heroes, for example the great So’u Melatunan who followed the “Portugis” (Dutch – see above) to Banda, Ambon, and eventually to Batavia, present day Jakarta. So’u returned with a great stock of valuables including a number of gold ornaments and “160 elephant tusks.” [McKinnon 1983 pp. 129-131 gives fuller details on So’u’s exploits with the Dutch.]

The jaman pertengahan is the site of the power of the ancestors, a time when the binding fabric of adat was much stronger than it is today. Indeed at this time it was adherence to or violation of adat that determined life and death. An example that was given to me was that of warfare. In the past, I was told, when the warriors of one village were to engage in battle with another village, the ritual functionary called the sori-luri would be called in to cast the augury. Sori-luri literally means “the bow of the boat.” In Tanimbar the village itself was, and to some extent still is, conceptualised as a boat, and this conceptualisation was made manifest in the sculpted stone boat platforms that once stood at the heart of certain villages, most famously Sangliat Dol, as ritual centres. Hence the sori-luri is the official who opens village meetings, and who precedes the village in the transaction of ritual business. The sori-luri would read auguries from the internal organs of the chicken, particularly the liver, and from this reading would be able to predict not only success or failure in warfare, but also the precise number of warriors of each side who would be slain. The reason he could do so with such accuracy is that adherence to adat ritual law or violation of adat could determine life and death. Thus those who had infringed the strictures of adat would die in battle, and those who had not so incurred the wrath of their ancestors would live even if ten or twenty men were to surround them with machetes. For if a warrior had not angered the ancestors, the blows would simply fail to strike home. As it was already determined who had infringed adat, thus it was also determined who would live and die. [See Drabbe p.348 (Ch. 26) for a more detailed account of the role of the sori-luri before battle. Also see Drabbe figs. 70 and 71 which show the process of augury.]

It is striking how similar accounts of this period in Tanimbarese history are across the archipelago, and there may be a number of reasons for this. There is a continuing unity in what the Tanimbarese characterise as tradisional in their lives, that is, a unity of cultural forms, beliefs and practices which are seen as being related to a specifically indigenous order, and which are both necessitated and validated by the nature of the jaman pentengahan. The continued existence of these social and cultural forms, in turn, validates this view of histroy. In this two-way dynamic, the idea of history, and the practices which both legitimise and are legitimised by it, are seen as fixed and unchanging, although they are constantly subject to renegotiation and change.

Although this tradisional order is still seen as a potent force by the Tanimbarese, and although practices and beliefs relating to this indigenous order are still both widespread and are of remarkable coherence, it is likely that since the time of McKinnon’s fieldwork in the early 1980s, which concentrates specifically on this indigenous order, it has considerably weakened. The Tanimbarese themselves recognise that this is the case, and see that both culture and nature are coming slowly in line with a moderen paradigm. It is not only due to the internal two-way dynamic that these forms have been subject to change, but also due to their interaction with and modification by cultural and social forces external to the Tanimbar islands – particularly the Indonesian state and the Church, but also by increased mobility of the Tanimbarese themselves and the increasing influence of the mass-media.

Against this background of dramatic social change, there is perhaps another factor that can account for the unity of conceptions of the jaman pentengahan (and hence Tanimbarese “tradition”) and this is the translation into Indonesian of Drabbe’s ethnography of the Tanimbar islands, Het Leven van den Tanembanees [Drabbe 1940]. Karel Mouw of Fordata’s translation has been widely circulated in the Tanimbar islands since its publication in 1981, and was well known to many Tanimbarese. Drabbe’s book is seen as the authoritative source on Tanimbarese “history”, and I was on a number of occasions given information of great detail, only to find that my informant’s source was directly from Drabbe. As the dynamics of social change and the penetration of non-indigenous cultural forms – from the doctrine of the Transubstantiation of the Host to the lures of Baywatch, from the singing of Indonesia Raya, the national anthem, to the crooning of Bryan Adams – play an ever increasingly important role in Tanimbarese life, the value of Drabbe as an authoritative source for the Tanimbarese themselves may well increase. With the breakdown of the tradisional, as it is represented from the inside, or of the Tanimbarese cultural order, as seen from the outside, over time, those Tanimbarese who seek to maintain a specifically Tanimbanese identity may find themselves relying ever more heavily upon Drabbe’s formidably detailed ethnographic account in their attempts to create, recreate and maintain this identity. As a description of the nature of the jaman pentengahan, therefore, the work of Drabbe is in the happy position of tending ever more toward absolute truth.

Being conceptualised as the site of a fixed, unchanging, and overbearingly powerful cultural order, although the ideology of the jaman pentengahan is in fact subject to modification and renegotiation, it is not surprising that the work of carvers who seek to reflect this age exhibit some measure of iconographic, if not always stylistic, unity. Not all Tanimbarese sculptors have an interest in the production of sculpture reflecting the middle ages of Tanimbarese history, for example, Yakobus Tirel of Lorwembun, and Raphael Labobar of Meyano Das only produce Christian devotional works. However for a greater number of Tanimbarese artists, this age of history is their main inspiration and subject matter. These works are in general not produced for whom I spoke emphasised that they represent a specifically Tanimbarese identity. The works of Tanimbarese sculptors concerned with the jaman pertengahan present an idea of Tanimbar to the outside world. As shall be seen, the presentation of an identity to the outside world in the work of sculptors who seek to portray the essence of the jaman pertengahan is a reversal of the function of the work of those sculptors who produce works which are concerned with the jaman moderen, works which seek to make manifest the nature and identity of the moderen world (that is the non-tradisional and hence non-Tanimbarese) to the Tanimbarese themselves. The market for those buying sculptures which speak of this time is external: to tourists and to collectors. For it is in search of the vestiges of the jaman pertengahan, the tradisional current in Tanimbarese life that tourists come to Maluku. It should be emphasised that what tourists generally are seeking, as is made clear from the tourist literature, is not only the “traditional” – songs, dances, ritual, but also the tradisional – magic, witchcraft, uniquely formed buffalo and strange goings on with the ancestors.

Although the main market for jaman pertengahan carvings is external, it is questionable whether they should be seen as “tourist arts,” a term that suggests mass production, instant availability for sale, and a rather more sophisticated manipulation of tradisional ideology for economic ends than I found. It is a simple fact that what the Tanimbarese themselves value in their history – tales of warriors, magic and heroism – is a saleable commodity; but it is not valued, primarily, for its saleability.

Carving reflecting this age of history can be divided into two broad, if overlapping classes: those that draw upon traditional iconographic patterns, and those that develop new iconographies yet still refer back to events, characters or particular characteristics of the jaman pertengahan. This division is not one that is made within Tanimbar, and is not particularly clear-cut, however it is a useful distinction to be made for the purposes of analysis.

The first category, then, can be seen as being iconographically, and to some extent stylistically, closely related to the kind of carvings produced in the precolonial era, that is before the 1920s when the production of sculpture concerned with an indigenous Tanimbarese order began to come to an end. Bearing in mind the break that occurred in the tradition of sculpture within Tanimbar, a break of at least a generation if not more, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the sources for these works. The first is still extant antik works within the Tanimbars, such as the ten lur, luvu dalam figures, and so on. Although there are not as many of these works as there once were, due to theft or to sale to Western buyers, many houses (mata rumah) still possess sculptures predating the first mission in Tanimbar. The other source is from photographs in (largely) Western produced publications, many copies of which are in circulation within Tanimbar.

These sculptures could be further subdivided into three classes: those that use old iconographic patterns as a basis but do not strictly follow the forms of past works, copies of works (normally produced to order), and fakes. Many squatting ancestor figures could be seen as occupying the first category. Their overall iconographic pattern is related to earlier Tanimbarese art, but is embellished upon and reinvented according to contemporary concerns. Copies are also occasionally made to order for Western buyers. Generally the sculptor will provide photographs or photocopies of examples, and the buyer will be able to choose one for commissioning. Many of these copies are considerably smaller than the originals, due to the limitations of cost. A number of sculptors with whom I spoke had produced tavu and kora ulu for buyers. Fakes are also made in Tanimbar: I was told that even well-known collectors had on occasion fallen for a patung mandi (bathroom sculpture), a sculpture that had been stored for a few months or years in the dankest corner of the bathroom until it looked suitably venerable for sale at an inflated price. However this is uncommon practice in general, largely because there is not enough information within Tanimbar as to the stylistic and iconographic forms of older works to produce good enough fakes. Although information on such a delicate subject as forgery is impossibly difficult to garner, I would imagine that a larger proportion of fake Tanimbarese sculptures that are available on the world market are produced not in Tanimbar, but in Ambon or even Java. Interestingly enough the market for fakes of contemporary Tanimbarese sculpture seems larger than that for traditional sculpture: in Jakarta the production of “Tumburese” figurines is big business.

It was noted above that there is an inherent contradiction between the condition of modernity and the condition of the tradisional. Sculptors who work to produce pieces which refer back (or across) to the jaman pertengahan are therefore engaging a pursuit that is to some extent fraught with difficulties. Two works will be considered to see if and how these contradictions are resolved.

The work of Abraham Amelwatin is of particular interest and significance to the problem under discussion. Before engaging in a discussion of the iconography of one of his works, his method of working, and its ritual environment must be reconsidered.

Abraham Amelwatin is able to sculpt as a result of the massed weight of his ancestors who guide his hand as he works, and who work through him. The work he produces is not only his own, but also that of the source from which he himself came. As he is the creation of the ancestors, so is the sculpture he creates. It is for this reason that he claims that he wishes to have no credit for the work he produces: he is just the culmination of those who went before him. Recalling that the three ages of history are in fact not so much bounded ages in time, but conditions of existence, or ways of being in the world, in the process of production Abraham Amelwatin actually moves out of the condition of modernity into the jaman pertengahan. In acting as the agency for the power of his ancestors, he leaves the jaman moderen and enters the Tanimbarese “middle ages”: this is only figurative if we are bound to seeing time as calendar time; but when we see time as consisting of differing (and conflicting) orders or possibilities of order, then this entry into another time becomes literal. From his initial ritual observances when he prays to the ancestors for their help in the production of the carving he is to make, he defines the process of his work as tradisional. His whole process of work is bounded by ritual, from the cutting of wood which he does individually for each sculpture rather than keeping wood in store, to the completion of the piece. Throughout the process of sculpting the work, the sculpture is ritually “hot” (panas) and dangerous. Only on completion, when the ancestors have finished their work in guiding his hand, can they be asked for their approval in handing over the sculpture through the cooling ritual of the mandi adat, which severs the link between the work and the ancestral power. This mandi adat closes that which the initial prayers begin – the ancestors are invoked, and then finally their blessing is asked and they retire from the scene.

The work of Abraham Amelwatin begins its life as being a part of the jaman pertengahan, and moves into a condition of modernity with the enactment of the mandi adat. Before this time the work obeys Tanimbarese laws – it is dangerous and “hot” – and after this time it obeys the laws of the moderen world – it is just a sculpture.

This is not necessarily the case with the work of other artists in Tanimbar. Many claim no particular ancestral presence in the process of carving, saying that their ability was attained through study, or through “natural talent” (bakat alam). However the work of Abraham Amelwatin is not, of course, untouched by contemporary concerns, and although it is the product of an “earlier” age of Tanlinbarese history, it is also moulded by the fact that its creator himself moves, as do all Tanimbarese, between the indigenous order and the modern order; and a close look at his works some extentsuggests a way in which the inherent tension between these two ways of being in the world can be resolved.

The work which will be considered is one that I have selected as much for its great beauty and technical brilliance as for any particular iconographic interest. It shows as well as any work the way in which the tension between the two states of being common in Tanimbar may reach a resolution. The sculpture represents a witch (swangi). Conditioned by Western images of witches as gnarled ladies in black hats and riding on broomsticks with scrawny black cats in tow, it will be necessary to consider the very different nature of witches in the Tanimbar islands for the contradictory nature of this sculpture to be revealed.

Witches are still, it is said, rife in Tanimbar. They are difficult to tell from others, having no particular defining marks or characteristics visible to the naked eye. However they may be known by their deeds, and their deeds are clearly malicious. The witch is at the bottom of the hierarchy of human importance, and interestingly at the top of the hierarchy of human impotence. The “weightiest” members of society are those nobles (mela) who belong to named houses which possess the most significant heirloom valuables. It is this gold that makes them weighty, rooting them in the past. Below these mela are those nobles who belong to houses with less weight to them, but who have to their name attached unnamed houses. There are constant renegotiations and reorderings of this hierarchy, but below the level of the nobles are the commoners, who are weighty only insofar as they are connected to a named house with which they have an “elder-younger brother” (adik-kakak) relationship. Below the commoners were once the slaves, although there are no longer any slaves in Tanimbar, on account of the disapproval of both the Church and the Indonesian state. The slaves are marginal and entirely unweighted. condemned just to run around on the periphery of society at their masters’ behest.

Witches too are seen as being light, insubstantial and flighty. They share with slaves a position at the bottom of the human hierarchy of being. Due to their lightness, they are able to fly from place to place and to inhabit the bodies of others. They are the antipathy of the weight of the nobles, the epitome of lightness [McKinnon 1992 pp 259-261] The particular witch in Abraham Amelwatin’s sculpture is a woman, although witchcraft is not, as it was in Western Europe, seen as being predominantly the preserve of women. She also has four arms, and a most ornate halo which is made up of the complex interlocking spirals which characterised much earlier Tanimbarese art, although she is in many ways a distinctly un-Tanimbarese creation. The source for the form of this work was a photograph or photocopy of a sculpture in stone, and it seems likely (the copy was either unavailable or lost) that the model was a Hindu or Hindu-Buddhist sculpture from one of the great court cultures of Java. It may be of recalled that the religion of the jaman pertengahan is seen by the Tanimbarese as being Hindu, which to the Tanimbarese means “without formal religion.” Thus for the production of a sculpture representing all that was bad in the jaman pertengahan, for witchcraft is also the height of undesirability if not of evil, it may be that the use of Hindu or Hindu influenced motifs was felt appropriate.

The most significant feature of this witch is that around her neck is the beautifully carved representation of an heirloom valuable. As has been seen, these valuables are seen as the epitome of weight and of fixity. What, then, are they doing around the neck of something as flimsy and insubstantial as a witch?

Heirloom valuables, or heirloom valuables of any ritual significance and weight, are today very uncommon in Yamdena. The ritual heart of the exchange networks that crisscross the Tanimbar islands is the lolat ila’a network that stretches between Fordata and Larat in the northeast to Sera in the west. The role of heirloom valuables in Yamdena is therefore not nearly as significant as it is in these other areas. Perhaps such a work as Amelwatin’s swangi could not have been produced in Sera, for it seems that in this work the heirloom valuable has been transformed from a token of fixity and weight into a sign of Tanimbarese identity. Thus the wearing of heirloom valuables signifies the witch as Tanimbarese when once it would have nonsensically signified her as a noble (mela), and there is no longer any contradiction in the work, and the sculpture therefore represents a changing idea of Tanimbareseness. The impossible pairing of witch and valuables both robs the witch of her terrifying lightness, and the valuables of their equally awesome weight and power. The gold is no longer seen as that which roots the present social order in the past, but rather it points to the existence of an identity as Tanimbarese, with a particular set of outward signs which constitute this identity. Perhaps, then, there is no more fitting indication of the way in which the outward signs of Tanimbarese culture are being disembedded from social forms and the vestiges of indigenous ideology than the witch who dons the gold for which, we may imagine, she has long yearned.

Abraham Amelwatin’s witch is an unique sculpture. Although it refers to and comments upon the jaman pertengahan , and although it is the result of a process that is itself a part of this order, the sculpture itself represents a break from this order. However, there are many works across Tanimbar that use the traditional form of the walut as an iconographic pattern. One such work is that of a mela by Stanislaus Fenyapwain. The work, carved in ebony, was performed with the use of a kitchen knife and a machete for roughing out the original form. It is a remarkably precise piece of sculpture given the limitations of the tools used. The figure combines two separate elements of earlier Tanimbarese art into a unity that is underpinned by Tanimbarese ideology. As a sculpture it is half natar (village-boat) and half walut (ancestor figurine.) The small work, some four inches high, depicts a nobleman, probably the sori-luri, sitting at with his back resting against a carved prow-board, that represents the stone seat in the centre of the village. Carved stone prow boards, the fixed analogue to the kora ulu, can still be seen in the villages of Sangliat Dol and Arui Bab. The natar which was as noted above conceptually the heart of all villages, and made concrete in the construction of the stone structures which can be seen in these two villages, affirms the fixity of the village (being of stone) but also its potential for outward motion through time (being a boat), and was hence orientated seaward. In his hands the mela holds an offering bowl, and his legs are crossed beneath him. The actual form of the figure is that of the ancestor figurines of past Tanimbarese art, but the sculpture differs from these early works. The figure wears a loincloth, whereas many walut were naked, and, unlike most walut, he bears the trappings of a Tanimbarese nobleman – the luluku armbands that show that he has taken a head in warfare and again, around his neck, a gold heirloom valuable. Although the tavu was traditionally shown with carved representations of such valuables, walut were not. The reason for the clothing of the figure in Tanimbarese dress is that the sculpture, although drawing on traditional iconography, also draws upon a narrative and descriptive approach to the Tanimbarese past. The walut, as the representation of the ancestors and the site of their power has lost much, but by no means all, of its force. This contemporary walut therefore draws upon an idealised conception of Tanimbarese tradition, and seeks to depict this. Stanislaus Fenyapwain’s sculpture represents the sori-luri sitting on his stone seat in the middle of the village, preceding the village in its ritual business. The walut is therefore given the clothing and the trappings of Tanimbareseness (for it would be unseemly and ignoble for him to squat naked in the middle of the village).

Such a walut is very different from its earlier and quite naked models. It seeks to encapsulate a specifically Tanimbarese identity, yet it lacks the inherent power of the luvu dalam and the other walut which it imitates? As such it speaks of very contemporary concerns with the importance of forging a sense of Tanimbareseness, whilst it is free of the constricting power of the tradisional, and of the ancestors which it represents.

Many other examples could be cited of the ways in which contemporary Tanimbarese art works upon the idea of the tradisional and, to some extent, robs it of its sting. In doing so it leaves the way open for the progress of the final age of Tanimbarese history, opening the door onto the jaman moderen.

8. The Construction of Time I: The Jaman Purba.

The following three sections will be a consideration of the ways in which Tanimbarese artists use these concepts of tradition, history and modernity, in an attempt to transcend the problem of the contradiction between the tradisional and the moderen in their lives, whilst seeking an identity for themselves as Tanimbarese. The study will concentrate on the way in which the tradisional is modified and stripped of its power such that it is no longer a a force hindering progress (kemajuan) but rather it is tamed and brought under control so that it too may play a part in overcoming the unsatisfactoriness of the present. The three ages will be considered in turn, before turning to the work of the carvers of Tumbur who possess a social and economic framework which is perhaps uniquely conditioned to overcome this problem.

Sculptures which reflect or refer to the jaman purba are highly uncommon in Tanimbar, and there is no extant sculpture from this ‘age’, as it was a time (or a condition) which was (or is) inherently acultural, and as such could not be the source of any cultural artifacts. However the lack of contemporary carvings produced as a reflection of this age is worth some consideration. One of the main reasons is that the demands of the market are such that the production of such works might be uneconomic. There are two main markets for sculpture in Tanimbar: either Western or Westernised buyers, or Tanimbarese. The former are generally looking for work which is specifically Tanimbarese, that is, work which reflects a Tanimbarese culture and corresponds to the Guide-book image of the Tanimbars as the “Islands of Gold, Dances and Treasure,” a kind of vibrant tropical Paradise of continual song and magic; the latter seek work that reflects the concerns of the jaman moderen – mainly religious and nationalist works. However there is no such clear market for work reflecting the chaos of the most ancient of ages in Tanimbar.

However it is possible that there is a deeper reason for the scarcity of works reflecting the jaman purba. The jaman moderen and the jaman pertengahan are both well defined, whereas the jaman purba is, in comparison, chaotic, undefined, undifferentiated, acultural, atemporal, and lacking in any kind of form of its own. It is the age of uncertainty and of flux, and as such the fixity of the art of sculpture is inappropriate to its nature: this age is not one that can be represented, and certainly not in the concrete medium of wood and stone.

Of the sculptors with whom I had the opportunity to spend time whilst on Tanimbar, there was only one whose work was particularly concerned with this age, and this was Matias Fatruan of Rumahsalut, Sera. He produces figures in wood, stone and bone, characterised by their chaotic and confused natures. For example I was shown a “figure with twelve heads and wings,” which was described, as were all his works reflecting this age, as an “unperfected human.” (manusia belum sempurna). The iconographic form of the work, which was unlike anything else I saw whilst on Tahimbar was, according to others in the village of Rumahsalut, similar to certain composite sculptures from the islands to the West of Tanimbar; although this may have been a way of claiming on Sera that ‘those people to the West are not as cultured as we are.’

Sadly, I was unable to photograph any of Matias Fatruan’s works, it has not been possible to check this relationship. The sources of Fatruan’s iconography are probably complex. He possesses a large number of photocopies of ‘traditional art’ from throughout Indonesia, from which he borrows freely – this borrowing from a wider corpus of art considered to be ‘traditional’ or even ‘primitive’, is not uncommon in Tanimbar. It is clear that he also draws inspiration from indigenous (if non-visual) sources, such as those of mythology and legend. Other of Matias Fatruan’s works reflecting this period of history that I was shown were 3 figures with “sharp heads” (kepala tajam – the are stories in Drabbe of people with sharp heads) and people with horns (manusia bertanduk). These horned figures seem to be related to earlier South East Moluccan art. In Sera it was also generally agreed that people from the jaman purba age had pointed tails, and the iconography of certain of Matias Fatruan’s figures did at times approach Western iconographic conventions for the representation of Satan. The connection with the Devil was never expressed directly to me, and the suggestion that the figure was the Devil received a curiosly non-committal response, as if either I had suggested something so bizarre as to be incomprehensible, or something so distasteful as to be worthy of being ignored. However it should be noted that the Seran Protestant brand of Christianity is particularly fervent, and perhaps there is an implicit connection between the sculpture of the unperfected Tanimbarese in the age of chaos, and the very personification of chaos itself in the Christian faith. Such a thesis would, however, require to be tested by further research into the nature of Seran conceptions of Christianity.

The emphasis that Matias Fatruan placed upon the jaman purba is an anomaly that may have several causes. Due to the nature of his disability, the production of such “unperfected” sculptures may have a particular personal motivation. Also the Serans – and not only Mathias Fatruan – seemed to place more emphasis upon the jaman purba than did the Yamdenan Tanimbarese. In Yamdena I did not meet a single sculptor whose work regularly reflected the jaman purba.

Despite the scarcity of sculpture representing the jaman purba, this age of flux is itself essential to the definition of the following age, the great age of Tanimbarese culture: the jaman pertengahan.

5. The Sculptor in Society.

Life in contemporary Tanimbar is one of a complex of interacting forces, a fact that is keenly felt by the Tanimbarese. In the early 1980s, when Susan McKinnon carried out her fieldwork in the islands, she was, she says, surprised by the extent to which both the church and the Indonesian state had penetrated all aspects of life in Tanimbar [1992. p.lO] Since the time of McKinnon’s research these twin influences have both strengthened, and it seems from my observations that what McKinnon calls the “indigenous Tanimbarese order” has further lost some of its force. It is more common to hear the ideology of the Church or expositions upon the meaning and importance of Pancasila Democracy (the Indonesian democratic programme based upon five “moral principles”) than to hear tell of Atuf, the great culture hero of Tanimbar. The strains of pop music from Irian Jaya, and the accompanying synchronised dance movements, can be much more frequently seen than can the tnabar ila’a or “great stomp dance” of which McKinnon writes. The lures of satellite television and videos of Arnold Schwarzeneggar or of cheap kung-fu films are the preferred forms of entertainment. Many Tanimbarese of an older generation bemoan the fact that their children and grandchildren are unable to speak the local languages of Tanimbar, speaking only Indonesian, and neither do they have any desire to learn about what they see as the culture of Tanimbar.

Yet despite this, it can be seen that there is a complex of ideologies, of ideas, of ways of thought, of practices that, despite the influence of the mass media, the Indonesian state and the Church, can be seen to represent some form of “indigenous Tanimbarese order,” although it is clearly an order modified to some extent by those other cultural factors at play in Tanixnbarese society.

Against this complex background of interacting, contrasting and often conflicting strains, the Tanimbarese negotiate their lives, and it is this tapestry which forms the background to the works of the sculptors of Tanimbar. As might be expected given this diversity of cultural and ideological strands, the work of Tanimbarese sculptors exhibits a striking diversity and variety. However in this bewildering diversity of forms, there are a number of constant factors with respect to conditions of work, methods of work, and the economic framework within which Tanimbarese sculptors produce their artworks. There are also a surprising number of fundamental unities in the concepts that underlie the production of sculpture in Tanimbar.

The work of the sculptors of Tumbur differs from the pattern set in other villages for a variety of reasons. Whereas in most villages there are only one or two sculptors, if at all, in Tumbur there is a complex system of production and marketing involving, to some extent, the whole of the village. With more than eighty sculptors working in Tumbur (and this is a conservative estimate) the Tumburese inhabit a very different social and economic world from the other sculptors to whom I spoke. The subject has been given much fuller treatment by Lenssen [1993] yet to the extent that the work of the Tumburese carvers is also the work of Tanimbarese artists, the background set out below is of limited relevance to the work of the Tumburese.

However in this section the term “Tanimbarese,” does not include those sculptors from Tumbur. This is not to claim that the sculptors of Tumbur are somehow not Tanimbarese, for they assuredly are and it would be absurd to suggest otherwise: but the style of their artistic production – the ‘school’, one might say, of which they are a part, using the term loosely – is Tumburese, first and foremost.

Sculpture in Tanimbar is practised, to my knowledge, only by men. Although there is nothing to indicate that it forbidden for women to sculpt, sculpture lacking the associations of “heat” and danger that traditionally male activities are believed to have had, perhaps a sculpting woman would be considered unseemly. McKinnon notes that female activities are generally those which are concerned with binding, weaving and recomposing (basketry, the weaving of ikat cloth, the binding together of shell armbands) whereas male activities are characterised by their differentiative powers (traditionally, the cutting of elephant tusks and the severing of heads. [McKinnon 1992 Ch.8) Carving, involving as it does a differentiating, a cutting and a severing, would seem to fall more comfortably into the preserve of men. In Tumbur women finish the work of their husbands with sandpaper and files, but they come no closer to the practice of sculpture.

Some trades in Tanimbar, such as the casting of gold or the cutting of elephant tusks, required a particular hereditary right to be practised, yet sculpture does not seem to be a trade for which there was such a monopoly [Drabbe 1940 p.172 (Ch 13)] This being the case, however, it has already been seen that there are individuals who are believed to have a hereditary ability to produce good carvings, a kekuatan mata rumah, and due to the hereditary nature of this ability, it would seem that in the past there were also such specialists.

Carving is a marginal activity in Tanimbar. There are not many sculptors throughout the archipelago, with the obvious exception of in the village of Tumbur. On the basis of the data I have collected, it would be difficult to make any firm assertions as to the number of carvers in the islands. I was told that many Tanimbarese actually could carve, but most of them had little cause, time or inclination to do so. Many sculptors are also reluctant to reveal themselves as such, either for fear that their designs may be “stolen through the eyes” (curi mata) or through excessive modesty. However I would propose as a rough estimate for the number of Tanimbarese sculptors (outside of Tumbur) working on a fairly regular basis as around twenty five. This is admittedly a very low incidence, yet the work of the sculptors of Tanimbar is of value not only in the extent of the phenomenon nor in the technical quality of the work itself (which anyway is highly variable) but in the way that the multiplicity of forms of Tanimbarese sculpture reflects, in a direct and vivid way, the complexity of the society of which it is a product.

Economically the work of sculptors played a similar role for virtually all Tanimbarese sculptors. Only one sculptor, Matias Fatruan, had ever relied upon sculpture a a main means to livelihood. Due to a fall from a coconut palm in the 1960s in which he lost the use of both of his legs, Matias Fatruan found himself unable to work in the plantation (kebun), as do most Tanimbarese. He turned to sculpture and goldsmithing as a means to income. Now his family is old enough to work in the kebun which provides both staples, and a cash income through the twice yearly copra crop, he is producing sculpture less frequently and no longer works in gold. Matias Fatruan is the exception to the general pattern in which sculpture is used as an irregular, but not at times unlucrative, means to earning money.

It was difficult to collect precise data on the standard prices of sculptures sold by these artists to fellow Tanimbarese, perhaps because such a standard does not exist. However the price of small private devotional work, for example a Holy Family group, with a height of around thirty centimetres would perhaps range from 5,000Rp to 10,000Rp (around US$2.50-US$5.00 at the time of writing) whereas a large crucifix for a church might, if bought rather than donated cost about 200,000Rp (approximately US$100) or above. If such a large scale work were donated, the commissioning individual or body would be expected to provide as a “gift” sufficient compensation to make up for the time lost in the kebun, usually a sack of rice, or the monetary equivalent, about 25,000Rp (US$12.50). Sales of works to outsiders is often subject to much more widely divergent price ranges, and the types of sculpture that outsiders are expected to buy are different to those that are made for internal sale.

Very few Tanimbarese could understand my interest in contemporary religious (Christian) art, as this is an artform produced specifically for consumption within Tanimbar. External purchasers tend to buy works which relate to a “history” of Tanimbar. The characteristics of this history will be discussed later in the study, but these works are what the Western art market might call “traditional.” In most areas except Tumbur price is dependent upon perceived ability to pay. My perceived ability to pay gave rise to prices somewhat higher than for the devotional works mentioned above. For example a small contemporary sculpture made from bone, approximately ten centimetres in height, was offered to me with a starting price of 500,000Rp (US$250) but this price came down to about half this before the offer of sale was withdrawn. In another case, prices between 250,000Rp (US$125) and 20,000Rp (US$10) were quoted to me by different commentators for a fifty centimetre wooden sculpture. The highest price was quoted by the sculptor, and this provoked angry reactions as it was seen to be a highly inflated price. Thus the work which others in the village had earlier praised as priceless was then denigrated as worthless. “You can’t eat a sculpture, it’s a waste of money,” they said, not without contempt.

A greater proportion of the sculptors I met with work to order negotiating each commission separately rather than producing works to stockpile for later sale. Sculpture is produced in times of financial need or, for example, if the kebun fails to yield a sufficient crop upon which to live, and then sold in Saumlaki to Indonesian Chinese traders or, on occasion, direct to tourists.

The church is one of the major patrons of sculpture within Tanimbar, and a number of Catholic churches possess indigenously produced works. Furthermore a number of other commissions by the church have gone to Tanimbarese sculptors, for example the monumental works outside the churches of Olilit Lama and Olilit Barn by Stanislaus Fenyapwain, the boat-altar of the church of Olilit Lama also by Stanislaus Fenyapwain, and the monument in Sifnana attributed to “the people of Sifnana under the direction of Pastor Egging.” It is difficult to ascertain, almost twenty years after the construction of this monument whether the rather splendid design is that of Pastor Egging himself or that of an artist from Sifnana. There are also monumental works outside the church of Alusi Batjasi, but these are imported from Ambon, as are a large proportion of the sculptures within Tanimbarese churches.

Another source of work for sculptors is in the production of carvings related to nationalist concerns and ideologies. An example is the complex of works in the SMA (High School) Budi and in the SMP (Middle School) Santa Paulus in Saumlaki. The primary school in Sifnana also has a work that could been seen to exhibit both Christian and Nationalist tendencies, depicting Christ with a schoolchild in the red and white uniform (red and white being the colours of the Indonesian flag) of Indonesian primary schoolchildren.

Direct sale to tourists is, for most Tanimbarese sculptors, erratic, although a number of sculptors have been lucky enough to receive mass orders from Western buyers and collectors. However, in general, the infrequency of tourists in the more isolated areas of Tanimbar means that for many sculptors, the costs of travelling to Saumlaki, where most of the tourist activity is centred, is prohibitive. At the time of writing this was approximately 10,000Rp or US$5 for the return trip from Sera or the area around Alusi and Meyano where a number of sculptors are based. The cost of the bus trip from Tumbur to Saumlaki is only 1,000Rp for the round trip (about US$0.50) and so for the Tumburese the journey is much more viable. Also given the mass-produced nature of the Tumburese’ work in contrast to the one-off sculptures of artists elsewhere, it is difficult for many sculptors to compete with the often much lower prices of the Tumburese.

A final source of custom is from individuals who may request a devotional or nationalist work to be sculpted for their homes, or a particular rukun (literally “pillar”: a social or work division) may commission a piece. An example of this is in the work of Raphael Labobar in Meyano Das, who has produced figures of Saint Visensius and Saint Francis for two such rukun.

The question of the relationship between social class and the art of sculpture within Tanimbar could not be answered without a good deal of further research into the social background of many of the villages where I worked. As Drabbe notes, sculpture is not the prerogative of any particular mata rumah, and so carving, unlike work in gold and ivory, is not necessarily perceived as a noble activity. However a number of sculptors whom I interviewed clearly were members of “named” houses, and hence it seems that there is nothing ignominious or ignoble about the production of sculpture. In Tumbur carving is carried out by those of all social classes, but it is difficult to ascertain if this is the case elsewhere. I would suggest that if indeed there were a relationship between social class and the production of sculpture it is tenuous.

Despite the scattered nature of the the sculptors of Tanimbar, living in widely distanced geographical locations, and the diversity of their work, they all have a similar background of social and economic conditions. In addition to this social and economic background, there is a background of concepts and ideologies, a unity of ways of thinking, which unites the works of the often idiosyncratic and individual sculptors of Tanimbar into an overall pattern. It is to these concepts that this study will now turn.

6. Past, Present, Future: Time, Art and History in Tanimbar

Through the study of a wide cross-section of Tanimbarese carving, it has become appan that underlying the diversity of forms there is a binding and ordering set of ideas and principles. Talk of sculpture in Tanimbar inevitably tends towards conversation about history. It is Tanimbarese ideas of history that the contradictory and conflicting natures of different forms sculpture are collapsed into a unity that contains them, however temporarily, tenuously – and possibly even dangerously.

In Tanimbar, history is generally seen as divided into three broad ages. In different parts of the archipelago, and when conversing with different speakers, these ages were talked about using differing terminology; yet the general pattern remains surprisingly constant. Very frequently the Tanimbarese will only talk of two ages, yet in the more distant past there is always a third, which they often find difficult to speak of. The reason for this difficulty shall become clear. It should al be noted that a fourth age is often added to bring the whole to completion, particularly in Protestant areas, and this is the coming age of Christ, of the Kingdom of Heaven, expected to begin, by many Tanimbarese, in the year two thousand. There is however no eschatological art in Tanimbar, and the hopes or fears of this fourth age are not directly expressed in the sculpture of the Tanimbarese.

This section will set out the general characteristics of these three ages in broad terms and consider how this overall scheme of history is conceived. This will be followed by consideration of the way this particular structuring and conception of history is seen to influence the present, presenting both opportunities for growth, and rooting the Tanimbarese in the past, a conception of history both liberating and constricting. Then the work of Tanimbarese carvers will be examined in if light of these ideas concerning the meanings and significance of the passage of time within Tanimbar.

For the purposes of this study, I will use the terminology that was used by Matias Fatruan of Rumahsalut in Sera, who gave one of the most extended expositions upon Tanimbarese ideas of history, and for whom this history is perceived as a living force more sharply than for many other sculptors. However the same sets of ideas and beliefs informed the work of other sculptors and the lives of the Tanimbarese with whom I spent time, and I shall use these term in perhaps a broader sense than they were first described to me, so that they can contain the diversity of data collected. Matias Fatruan called the three ages the jaman purba (ancient age), the jaman pertengahan (middle age) and the jaman moderen (modern age).

Myths are not very frequently told today in Tanimbar, yet a consideration of Tanimbarese myth will serve to illuminate the characteristics of the first two of these ages, and suggest thc nature of the relationship between them. The most tremendous event in the history of Tanimbar must have been the fateful coming of Atuf and his three sisters. Atuf was a nobleman, perhaps from the island of Babar to the West of Tanimbar, and he came to Tanimbar as a result of a grave insult to his noble lineage. The place he found must have been very different from the island it is today. Drabbe was given the following description of the place:

At this time, the sky was low, so low, that the sun could not come up. Sometimes it appeared on the eastern horizon, but since it was much larger than it is now, and – above all – the sky much lower, it had to remain on the horizon and the people made of of this time to eat and fetch water, firewood, provisions, because later the sun went away again, and it remained night for a long time; there were still no moon or stars yet. [Quoted in McKinnon 1983]

This was a time when all was in a state of undefinition and flux. There was no clear distinction between earth and sky, the earth was folded in upon itself, and even male and female were not yet split apart, so that the sister of Atuf had “taboo parts” that were “half man-half woman”. At this time, I was told, men went naked and had the heads of animals, or they had two heads, sometimes more. Others were graced with horns, fur or tails. Even the human and the animal were not yet distinct The moon was contained within the sun and the sun was contained within the horizon, thus the motion of the days and the months ad not yet begun. The jaman purba thus stood outside of time, and time itself did not exist. Thus perhaps to speak of it as an age at all is wrong, for there was nothing to define it as such, and it is this lack of definition that makes it difficult to speak of.

The coming of Atuf and of Inkelu his androgynous sister, was to change all this. By wile or by virtue the nobleman acquired a magical lance which held the power to split apart the capes and the mainland, to open up springs by striking the ground, and to bring into being the beginning of time.

Seeing the sorry state of Tanimbar, Atuf took it upon himself to perform the ultimate act of separation: to spear the sun into pieces, and so he set out by boat to the east with his spear in pursuit of this goal. On nearing the sun, some say he rubbed his body in coconut milk to protect himself from the searing heat, and that he sheltered in the shade of a plank through which he had bored a hole. When he was close enough, he hurled the spear into the sun, and it burst apart into a myriad of shards. A large part flew off and became the moon, the tiny fragments became the stars, and the sun, now lighter perhaps, was able to rise for the first time.

The motion of the sun had begun, and hence that of day and night. The moon too now began to mark the passing of the months and the seasons. In thrusting his spear into the glowering furnace of the sun, Atuf had achieved no less than the bringing time itself into being.

Thus began the middle ages of Tanimbarese history. Sadly neither Atuf nor Inkelu were around to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Inkelu was, some say, beheaded, and Atuf, on returning from the east, turned to stone due to inadvisedly defecating on a taboo island.

The action of Atuf shattered the once stagnant and unfertile unity of the world, and set in motion a radical mobility for which he paid dearly by being converted to a state of radical fixity. Peoples were scattered in great migrations, and what was a chaos of inactivity was replaced by a chaos of activity. The forces of change and growth were unchecked but eventually the migrating populations settled into villages and there arose a cultural order that contained these dynamic forces within a unity that was, unlike the unity of the jaman purba, able to encompass the dynamics of growth, yet also able to forge a stability in time and space. This unity was that of the jaman pertengahan.

So what characteristics did this age have? Firstly it stood in stark contrast to the jaman purba. Whilst the earlier age was one of an overbearingly oppressive natural order, there being no culture at that time, the jaman pertengahan was the age of an overbearingly cultural order. This was an age in which the power of the ancestors and of adat ritual law controlled the forces of life and death, and the very forces of nature. It should be noted that Atuf himself, who ushered in this age, was a cultured individual. He was a mela, a nobleman. By the skillful use of his miraculous lance he was responsible for the unfolding of the enclosed and claustrophobic character of the natural world. The cultural order of the jaman pertengahan was so strong that it could exert control over the natural order. The weather, success in the hunt, and calm seas could all be attained by cultural means.

This time was also that of the great works of Tanimbarese art from the past. The tavu, the ten lur, the tnabar ila’a dance, all these are rooted in the jaman pertengahan. The middle ages of Tanimbarese history were the site of Tanimbarese culture and identity. In this time there lived the great culture heroes of Tanimbar, for example So’u Melatunan who followed the Portugis (i.e. the Dutch: see below) to Banda, Ambon and Batavia, now present day Jakarta, and returned home with a great stock of valuables including a number of gold valuables, and “one hundred and sixty elephant tusks.” [McKinnon 1983 pp.129-131]

Yet these great and glorious times were not to last, but were to be replaced by a third age, that of the modern. The jaman moderen may have begun to dawn in 1910 in Tanimbar when the first Catholic missionaries established themselves on the islands, but it was not until 1945 that it was truly brought to fruition, with the departure of the occupying army of the Japanese from Tanimbar, and the coming of Indonesian Independence.
The jaman moderen is a time of development, progress, and, perhaps most importantly, “religion.” The Tanimbarese talk of the time before the jaman moderen as being “before religion came [to Tanimbar]” (sebelum agama masuk). The former beliefs of the Tanimbarese are not considered – and this is in line with the teachings of the Indonesian state – as religions. The five religions recognised by the Indonesian state are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, although the Tanimbarese enumerate a different list: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism. The last two are, perhaps, grudgingly accepted into the ranks of religion by the Tanimbarese, as the past is often talked of as being “Hindu.” On inquiring as to the meaning of this (there was certainly never any formal Hinduism on Tanimbar) it is explained that “Hindu” means “without religion.” Thus in the jaman moderen, the old Tanimbarese order in which the ancestors are all powerful, is replaced by a new Christian order in which the Christian God is all-powerful.

The jaman moderen is seen as being different socially, culturally, and, most importantly, materially, from the previous ages. Modernity is wealth, and the jaman moderen is the age of wealth, progress (kemajuan) and happiness promised by the propaganda of the Indonesian state and by the tantalising glimpses of life in the West offered by the mass media. This present age may have its future fulfilment in the year two thousand, although many Catholic Tanimbarese are not so bold in stating this as are the Protestants. In this time the dead will rise up, the sick be cured, and there will be no more poverty. This shall be the end of time, bringing the entire historical progression, from darkness and confusion, through the heroic antics of Atuf until the coming of “religion”, and its ultimate fulfilment in the Kingdom of Heaven, to completion.

A few further notes need to be made before examining in a little more detail the relationship of this scheme of history to the present, and the troubling problem of why, if Tanimbar is in the jaman moderen, the age of religion, wealth and development, life is still so clearly unsatisfactory, and unlike it is seen to be in the West. These ages of history are not without some overlap. The jaman purba exists before, and hence outside of time. It is not pre-temporal, for such a term contradicts itself, but rather it is atemporal. Time is defined by the growth and change; the jaman purba lacked either, and thus cannot be said to exist within time. Yet also, if this is the case, then the jaman purba can be seen less as an age, and more as a condition or state of existence. Many people told me that the change from this chaotic age to the great age of Tanimbarese “history” was not smooth. It seems that in the midst of the early jaman pertengahan, there were pockets of the jaman purba, or of stagnation, of confusion. However, it is acknowledged by all that no longer are there in Tanimbar beings with horns or with tails, with more than one head (except the odd freak goat or pig), or such like. The jaman purba is the condition of the anomalous, and as such it may occasionally have its echoes in the present, but its hold over the world has forever, it would seem, been lost. Furthermore the jaman pertengahan can be seen as the condition of Tanimbarese culture, or of the “traditional”. The final age, the jaman moderen is the condition of modernity, of development and of progress.

Seeing these ages as conditions of existences gives time a rather lumpier and congealed quality than it is seen to have in Western culture. Time is not seen as a smooth flow, but as a number of different conditions. These conditions may themselves co-exist and interact, and the tension between these different modes of being is the subject of the next section.

One final consideration is the relationship of this idea of history with the wider history of the world. How does the Tanimbarese version relate to the two other histories which are recognised in Tanimbar: Biblical history and written history as taught in schools? Christian cosmology is based in a fundamentally different conception of time as is Tanimbarese indigenous ideology. Being an eschatological faith, it sees time as something which is bounded by limits: from “In the Beginning,” to “the Last Days.” How, for example, can the tale of the coming of Atuf be reconciled with the Book of Genesis? Firstly it should be noted that the jaman purba stands outside of time. As such it need have no relationship with the wider history of the world. It is a condition or atemporality and of chaos that is specific to Tanimbar. The jaman pertengahan is a time in which Tanimbar moves from a state of enfoldment to a state which is characterised by a moving outwards into the world, and in this age the tales of culture heroes such as So’u Melatunan who had many wily dealings with the Dutch (who in Tanimbar are known as the “Portugis.” There were actually never any Portuguese in Tanimbar.) This age is begun by the coming of Atuf, who establishes a link with the external world, and it is perhaps this more than anything else that leads to the end the enfoldment of the jaman purba, for with the coming of Atuf the external world intrudes upon the internal enclosed order, and sets it into motion. However this is an age in which relations with the outside world are very much seen as being on Tanimbarese terms. The outside world is something into which the Tanimbarese move, and they bring back riches, wealth and greatness. Tanimbar is still a bounded entity.

Only with the coming of the jaman moderen does Tanimbar actually surrender some of its identity to become a part of something larger and infinitely greater: the Indonesian state, the body of the Church and a part of the world as a whole. With the beginning of the modern age, Tanimbar gives up its special conditions (although clearly the battle is not yet won) so that it may enter into the world community and the temporal flow of World History, and hence becomes in the jaman moderen no longer a centre around which the world is structured, but rather a place on the periphery upon which the centralised forces of the outside world act.

7. Tradition and Modernity: the unsatisfactory present.

Although the Tanimbarese live in the jaman moderen, that is not to say that they see themselves as living entirely within a condition of modernity, as expressed by the idea of the jaman moderen set out in the previous section. Life within Tanimbar is not seen as a march towards ever greater perfection materially and spiritually: the Tanimbarese are pragmatists to some extent in this matter. The jaman moderen should be a time of unhindered progress and development, a glorious progression from darkness to light; but this is patently not the case, and the Tanimbarese themselves are aware of the fact that life in Tanimbar in the present time is far from satisfactory: there is still disease, suffering, immorality, hardship and drought. Why is it that this ideal of modernity has not been attained? How is the contradiction between the nature of the present, and the idea of the jaman moderen resolved? If the modern age is by its very nature satisfactory, spiritually and materially, why is life within that age unsatisfactory?

The problem of the present lies in the nature of these three ages of history set out above. They are not successive and clean-cut. Their lumpiness is problematic. There was overlap between the jaman purba and the jaman pertengahan, so that strange anomalous beings existed at the same time as sophisticated nobles, and even now on occasion events more befitting the jaman purba (such as women giving birth to octopi) are reported by the Tanimbarese. Similarly the middle age of Tanimbarese history, although its greatest flowering has clearly passed, is not yet to be consigned to the past. There are still within the confines of the present aspects of life which reflect the jaman pertengahan. The present is in fact a place where the tension between the condition exemplified by the jaman pertengahan and that exemplified by the jaman moderen are played out. It is clear to the Tanimbarese that the latter will eventually prevail, perhaps in the glory of the coming Apocalypse, which is the ultimate apotheosis of the condition of modernity, but until that time the tension remains.

In anthropological literature the terms tradition and modernity are somewhat contentious, yet they are terms that are used frequently on an everyday basis in the Tanimbar islands, and are of great importance in how the Tanimbarese talk about life in the present. It is not the intention of this study to define the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ in a general sense, nor to say how they may be related or to comment upon their usefulness to anthropological thinking as a whole, but rather to elucidate the rather subtle and precise nuances that they have taken on within Tanimbar, to better understand the tension that exists between fixity and change, between the jaman pertengahan and the jaman moderen. The Indonesian words tradisional and moderen are of course derived from the English: however, their usage within the Tanimbar islands is such that they should not be understood in quite the same way as they are in the English language.

The interior or Yamdena, the largest island in the Tanimbarese group, is heavily populated with wild buffalo. As there are no interior villages, the buffalo live a fairly undisturbed life. They are occasionally hunted, but the pig is a less dangerous animal and more favoured by the Tanimbarese, so is more frequently the preferred quarry on hunting expeditions. The story of the origins of these buffalo is a strange one for there have by no means always been buffalo in Tanimbar, and the entire population is, I was told, descended from a single pair. The tale of how this pair came into being is a strange one. A pair of lovers once fled to the interior to escape the watchful eyes of their parents, and there in a clearing by a magical pool, then disrobed. As they were about to plunge into the water, a fish leapt out, and suspended in mid air told them on no account were they to bathe in the sacred pond. The lovers were, it seems, not at all perturbed by the talking fish or its warnings, and so they plunged into the water, and were instantly transformed into buffalo. After this tale had been related (in Alusi Krawain), I was told that it was tradisional which I, at the time, took to mean that it was an amusing, but almost certainly untrue tale, in the way that we might find the tales of the brothers Grimm amusing, but almost certainly untrue. However my amusement was not considered appropriate: this, I was told, was a true and rather tragic story from the history of Tanimbar. I asked whether these buffalo where, therefore, the Adam and Eve of the buffalo world, the ancestors of all the buffalo in the world, and I was told that this was not the cast. Buffalo elsewhere, it seems, came into being by other mechanisms, although it was not suggested what these might be; yet in Tanimbar, things were different.

This assertion of a purely local logic – time in Tanimbar begins with Atuf’s spearing of the sun; the buffalo come into being in this way in Tanimbar; there are sicknesses through witchcraft in Tanimbar, but not necessarily in the West – was one that I would encounter again and again during mystay in the islands.

In 1992 the Summer Institute of Linguistics produced a book of Tanimbarese folk tales, both in Indonesian and in Yamdenan. This book was avaliable for sale in Saumlaki, and I cam across a copy in Meyano Das, where it was presented to me as a “history” book. The tales (explaining how childless mothers produced children from their own faeces, or young girl transformed into crocodiles) were all, I was assured, absolutely true. On asking how this could be the case, I was told that they were tradisional, that is: they obeyed a logic and an order that was specific to Tanimbar.

Illness, too, is characterised as either tradisional or moderen. If sickness occurs, there are number of courses of action open to the patient. In most villages there are puskesmas (pusat kesehatan masyarakat) or public health centres. These dispense Western style medicine although they are often lacking in resources and in medical expertise. However if thc puskesmas proves unsuccessful as inevitably it often will, and the patient is still suffering, ther the illness is characterised as tradisional. A tradisional illness is not susceptible to treatment by Western (moderen) medicine, as it is an illness that is specific to Tanimbar. An illness so define may have one of three causes: the wrath of the ancestors (tetek-nenek-moyang), the malicious agency of witches (swangi) or be a natural illness exclusive to Tanimbar that is unknown by and unresponsive to Western-style medicine. Either way a tradisional illness is one specific tc Tanimbar, and is to be treated most efficiently according to indigenous methods.

In both the case of the buffalo, and of the patient, it can be seen that the tradisional is conceived of as being that which relates to an indigenous order that is unique and specific to Tanimbar. This order is that of the jaman pertengahan. Furthermore the tradisional extends beyond the cultural order, to embrace the natural order. It is not only danc or certain artforms that are characterised as tradisional, but also illness and certain phenomena in what I myself might have characterised as the ‘natural’ world.

The tradisional and the moderen are seen as being mutually exclusive. An illness that is tradisional cannot be effectively treated by Western medicine, and nor can non-tradisional illnesses be treated by Tanimbarese medicine. The two systems are in opposition to each other. But the tradisional and the moderen are not only conditions of existence, but also dynamic currents in the life of the Tanimbarese: I was told on a number of occasions, “We want to advance (maju), but adat is too strong.” This adat ritual law is not seen as a collection of cultural forms to which the individual Tanimbarese must adhere to engender social approval but subject to change by the interaction of human agencies. Rather it is conceived of as a set of laws and practices which straddle and reshape the cultural and natural orders and that must be followed – for not to do so invites sickness, insanity and death.

The tradisional is a dynamic current in the life of the Tanimbarese, as is the moderen. The tradisional is an order of experience that relates to indigenous concepts and ideologies. In contrast the moderen is a living current that relates to non-Tanimbarese concepts and ideological systems, of aspirations toward Western style development as depicted in the mass media, which has penetrated to the most isolated corner of Tanimbar, and those of the Church, which dominates Tanimbarese conceptions of morality and cosmology.

It should be noted that the moderen is concerned with the dynamic of change and of growth, with aspirations directed toward the future, whereas the tradisional is directed toward the past, being seen as representing a fixed body of beliefs, and a fixed set of cultural forms. The tradisional is seen as being dependent upon and legitimised by an idea of fixity in the past. It is no doubt true that such ‘tradition’ is, in fact, a great deal more fluid than it appears, in the same way that a ‘traditional’ Christmas in Britain simply would not have occurred in the eighteenth century, for example; but what is important about tradition is that it should appear to be fixed and unchanging.

Thus the Tanimbarese in their daily lives negotiate two different ways of being in the world. The tradisional is a way of justifying present action by reference to the past, and the moderen is a way of justifying present action by reference to potential future gain – either spiritual, economic, political or material. Although the co-existence of two frames of reference through which the Tanimbarese play out their lives offers much room for negotiation and for manipulation, it is, at root, a painful and difficult tension. The fundamental opposition of the two systems is the cause of the unsatisfactoriness of the present, and development is always hindered by the special and constricting nature of the condition of the tradisional which had its home in the jaman pertengahan.

For any kind of development to occur, the Tanimbarese are aware that the tradisional must be defused, must be stripped of some of its constricting and binding power. Yet they are also aware of the role that the tradisional can play in their development. It not only provides them with a sense of identity, but also it offers the chance for material and economic growth through tourism, which is concerned with the experience of tradition. These problems – the desire to be moderen, the constraining power of adat, the conflicting pulls of God and the ancestors, the problem – similar to the problem that we all have – of how to bring about the future, or to influence the way the future comes about, whilst maintaining a sense of continuity with the past, were matters that frequently generated lively and impassioned discussion during my stay in Tanimbar. And no wonder. They are also problems with which many Tanimbarese sculptors were actively struggling. The nature of this struggle, and the ways in which at least temporary resolutions may sometimes be found within the art of sculpture, are the subjects of most of the remainder of this study.

4. Images and Power

It is clear that in the past the image was seen as the repository, the agency or the mediator of power: the tavu was the site where contact with the ancestors of the house would be made; the kora ulu was the representation of the dangerous power of the crew of warriors, as the boat roared its passage through the waves, and the walut was the residence of the power of the ancestors. It is worth considering here to what extent this is still the case, what the relationship between the image and power is in Tanimbar today, and the nature of the power which it contains or mediates. Older carvings still extant in Tanimbar, which are classed as adat goods, that is, goods that are seen to have a connection with the complexities of Tanimbarese ritual law, are seen as both containing and condensing the power of the ancestors. One type of these carvings, a small form of walut, is the luvu dalam. In the past it would be the luvu dalam that would be used in the hunt, in the enactment of dangerous and “hot” male tasks, and in warfare. Warfare is uncommon today in Tanimbar, although it has not entirely died out, and much of the traditional intervillage rivalry is played out not on the battlefield but, as McKinnon notes, on the football-pitch. However the luvu dalam still has a role to play in ensuring footballing success, something that is taken very seriously indeed in Tanimbar. The Marsele mata rumah of Tumbur possess a particularly potent luvu dalam which may only be seen by the head of the household. For anyone else to see it would, I was told, spell instant death. The Marsele family expressed a willingness to show it to the curious, but only after the signing of a disclaimer. No-one has yet been brave enough to go through with this. On the death of the head of the household the ritual right to see the luvu dalam passes to his successor. According to a widespread story in Tumbur, some years ago, the Tumburese team were heading to a football match with the village of Atubul, which lies some miles to the north. They had with them the Marsele luvu dalam, and were as a result, one may imagine, confident of their success. On the way they passed a young woman from the village of Sangliat Dol who was washing her face by a well. As they passed, there was a breeze, and the dangerous “heat” of the luvu dalam was taken up by the wind and struck her full on. She instantly fell dead. It is for the same reason that the luvu dalam is stored in the rafters at the house at the West end during the season of the wind from the west (musim barat) and is transferred to the Eastern end of the house when the east wind begins to blow again (musim timur). This prevents the members of the household having to risk illness or death by being subjected to the heat of the sculpture.

The source of this heat is the power of the ancestors, contained within the luvu dalam. For this reason, it is only the head of the mata rumah, ritually the closest to the power of the ancestors, and possibly also the closest himself to becoming an ancestor of significance, who can withstand the awesome power of the luvu dalam. Other luvu dalam are not considered by their owners to be as powerful as that owned by the Marsele mata rumah.

Another manifestation of the power of adat goods is in the widely attested phenomenon of sculptures which return by themselves to their place of origin. Throughout Tanimbar I was told that if adat sculptures were stolen or were bought (generally by Western collectors or by Indonesian Chinese traders) without the correct ritual observances to divest them of their hot and dangerous power, then they would return to their place of origin, much to the chagrin their unlucky purchasers as they opened their packing cases to find them empty. Those who sell goods such as these without observing the proper ritual also themselves risk illness and death. Buyers are therefore advised to go through the process of a mandi adat (ritual law “bathing”) during which the ancestors are asked for their approval and are offered palmwine.

It is clear from the above that the power of the luvu dalam or of other adat goods cannot be considered a property of the images themselves: by the proper ritual observances the images can be divested of their power. Rather it is the case that the images act as the site and the mediator of the power of the ancestors which they represent. They are not the sources of power, for the ancestors themselves are the sources of power, but instead repositories for this power, and it is this that makes them dangerous. In general contemporary images, those without a historical connection with the Tanimbarese past, are not seen as having the same kind of potency. They have little connection with the ancestors, and generally the kind of power that they mediate or manifest is different from that of the luvu dalam or of adat goods.

There is a widespread belief throughout Tanimbar that portraiture is a dangerous activity although I could not find anyone who could provide an adequate explanation as to why this should be the case. A number of artists told me that they had produced portraits only to find that the sitter had become ill, or even died, as a direct result. Some sculptors asked for disclaimers to be signed before portraits were produced. The fear or portraiture stands in a marked contrast to the attitude of the Tanimbarese to photography, for which they have a great enthusiasm. It seems here that the power of portraiture is (in contrast to the power of the luvu dalam) a property of the artwork itself, or of the act of representing: portraits are per se dangerous, by virtue of being portraits. Why this should be the case for hand-made portraits but not for photographs is uncertain.

Another way in which ideas of power and of the image are related is in the work of those carvers who produce images for devotional use: largely crucifixes and figures of the Virgin Mary in the role of intercessor. In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic church devotional images are seen as a helpful means to mediating between Man and God. The images of the Virgin Mary are seen as pointers to meditation that lead one’s mind toward thoughts of the Mother of God who intercedes for mankind. The Tanimbarese are quick to point out that they do not “worship stones or statues” as do, so they claim, Hindus and Buddhists (between whom the Tanimbarese make no clear distinction). The devotional sculpture of Tanimbar is not seen a divine or as possessing any power in its own right. Instead it acts as the means to mediating an attaining contact with divine power itself.

There are two more cases which are of interest with respect to the interrelationships betweer power and the image in Tanimbar. The first is in the work of Abraham Amelwatin of Alusi Krawain. He attributed his talent to the power of his ancestors. His ability to carve was, he claimed, a kekuatan mata rumah. As has been already seen, the mata rumah is a house complex of noble (“named”) houses and their affiliated commoner (“unnamed”) houses. It might also be added that the mata rumah may also comprise the ancestors which were represented at one time by the tavu and which are seen as the source both of the named houses and of their unnamed “offspring.” The Indonesian term kekuatan can be translated as strength, force or power. Thus the whole suggests the power or the force of the house-complex which itself consists of the massed weight of the ancestors and their present-day descendants. The kekuatan mata rumah is an hereditary power and it confers upon its possessor a particular ability. This may be the ability to sing, to settle disputes with the aid of particular roots and plants, to attract others to oneself, to carve, or to cast spells. A number of sculptors claimed that their ability was the result of such a power, and at least one other (Damianus Marsele in Tumbur) indicated that this had some repercussions, particularly for those who he felt were copying his work who did so, “at their own risk.” But it was in the work of Abraham Amelwatin that the connection between the power of the ancestors and the work which through the agency of their descendant was the product of this power was strongest. Other sculptors who made the claim of an ability to carve based upon the massed strength of their forbears did not require any special treatment of works before passing them to the buyer, yet the works of Abraham Amelwatin were treated effectively as adat goods, that is, they required a mandi adat before they could be handed over to the buyer, as if they were heirloom valuables. He explained that throughout the carving process, which had to be undertaken in a state of great calm, the ancestors were guiding his hand, and that through their intervention the work became “hot” (panas). Thus before surrendering the work to the buyer the ritual cooling of the mandi adat had to be undergone. This required the exchange with a bottle of sopi (palmwine) with a small sum of money as a “cork” (sumbat) and, if avaliable, a pair of “male” gold earrings (loran) which would serve to make the adat transaction ‘weightier’. The last is not any more an absolute requirement as it might once have been for such transactions, due to the sale of much adat gold to outside buyers. After the offerings are made, the ancestors are asked for their approval, and they answer through the mouths of the constantly chattering house-lizards (cecak) that are an inevitable part of life in the Tanimbars. Only after such approval has been granted will Abraham Amelwatin surrender the work that he and his ancestors have carved in partnership.

The second case is that of the transformation of contemporary carvings into “adat goods” over time. I was only given one instance of this, by the Batlijeri family of Olilit Baru. Simon Batlijeri had made a sculpture perhaps some twenty years ago, and had remained the property of the family ever since. However just recently, I was told, it had began to exhibit strange qualities which would normally be more appropriate to adat goods. In particular babies in close proximity to the work would begin to cry, even if they were normally placid and calm children. The work had, I was told, become antik, an Indonesian word literally meaning “antique”, but which is usually applied to adat goods. Thus with the passage of time, and the accumulation of the ancestors, objects once empty and created for adornment begin to accumulate the frightening and potentially deadly heat of the forbears of the house.

The interrelationships between ideas of power and of what the image is in Tanimbar are, to a large extent, dependent upon the type of image itself – there is no theory which pertains to the image in a general sense, but only those which pertain to different classes of images. Yet ideas of power and of the image are often closely linked and interact in a wide variety of ways.


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