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.