In 1994, I travelled to Tanimbar to study the work of sculptors in the islands. On my return from Tanimbar, I wrote a lengthy academic report on art and Tanimbarese conceptions of time, history and change.

This report went to my sponsors and funders, but ever since has languished in a bottom drawer, so I thought it worth reproducing here just in case anybody is interested.

This online version of the report is a minimally edited version of the original report. There may be typos and other issues that I haven’t picked up on. If so, do get in touch. One day, I’ll sort out a PDF version of the report, nicely formatted. But, in the mean-time, here’s the contents page. Click on the links to take you to the individual chapters.


  1. Introduction
  2. Implementation
  3. The History of Tanimbarese Art
  4. Images and Power
  5. The Sculptor in Society
  6. Past, Present, Future: Time, Art and History in Tanimbar
  7. Tradition and Modernity: the Unsatisfactory Present
  8. The Construction of Time I: The Jaman Purba
  9. The Construction of Time II: The Jaman Pertengahan
  10. The Construction of Time III: The Jaman Moderen
  11. Conclusion
  12. Appendix: Selling History


Author’s Note (1995)

Drabbe’s ethnography of Tanimbar, Het Leven van den Tanembarees, (E.J. Brill, Leiden 1940) is a valuable source of material on Tanimbarese culture in the 1930s, and much of this is still of relevance to the contemporary study of Tanmibarese society. I have used the Indonesian translation of the work, which was made by Karel Mouw in 1981, and available from the Keuskupan Amboina. This hand-typed translation is a true labour of love but it is, I am told by those who are familiar with the original Dutch version, not without its shortcomings. I have therefore used in the text of this report, where possible, passages have been translated into English by McKinnon (both in her doctoral thesis of 1983, and in her book of 1991) where that option was available. Otherwise any references are to the Karel Mouw version, and translations are my own from the Indonesian. All page numbers are given with reference to this version of the book. Aware, however, that outside of Maluku the Karel Mouw version may be unavailable and that the use of the original for those with a knowledge of Dutch my be preferable, I have given references to chapter numbers also, to facilitate the finding of specific references or passages.

Newcastle, April 1995

Author’s Note (2005)

On my return from Tanimbar, I wrote the following report to be submitted this to my sponsors. I also gave several public lectures. Since then, however, this report has languished in a bottom drawer and has not seen the light of day.

Although I am all too aware of the flaws within the following pages it does seem to me that, flawed or not, it is worth salvaging for online publication, if only because this is an area upon which very little has been written, and one that may not be without some interest. For all the shortcomings of the work I undertook after my return from Tanimbar, there is little other material available on the subject; and so I hope that the following pages may be of some benefit.

Birmingham, February 2006

Author’s Note (2021)

It’s now more than a quarter of a century since I carried out this research. So it is offered here for its historical interest, and for what you might be able to glean from it. Pretty much everything has changed since I wrote all this down: I have changed, anthropology has changed, and Tanimbar has changed. But still it seems worth preserving.

Sofia, May 2021