Exploring the narrative terrains of terror and violence in the Spice Islands

Pannell, Sandra (2003) Exploring the narrative terrains of terror and violence in the Spice Islands. In: Pannell, Sandra, (ed.) A State of Emergency: violence, society and the state in Eastern Indonesia. Northern Territory University Press, Darwin, NT, Australia, pp. 77-103.

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The anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, once said, "every people loves its own form of violence" (1973:449). According to Geertz, the cockfight provides the Balinese with a 'reflection' upon their own form of violence and, thus, it represents" a story they tell themselves about themselves" (Geertz 1973:448). In this sense, the cockfight can be seen as a 'meta-social commentary' on 'ordinary, everyday experience'. But, as Geertz reminds us, it also functions to display the essential nature of Balinese 'social passions' - "death, masculinity, rage, pride, loss, beneficence, [and] chance" (1973:443). Geertz is at pains to point out the cockfight is only "really real" to the cocks. In his words, the cockfight "makes nothing happen" (1973:443). No one is killed, castrated or able to change their status in this hierarchical society.

In this paper, I want to return to the issue of the relationship between violence and society which Geertz so eloquently dramatised in his essay on the Balinese cockfight. I discuss this relationship against the context of the 'sectarian' fighting and civil unrest reported throughout the eastern Indonesian province of Maluku in the period 1999 - 2001. In particular, I focus upon the way narratives, in the form of popular history, media reports, anthropological writings, official government statements, and a number of local tales from around the province, produce certain 'truths' about violent events. I am interested in the way that these stories mediate the social experience of violence, and in the process, map a narrative terrain of terror. I am also interested in how the very juxtaposition of dissimilar narratives can provide us with "new perceptions of the obvious" (Taussig 1992:45). In this sense, the montage of tales which follows challenges our perception of what is violence, for they are simultaneously stories about violence and victims but are often minus a smoking gun or a discernible corpse.

Item ID: 7300
Item Type: Book Chapter (Research - B1)
ISBN: 1-876248-81-5
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2010 01:09
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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