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Tree totems and the tamarind people: implications of clan plant Taboos in central Flores.

The search for a unitary theory of totemism was rightly abandoned decades ago, and the topic itself was virtually abolished when Levi-Strauss (1962) declared it an illusion. If Levi-Strauss buried totemism, its fate has been further sealed by what, to extend the mortuary analogy, may be called the 'secondary burial' recently accorded it by historian Robert Jones (2005). Nevertheless, ethnography continues to attest to the common occurrence, in culturally diverse settings, of an association of social groups and categories with animals, plants, and other natural phenomena. Referring to difficulties in the use of 'ritual' as an analytical category, Humphrey and Laidlaw thus remark how, with 'totemism' and 'taboo' as well, 'a whole literature exists dissolving such categories', yet 'they go on recurring faute de mieux' (1994:67). Making a similar point, Roy Willis had earlier noted how totemism, despite being declared dead, 'obstinately refuses to "lie down"' (1990:5). He then went on to speak of a 'totemic revival' and a new enthusiasm comparable to the interest in totemism in 'the great days of Frazer and Durkheim'.

Whereas Willis construes totemism fairly broadly and focuses on relations between humans and animals, the present essay, drawing on fieldwork conducted among the Nage people of eastern Indonesia, concerns instances of plant totems. In a somewhat classical vein, the human constituents in this case are moreover clans, and the totemic relationship consists principally in a naming of clans after trees and a concomitant tabooing of the identically named species. How far Willis's totemic revival has been sustained during the last two decades is uncertain. Yet, with the continuation of ethnographic research, particularly in non-western parts of the world, there are still new things to be learned about totemistic symbolism. Indeed, in the case of the Nage, a people who in their entirety bear the name of the Tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica), political developments in the last one hundred years, thus since the days of totemism's early anthropological reign, appear to have lent Nage totemism a new lease on life, and to have done so particularly in respect to one seemingly new totemic relationship.

My intention, however, is not to resurrect 'totemism' as a general or definitive category of cross-cultural analysis. To the extent that it can have comparative value, the term is best employed as an 'odd-job' word denoting a variety of relations between social groups (and especially social sub-groups or segments) and natural kinds or phenomena. Although quite consistently linked with taboos on associated plants, Nage tree totemism is, as I show, a partial and historically derived phenomenon, and not an expression of a completely general, unitary, or systemic principle of social or conceptual order. It represents, in other words, a tendency to link plants and people in particular ways, and is not the totalizing form of analogical classification that Levi-Strauss proposed in his otherwise essentially correct deconstruction of totemism as a form of religious thought and practice. Rather than an exception to a more traditional Nage totemism, or a modern transformation of a compromised system of totemic relations, the hypothetically most recent instance of Nage plant totemism, referred to just above, provides a special confirmation of this view.


The population of roughly 50,000 cultivators and livestock breeders who have come to be known as Nage reside in the central part of the eastern Indonesian island of Flores, on the northern side of the volcano Ebu Lobo. The Nage people comprise a number of clans called woe: non-localized, normally patrilineally constituted, and preferentially exogamous groups, some widely spread over the whole region while others are confined to just one or a few villages. The present paper focuses on what I distinguish as central Nage. This is the region roughly coinciding with the 'three Nage desa' (Forth 1998:3-4), modern administrative units subsuming a number of traditional villages and other settlements, each of which includes 'Nage' in its name. Proceeding from east to west, these three are Nage 'Oga, Nata Nage, and Nage Sapadhi. (1)

What can be called clan totemism in Nage consists mainly in a naming of clans after plants, mostly trees. All such plants are taboo (pie; Forth 2007) for members of the clan, mostly in the sense that they are prohibited from burning them or using their wood as fuel (pie 'uge). Some clans not named after plants also taboo particular trees, but these are few in number (see Table 1). Besides prohibiting the burning of their wood, several clans with tree names further proscribe the use of the wood in construction. (2) In all cases, a breach of the taboo has the same result: sores or other skin conditions, often specified as 'bleeding sores'. When wood is illicitly burnt, the affliction is specifically attributed to contact with the smoke, even though skin conditions are also considered a consequence of employing tabooed woods in construction. Given the nominal association of clansmen with identically named plants, sores or other conditions arguably resembling symptoms of burnt human skin could, in the case of burning tabooed woods, reflect a principle of homeopathic magic. But whether Nage themselves are conscious of this logic, I was unable to ascertain.

For burning prohibited kinds, Nage possess a remarkably simple antidote. In a procedure named wedo walo ('to pull back'), the afflicted person pretends to place a piece of the forbidden wood (or other plant matter) in a fire. A companion calls out 'Hey, that's taboo!' (Ha, ta'a pie!), and in response the afflicted quickly withdraws it (cf. Forth 2004:104). The condition should then soon disappear, or not occur at all if the procedure is carried out before symptoms develop. In some instances, using illicit woods in construction can have more serious and apparently irreversible consequences, and can even result in the extinction of the associated group.

The extent to which Nage recognize clan plant or tree totems is especially striking in the absence of clan specific prohibitions on the killing and consumption of animals. In this respect, Nage differ from their western neighbours, the Ngadha; thus among 30 animals and plants prohibited to particular Ngadha clans, 14 are animals and 16 are plants (Arndt 1954:217). Only one Nage clan maintains a totemic relation with an animal. This is Saga 'Enge, whose members regard the 'owa or Cuckoo-dove (Macropygia spp.) as a totem, and who would therefore incur itching sores or risk extinction should they catch, kill, or consume this bird (Forth 2004:104, 140).

All Nage are subject to the plant taboos of their individual patri-clans. Married women will continue to observe the taboo of their natal clans as well as those of their husband's clan, while in accordance with a general ambilineal tendency (Forth 2009), individuals will often follow the taboo of their mother's clan and perhaps also prohibitions maintained by other wife-givers (e.g. the clan of the father's mother or mother's mother). In this way, a person may claim adherence to as many as three different plant taboos. On the other hand, entire patri-clans possessing plant or tree totems only ever recognize one as specific to the clan.


Understanding clan plant totems first requires attention to taboos on burning, cutting, or otherwise using trees that are completely general among Nage--or what Bulmer (1979:60) has called 'super-totems' (cf. Ellen 1998, who applies 'super-totem' to several trees generally tabooed by the Nuaulu of Seram).

Nage say one should never bathe in a pool or stream located close to a Moja tree (probably Semecarpus forstenii; Verheijen 1990) as leaves or seeds falling into the water can cause itching and sores, especially among people Nage describe as 'thin-skinned'. The same consequence can result from burning Moja wood or using it in building; hence people avoid these practices as well. While some Nage thus describe the tree as 'taboo' (pie), these ideas apparently have some basis in fact, since contact with Semecarpus forstenii, like other members of the genus, can be allergizing and hence can indeed cause skin irritations and rashes--for example, when raindrops fall from the tree onto human skin (see 'ContactPoisonous Plants of the World',, accessed 5 January 2009).

In a comparable vein, but with less basis in plant toxicology, Nage claim that burning the wood of citrus trees (Mude), and especially the kind named Mude 'Oka (Citrus hystrix), the Kaffir lime, causes bumps on the skin resembling the bumpy peel of the fruit. Similarly implicating a magical principle is the taboo on using Boa wood in house construction and, according to some, also on burning the wood. Trunks of Boa, or Kapok trees (Ceiba pentrada), are traditionally used for log coffins; thus as Nage themselves explain, owing to this funerary usage, to build a house of Kapok would invite disaster. As the names of clans, both Boa and Mude are further considered as clan taboos. Yet for the reasons indicated, Nage generally restrict use of these two trees.

When suspended from chicken coops, the leaves of the 'Ewa tree (Melanolepis multiglandulosa; Verheijen 1984:61, 1990:37) are supposed to rid domestic fowls of lice; hence burning 'Ewa wood will, Nage say, cause domestic fowls to die off. The beneficial effect of 'Ewa leaves on fowls may have some empirical basis. As a source of human medicines, the leaves and bark of Melanolepis multiglandulosa can be applied to the skin as a sudorific and, among Malays, are used in poultices to cure scurf. In decoction, the plant is also employed as a vermifuge (; accessed 5 January 2009).

Nage say that feeding the leaves of the Fai tree (Albizia chinensis) to a water buffalo will kill the animal by causing its stomach to burst, and can even result in the extinction of an entire herd. For fear of the same consequence, buffalo owners, especially, will further refrain from burning Fai wood or using it in construction. (3) Humans can suffer more directly from employing Fai wood as fuel or as building material, as doing so can cause sores. An elder of the clan Tiwa Feo described burning Fai as tantamount to murdering one's wife. As fai is also the Nage word for 'wife' (although in this sense it evidently has a different derivation from the name of the tree; Verheijen 1984:45), the idea provides a possible clue to the tree's reputed antipathy to water buffalo, since buffalo are a major and essential component of bridewealth. The expression kogo lo fai, 'to embrace a fai tree' means 'to take a wife' or 'enter into a sexual relationship with a woman', particularly in reference to a man who is unable to do so.

If the prohibition of Fai is grounded in homonymy, lexical considerations account even more explicitly for the refusal, by some Nage, to use wood from the Wala tree in house construction. The tree is more completely named Wala Eta and, by a curious metathesis, Nage equate this with wela ata, 'to kill a person (by cutting)'. They then infer that using the wood could result in murder within a house. Similar reasons underlie the Nage misapprobation of the use of wood of trees called Nipa Nai, Mo, and Mai. 'Nipa nai' means 'ascending snakes' (or 'snakes ascend, enter [a house]'). Sometimes, the name is applied to an (unidentified) kind of tree, the bark of which is seen to resemble snake skin; but kaju nipa nai, 'ascending snakes wood', can also refer to driftwood, or any sort of wood washed up in a flood. Whatever the reference, one should not burn Nipa Nai as snakes would then enter one's house. The tree names Mo (the Jackfruit, Artocarpus integer) and Mai (Alstonia spectabilis) are respectively homonymous with Nage words for 'to want, desire' and 'come' (implying an act of inviting or beckoning). Some Nage therefore describe these woods as too well-disposed or solicitous, and argue that using them in construction would result in all sorts of malevolent spiritual forces being allowed access to a dwelling (Forth 1998:134). According to another opinion, however, Mai is a favourable wood, as it can summon good fortune to a house. A similar opinion may apply to Mo; at least, in the view of some people Mo is not an undesirable construction wood.

Nage describe three other sorts of trees--Ko'u (or Ko'u Denu), Lele, and Keta--as yielding woods that are good for building. In all cases, the evaluation pertains to the spiritual well-being of a dwelling, and in two instances (Lele and Keta) their use is rationalized with reference to other meanings of their names. 'Keta' means 'cold'; hence it is claimed that if visitors to a house harbour bad feelings or intentions the Keta wood will cool or neutralize these. In a similar way, 'Lele' means 'to hear, listen'; thus hearing 'both good and bad things', the wood is thought to report these to the guardian spirit of the house (Forth 1998:134). Whether regarded negatively or positively, all these seemingly personified trees are therefore comparable, by virtue of their attributed powers, to tutelary ancestors and other beneficent spiritual forces which, being equally identified with the woods that compose a dwelling, provide protection and blessing to human inhabitants.

Any kind of tree, though particularly large species or exemplars, can be considered the abode or possession of a 'master spirit' (ga'e). Yet Nage identify none of the aforementioned trees with a distinctive kind of spirit. Nor do they articulate any of the foregoing taboos with reference to tree spirits or rationalize them with reference to human ancestors or other spiritual beings. As just shown, Nage 'super-totems' largely find their basis in the names of the species concerned, as do preferences for the wood of certain trees as building materials. Things are different with two other generally prohibited trees. Banyan trees (Nunu, Ficus benjamina) may not be cut, nor therefore used in construction, because of their close association with potentially malevolent free spirits called nitu. Nage speak of large Banyans as villages inhabited by groups of these spirits, and such trees are also one possible abode of spirits of the dead (Forth 1998:257-58). On the other hand, when it becomes necessary to fell a Banyan, or remove branches or secondary trunks, one may do so by performing a rite to displace the indwelling spirits (ibid.: 139-40). What is more, many Nage (although apparently not all) consider burning Banyan wood as unproblematic so long as it is dry and branches have fallen by themselves, a condition that signifies that the master spirit (ga'e) of the tree has long departed.

Similar to Banyans in this respect is the Hebu tree (Cassia fistula). Hebu is identified with an especially powerful spirit (ga 'e hebu) capable of manifesting in animal and human form, and it is apparently for this reason that some Nage describe the wood as taboo (pie). Dead or dry Hebu wood, however, may be burned with impunity, and the prohibition on its use in construction applies only to ordinary dwellings. Expressly connected with its spiritual character, the use of Hebu wood is in fact prescribed for sacrificial posts (peo), the 'hearth post' (posa lapu) of a cult house (sa'o waja, the ritually most important building of a clan or clan segment), and for anthropomorphous wooden statuary (ana deo), since all of these items embody, in a controlled form, the otherwise malevolent spirit of the tree (Forth 1998:115-20). (4)

What applies to the Hebu mostly applies to the Oja (Toona saureni or T. ciliata), another tree whose aromatic wood is required in the construction of cult houses. Both Hebu and Oja produce rich red woods, and both are especially identified with the tutelary spirit of a cult house (ga'e sa 'o). In song, Nage characterize Oja used in cult house construction as a 'ladder of God' (Forth 1998:134). It is a matter of some interest that people of clan Deru in the Ngadha region taboo Oja wood in the construction of their cult houses (Arndt 1954:247-48), employing instead timber from the previously mentioned Fai tree. Deru is the clan Nage call Deu (owing to the loss of the /r/ in Nage dialects), and Deu, like other Nage clans, employ Oja for their cult houses while, at the same time, tabooing Fai. Ngadha people still obtain Fai trees from Nage when constructing traditional houses. Despite taboos on burning the wood and feeding the leaves to buffalo, Nage do not prohibit the felling of Fai or selling the wood to outsiders. The Nage, or Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), is another tree which harbours a powerful spirit. Especially people of Deu, the clan of the former rulers (or 'rajas') of the colonial district named Nage, assert that all Nage people should refrain from burning Nage (Tamarind) wood. However, unlike restrictions on the Banyan, Hebu, and Oja, it is not the tree's spiritual character that informs the taboo. Rather, like several of the 'super-totems' described above, the prohibition is attributable to the name. In addition, the notion that burning Tamarind wood is taboo for all Nage is contested, even among clans in the central part of the Nage region. The case therefore requires special consideration, which is given after a review of plant totems belonging to individual Nage clans.


An analysis of plant totems observed by individual clans confirms the importance of names in Nage totemism. A list of twenty-four Nage clans with glosses of their names appears in Table 1. As can be seen, nine are named after plants. These nine clans do not form any distinct residential, political, ritual, or other social or cultural grouping within the Nage region. All except two plants that lend their names to clans (Koba Jawa and 'Ua Higo) are trees, and with the exception of Koba Jawa ('Soya vine') all are uncultivated plants. All plants are identically tabooed insofar as clan members are prohibited from burning them. Clans which additionally should not employ their namesake woods in houses include Mudi, Tiwa Feo, Pau, Boa, and Mude. The issue is complicated in the case of Boa (Kapok) since, as noted, this is generally tabooed as a construction wood. Clan members are not prohibited from cutting trees or plants whose names they bear. For example, it is not actually taboo (pie) for Mudi people to cut down Mudi trees, although clansmen say they would feel uncomfortable doing so. The trees, which yield a fine timber, can be sold to others, who then usually fell them themselves.

Only in one instance is the use of a totemic wood apparently prescribed. People of clan Mude ('Citrus tree') resident in the village of 'Ua informed me that parts of their cult houses (none of which stands at present) should be made from Citrus (Mude) wood as well as timber from the Mesi tree (Erythrina sp.; Verheijen 1990:32). More specifically, Mude should be used for the hearth pillar (dudhe) and Mesi for the naba, a thick plank that runs from front to back on the upper gallery (teda meze) of a cult house. (5) For this reason the owners of such houses are prohibited from burning either kind of wood. In regard to their prohibition of Mesi wood, Mude in 'Ua exemplifies a group tabooing a tree after which it is not named. Other examples include Dhuge and Saga 'Enge, clans which taboo Zita wood, owing to their use of a Zita tree (Alstonia scholaris; Verheijen 1984:45) in an augural rite during annual hunting ceremonies. Similarly, people of Ana Wa claim the Nage (Tamarind) taboo to be original to their clan--a matter I take up below--while members of the clan Deu, and especially the senior segment resident in Tolo Pa village, consider the taboo on using Fai wood in construction as specific to them. The last idea is questionable; yet it somewhat accords with the reciprocal tabooing of Oja wood, mentioned previously, by clan Deru in Ngadha.

A different sort of totemic relationship characterizes two Nage clans named after natural phenomena. These are Tegu (Thunder) and Wa (Wind), more usually called Ana Wa ('Wind People'). Although neither of these nominal associations entails taboos, in both instances Nage posit a phenomenal connection between clan members and the homonymous meteorological entity. The name Wa (Wind) is linked with the reputed presence of a 'wind vent' (wuwu wa) located beneath the clan's altar stone in the old village of Nata Nage. From this vent a wind would emerge when certain rites were performed at the stone. Apparently linked with this, Ana Wa people are able to exert power over wind, and strong winds should arise at significant times in the lives of Ana Wa clansmen: for example, when one is near death or about to be buried, or as this is sometimes expressed, from time of death to the time of burial. Winds will suddenly arise also when Ana Wa sacrifice water buffalo or perform other major rites, and on their own behalves or for the benefit of others, Wind People can perform a rite, involving the sacrifice of a fowl, to cause excessively strong winds to subside.

Similar notions apply to Tegu, the Thunder clan. Thus, about the time a clansman dies, thunder will be heard and heavy rain will fall, even during the dry season. Rain is also likely at major life crises of Thunder people (although not, I was told, when Tegu children are born). An association of the Thunder clan with rain further informs Tegu's performance of an annual ritual marking the time when people should begin planting wet season crops. One segment of the clan possesses a pair of large gongs, which they strike in the evening to signal the event, and the gongs are regularly answered by the sound of distant thunder. On the following morning, Tegu people then plant a ritual garden (uma toa). Before this, all other clans are prohibited from planting, and should anyone do so they must slaughter a buffalo and sprinkle blood on Tegu's ritual plot.

Although named after a singular object rather than a general phenomenon, a similar connection informs the clan name Watu Bala, 'prostrate stone'. The name refers to a stone identified as the petrified body of a young girl, the daughter of early ancestors of the group so designated. Still visible, the anthropomorphous object marks the boundary between lands belonging to Watu Bala and its parent clan, Mudi. (6) Specifically, the 'head' of the stone lies on Watu Bala land, and the other extremity on land of Mudi. This nominal and mythical association between Watu Bala and the stone involves no definite taboo, nor is the object in any other way clearly treated as totemic. The stone, I was told, was once enclosed by a wooden fence, to prevent damage from humans and animals and thus preserve its human form. But it is unclear whether this implied a particular prohibition (pie), let alone one that applied exclusively to people of Watu Bala.

As shown in Table 1, most Nage clan names, in fact all but five or six (Bolo Bale, Deu, Dhuge, Dobe 'Ako, Meli, Saga 'Enge), have recognized meanings. As many as five clans (Bolo Bale, Deu, Dhuge, Dobe 'Ako, and Wolo Wea) bear the names of districts or settlements from where their ancestors are thought to hail. The two series of clans, it will be noted, largely coincide; yet Nage recognize many more clan names than these as ultimately originating in place names. (7) The fact that no more than half the clans in Table 1 are named or associated with species or other natural phenomena shows that we are not dealing with a unitary system. By the same token, one would be hard put to discern any principle of analogy that could explain a single pattern, or classification, of totemic associations, as Levi-Strauss would have argued (cf. Worsley 1967:151, 154). Nevertheless, although the several Nage 'plant clans', as they may be called, are not territorially or otherwise discrete, they yet stand out as a relatively large grouping owing to their distinctive form of naming and a largely distinctive pattern of clan taboos. What is more, Nage articulate a general principle according to which all of these clans derive their names from those of villages they originally inhabited.

Actually, this principle finds little support in individual clan histories. Of the nine plant clans listed in Table 1, only the names Nila and Wajo are straightforwardly ascribed to former villages whose location is still known. One definite exception is the clan Tiwa Feo ('Gathered Candlenuts'). According to their origin myth, Tiwa Feo people are so named, and are prohibited from burning Candlenut (Feo) wood or using it as timber, not because they came originally from a place named 'Candlenut' (although there are indeed places of this name on Flores Island) but because their ancestors were transformed from candlenuts gathered by a childless ancestral couple. Another exception is Koba Jawa ('Soya Vine'), a clan so named because a male ancestor was abandoned as a child near a heap of withered Soya vines beneath a fig tree (A, dialectal Ara, Ficus variegata). Yet in spite of the paucity of geographically explicit narrative support for a derivation of clan names from botanically named former places of residence, several circumstances suggest that this is by far the most probable general explanation of the common naming of clans after plants and the concomitant clan taboos. For one thing, naming villages and other geographical locations after plants, and especially large and prominent trees (see Forth 2001: 85, 297-300, 316-21), has evidently been a regular practice throughout central Flores. For another, local history and toponymy indicates that botanical names originally designated a location which only later became used as or associated with a human habitation. As indicated in Table 2, in the central part of the Nage region, including the vicinity of the main village of Bo'a Wae, phytonyms can in fact be called the dominant mode of settlement naming. Other features of the landscape--including hills, ridges, natural depressions, and other topographical peculiarities--are another source of geographical names. Therefore, naming villages for trees and other botanical kinds can be understood as an instance of a more general practice of designating places with reference to the natural landscape. At the same time, Nage more often use tree and plant names than terms denoting other landscape features to designate villages, and it is consistent with this predominance of phytonyms in settlement naming that such names are similarly common among Nage clan names.

A tendency to derive names of clans from village names is at least equally prevalent in the Keo region of south central Flores, where of a sample of 73 western Keo clans, 54 (74 per cent) 'bear the same name as a village or other location where the group resides or formerly resided' (Forth 2001:85). Evidence from western Keo further supports a derivation of plant clans among Nage from phytonymically designated villages insofar as, in this neighbouring region, many village names (nearly 70 percent of a sample of 38) are simultaneously the name of a clan still resident in the village (Forth 2001:85). At present, none of the Nage plant clans occupies a settlement bearing the same name. All denote former, abandoned villages, a circumstance consistent with a possible loss of collective memory of their locations and former constitutions. That plant totems and taboos pertain to clans, not villages, is underlined by the fact that residents of the numerous extant Nage settlements named after plants (including those listed in Table 2) seem never to taboo the botanical species in question. Typically, Nage villages incorporate segments of two or more, and often as many as four or five clans, each of which is bound to observe its own taboos.

A specific indication that clans and identically named plants are connected spatially, and not as it were genealogically--that is, by virtue of identification with human ancestors--appears in the claim that, within the Nage region, Mudi trees are most numerous in the territory of clan Mudi. This can of course be understood as a variant of the idea that clans are named after natural features of settlements they formerly occupied. The local association of clan names and taboos with ancient or original clan settlements may imply an ancestral component in Nage clan totemism. Yet rarely if ever are Nage clans named after specific ancestors. Many clan names, and the names of many villages as well, are identical to Nage personal names, and then for the most part female personal names. Clan names that are also women's names include Boa, Deu, Dhuge, Dobe, and Mude, while women's names that further occur in the names of current central Nage villages include Bidi, 'Ewa, Gu, Mako, Nage, Pajo, 'Uda, Wau, and Wae (see Table 2). Not all of these, it should be noted, are simultaneously plant names, although among the examples just given the only exceptions are Pajo and 'Uda. Partly in view of the preferentially patrilineal and patrilocal constitution of Nage clans and local groups, this coincidence of group names and female personal names cannot be ascribed to an eponymous naming of groups after associated female persons, and is more readily explained by a practice of referring to married women after their clans or villages of origin. In central Nage, Bo Kodhi (Kodhi's granary), Bo Koi (Koi's granary), and Toe Teda (named after the brothers Toe and Teda) exemplify settlements named after male ancestors. But such designations are rare, and in no instance has the name of the ancestor (or the village) subsequently been applied to a descent group. Moreover, only in one instance do Nage themselves sometimes interpret a village name as referring to a female ancestor, but as I explain below this case is exceptional in other ways as well. (8)

As the foregoing should suggest, Nage naming of clans after plants for the most part does not reflect any notion of a connection of descent or relation of kinship between the botanical species and current humans mediated by clan ancestors. Nor is it a naming of descent groups per se. By all indications, such designations express a relation between human groups and physical locations that were the groups' early residences and the original referents of the phytonyms. In other words, clan phytonyms, and the taboos which have evidently developed from them, are sustained by a remembrance of geographical origin and of relationships between people and ancestral places, rather than of connections with botanically designated or otherwise associated human ancestors. The importance of ancient places rather than persons in clan naming finds further support in the name Watu Bala ('Prostrate Stone'), denoting an object located on the boundary of this clan's land, and possibly also in Ana Wa ('Wind People'), which reflects this group's former connection with a 'wind vent' located in their village of origin. One is thus reminded of the 'close association between totemic beliefs and locality' and the attachment of totems 'to localities, not to persons or determined groups' among Australian Aborigines (Peterson 1972:13).

Like people throughout central Flores, Nage identify categories of humans, most notably patrilineal ancestors and wife-giving affines, as social 'origins' or 'sources'. This concept they mostly express with pu'u, 'stem, trunk', a usage that can be understood as a botanic metaphor (Forth 2001:125-30; cf. Fox 1971). In a similar vein, Nage formally describe long established lineages as possessing 'heartwood extending to the roots and to the branches' (atu peka dhu ta'a kamu, dhu ta'a ta), and large and populous clans as 'having dense branches, and numerous leaves' (ta ta'a' kapa kapa, wunu ta 'a woso woso). Yet it would be rash to construe such metaphorical usages as crucial to Nage clan plant taboos or their naming clans and villages after trees. Among Nage, places per se, including districts and single villages, are identified as origins (or 'trunks') as much as are groups or categories of humans. Accordingly, genealogical orations, performed for example on the occasion of major buffalo sacrifices, typically comprise a series of ancestral residences as much as they do a series of persons (for Keo examples see Forth 2001:322-24: for conceptions of physical places as origins elsewhere in Indonesia, see Fox ed. 1997).

Further consistent with the non-spiritual character of Nage clan plant totems, and with an absence of any conception of 'descent' linking clan members and totems, is a relative scarcity of mythical references to connections between clan ancestors and plants, and more generally mythical accounts of clan names. Interestingly, the few exceptions all concern clans whose names do not designate former (or ancestral) villages. Three--Tiwa Feo, Koba Jawa, and Watu Bala--have been described previously. Clan Saga 'Enge have a myth recounting how the Cuckoo-dove became their totem, in which the dove is linked with a clan ancestor (Forth 2004:104); but this of course concerns a bird, not a plant. A further instance of such mythical rationalization may be clan 'Ua Higo, so named, ! was told, because their ancestors launched an attack on their eastern neighbours, men of 'Ua, who then sought refuge in a patch of Higo herbs. Provided by a single informant (and unknown to others I questioned), the story may seem unlikely. Even if it does accurately reflect an established tradition, it is perhaps curious that the clan name, rather than referring to a plant directly associated with clan ancestors, evidently commemorates an event, and alludes moreover to an action not of the clan's own forbears but a rival group. A similar reservation applies to the single account I recorded of the clan name Mudi. The clan, I was told, is so designated because the ancestors met to plan the construction of their first cult house (sa'o waja) in the shade of a Mudi tree, near their original village of Nage 'Oga. The informant further noted how mudi is a dialectal term for 'lips', suggesting that this particular Mudi tree facilitated the ancestors' deliberations, that is, the movement of their lips. It is a point of additional interest that, despite the wood being prohibited in the construction of such houses, an alternative name I recorded for Mudi's present cult house, mostly known as Kodo Mudi ('Mudi coop'), is Hodo Mudi, hodo denoting a hole in a tree that serves as a bird's nest. The clan Ana Wa (Wind People) has a story explaining the taboo, which they claim as their own, on burning Tamarind wood. However, the story does not obviously account for the clan name which, as noted, relates to their possession of 'wind vent', a hole in the ground from which the wind would periodically emerge.


Like various other prohibitions and preferences applying to trees, it is quite clear that Nage clan totemism consists for the very most part in a coincidence of names--of plants and places named for plants. To that extent it supports older interpretations of totemism which proposed group naming as the essence of the phenomenon (see Lubbock 1870:248-9, 187; Lang 1905:116-41; Murdock 1949:49-50). But if naming can lead to totemism and a special relationship between totem and group articulated by taboo, clearly not all names are equal. The names must refer to things that can be meaningfully tabooed, that is, things people can be prohibited from destroying, consuming, touching, and so on. Preferably, they should also possess a manifest affinity to living (and thriving and ramifying) human groups. These criteria are admirably fulfilled by natural species, and equally by plants and animals. Since totemism has often been applied exclusively or primarily to relationships with animals (see e.g. Willis 1990, Bleakley 2000), it is worth pointing out that Nage clan taboos on burning, and in some cases using particular woods in construction, exactly parallel prohibitions on killing and eating (or 'consuming') creatures commonly entailed in animal totemism. Of course, in some societies other things, including minerals, astronomical bodies, and meteorological phenomena, are also represented as living things; and these too can occur as totems. Yet everywhere, it seems, it is animals and plants that are the most typical totemic objects. The case of Nage plant clans and their associated taboos provides an especially clear illustration of how totemism can be historically derived from concrete associations between people and named places, physically bounded spaces which, actually or putatively, once contained identically denominated human collectivities. This diachronic development thus confirms how totemism entails rather more than a simple structuralist 'similarity of differences', a reduction which has at best a very partial validity in the present instance (cf. Valeri 2000:93-98, who provides an incisive critique of Levi-Strauss's interpretation of totemism as no more than a diacritical system of classification.).

But what of the pan-Nage taboo on burning Tamarind (Nage) wood? Sometimes Tamarind is also said to be prohibited for building. Yet in view of its hardness and difficulty in cutting it, the wood is not well suited to construction; hence it is mainly as fuel that the Tamarind is represented as taboo. A breach of this prohibition has the same consequence as burning the wood of clan totem trees, and the same antidote. As mentioned, Nage associate Tamarinds, rather like Banyan and Hebu trees, with a powerful spirit (ga'e or bapu). Exemplifying a more general connection mentioned earlier, they identify this spirit with the tree's heartwood. According to one idea, Tamarind heartwood can, by some mysterious means, leave the trunk of the tree and appear on the ground, in holes, or atop roots; the howling of dogs at night, as though wild pigs were close, then reveals the presence of Tamarind heartwood nearby--a notion that recalls ideas regarding the Hebu tree, which is thought capable of assuming the form of wild pigs (Forth 1998:163, note 8). Nevertheless, proponents do not invoke these ideas about Tamarinds to rationalize the Tamarind taboo. Instead, they link it with their identity as 'Nage' people and, more particularly, with their derivation from an ancient village named 'Nata Nage'.

Like bo'a ('village', see e.g. Bo'a Wae), nata, the term for 'village plaza', appears as the base word in several village names (see Nata Wau, incorporating Wau, 'Hibiscus tree', and Nata Meze; meze, 'big'). 'Nata Nage' can therefore be understood as 'Nage Village' or 'Tamarind tree Village'. Nage people themselves usually explain the name as a reference to one or more Tamarind trees that grew in the vicinity. According to men of clan Aria Wa, Nage trees grew at the 'head' and 'tail' ends of Nata Nage. In addition, Aria Wa relate the tabooing of Tamarind wood to the mythical incident, alluded to above, which transpired in Nata Nage while they were conducting a rite at their altar stone, beneath which was located the previously mentioned 'wind vent'. A strong wind got up, blowing down one of the Tamarinds, which fell on an Ana Wa elder and killed him. Thus, ever since people have ceased to burn Tamarind (Nage) wood or use it as timber. A less commonly proffered explanation attributes the village name Nata Nage to Nage Ga'e, an ancestress claimed both by clan Tegu and clan Deu, who once resided at the site (Forth 1998:27). This is the exceptional instance, mentioned earlier, where a village is said to have taken its name from a female ancestor. According to yet another interpretation, the settlement may have been named after an immigrant group that was already designated as 'Nage'. (9) However, villages and hamlets named after Tamarinds are ubiquitous in central Nage (or the 'three Nage desa'); in fact, probably no other phytonym is so regularly encountered. In the vicinity of Bo'a Wae, examples include Bo'a Nage, Nage Nai, Nage 'Oga, Ola Nage, Pago Nage, Pajo Nage, and Wolo Nage (now renamed Wolo Wawo), and the abandoned settlements of Nage Langa, Nage Mi, Nage Wae, Nage Wawo, and Nage Wolo.

According to local interpretations, nearly all of these locations are so designated because of their present or former proximity to Tamarinds. (10) Concomitantly, this preponderance of the name in designating settlements has no obvious connection with the current use of 'Nage' as an ethnonym or to denote a supra-village territory. In other words, the Nage district and people are not named 'Nage' because they have often applied the name to their villages; in fact, 'Nage' is a common place name in other parts of Flores as well. By all indications, more inclusive ethno-linguistic or political uses of the epithet derive from 'Nata Nage'. Bound up in this is a local notion that many leading Nage clans were once settled in the old village of Nata Nage. According to the extreme form of this idea--whose most vocal proponents are people of Deu, the clan of the colonial rulers--Nata Nage was once home to forbears of all residents of the present Nage region. And it is with reference to this claim that the Tamarind restriction is rationalized as a taboo that should apply to all 'Nage'.

The claim thus implies a representation of 'Nage' as a social entity comparable to a clan, or a sort of 'super-clan', and one possessing a 'super-totem'. Yet even a cursory review of the evidence shows the matter to be more complex. For one thing, Nata Nage was a village and, as shown, tree taboos in this society apply to clans, not villages. There are of course other 'super-totems'--for example, the ones suggested by similarly inclusive taboos on the burning of Mude Oka, 'Ewa, and Fai wood. Also, the Tamarind taboo, like individual clan taboos, is articulated not with reference to residence in an extant village but to derivation from a former village. (11) Nevertheless, as currently employed, 'Nage' does not refer to a clan, nor is there any evidence that it ever did. More importantly, the use of 'Nage' for a political or territorial entity larger than a single village is relatively recent, being a creation of the colonial period effectively beginning around 1910. While different villages were certainly connected in precolonial times by ties of affinity and a form of sacrificial reciprocity (Forth 1998:311-16), supra-village federations, as named and formally constituted political entities, did not exist in pre-colonial times in this part of Flores. By the time the Dutch arrived, there were many people living in the vicinity of Bo'a Wae (the village that became the capital of colonial Nage)--and most notably members of the large and widely dispersed clans Tegu and Sodha (or Naka Sodha)--whose forbears, together with ancestors of clans Ana Wa and Gawi, had reputedly occupied the village of Nata Nage before its break-up perhaps two hundred years previously. It is probable, therefore, that these people were still distinguishable as 'people of Nata Nage' or more simply 'Nage people' by the time the Dutch arrived. And it is further probable that it was this usage, or some similar reference to derivation from Nata Nage, which led the Dutch to adopt the name 'Nage' for the newly created colonial territory. It is even possible that Nata Nage was misconstrued by the Dutch, or their local interpreters--most likely men from the Florenese port town of Ende, to the east--as Ata Nage, 'Nage people'.

As colonial records are completely silent on this point (see Forth ed. 2004:108), one can only speculate about how or why the colonial authority officially adopted the name 'Nage'. Even so, the foregoing is the most likely explanation, and it finds additional support in the current application of 'Nata Nage' to the administrative district or 'village' ('desa') which includes the old colonial capital of Bo'a Wae, the principal resident of Deu, the clan of the colonial leaders. Also noteworthy is a widely-known account of a nineteenth century (and thus pre-colonial) war between Bo'a Wae and several neighbouring villages, on the one hand, and, on the other, followers of Mola Ito, a powerful warrior hailing from a region to the east. Recorded in this oral tradition is a boastful and belligerent oration attributed to Mola Ito, in which he referred to his enemies, and particularly it seems men of the village of 'Abu (see Table 2) led by the clan Tegu, as 'Nage sa pajo', roughly meaning 'Nage all together' (cf. the synonymous 'Nage sa pali', 'Nage all in a row, line'). Although less indicative of the age of the usage, suggestions of an application of 'Nage' to a human collectivity larger than a village are encountered in several other standard expressions. One is 'Nage ta'a malo', 'the pliable Tamarind', a phrase Nage use to refer to self-professed attributes of flexibility and adaptability, but also a tendency to 'bend' the truth. In a similar vein, the place names Sabu Nage, 'Nage meeting place' (on the boundary with the Rawe region, to the north) and Mala Nage ('Nage plain', recorded in the eastern district of Wolo Wea) evidently allude to Nage people rather than the Tamarind tree. So too does 'Lako Nage', or 'Nage dog', a term denoting a sexually aggressive man which expresses an acknowledged, even self-proclaimed, reputation of Nage males as possessing an excessive sexual appetite.

Although naturally disputed by members of the clan Deu in Bo'a Wae, local oral history suggests that, prior to the ascendancy of Deu in the second half of the nineteenth century, it may not have been Deu but Tegu, or a particular section of Tegu, that was the most prominent group in what are now the modern administrative units of Nata Nage and Nage Sapadhi. It may therefore have been Tegu, especially, who preserved the old village of Nata Nage and the name 'Nage' as valued symbols of identity and social unity. This is not to argue that, after the dissolution of Nata Nage, 'Nage' designated anything like a named phratry or federation of clans. At most, it would have been retained as a general reference, especially to the several local segments of Tegu and closely associated clans that are now settled in numerous villages in central Nage. But whatever the precise derivation of the name of the colonial entity that came to be called Nage, individual

clan histories give the lie to any notion that all clans included in the colonial district, or even the twenty-four listed in Table 1, once maintained a presence in Nata Nage. According to people of the clan Tegu, only this clan and three others--Sodha, Ana Wa, and Gawi--were ever settled in Nata Nage. Other accounts record at least one segment of the clan Deu as having joined the Nata Nage people as immigrants from another, earlier abandoned ancient village called Deu (or in some accounts, Oki Deu). Yet some Tegu clansmen deny that people of Deu, and especially that segment of Deu which eventually settled in Bo'a Wae and whose leader became the colonial raja of Nage, were ever settled in Nata Nage. By contrast, Deu not only represent Nata Nage as their ancestral village, they also claim to have been the settlement's leading clan. It is moreover mainly Deu people who propagate the idea that ancestors of everyone in the Nage colonial district once resided in Nata Nage. (12) And it is Deu, more than anyone else, who claim that all such 'Nage' people, regardless of individual clan affiliation, should observe the Tamarind taboo.

It is a further question whether residents of the old village of Nata Nage, while this was still extant, observed the taboo on Tamarind wood. As noted, Aria Wa people claim this as a taboo specific to their own clan. Some men of Tegu also say they should observe the taboo. In the words of the leader of one segment of Tegu, this is because they were 'people of Nata Nage'. But other Tegu people deny they are subject to the prohibition. Similarly, while some members of other clans reputedly resident in the old village, such as Sodha and Gawi, say Tamarind is taboo for them as well, other Gawi and Sodha people deny this. At the same time, members of clans that definitely do not recognize Nata Nage as their village of origin (including Mudi, Watu Bala, Koba Jawa, and Wolo Wea) will sometimes profess adherence to the Tamarind taboo. Yet this claim could merely reflect the modern idea that all 'Nage' people, in the modern sense, should observe the Nage taboo--as indeed could expressions of adherence on the part of other people. Certainly, if Tamarind wood were taboo for residents of old Nata Nage, this would have been unusual in relation to the current absence of plant totems specific to villages rather than clans.


The evidence thus points toward the Tamarind taboo as a recent political invention modelled on existing clan tree totems, and on these rather than on other 'super-totems'. Confirming the relative antiquity of clan totems is the occurrence of similar plant taboos, several maintained by clans bearing the plant's name, among the neighbouring Ngadha people (Arndt 1954:217). Contrary to outmoded notions of totemism as a survival of an especially primitive or ancient form of social and conceptual order, the example of the Tamarind shows how a totem can emerge in a colonial context or in similar conditions of radical social change. By the same token, the possession of plant totems by a minority of Nage clans (albeit a sizeable one) cannot be construed as a remnant of a former, more comprehensive system of naming and totemic observances. The propagation of the Tamarind taboo--and hence the Tamarind totem--is very much bound up with a long-standing struggle between Deu and Tegu, the clan which, although subordinated in the colonial order, may very well have been the leading group in old Nata Nage. If not initiated by colonialism, this struggle was exacerbated by a concomitant transformation of indigenous politics. In addition, the taboo itself can be understood as part of a larger appropriation of symbols by the Deu leadership and their efforts, during most of the twentieth century, to consolidate their authority within the Nage region and to justify the position bestowed upon them by the Dutch.

This is not to argue that the Tamarind taboo is fabricated or inauthentic, or represents something entirely novel. After all, the older plant taboos specific to clans are no less social or cultural constructs. They are also interpretable in the same way: as reflecting putative origins and former social and territorial unities that history has since transformed. Yet the Tamarind taboo provides an especially clear demonstration of how a taboo, and a totem, can be constructed at a specific time in order to serve a factional interest--in spite of its apparently unitary implication. It is, moreover, a construction that has not been fully successful, since a large number of Nage openly repudiate the Tamarind as a super-totem or at least do not confirm it. Its incomplete success is partly attributable to a less than organic development of externally imposed political divisions during the colonial period (Forth ed. 2004). Additional factors include the fractious nature of internal relations (especially as these concerned the clans Deu and Tegu) consequent on the local form of stratification entailed by colonial rule, and the short lifespan--effectively little more than thirty years--of the colonial period itself.

As shown, Levi-Strauss's interpretation of totemism as an analogical similarity of differences is barely applicable in the Nage case. On the other hand, his argument that spiritual or religious aspects are derivative and secondary to totemism as a mode of classification (one might also say nomenclature) is rather more pertinent. This is shown not just by the evidently older clan plant taboos but even more manifestly by the Tamarind taboo, understood as a product of recent and mostly colonial history. Supporting an origin of both older and more recent taboos in modes of group nomenclature is the seemingly underdeveloped character of a spiritual relationship between clans and associated plants: the rather minimal prohibition on burning and less often the use of woods in construction; the remarkably easy antidote; and of course the fact that (unlike what obtains with the general taboos on Banyan and Hebu trees--and also the single animal totem of clan Saga 'Enge) the clan taboos are, for the most part, not rationalized with reference to either free spirits or ancestral connections. In this last respect, therefore, plant totemism among the Nage, speakers of a Central Malayo-Polynesian language, appears quite different from what is found in Polynesia. Referring mostly to Tikopia, Firth (1930-31) interprets Polynesian totemism as generally involving special relations between human groups and natural species based on the idea of a plant or animal being a form that a spiritual being can enter or assume.

An equally important conclusion concerns the political implications of the Tamarind taboo. Although obviously grounded in an identity of names, the propagation of this taboo is more than a simple function of naming, or even the selection of a name in connection with the formal constitution of a colonial administrative division. It was, and continues to be, a manifestly political act facilitating the subsumption of all clans resident within the modern political territory designated with the name of the tree, and equally a subordination to the clan Deu which, bound up with this groups's acquisition of the colonial leadership of this territory, and with its historical appropriation of the names 'Nage' and 'Nata Nage', claims a special if not exclusive connection with the Tamarind. While 'Nage' still occurs in names of the lowest level administrative units Nata Nage, Nage Sapadhi, and Nage 'Oga, after the office of 'raja' was dissolved in the nineteensixties there was no longer any more inclusive political entity named 'Nage'. In 2006, however, things changed. After being incorporated for several decades in an administrative entity (or 'regency') called 'Ngada' (more correctly transcribed as 'Ngadha'), the former colonial district of Nage, together with the south coastal region of Keo, seceded to form a new regency named 'Nage-Keo' (locally transcribed as 'Nagekeo'). This amalgamation is not entirely new, for in 1931 the formerly independent Keo district was merged with Nage under the authority of the Nage raja in Bo'a Wae. Still, it will be interesting to see what influence this recent development may have on the further evolution of Nage identity, and particularly on representations of Nage as a pre-colonial, and even primordial, unity.


This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among the Nage over a period of 25 years and funded at various times from grants awarded by the British Academy, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the University of Alberta. Research visits to Indonesia were sponsored by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Nusa Cendana University and Artha Wacana University in Kupang, and St. Paul's Major Seminary in Ledalero, Flores. I am grateful to all of these bodies for their support.


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(1.) The idea of 'three Nage desa' is becoming something of a historical relict. A recent subdivision of Nata Nage and Nage Sapadhi has resulted in two more 'desa': respectively Ola Kile and Rigi (or 'Igi). In addition, several desa have been raised to the status of 'kelurahan', administrative units under the leadership of a paid government official, and so are no longer strictly speaking 'desa'. Whether desa Legu Deru should be included in Nage, conceived as a precolonial social-cultural unity, is controversial.

(2.) Nage clans do not taboo the consumption of fruit or other edible parts of trees or plants after which they are named, nor do Nage generally recognize other plant food taboos. An apparent exception is tewu to (red sugar cane), prohibited for some local segments of the clan Deu. Sometimes, restrictions on consuming cultivated plants--for example, Fox-tail millet or millet mixed with rice, Job's tears, and certain tubers--will be represented as clan taboos. But these in fact apply not to specific clans, but generally to men, especially senior men most closely associated with senior houses (or "cult houses') of clans, or to people engaged in specific ritual activities.

(3.) According to one opinion, buffalo will never of their own accord consume Fai leaves. Others say that, if they do so, they will suffer no harm so long as no one remarks on the fact or 'reprimands' the animal.

(4.) For this reason, Hebu trees to be used for these purposes must be obtained by way of a special ceremony intended to retain the powerful spirit inside the wood (Forth 1998:118-19). By the same token, Nage avoid building dwellings close to Hebu trees, lest they continually suffer disturbances from their associated spirits.

(5.) I was unable to confirm whether these arrangements have ever been observed by other segments of clan Mude. Mude people in other villages said Citrus wood was taboo in house construction, but Nage more generally describe the wood as practically unsuited for timber. According to people of clan Pau in 'Ua--a local group also comprising clans Mude and Meli--all "Ua people should observe taboos on both Mude (Citrus) and Pau (Mango) trees. As 'Ua in several respects forms a distinct grouping within central Nage, this makes sense, although less because of their territorial association than because of extensive affinal ties among the three clans.

(6.) Watu Bala is sometimes represented as a patrilineal segment of Mudi, and other times as descended from a Mudi woman given in marriage. Either way, in the Nage idiom, the specification of Mudi as the 'parent' clan could apply; and since Nage clans are not strictly exogamous, a group can simultaneously be a patrilineal segment and a wife-taker of the same clan.

(7.) The name Deu may derive from the name of a hill and village in the Ngadha region where the clan, elsewhere named Deru, first established itself (Arndt 1954:247-48). Deu people in the Nage region, however, claim their place of origin was a village called Ngusu located within Nage territory (specifically within the desa LeguDeru), whence they later moved to a village which they called Deu, or Oki Deu. This, then, may be a case where a village has, unusually, been named after a clan.

(8.) Outside of the central Nage region, Bu'u Beli, an ancient settlement of the clan Wolo Wea, provides another example of a location named after two brothers: Bu'u So'a and Beli So'a. Naming of clans after ancestors is more common among the Ngadha (Arndt 1954); in fact, most Ngadha clans appear to bear the name of a male or female ancestor. The pattern is also more prevalent in Keo, although only seven of 73 western Keo clan names are recognized as those of an ancestor of the clan (Forth 2001:85).

(9.) It is a matter of some interest in this connection that, in the Ngadha region, one finds a village named Nage that is inhabited by clans Deru and Tegu (Arndt 1954). By most indications, Tegu was the foremost clan in Nata Nage.

(10.) Meaning 'heading towards Nage' or 'in the direction of Nage', 'Pago Nage' is subject to a different interpretation. Since Pago Nage is in the territory of the Kebi people, a group distinct from Nage in the strictest sense, 'Nage' here refers to Kebi's western neighbours. Consistent with this, Pago Nage seems to have been founded shortly after the establishment of the Nage colonial district, as does the hamlet of Nage Nai. In both instances, therefore, 'Nage" can indeed be understood as a reference to a social or demographic entity rather than to the tree.

(11.) A Naka Tebhe man told me that this clan should not burn Nage (Tamarind) wood because they formerly occupied the hamlet named Nage Wawo. However, I find this unconvincing, not least because residents of other settlements which include 'Nage" in the name do not taboo Nage wood, or at least do not do so for this reason.

(12.) Van Heuven (1916) describes Nata Nage as a village founded by the seven children of a brother and sister pair who were the ancestors of all 'Nage'. In an apparent allusion to Nata Nage, Fontijne says that there were 'probably seventeen' clans that resided together in a single Nage 'tribal territory' (Forth ed. 2004:108). Although the source generally cited in this part of Fontijne's report is van Heuven (1916), it is unclear from where either figure was derived. Since both authors were Dutch officials writing during the colonial period, however, the ultimate source was very probably Deu, the clan of the colonially appointed leaders of Nage resident in Bo'a Wae.

Gregory Forth

University of Alberta
Table 1: Nage clan names

Clans named after trees and other plants *

Boa Kapok tree (Ceiba pentrada).

Koba Jawa 'Soya vine'. Koba: 'vine, runner'; Jawa: Soya bean
 (Glycine max).

Mude Citrus tree (Citrus spp.)

Mudi Lagerstreomia flos-regime, a large flowering tree
 yielding hard durable wood, distinguished by its
 violet blossoms

Nila Grewia spp., a tree that yields a good fibre

Pau Mango tree (Mangifera indica)

Tiwa Feo Feo: Candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccana); tiwa,
('Gathered 'gathered together'
or Tiwa

'Ua Higo A kind of herb, an unidentified member of the
 Asteraceae, perhaps Emilia sonchifolia or
 Erechtites valerianifolia. 'Ua refers to a
 neighbouring people.

Wajo Adenanthera pavonina, a hardwood tree with bright
 red seeds and edible leaves (field indetification,

* Scientific indentifications are mostly drawn
form Verheijen 1984 and 1990.

Clans named after natural phenomena

Tegu 'Thunder'

Wa or Ana Wa 'Wind' or 'Wind people, children. Ana Wa claims the
 Nage, or Tamarind (Tamarindus indica), as a clan
 specific taboo. Ana wa is also the word for animal',
 but this has no bearing on the clan name.)

Ana Woka 'Earth turners' (i.e., a work group engaged in
 turning the soil of newly reclaimed land; woke also
 denotes the long digging poles used for this

Bolo Bale The name of an association of two clans in western
 Keo, from where this group derives (Forth 2001:159-
 63, 182-91). (Ultimately the clans take their names
 from a pair of villages designated respectively as
 'Bolo' and 'Bale'. Nage, who now regard Bolo Bale as
 a single clan, sometimes construe the name as
 meaning 'to become tangled'. The Keo ancestor, or
 ancestors, who settled in Nage appear to have
 belonged specially to one segment of clan Bolo.)

Deu (dialectal No recognised meaning; possibly originally a village
Deru) name. (Arndt translated 'Deru', the Ngadha variant
 of the name, as 'citrus tree' (1961:70): thus this
 clan too could ultimately be named after a plant. I
 recorded Nage deu detu with the gloss 'an elevant
 place on a hill side, viewed from below', but it is
 uncertain whether this is in any way related to the
 clan name.)

Dhuge No recognised meaning; former village name. Dhuge
 taboo the Zita tree (Alstonia scholaris).

Dobe 'Ako The name of a village in the Solo region, from where
 this group derives. (The group was originally three
 clans: Dobe, 'Ako, and Leke Nio.).

Gawi 'Kind of harpoon with two barbs, one on either side
 of the point'. (The group appears to have a
 distinctive tradition of employing such weapons in

Kisa Ola 'Middle, central part of a village'

Meli No recognised meaning, probably derived ultimately
 from the name of a village in the So'a region

Naka Tebhe 'True thieves' (possibly referring to a ritual
 function; see Naka Sodha, below)

Saga 'Enge No recognised meaning. Like Dhuge, Saga 'Enge taboo
 the Zita tree (Alstonia scholaris)

Sodha, Naka Sodha: 'a kind of song, singing'; naka is to steal'.
Sodha (Many Nage regard 'Sodha' and 'Naka Sodha' as
 referring to the same clan. 'Naka' refers to a
 ritual task assigned to the clan, or a segment of
 the clan: a designated man should 'steal' (naka) a
 portion of cook meat and rice before it is served at
 feasts, an act though to ensure that the supply will
 be sufficient)

Watu Bala 'Prostrate stone'

Wolo Wea 'Hill of Wea ('gold', a female personal name)', the
 name of a village in the southeast part of the Nage
 region. (Residents of this village refer the name to
 a flat stone called 'Watu Wolo Wea' that is
 centrally located inside the village (Forth
 2004:136, 157, note 14). According to the history of
 clan Wolo Wea now resident in central Nage, the name
 ultimately derives from an ancient village in the
 Poma region.)

Table 2: Names of settlements in the vicinity of Bo'a Wae

Examples of villages and hamlets named after trees or other
plants (not including 'Nage', 'tamarind') *

'Abu A kind of grass, Cyperus kyllingia or C.

Bo Kela A combination of the names of the Gewang palm
 (Bo, Corphya utan) and a giant reed or cane
 grass (Kela; possibly wild sugarcane,
 Saccharum spontaneum

Bo'a Gu 'Bamboo village'. Gu, Gigantochloa apus

Bo'a Wae 'Wae tree village' (Wae, species of
 Pterospermum, possibly PT. diversifolium).
 The derivation of the name of the village is
 disputed. According to various
 interpretations, the original name was Bo'a
 Oja (see below) or Bo'a Kao ('Thorny plant
 village'). These of course also incorporate
 plant names.

Bo'a Oja 'Oja tree village' (Oja, Tonga ciliate or T.

Loka Sambi 'Place of the Lac tree'. Sambi, Schleichera

Nata Wau Wau, a tree, Hibiscus tiliaceus; 'Nata'
 ('plaza, arena') denotes a relatively flat
 inhabited area.

Ola 'Ewa 'Ewa, a small tree, Melanolepis
 multiglandulosa. 'Ola is 'village' but more
 generally 'place'.

Pau Lewa 'Tall mango tree'

Wolo Bidi Bidi, starfruit, Averrhoa carambola; 'Wolo'
 is 'hill'.

Wolo Mako Mako, a plant of the genus Ipomoea (perhaps
 I. alha or I.nil)

* Scientific indentifications are mostly drawn
from Verheijen 1984 and 1990.

Examples of villages
and hamlets named after other landscape features

Bo'a Wolo 'Hill village'

Bo'a Lowo 'River village'

Degho 'Dip, depression (between two raised areas of
 land)', '(moutain) saddle'

Hobo 'Valley, dale'

Hobo one 'Inner valley'

Tolo Pa 'Surface of stony ground'

Ngodho 'To reach, arrive at a higher place', 'point
 of arrival'

Tonga Tei '(Place where one is) able to look over (a
 broad expanse)

Watu Naba 'Broad stone'
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Author:Forth, Gregory
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDO
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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