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'Everyone searches, everyone finds': moral discourse and resource use in an Indonesian Muslim community.


This article discusses the interrelation of moral discourse and resource use in the Banda Islands, Central Maluku, Indonesia. (1) It examines local responses to the administrative regulation of two important forest resources which exist in close proximity and close relation to each other--nutmeg and kenari. In the former case regulations are disregarded; in the latter they are embraced. A key feature which helps to explain this is the notion of 'moral community', conceived here as a collectivity to which members consciously belong, and in which there is moral discourse about belonging (Manger 1999:16). I am not concerned here with existing representations of 'moral economy', particularly those dichotomising tradition and mercantile exchange. (2) Rather, I wish to illustrate interactions involving the Indonesian nation-state and Islam as sources of governmentality. To this end I also explore the attempt by local authorities to apply a Maluku discourse of resource control known as sasi to nutmeg. This is compar ed to the ritual sasi associated with trochus shell, raising critical aspects of state intervention in local moral realms.

The main focus is with the settlement of Lonthoir on Banda Besar Island. The residents of the Banda Islands acknowledge diverse immigrant origins. Lonthoir is one of several settlements that draw on potent ontological motifs to provide moral grounding both for local identification and for access to key resources. These involve the significance of land (tanah) and especially of relations with the spirit-inhabited sites of autochthonous founder-figures (keramat). This gives rise to two means of representing emplaced social relations. The first--the desa--is an administrative unit of local government. (3) The second--the negeri adat--envisages continuity with a pre-colonial polity. These two modes can overlap both in territorial terms but also in their vision of community corporatism as an integrated and cohesive social institution.

Hefner (1997:25) suggests that identification with others always carries important moral implications. Both desa and negeri adat are forms of moral community but they differ in their conceptions of locality and the sources of moral authority drawn upon. Desa (village) relies on ideas of a national citizenry. The negeri adat (traditional polity) is understood as a local historic domain, once exercising political autonomy and now forming a corporate entity recognising ritual obligations which in mapping a local terrain of morality and territory define community boundaries and provide a critical source of social identification.


The absence of formal documentation recognising proprietary rights to land and a resultant lack of certainty surrounding the legal status of land use is a pressing and widespread issue in Indonesia. The Banda Islands presents a particular case, one where the bulk of the local population not only lacks title to land but where their official alienation from a key local resource is formalised through state regulatory regimes. The Bandas are well-known as the historical source of nutmeg and mace, both products of a single tree (Myristica fragrans Houtt.) native to the islands. Tracts of extensive plantings considered 'estate areas' (kawasan perkebunan) by local administrators still dominate the landscape of two islands in particular, Banda Besar and Ai. (4)

After repeated failure to monopolise trade in nutmeg and mace in the Bandas during the seventeenth century, the quasi-sovereign Dutch commercial organisation the United East India Company or VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie D.) sought to control the production of these commodities at their source through establishing a Dutch settler-colony in the Banda Islands (van Leur 1983:183; 392). (5) This plan culminated in the military conquest of the islands in 1621 beginning with the settlement of Lonthoir on Banda Besar. The result involved the radical disruption of existing Bandanese society, the decimation of the islands' indigenous population, and the enforced transformation of the local environment. The three largest islands (Banda Besar, Neira and Ai) were divided wholly into a series of nutmeg estates (perken D.). (6) Remnant Bandanese were distributed across the nutmeg groves as forced labourers (Loth 1995:18-19). The islands were gradually repopulated to accommodate labour needs; initially slaves, lat er convicts and finally indentured labourers and freely arriving immigrants added to the diverse origins of the local population.

Control over land passed from the VOC to the Dutch colonial administration and then to the new Indonesian state when the estates were nationalised in 1958. Successions of government and semi-private companies have since then managed the nutmeg trees as a state resource. (7) Local residents' enduring interactions with the same areas--particularly felling trees for garden construction (in addition to timber and firewood) and the individual harvest and sale of nutmeg continue to be rendered illicit by existing managerial regimes.

The Nutmeg Blocks

A basic element of nutmeg organisation on Banda Besar dates to the semi-private company PT Pala Banda (1987-1990). At this time the groves of the former estates were divided into small contiguous sections in a system now known as 'blok pala' (nutmeg blocks). The rights to harvest from each blok were allotted to residents as a once-only distribution. (8) An agreed amount (representing the expected yield) had to be delivered to the company following harvest. Half was delivered free (reflecting government ownership of the resource) and half was purchased at market rates (as payment for the labour of harvest). (9) The blok pala system remained officially in force throughout the islands but after the commercial failure of PT Pala Banda from 1991 the groves were managed directly through regional government, with delivery of a proportion of the blok harvest made directly to the desa administration. The amount varied among the islands' desa. (10) Throughout these shifts in management regimes ownership of the trees ha s remained consistently with the Indonesian government. This status is quite overt in official restrictions over access to nutmeg fruit in the bloks which apply to the blok holders. A limited period is allowed for their harvest, heralded by an announcement from the company or local administration. This restriction was referred to using the regional discourse of 'sasi'.

Sasi is a widespread institution in Maluku and generically describes the periodic imposition ('tutup sasi' -- closing sasi) and lifting ('buka sasi' -- open sasi) of access to a particular local resource. (11) In Lonthoir its application to nutmeg as a 'sasi pala' (nutmeg sasi) began with the blok division. By 1997 it had become entirely ineffectual; by the official harvest opening much of the fruit had already been stolen by 'pencuri pala' (nutmeg thieves). Most Lonthoir residents received marginal returns from their bloks and relatively few presented the administration with anything but a perfunctory amount of produce. Initially surreptitious then increasingly open nutmeg gathering clearly preceded each official harvest. (12) I was initially surprised at the philosophical responses of residents to the loss of potential income from bloks through unauthorised pre-emptive harvesting, particularly in view of the seriousness with which people perceived (and reacted) to thefts from their gardens or homes. Inform ants would shrug, perhaps express a mild level of annoyance, but little genuine concern seemed evident. Explanations emerged gradually.

Despite colonial and post-colonial prohibitions the illicit gathering of nutmeg from the groves by nearby populations is a longstanding practice which pre-dates the blok and sasi arrangements. It would be extremely difficult to discover a family whose members or ancestors had not participated in the activity at some stage. For many adult men, quietly roaming the groves picking nutmeg during pre-dawn or pre-evening hours comprised a basic strategy to generate sufficient means for marriage, particularly the ritualised payment to a bride's family which must occur for a sanctioned marriage to take place ('masuk ongkos', literally 'fee enters'). Accumulating capital (model) is acknowledged locally as problematic; a favourite saying in Lonthoir is that 'eating' (i.e. finding food) is easy, but money is difficult ('makan gampang, doe lastek,). (13) Those who clandestinely gather nutmeg continue to be seen as the people who have a need to do so in the absence of other ready sources of income. In addition to the obvi ous needs of unmarried men, it forms part of an array of strategies used to maintain a household, a socially respected arena of activity. To be considered rajin (hardworking, industrious) is a positive social value, commonly contrasted with malas or laziness. Walking for hours, sometimes far afield in order to gather nutmeg for household needs or saving towards marriage is rajin.

Nutmeg constitutes a de facto community resource, a status largely muted by overt acknowledgment of government ownership and individual blok rights. Few residents would be unable to immediately cite the current price for one hundred raw fruit (pala mentah) -- a standard form of purchasing from gatherers -- or for that matter the market price of dried nutmeg (biji pala) and mace (bunga pala) by weight. This reflects the flow-on involvement of other individuals which spreads the potential benefits of the activity throughout the community. Numerous residents who do not collect the fruit themselves purchase it from collectors for processing, either to sell on to local traders or to accumulate a sufficient amount to ship to regional markets or sell on to people who do so (particularly local shop-owners of Chinese descent--orang Cina). This 'smuggling' (selindup) of nutmeg outside official channels to regional centres is also longstanding. It occurred throughout the colonial era and has continued up to the present , despite heavy penalties under the Dutch and irregular enforcement of prohibitions by local authorities today.

Pala 'theft' is regarded as a legitimate means of raising cash either in small amounts relatively quickly (cigarettes or school fees) or for longer-term goals (marriage). It also forms part of a more generalised process that local people describe as 'cari akal, cari hidup, supaya menghidupkan' ('search for ideas, search for a livelihood in order to exist'). The term akal is an important one in that it connects such activity to religious discourse. Understood as common sense, thinking, or the operation of the human intellect, akal is linked locally to Islamic ideas about the fundamental constituents of human beings--humans have nafsu (desires/passions), roh (spirit/soul) and akal (intellect/sense). (14) People explain that nafsu and akal are somewhat in competition, with akal the factor that separates humans from animals, allowing them to choose correct (Muslim) conduct and thereby secure the heavenly salvation of their roh. If not for sense, passion would lead people inevitably to sin (dosa) and hell (neraka ).

People state that in an everyday sense they must rely heavily on a/cal and the idea of 'masuk akal' or 'making sense'--their rationalisation of what is correct action, which is admittedly often less than adequate being marred by inevitable human failings and ignorance of the Koran. Hefner (1997:28) notes a widespread justification for the role of human reasoning in the Muslim world: 'though God has provided guidelines, their interpretation is often difficult'. (15) The Koran is popularly believed to contain everything that it is necessary to know as a Muslim, but few residents feel they have the language skills or understanding to read it thoroughly or the opportunity (e.g. sufficient leisure) to acquire such learning. Informants observe that this opportunity will come later in life, pointing to the preponderance of elderly men and women among teachers of mengaji (Koranic recitation) to children. Older men are described as 'rajin sembahyang' (hardworking at daily prayers) compared to most younger men who are 'rajin cari hidup' (hardworking at making a living).

Compensating for their propensity for human error in using a/cal is confidence in the mediation/intercession of certain spirit figures known as the 'datu-datu' associated with local sacred sites. (16) Visits to the sites (known as keramat) and offerings placed there provide a source of religious assistance and intervention which balances otherwise partial religious knowledge and inadvertent mistakes.


The datu-datu are considered community founder-figures but not in the sense of being the ancestors or biological founders (i.e. apical ancestors) of existing populations in the islands. Their association is with place rather than descent. Their origin remains mysterious but tends to involve an implicit claim of autochthony with suggestions they arose from nature ('dari alam'), the land itself ('keluar dari tanah'), or descended from the sky ('turun dari langkit') to a mountain-top. The descendants of the datu-datu are seen as the orang asli (autochthonous people) of Banda who are believed to have fled the islands as a consequence of colonial attacks. The datu-datu, attached as they are to their place of origin, could not leave with the original population but remain as emplaced spirit forms (orang alus), maintaining a watchful presence and exerting a powerful influence over their original territory. As the original inhabitants, the datu-datu continue to constitute the primary owners of the land and it is thro ugh maintaining a relation to these figures that the contemporary population is able to claim a valid connection to locality. The datu-datu may be envisaged as representing an ontological 'source' of local-ness.

Overtly public elements in the defining of collective obligations to the datu-datu are the ritual responsibilities inherent in the local notion of Banda 'adat' (custom/tradition). The role of adat practices in connecting the current population to the datu-datu rests not only with the latter's role as the first occupants but as founders in another potent sense: establishing a local moral universe separating humans from animals and making human sociality possible. This moral universe and the ritual practices associated with it are associated with Islam. A widely told narrative suggests the datu-datu voyaged in search of religion, returning from Mecca with Islam. In bringing religion to the islands, they establish social life in the most important sense, involving recognition of morality, of right and wrong, discriminating between actions clean (bersih) and unclean (kotor). The datu-datu as founder-figures combine the themes of autochthony and precedence with being Muslim; the datu-datu are the first humans of the islands, and the islands the first place to receive Islam in the archipelago. As a consequence the Banda Islands themselves are understood as constituting a 'blessed land' (tan ah berkat).

The indigenous language of the islands is known as bahasa tanah--literally 'language of the land/earth'. This language is not spoken or understood by the contemporary inhabitants though remnants are considered preserved in ritual verses known as kebata whose recitation is linked to specific adat occasions. (17) Names of settlements and places considered original (nama asli) are also called 'adat names' (nama adat) reinforcing the notion of adat as preserved knowledge connected to a locality. Indeed the terms adat and negeri are closely related. The expressions tanah adat and tanah negeri are practically synonymous--both refer to the territorial holdings of the pre-colonial settlement, while rumah adat ('adat house'), a physical structure which among other functions provides a setting for preparing and executing collective ritual events is also referred to as rumah negeri. It is the 'community house', a 'concrete embodiment of the social totality' (Valeri 1990:69).

Adat is intimately tied both to negeri and to tanah, such that the three terms together could be said to form a triangle of meaning linking human settlement (negeri), land (tanah) and tradition/custom (adat). I would gloss this conjunction as 'community' and further, in recognising the links between the datu-datu, Islam and adat, 'moral community'. Indeed the Banda Islands (as tanah berkat) can be understood as embodying morality, and the connection between community actions and land is implicit in a range of adat practices and origin narratives. The genesis of Hatta Island illustrates the point.

The Creation of Hatta Island

Hatta Island is said to have come into existence after another nearby island known as Skaru sank and its population drowned. This catastrophe is understood as linked to the immoral behaviour of its people ('bikin kotor', literally 'doing [what is] dirty') including becoming regularly drunk and committing adultery. Skaru is now an atoll, exposed during annual neap tides. Just one married couple survived, described as having been orang bersih (righteous, pure). Their deliverance, the punishment of the remainder, and the creation of Hatta Island, occurs together as follows:

There is a large elderly person asks for water, wants to drink. All the households refuse...those in one home, husband-wife, they provide it. The person tells them: 'do not go to sleep before twelve o'clock midnight. Shortly, a white chicken will come; climb onto it, shut your eyes; the chicken will fly. Don't open your eyes until the chicken's feet bump dry ground'. The chicken carries the couple to Hatta, on top of Fleeing Mountain. Hatta was newly risen from the sea.. .Skaru was drowned, the evil population all died. Therefore on Hatta Island, everyone is unsullied. (18)

The mountain where the righteous couple land--Gunung Lari (Fleeing Mountain)--has a keramat (sacred site) near the peak which is said to mark the spot where they first touched earth. Another less widespread version involves two chickens (male and female) who worked together to save husband and wife respectively. In this case they did not land on the top of Gunung Lari, but rather at each of two other important local keramat -- keramat tanjung kenari and keramat tanjung buton. As the term tanjung implies, both are headland (promontories), spaced around one kilometre apart on the northern coastline immediately in front of the site of the original negeri (i.e. the current Kampung Lama). The male landed first at that keramat closest to Skaru because the man was heavier, and the chicken became tired. Those who adhere to the first version tend to see the coastal sites as the two graves of the couple. Those embracing the second point to the mountaintop as the grave.

In any case, the role of the coastal keramat illustrates the close relation between these morally exemplary founder figures and the land itself along with its resources. The sites are linked to the placement of two 'tiang sasi' (sasi poles) in the tidal zone at either end of the same northern beach and tidal flats stretching for around one kilometre in-between. The Hatta sasi poles comprise whole undecorated trunks some 30 cm in diameter, fashioned simply from kayu emeng (a wood resistant to sea-worms and other marine organisms) by removing the crowns and branches of one or two small trees. Standing around 2.3 metres high when fixed in position, they are the only vertical objects of any kind in a ubiquitously horizontal setting -- a strikingly visible marker that the local marine sasi is now in effect ('tanda sasi kembali': 'sign the sasi has returned'). This prohibits the gathering of certain key marine resources, in particular trochus shell (lola). Hence sasi here is known both as sasi lola and sari laut ( sea sasi).

Their placement and removal is simultaneous with the fundamental ritual practice associated with community adat throughout the islands -- the construction of tempat sirih (betel containers) which are then placed on several keramat (including the three mentioned) along with Muslim prayer. (19) Adat practice is revealed here as (re)inscribing an intimate connection between particular places, broader locality and ideas of community and their moral state. Not only has an entire population been erased in the past but the land itself descended under the waves because of the scale of impure action. At the same time, the continuing salience of such forces is vividly evident in the contemporary period in the obligations associated with keramat and the control their associated spirit-figures exercise over the fruitfulness of local resources. Ritual procedures must be undertaken not only to make the resource available, but to ensure its abundance, visibility, and the safety of the lola divers.

Bowen (1993:188-189) discusses the farming practices of the Muslim Gayo as involving a set of 'morally grounded transactions' in addition to the practical aspects. Crop failure or damage constitutes the observable results of 'morally reprehensible conduct' while crop success is indicative of the moral and spiritual qualities of the community. Immoral actions by some of its members will endanger crops. Resource use in the Bandas can be expressive of community relations in a similar fashion, both with respect to moral encodings envisaged as present in the landscape itself (represented by the datu-datu and their sites) and local discourse concerning the terms of moral community. Islam contains considerable scope for public discussion of the latter. Asad (quoted in Hefner 1997:34) notes for example the links between social criticism (nasiha A.) in Saudi Arabia and local visions of a well-regulated polity: '[it] depends on its members being virtuous individuals who are partly responsible for one another's moral c ondition -- and therefore in part on continuous moral criticism'. In the Lonthoir context such a process was observable in local controversy surrounding changes in the use of another key resource for Lonthoir residents, the kenari nut.


Regularly spaced kenari trees (Canarium commune L.) were an integral and necessary part of the colonial nutmeg estates, forming a protective canopy above the weather-sensitive nutmeg. Nonetheless unlike nutmeg fruit, the edible nuts of this tree (referred to simply as kenari) are viewed as an unambiguously communal resource. According to elderly informants, kenari gathering rights have always belonged to the people of the Lonthoir kampung rather than the Dutch estates, their managers or labourers. While kampung people were not allowed to gather even small quantities of firewood from the perken without specific permission from estate overseers, kenari nuts could be gathered freely and formed the source of much of the movement of kampung people through the groves. Kenari gathering is a source of income that for some time had been managed by women. As with nutmeg and mace, kenari nuts can be stored and accumulated until a need arises for income. However while nutmeg is seasonal, kenari nuts can be found every da y and the kernels sold immediately to numerous neighbours or local traders; indeed many of the established nutmeg buyers (pembeli pala) in Lonthoir are also kenari buyers. Compared to saleable produce from the gardens cultivated largely by men, kenari generates relatively significant amounts of income much more quickly from far smaller quantities. The position of women as primary managers of household income is certainly reinforced by their ability to readily exchange kenari for cash.

While the gathering of fallen nuts remains unrestricted, the trees themselves continue to belong to the government as a fundamental component of the nutmeg groves. As a consequence the desa administration regulates aspects of human interaction with this resource. The trees themselves may not be felled or damaged in any way and they may not be climbed. Frequently more than 6m from the ground to the lowest branches, and up to 30m high, the kenari are a difficult and daunting climbing tree in any event. Desa staff suggest that climbing is banned primarily because of the danger of falling, but also note this would result in an uneven exploitation of the kenari nut resource. At present everyone but the very elderly and infirm have an opportunity to gather fallen nuts; by comparison only a small minority would be either physically able or willing to risk climbing the trees. In marked disparity to the sasi pala, this regulation (while not represented as a sasi) has been respected by the local population. The existi ng regime of kenari gathering is viewed as both fair and understandable -- it can masuk akal. The repeatedly stressed popular rationale concerning the climbing prohibition is that of ensuring nuts are available equally to all -- 'everyone can search' ('bisa cari sama-sama'); 'everyone searches, everyone finds' ('sama-sama cari, sama-sama dapat'). Indeed, even the smallest children search for kenari alongside older relatives or neighbours, and it is not unusual for school children to accumulate kenari towards the cost of a desired or needed item, e.g. new shoes or an exercise book for school-work.

In 1997 alongside the highest prices ever recalled for kenari nuts (making them weight for weight more lucrative than nutmeg), an emerging trend saw increasing numbers of adolescent and young newly married men gathering kenari. More serious from the community perspective was the fact that individuals began to actually climb the kenari trees, stripping unfallen nuts from upper branches with hooked poles (gai). (20) This activity was a source of growing local tension, with women particularly outraged by a practice that pre-empted their major source of daily income. The activity was not labelled 'thieving' -- people spoke rather of 'orang naik kenari' -- but it was of clearly dubious social standing, especially when only one or two individuals were involved. In these circumstances it was openly discussed as an anti-social act, an act of greed and selfishness which diminished the community. A resource which belonged to everyone was being monopolised by a few individuals, but also in a certain sense community its elf was diminished - the collective participation in the agreed terms of moral behaviour on which meaningful local conceptions of community depend. (21) People described the climbers as 'galojo' and 'rakus' (greedy/selfish), they mo gampang saja' ('want it easy'); they were referred to by terms that questioned their very human-ness: 'burung kepala hitam' ('bird with a black head') and 'pan iki siang' ('daytime bat').

It is in the context of the acknowledged difficulties of life as a Muslim that the local admonitions 'mo gampang saja' ('wants it easy only') and malas (lazy) take on their full significance. Newland (2000:203) notes of West Java that 'being Muslim takes endless work, a cultivating of moral self and person in relation to the norms of [one's Muslim] community'. This analytical remark closely parallels a saying among Muslims in the Bandas: 'masuk Islam gampang; hidup Islam lastek' ('entering Islam [i.e. religious conversion] is easy; an Islamic life is difficult'). (22) People also described the climbers as 'wanting a life by themselves' ('dorang mo hidup sendiri') i.e. refusing to participate in community life, by their actions rendering their relation to the community suspect. A telling contradiction frequently raised suggested 'if they're gaining something they want to do so alone [i.e. not share]; but if they fall they want everyone to come [and help]' ('kalau dapat mo sendiri, tapi jatuh mo ramai'). This comment is quite explicit in recognising and naming the factors which act to constrain autonomy in order to maintain the local moral terrain enabling of community relations. To benefit alone from a communal resource is to reject social expectations of moral conduct, inviting a similar rejection of other community mores such as rushing to the assistance of a fallen and almost certainly seriously injured climber.

By comparison nutmeg gathering clearly reflects the notion of 'sama-sama cari, sama-sama dapat' ('everyone searches, everyone gets something') as a key social value. Stealing from the blok is not considered thieving in the sense that it is not motivated by direct envy (the blok trees formally lack individual ownership, unlike those planted in gardens) and everyone has the opportunity to participate (including those without blok rights). If it was seen as a sin (dosa) at all, it was regarded as almost certainly a very small one, locally ranking somewhere near the male consumption of fermented palm sap (sagero) in gardens, indeed perhaps even less morally ambiguous. Men will sometimes describe each other or themselves as 'pencuri pala' (nutmeg thief) with laughter and little chagrin, much as they joke about a fondness for sagero. Among women the latter is of significantly more concern than the former; a propensity to drink sagero can constitute an obstacle to marriage; illicit nutmeg harvesting commonly facili tates it. The social (i.e. shared) ends involving the proceeds of nutmeg 'theft' play an important part in the general acceptance of the situation and the conduct. The motive is understandable, there are limited alternatives, the practice is established and of benefit not just to the individual, but to his intended bride, both families, and everyone else involved.

Residents often stated their preference for the pre-blok system, when everyone in the village (not just those granted blok-rights) had an opportunity to search for pala to sell to the nationalised estates. In virtually ignoring blok rights the current practices replicate the preferred situation, expressed once again as 'sama-sama cari, sama-sama dapat'. Climbing kenari trees is entirely different. It involves a practical exclusivity (those able to climb) by comparison to the existing practice of open and equal access to the nuts. People say of the climbers with heavy irony that they 'mo jadi haji' ('want to become a haji')--the self-interested, purely monetary aim of collecting large amounts of kenari quickly for sale is satirised by being linked to earning the cost of the pilgrimage to Mecca, a religiously pious act.

Equality & Autonomy

The 'sama-sama cari...' value invites interpretation as 'equality of opportunity' (i.e. equal access to resources). Placed alongside the absence of ascribed inequality (e.g. inherited rank) and a lack of local orders of precedence (reflected in an absence of origin structures such as clans or houses) the description of Lonthoir society as 'egalitarian' might seem apt. (23) Indeed Lonthoir residents acknowledged that most other locations throughout Maluku possess administrative positions (such as desa head) which overlap with indigenous systems of class or rank. They distinguished their own practices without hesitation as more desirable ('lebih baik begini' 'its better like this'). In this context several informants cited the ideal of 'ummat' which represents Muslims as a non-hierarchical community, united and equal in their belief and adherence to the teachings of Islam. The motivation of migrant ancestors in travelling to the Bandas is sometimes interpreted as escaping indigenous systems of rank or status wh ich had erroneously pervaded Muslim practice in their communities of origin.

However, intrinsic to the Western liberal vision of equality of opportunity is an acceptance of inequality of condition (Helliwell 1995:360). The expectation is that inequalities will necessarily arise because of innate individual capabilities. In this view, differential outcomes (e.g. disparities of wealth) are understood as rooted in natural disparities between autonomous agents. Egalitarian societies exhibit 'achieved inequality', while non-egalitarian societies are represented as possessing socially imposed or 'ascribed inequality' (Helliwell 1995:363). Another way of putting this is to say that liberal forms of egalitarianism envisage competitive inequality (an ideology reflected not just in normative social mores but in visions of evolution and even 'nature' itself). Yet the Lonthoir formula 'sama-sama cari, sama-sama dapat' is ambivalent on just this issue. It can be translated also as 'together search, together succeed', pointing to a discomfort with marked disparities of outcome, and therefore subve rting the principle of achieved inequality.

Certainly the reality of individual differences in skills linked to income generating activity is recognised--a person may be 'kuat di laut' ('strong at sea') another 'kuat cari kenari' ('strong at searching for kenari'). Different outcomes in searching for common resources (pala, kenari, lola) are recognised as unremarkable, but a common caveat runs as follows: 'ada yang dapat sedikit, ada yang dapat banyak, asal dapat'--('there are those who find few [and] those who find many, what is important is to get something'). In the case of diving for trochus shell on Hatta for example, an elderly resident with rights to dive does not miss their chance for a share as a consequence of being infirm during a particular harvest or indeed permanently. They are allowed to nominate another who lacks access rights (someone from a different island for example) to substitute for them.

This substitute diver could well be young and fit, obtaining significantly more lola shell than the older individual has been able to obtain for some years. Any Western notion of 'equality of access' is stretched beyond recognition here, pointing clearly to local limits to the extent that 'differential outcomes' are regarded as socially acceptable. This complicates the interpretation of resource use in Lonthoir in terms of an egalitarianism which conflates equality and autonomy (Helliwell 1995:372). In Lonthoir this elision is absent--equality and autonomy are each viewed as rooted in the exercise of moral agency rather than natural states. Depending on context, autonomy can be valued or deprecated, viewed as both counter to or in accordance with local understandings of Muslim behaviour.


Sources of classifying moral conduct necessarily participate in shaping and delineating local terms of the cultural objectification labelled 'the person'. As Taylor (1989:112) notes: 'being a self is inseparable from existing in a space of moral issues, to do with identity and how one ought to be'. Ideas of the 'sacred' clearly constitute one such source (Csordas 1994:165). In Lonthoir this is referred to by terms such as sakti, a realm connected to local understandings of the founder figures as exemplary wali and the demands of being Muslim. (24) This can also be expressed as the operation of governmentality through the constitution of local subjectivity, 'the way in which people are invited or incited to recognise their moral obligations--divine law, rational rule, cosmological order' (Foucault 1997:264). The focus here is not just on codes of moral behaviour external to a transcendent self, but on morality as a form of subjectivation: 'the government of the self by the self in its articulation with relatio ns to others (as one finds it in pedagogy, advice for conduct, spiritual direction, the prescription of models of life, etc.)' (Foucault, quoted in Davidson 1994:119). Though stopping short of elaborating a generalised link between religion and governmentality in detail, Foucault often traces the power of religious subjectivity alongside other technologies of the self (Carrette 2000:140;149).

As mentioned, assertions of the relevance of communal moral states to environmental conditions are common across the archipelago--immoral actions and/or community disputes can be viewed as endangering crops for example, linked to a local emphasis on social harmony (Bowen 1993:189-190). At other locations in Maluku (e.g. Pannell 1997:293) the abundance of desirable species associated with sasi is also understood as linked to the moral behaviour of the community as a whole. Sasi pala as an instrument for governance by the state does not carry the same force; it appears unrelated to the sources of governmentality which bring these dimensions into relation. By comparison to the collective ritual engagement with sacred sites involved in the sasi of Hatta Island, the allotment of a blok of nutmeg trees to the mosque seems tokenistic. Indeed people clearly differentiate the notion of 'sasi adat' such as occurs on Hatta from 'sasi pemerintah' or 'government sasi' which has none of the same ontological potency.

Considered in light of the moral terms of sociality raised previously, the disregard of the sasi applied to nutmeg becomes explicable. The sasi pala is both insufficiently egalitarian in that it restricts the access of some community members to nutmeg trees (those without bloks, those whose bloks are depleted) and also too egalitarian in that it over-emphasises the autonomy of each blok holder from the broader demands of community life. (25) People speak of opening the sasi on our own initiative ('buka sasi sendiri') as soon as the fruit is sufficiently ripe, rather than waiting for an official announcement. Harvesters roam widely, ignoring individual blok harvesting rights and government/company ownership.

However this does not mean that the potential for a convergence of interests between modes of governmentality does not exist. One of the results of the onset of kenari tree-climbing has been a deepening nostalgia among community elders for regulatory regimes of a kind that approach those of the colonial era. They observe that the Dutch could be severe but note with approval the much greater discipline (disiplin) among the population in the period. Dutch-era laws are described as 'keras' (harsh) but also 'hebat' (great, effective). Nowadays people do whatever they want 'bikin apa saja, ikut kemauan' ('doing whatever, indulging their wishes') such as climbing kenari trees. (26) Things are 'bebas' (unrestricted/free), a term carrying associations of moral laxity and immorality, the unencumbered indulgence of nafsu (passion/desires). These kinds of sentiments are involved in the local emergence of remaja (adolescents/youth) as a problematic category in Lonthoir, whose behaviour in the forest is discussed at vill age meetings.

Elsewhere in central Maluku indigenous commentary of sasi practice has also mentioned its role as a potential means of controlling unruly youth; it is viewed as 'a good way to keep the youth from stealing their parents' property to buy cigarettes and alcohol' (von Benda-Beckmann et al. 1995:25). Local interpretations that emphasise theft prevention and discipline have caused the contemporary use of sasi to be represented by analysts as a tool of governance. This is construed in terms of colonial transformations--particularly Dutch-promoted dynamics of rationalisation (e.g. Zerner 1994:1093)--and more recent shifts serving privatised and commercialised interests (von Benda-Beckmann et al. 1995:5) enforced under a veneer of local tradition.

Parallel sentiments in Lonthoir are linked instead to a vision of community harmony that invokes values of access and sharing of resource abundance and also the perpetuation of these resources. This is not achieved through 'environmental management' but as an outcome of morally exemplary community life linked to the local authority of the datu-datu. Hardly the vision of a Western 'rationalising modernity' but nevertheless a form of governmentality involving its own constraints on local behaviour while creating a clear opportunity for a convergence of interests between local visions of a sacred landscape and colonial visions of disciplined resource management. In 1870 an addendum to forestry rules linked to sasi controls on Ambon Island and written (in Malay) by a village official notes that the rules are intended: to stop the evil that often occurs when a local person wants to seize and steal what another person possesses. With the result that many times, people who do not own land and gardens obtain income that is greater than those who [do]. And people who do not work planting have an income that is greater than those who do (quoted in Zerner 1994:1093).

Processes of governance are rarely if ever unitary, encompassing and determining (Thomas 1994). The possibility remains that such rules do incorporate prominent indigenous ideas, even local moral perspectives. The representation of thieves as a kind of 'moral other' may well reflect a distinctly Calvinistic work ethic that drew local productive activity into terms favourable to colonial capital. It is equally recognisable in terms of Malukubased discourses concerning marked disparities of wealth and the consequent dangers of envy ('iri hati'). Envy disrupts community harmony not only through theft but potentially in giving rise to black magic ('ilmu hitam') and the 'suanggi' witch-figure who exists as the ultimate antithesis of communal relations throughout Maluku. (27) Much of the local concern in Lonthoir with smoothing over differences and valorising generosity reflects a self-conscious concern with community relations and the need to guard against envy and its repercussions. In the Bandas the association of the power of the datu-datu with protection against the machinations of suanggi serves to emphasise the source of the moral polarities being indexed here.

In this way representations of sasi merely as a mechanism of colonial policy appear too overdetermined. Written codification was often itself a colonial enterprise and village officials colonial appointees. This does not preclude the possibility that these technologies of Dutch governance could be appropriated by a subject population and turned to ends that were neither prescribed by nor necessarily subversive of Western culture, but rather extensions of existing practices in new ways (Thomas 1989:273). Pannell (1997:296) for example argues that local understandings of sasi retain perceptions of sovereignty expressed alongside or within other dimensions: 'while prevention of theft is the prime reason given by people as to why they sasi marine species, underlying this logic is the notion that residents ... have exclusive rights and interests in the use and control of these resources'. Certainly the involvement of the government in shaping the conduct of Hatta's relations with trochus shell is actively resente d, with a particular focus of resentment being the imposition of a regulatory regime concerning the sale of trochus.

This regime enforces the sale of each communal harvest in its entirety to a single buyer, which consequently demands considerable surveillance and discipline. (28) Tales abound of people beaten by police for trying to sell small amounts of trochus shell privately which were gathered quite legitimately during the buka sasi period. One victim of this treatment was selling a single shell seeking the price of some cigarettes ('cuma satu biji untuk harga rokok'). Such treatment is of a type expected for thieves, and one informant exclaimed angrily 'Pencuri bagaimana? Katorang pung negeri punya hasil itu' ('Thieves in what way? The harvest belongs to our negeri'). Another pointed directly at the surveillance involved in tallies and notifications to the Neira-based military and kecamatan administration, stating she was fed up ('su bosan') with processes of 'cek, cek, cek' (i.e. 'check, check, check') declaring that such procedures were not a traditional aspect of the buka sasi period. More pointedly there are peopl e who express fears that the state's involvement may invite a response from the datu-datu, stressing their precedence as the original and prior sovereigns of the locality. Payments to officials in Neira are seen as 'uang keluar dari negeri ini' ('money leaving this negeri') asserting that they rightfully belong to the negeri. (29)

Sasi as a form of relation to local resources needs to be understood as dependant upon conceptions of moral community and the subjects which constitute it. It may carry connotations of a political institution or law capable of delimiting the 'rights' of a subject conceived in legalistic terms (i.e. concerned with tenure, ownership, property). Importantly sasi practices also emphasise the effective production of local subjects through their constitution as agents in relation to others and to locality.


'Being Muslim' always involves participation in a particular moral community. Debates about what this entails are common throughout all Muslim societies. (30) What Bowen (1993:11) refers to as the 'discursive texture' of Muslim practice is not necessarily always explicitly concerned with cosmological dimensions. More often it involves conversations, debates and discourse about religious practice and about broader issues of morality and identity couched in Islamic idiom (Manger 1999:17). Such shared narratives draw on a particular universe of meaning to (re)produce the conditions of inclusion and exclusion within that community, serving to emphasise that 'community is a project generated as much by talk, by sharing stories, as by events such as exchange' (Hagen 1996:229).

The fundamental issues surrounding Banda adat understood as 'local knowledge' not only entail its authorising and the modes of legitimation it embodies but involve its role in creating 'reliably local subjects' (Appadurai 1996:181). This process has been interpreted here in terms of governmentality in order to highlight the operation of moral discourse in the constitution of local subjects and potential areas of covalence with the dynamics of the Indonesian nation. Even a secularised state remains a form of moral community writ large (Anderson 1991:12). Visions of community in the Banda Islands emphasise the very possibility of human sociality as rooted in morality envisioned in religious terms. In residents' understandings the keramat exist as local sources of sacred agency demonstrably enforcing the terms of moral community. This authority coexists in the Bandas with the administrative power of the Indonesian nation (which, in its commitment to mandatory theism, itself represents a compromise between a full y secular and wholly theocratic state).

The relevance of such concerns is evident in the recent emergence within Indonesian national politics of 'customary societies' ('masyarakat adat') in conjunction (and sometimes in competition) with proposals for decentralisation through increasing regional autonomy ('otonomi daerah') (Hull 2000:3). Demands for the restoration of the 'sovereignty of customary societies' ('kedaulatan masyarakat adat') have frequently been accompanied by assertions of community rights to autonomous management of local resources (Acciaioli 2001:5). At the same time considerable difficulties are involved in formulating workable criteria for defining 'indigenous' in eastern Indonesia (Barnes 1995:322) while wider discussions have highlighted a range of alternative liberalisms (Ong 1999:54) and inodernities (Comaroff 1996:167). Characterising particular societies and their resource use according to notions such as tradition or transformation, continuity or rupture, is unlikely to prove as useful as appreciating the specific dynamics of obligation and autonomy exercised by its members. These need to be considered alongside the sources and practices of governmentality that can encompass both and elevate either in the context of local understandings of moral community.


(1.) This paper is based on 20 months of field research conducted in 1996-1997 and in 1999. This was conducted under the auspices of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), in cooperation with Pattimura University Ambon and support from the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

Italicised non-English terms often signify language that is used in the Banda Islands. As noted by Collins (1998:85-86) Malay occurs in numerous forms including dialects and colloquial variations that serve a diverse range of roles. The Bandas have been identified historically as the location of a distinct regional dialect which has been labelled 'Banda Malay' (Grimes 1991:119). In use, Banda Malay exists at one end of a continuum from the 'standard' Malay that forms a national language in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia, with a range of intermediary forms available (see Winn n.d). Banda Malay requires systematic linguistic investigation; the textual conventions I adopt here are improvised.

(2.) See Schrauwers (1999) for a recent critique of this dichotomy drawing on a contemporary Indonesian case-study and Goodman (1998) for a critique based on the complexities of historical trade in the Maluku region.

(3.) Established by the Village Government Law of 1979 (VGL) alongside subsequent ministerial decrees and regional implementing legislation, uniform structures of local governance were created across Indonesia in the form of a multi-tiered administrative hierarchy stretching from neighbourhoods through to provincial level (Warren 1993:238-239).

(4.)Estimates of the number of nutmeg trees vary, and tend to focus on the government (ex-colonial) groves (perkebunan) rather than taking account of individual plantings in the patchwork of residents' gardens which occupy same areas but lack official status of any kind. The minimum figure proffered by government sources is 61,000 trees which are concentrated on the island of Banda Besar in particular but also Ai Island.

(5.) Established in 1602, the VOC represented the merger of a number of companies hitherto competing in spice-supplying areas such as Maluku (consequently driving local prices up and trader profits down). This occurred at the suggestion of the then States-General (the Netherlands at the time being a federation of provinces each of which was represented in the VOC structure) which granted the organisation a charter giving it powers to 'enlist personnel on an oath of allegiance, wage war, build fortresses and conclude treaties throughout Asia' (Ricklefs 1993:27.

(6.) The Dutch term perk (plural: perken) literally refers to a 'garden bed', but in this context is translated variously as 'garden concessions' (Hanna 1991:60), 'orchards' or even 'parks' (Loth 1997:4). In local Malay the term is perek, closely associated (among elderly residents) with an enduring Dutch expression 'onderneming'. Literally this means 'undertaking' or 'enterprise' but in the context of the Netherlands Indies it took on the alternative meaning of 'plantation'.

This discursive blurring seems significant in that it may represent the conjunction of an organised venture with an idea of knowable, mappable landscape resulting in the local onderneming, i.e. territory as enterprise -- a rationalised, controlled entity. The Banda Islands was one of the earliest enterprises of this nature, where an entire landscape was given over to divided segments of occupation and control. The Dutch expression for this particular form of non-privatised estate system, unique to the Banda Islands, was perkenierss-telsel (perkenier system). So specific to the Bandas was this system that perkenier D. came to mean 'a nutmeg planter' in colonial era Dutch dictionaries.

Even so, the seventeenth century nutmeg perken of Banda remained somewhat distinct from the pure systematised instrumentality of the plantation system which developed elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies and indeed throughout Western colonial possessions in the tropics. These latter institutions represent a particular kind of convergence between regulatory and technological regimes and the physical and social environment in a 'total system' mode sometimes viewed as diagnostic of modernity. Such a vision remained undeveloped in 1621, though the manipulation of the Banda landscape through the creation of perken should surely be seen as a precursive form.

(7.) This has been a convoluted process. What appears to remain in question in the Banda Islands is the definitive property status of the original perken estates; were they freehold or leasehold?

Indonesian State Law no. 1, designed to deal specifically with the question of land ownership after nationalisation of foreign plantations, states that all 'tanah partikelir' formerly leased on erfpacht D. basis (in standard Indonesian: Hak Guna Usaha or HGU i.e. right to exclusive use) to foreign enterprises would have the status of state land and should be redistributed to peasants. Presidential Decision 32 (1979) concerning 'Basic Policies in Granting New Status to Land Originating in Conversion of Western Land Rights' following the provisions of the 1960 Agrarian Law which specified that all land under erfpacht/HGU land leases would revert to direct state control at latest by September 1980, states that all such land that has been devoted to village settlement and smallholder cultivation will be assigned to those occupying it (White 1999:252).

Western sources seem confused on this critical point. Stubenvol (1996:5) follows Hanna (199 1:100) in declaring that the perderniers received the estates as 'landed property' in 1824. However he later describes Run and Hatta Islands as possessing 'hereditary leasehold plantations' (Stubenvol 1996:6). Hanna's history is notoriously unhelpful due to its lack of footnotes or citations. He notes that this very change in status by proclamation of the Governor General of the East Indies van der Capellen on April 29 1824 was 'obscure and contradictory' (1991:100). It suggested the perkerniers 'would be regarded thereafter as the rightful owners of the perken with full power to dispose of them as they might choose' but noted also that 'the government could resume possession of the properties if the perkerniers failed to meet their obligations for continued delivery of spices' (Hanna 1991:101). Hanna also adds that the perkerniers themselves complained of this critical ambiguity with regard to 'the distinction betwee n highly conditional leasehold and unconditional freehold property' and that 'they could acquire no title deeds as evidence of ownership' (Hanna 1991:101).

In 1845, perkerniers were still asking for title deeds to be issued; a government announcement of new regulations which 'seemed to acknowledge freehold rights and therefore to imply permission to mortgage and the possibility of foreclosure' on closer inspection 'seemed merely to reiterate earlier exhortations about delivering produce and not contracting debts' (Hanna 199 1:103). By 1859 the government took responsibility for perkernier debts to Dutch charitable funds. In 1873 (after the abolition of the government nutmeg-trading monopoly) Hanna records the perkerniers as beginning to pay land tax, but does not mention the issue of titles (1991:116). Finally in the 1 1880s, Hatta mentions perkernier mortgages, but again, not titles (1991:119). While the ability to mortgage a property might be viewed as prima faci evidence of freehold title, the Banda Situation was far more convoluted. The state organisation CHV (Banda Credit and Commercial Association) was a subsidiary of the state-owned NHM (Netherlands Trad ing Society) set up specifically to consolidate perkernier debts and convert them into mortgages. In other words, it appears that the same authorities responsible for withholding title over a lengthy period were involved in issuing mortgages and in repossession, which could presumably have occurred entirely 'in-house' i.e. without ever issuing freehold title documents to the perkerniers. Hanna writes:

the Banda perkerniers, in short, did exactly what the V.O.C. had predicted they would do if they ever acquired unconditional freehold possession and title deeds. They borrowed, they mortgaged, they squandered, they speculated, they were sold out, and the C.H.V., sired by the N.H.M. and heir to the V.O.C., claimed the Coen legacy (Hanna 1991:120).

Hanna mentions other far smaller commercial organisations such as the 'Banda Chinese' Kok family which also acquired perken but not the manner in which this occurred. According to local informants, the Kok family enterprise held perek on Run and Hatta, those which Stubenvol refers to as being 'hereditary leasehold'. These have been managed by provincial authority at the Kabupaten (District) level (Tingkat 2) since nationalisation in 1958. As elsewhere in the islands, these areas were partially privatised without success and authority returned to the District government.

(8.) The initial number of trees distributed in this way varied greatly between locations in the islands. The allotment in Lonthoir was as follows:

* each household head (kepala keluarga): one blok of 50 trees.

* unmarried men (bujang): 25 trees.

* visiting teachers (guru): 25 trees.

* the mosque (mnesjid): 50 trees.

(9.) PT employees (petugas) would estimate the fruit yield from each block and set this amount (in kilograms) as a required harvest by the company. One informant formerly employed in this role describes the process as involving substantial haggling, with the block harvester trying to talk down the potential yield so as to secure as much of a private margin as possible. With the petugas regularly threatening to allocate the block to another harvester, the original figure was generally lowered somewhat and on reaching final agreement both petugas and petani would sign a form.

Any harvest outside this amount was also required to be sold to the company but was usually purchased in secret by local buyers for smuggling on to other destinations, predominantly Ambon.

(10.) In Lonthoir, the desa administration had viewed as reasonable an amount slightly less than half of what was available to be harvested, the remainder being able to be sold privately by the blok holder. Elsewhere, this figure was one quarter or even lower.

Most recently (from March 1999) a new semi-private company called PT Banda Permai claimed the right to the entire harvest from the blok under arrangements paralleling those of PT Pala Banda. The involvement in this arrangement both of Indonesian government departments and a local foundation (the 'Banda Naira Heritage and Culture Foundation') founded and headed by an entrepreneur with business interests in Jakarta (see Winn 1999) suggests a continuation of the nebulous connections between the swasta ('private') and yayasan ('foundation') sectors characterising New Order Indonesia under Suharto (van Langenberg 1986: 24-25).

On a return visit to the islands in 1999, most settlements on Banda Besar did not sell the nutmeg from their blok to the new company. It remains unclear how this will be enforced.

(11.) Widespread in Maluku, sasi refers generically to periodic restrictions on the harvesting of a local resource (terrestrial and/or marine) usually controlled by ritual action linked in turn to the sanction of ancestors and/or spirit figures. A physical sign of some form testifying to the restriction being in place is quite common.

Zemer (1994b:81) describes the term sasi as originating in 'Makassar Malay'. In the Banda Islands the term is associated either with a notion of 'Maluku Malay' (Ba hasa Maluku) and sometimes Ambon Malay (Bahasa Amban). Pannell (1997:305) notes the latter interpretation as dominant in southeast Maluku (Maluku Teuggara).

See Zerner (1994a; 1994b; 1994c), von Benda-Beckmann et al. (1995) and Pannell (1997) for discussions of the origins, development and contemporary significance of sasi in Maluku. Much of this recent attention to sasi has been linked to a burgeoning international concern with the notion of community management of local resources. Certainly sasi fulfils the core criteria of 'customary tenure' suggested for example by Hviding (1996:23-24) as a system of social relationships involving obligations through which people are capable of using and of controlling both access and the degree of resource exploitation.

(12.) Nutmeg harvesting is noticeable because of the piles of opened fruit left behind under the trees. Officially, after opening the nutmeg harvest people are permitted to gather nutmeg fruits solely from those trees allotted to them under the blok pala system. In the past, harvesting was intense for two or three days, after which the bulk of sufficiently ripened fruit had usually been picked. With this first mass harvest over ('su panen') for the remaining period people were permitted to wander freely throughout the groves, searching for remaining individual nutmeg fruit as they become sufficiently ripe from trees scattered throughout the various blocks. After around two months, the returns from this more scattered harvest are increasingly scarce, and the bloks are announced as closed once more, with no-one permitted to harvest from their trees.

(13.) 'Lastek' is one of numerous everyday lexical items acknowledged as a Dutch loan-word--in this case lastig (difficult). Such words are locally understood as distinguishing Bahasa Banda (i.e. Banda Malay) from other regional Malay forms, in particular Ambon Malay (Bahasa Ambon) and plays an important part in the terms of local identification.

(14.) Arabic 'nafs': the lower self, animal-spirit (Trimingham 1998:308).

(15.) See Bowen (1993:321-325) also for a discussion of modes of rationalisation and Islam in a rural Indonesian context.

(16.) In standard Indonesian, 'datuk-datuk' translates as ancestors or forebears (Wojowasito 1982:111). In the Bandas the term is used in a way that distinguishes it from that of ancestors. In discussing the latter, people speak of nenek moyang, moyang-moyang or nenek-nenek. The expression datu-datu has cognates in local languages across Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines which link the term with titles of respect or recognition, sometimes specifically linked to Islamic religious scholars, shamans and/or high ranking officials attached to a local rulers court (Federspiel 1995:47).

(17.) Collins & Kaartinen (1998:525) note that ritual 'mantras' found on the 'island of Lontor [sic]' do contain lexical items which 'appear to be Bandanese words' when compared to a distinctive language used in certain communities in the Kei Islands which continue to identify as descendants of Bandanese refugees from the Dutch conquest in 1621. The source the authors cite as providing an account of these 'mantras' is Uneputty et al. (1985) which actually refers to kapata (i.e. kebata) used in the desa Lonthoir on the island Banda Besar.

The authors make the somewhat gratuitous observation that 'the survival of a limited, perhaps corrupted, amount of knowledge of mantras and rituals in Bandanese among the heterogenous population of Lontor [sic], at least among its ritual practitioners, is an unexpected oddity' (Collins & Kaartinen 1998:525). While such descriptives may have utility in the limited sense of a strict focus on linguistic elements, they remain unhelpful, potentially pejorative and certainly misleading in the context of understanding ritual practice, socio-historical knowledge and processes of local identification in the lifeworld of a community.

(18.) The 'old man' of the story is interpreted by many Muslim informants as the prophet Muhammed himself in disguise. Several Christian residents of Hatta Island suggested Jesus, and the white chicken as a distorted recollection of the biblical dove.

(19.) The positioning of the poles mark the 'doors' (pintu) to those areas where the greatest concentration of shell is to be found, to the east and west 'behind' the two poles. In effect they close these doors, and while people freely move past them on a daily basis on foot or in dugout canoe (kolikoli) they are a constant reminder that certain marine species may not be gathered.

Unusually in the Banda Islands, the population of Hatta had been divided almost equally between Muslims and Christians. Both participated in sasi practice, one tiang sasi erected by two Christian men while the second is placed by two Muslim men; a practice regarded locally as being traditional.

There are some constraints however. While the local imam must attend all adat rituals in order to pray (berdoa), the local priest did not. In addition, Christians did not carry tempat sirih to keramat which on Hatta as elsewhere in the islands involves prayer forms (doa) which are acknowledged locally as Islamic, e.g. recitation of the Fatiha or first chapter of the Koran.

Christian pastors in the Bandas (predominantly members of the Protestant Church of Maluku or GPM: Gereja Protestan Maluku) were generally outsiders on a temporary posting to the islands. They actively discouraged visitation to keramat among their congregations and from my observations and inquiries appeared to have been largely successful, with the exception of a few very elderly individuals.

At the same time, the Christian church on Hatta Island had received a share of each lola harvest (along with the mosque), and as part of the buka sasi process, the congregation prays for the sucess of the harvest on the Sunday before diving begins (this occurs in the mosque two days earlier, on Friday). The income generated from lola harvests were equally important to both Muslim and Christian residents as a common source of wedding payments.

There are no longer any Christians residing in the Bandas following the inter- and intra-communal violence beginning in Ambon in January 1999 which rapidly assumed a religious character, dividing Muslims from Christians.

(20.) Adolescents (and some younger married men) would climb a nutmeg tree which was closest to a kenari trunk. A green bamboo pole with a metal hook fashioned from wire attached at one end would be used to reach out from the upper branches of the nutmeg tree and secure itself to a lower branch of the kenari. This becomes a climbing bridge discreetly linking the two trees, relatively unobtrusive from below being well over head height. Scaling the pole, one or two men then climb the kenari (sometimes with rope as a safety harness) and with machete and gai proceed to cut, shake, and wrench the clusters of nuts from their thin fruiting branches to send them dropping to the ground below. They collect these on descending, often secreting them in the forest for collection at night.

(21.) On a return visit in 1999 it was clear the practice had continued erratically in the intervening period, though sometimes in a modified form with male climbers accompanied by female relations who retrieved the fallen nuts and later shared the proceeds with the climbers. This remained controversial in the terms raised--climbing kenari trees was frowned upon--but was certainly seen as somewhat more acceptable than men climbing alone.

(22.) The implicit point of comparison here is with Christian religious affiliation. The nature of these greater difficulties is too multifaceted to explain in any detail here. In general terms, it involves ideas of purity/cleanliness, the efforts to attain this state (or one close to it) and its maintenance. These involve embodied elements (e.g. circumcision) as well as moral values applied to personal and social conduct.

(23.) Issues of precedence are present in the Bandas but tend to involve the negeri adat (for example the first to receive Islam, the first to build a mosque) rather than questions of the derivation of individuals/families. In an important sense the negeri adat themselves could be said to function as 'origin groups'. See Fox (1995; 1996) for accounts of the widespread significance of origin and precedence in the Austronesian-speaking world.

(24.) Keramat sites are also referred to as 'tempat-tempat sakti' ('sacred places'). Geertz (1980:106) defines sakti in its original Sanskrit as 'the energy or active part of a deity'. He notes of the cognate sekti in Bali that it is a term used for 'the sort of transordinary phenomenon that elsewhere is called mono, baraka, orenda, kramat, or, of course, in its original sense, charisma: 'a divinely inspired gift or power, such as the ability to perform miracles.'

The terms sakti and keramat are not equivalent in the way that they are used in the Bandas, though this may once well have been the case. In daily use in Lonthoir 'keramat' is a noun, not an adjective. It refers to a particular site, not descriptions of the qualities of the site (as the term often functions elsewhere, particularly in the Malay peninsula). Common statements such as 'I am going to a keramat' ('mo pi keramat') are not possible using sakti--one can go to a sakti place (tempat sakti) but not to a sakti. Things can be sakti (such as the heirloom objects of the community) but not keramat.

(25.) In particular, many blocks have been (unofficially) divided over time between relations who did not receive original allocations (e.g. younger siblings or children grown and married) thereby reducing the trees available to each household, while other bloks have been seriously eroded by gardening. Everyone gardens, and all gardening is in someone's block--usually not one's own since most gardens predate the wholly abstract division of bloks. There is little complaint about this damage due to a recognition that it is necessary (gardens need sunlight) and the practical origin of the viability of one's own garden. Again, gardening is a major strategy in the process of cari hidup (see Winn 2000).

(26.) Increasingly early blok harvesting was also beginning to generate local disquiet during a return visit to the islands in 1999. Intensifying competition for the fruit among young men had pushed the harvests back to a point which had begun to generate considerable waste of unripened fruit. There is a margin of external ripeness when a fruit may actually not contain sufficiently mature (marketable) nutmeg and mace inside. Such fruit are opened, then discarded. This trend is viewed as linked more to a demand for fashionable consumer items (described as 'ikut ramai'--'joining the crowd') than contributing so household needs or a desire for marriage and once again diminishes availability of the resource for others.

An interesting positive reflection on sasi pala (during the period of desa staff involvement) created a direct link to Muslim activity. People suggested that it tended to be opened around the time of the annual month of fasting (Ramadan), thereby creating an inflow of cash when it would be most needed by households to meet the cost of celebrating the fast-end (Idul Fitri or Lebaran). In this sense the previously disregarded sasi pala was given a new moral resonance and potentially reinvigorated popular force.

At the same time with a sudden improvement in local nutmeg prices paralleling cost rises in basic commodities (e.g. kerosine and sugar) flowing on from the Indonesian monetary crisis, blok holders had begun spending time residing in their blok as fruit ripened in order to ensure they could obtain a share.

(27.) See Bubandt (1995:8) for an analysis of the Maluku suanggi figure as moral Other.

(28.) Ostensibly the buyer is chosen through a process of competitive bidding, with the base price set by the Lembaga Musyawarah Desa (LMD or Village Consultative Council) a component of the formal administrative structure of the desa (see Warren 1993:241-244). The LMD is described as organising and supervising the bidding process and choosing the eventual buyer.

In practice, the desired base price may not be reached and there is no guarantee that more than one buyer will be in attendance. Clearly this undermines the bidding process. At a sale I attended the sole buyer refused the base price being asked and a tense situation emerged with the highest ranking military figure in the islands pressing the LMD into reluctant agreement, emphasising the trochus harvest was not to be sold in any other forum or by individuals.

Citing interviews on Hatta, Ai and Ran (sic) islands alongside others outside the Bandas, Zerner (1994:1108) seems to imply that trochus shell was not subject to sasi in central Maluku before the 1960s, the earlier focus being schools of pelagic fish. As the shell's commercial importance increased from the 1950s, he suggests sasi was altered to embrace this new resource. I could find no evidence to suggest this was the case--the sasi laut on Hatta Island is applied both to trochus shell (still sold locally), green sea-snail (still sold) and sea cucumbers (which had not been regularly harvested for decades, with few people now knowing the process involved in curing the animals). There was no indication that a sasi ever applied to fish species. The oldest residents of Hatta recalled the sasi applying to trochus (locally lola) during the Dutch era before the second world war, when the first wood and glass goggles were manufactured after seeing some visiting Japanese pearl-divers using them.

(29.) The military reputedly receive payments from the trochus-buyer and from the desa administration for 'keeping the peace'.

(30.) See the volume edited by Manger (1999).


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