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Raiding, trading, and feasting: The political economy of philippine chiefdoms. (The Philippines).

Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms


Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Tables, Maps, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index. Pp. x, 477.

At last a book that fills the 'black hole' on the Philippines and confers on its peoples the sense of an historical past that only an archaeological pedigree can confer. Laura Lee Junker's portrayal of pre-Hispanic society restores the Philippine Archipelago to its rightful place in the region. Her reconstruction of the dynamics of indigenous chiefdoms shows them to be very much part of a wider Malay world that interacts with an East Asian trading network in prestige goods linking Southeast Asia with China, India and Arabia. The absence of such an archaeological past had previously left the islands in a somewhat ambiguous and nebulous position. Bereft of either an Indic or Sinic legacy, bordering on the Pacific and Polynesia, and cast adrift by its subsequent Hispanic and Christian legacy, the Philippines has often been viewed as the 'odd man out' of the region, even to the extent of being excluded from D. G. E. Hall's seminal first edition of The History of Southeast Asia (1955). By 'filling in' the missing years from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries, Junker sets out to rebut the idea that complex societies in the archipelago are late-developing and wholly derived from foreign contact and, instead, presents a coherent picture of the structure of its pre-modern polities and chiefdoms. On this score alone, her book confers a respectability over the entire enterprise of Philippine Studies that goes a long way towards removing the barriers that have impeded its serious consideration in comparison to other major 'cultural blocs' in the region.

By deftly combining Chinese and Spanish historical documentation, nineteenth and twentieth-century ethnographic accounts and the somewhat patchy archaeological record, Junker charts the development of complex societies in the archipelago. She begins with the leaders of Metal Age chiefdoms, adept at manipulating volatile alliance networks based on the exchange of locally produced luxury goods, and how they were able to expand quite rapidly with the advent of foreign trade in Chinese porcelain after the tenth century. And how this added 'wealth' created the conditions for several larger scale inter-regionally powerful polities to emerge at Manila, Cebu, Sulu and Magindanao by the time of European contact. More importantly, she is able to trace the link between escalating maritime raiding, intensifying foreign trade networks and increasing competitive feasting (that give the study its title) to explain the political, economic and social dynamics behind the expansion of these chiefdoms. Above all, chiefly power r ested on the ability to engage in alliance building exchanges through attracting foreign luxury goods that in turn depended on augmenting the available labour supply through intensified maritime raiding. In turn, the endemic nature of the latter prompted the increasing construction of coastal fortifications, an expansion of metal weapon production, the adoption of foreign military technology, the emergence of a specialised warrior class and evidence of a rising numbers of violent deaths. This was the society that Ferdinand Magellan and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi encountered in the sixteenth century and that William Henry Scott depicts in his posthumous classic Barangay (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Press, 1994). In a sense, Junker provides the wherewithal to understand Scott's depiction of contact societies in the Philippines. Moreover, she does so by drawing on extensive studies of comparative societies in other parts of Southeast Asia, the Pacific and even Iron Age Europe to affirm both their evolutionary par allels and their cultural and historical uniqueness.

Quite apart from the timely nature of the subject matter, a particular strength of this study is its ability to show how trade in exotic prestige goods from China and other Southeast Asian polities acted as a catalyst in the emergence of more organisationally complex and territorially expansive chiefdoms in the archipelago. The 'wealth' accumulated by chiefs engaged in this long-distance trade was channelled exclusively through their own hands as they also restricted the social contexts for its exchange. The power bases so constructed were dependent more on fluctuating personal alliance networks, cemented by the distribution of such wares through competitive feasting or in the form of bridewealth, than on primarily descent-based kin groups. The resulting political units, according to Junker, were 'even less stable' than comparative chiefdoms elsewhere (p. 68). Given the nuances of this insight into the nature of such societies, however, it seems even more incomprehensible that she should choose to use the mod ern nation-state as the unit of analysis on which to base her study. The distortions, whether truncations or forced comparisons, dictated by such a framework undermine one of her central arguments that the archipelago's polities were very much part of a wider Malay and Southeast Asian world even if located on the outermost limits of its trading routes. Nor does it always seem appropriate to compare the northern centres of Manila and Cebu with those of Sulu and Magindanao in the south just because they are currently part of the same national unit. Their individual trajectories were often quite separate and distinctive, while developments in the latter frequently paralleled centres further south in Brunei, the Moluccas, Makassar or Bone. Moreover, Junker's preoccupation with foreign trade networks at times creates the image of a completely maritime focused world where nothing much happened inland or away from the rivers. Such, of course, was far from the truth as testified to by structures like the Ifugao rice terraces at Benaue (despite disagreement as to their exact provenance). The risk here is to replace a history written from the 'deck of a [n European] ship' with one based on that of a prao or junk, and with largely similar consequences. The danger is particularly grave as much of the archaeological evidence on which she rests her arguments comes from just one region, the Bais-Tanjay area on Negros that may or may not be typical of others. In fairness, many of these criticisms are largely the consequence of the organisational practicalities inherent in writing such a book and the availability of sources. Still, perhaps, more attention could have been drawn to qualifications of this nature in the text.

Junker has written an important book with great scholarly acumen gleaned from fragmentary and divergent sources. She takes the reader on a voyage into the past to reveal something of the dynamics that lay at the heart of much of this pre-Hispanic world. If, at its end, the reader is still left looking through the glass darkly, this only serves to highlight the importance of archaeology in the future to uncovering the archipelago's history.
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Author:Bankoff, Greg
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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