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The open door: Early modern Wajorese statecraft and diaspora.

The open door: Early modern Wajorese statecraft and diaspora


De Kalb, 111.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014. Pp. 217. Maps, Figures.

A serious study of South Sulawesi history in English is a rare event. This fascinating borderland of civilised Eurasia found its own unique way to states, writing, genealogy and performance, stimulated but never overwhelmed by the myriad foreign traders, preachers and buccaneers who came that way in search of Malukan spices. The linguistic promise and challenge of Bugis literature, written in a unique if Indic-derived script on palm-leaf rolls (lontara, or for Wellen lontaraq, meticulously rendering the final, often omitted, glottal stop by q), has long tantalised but frequently disappointed. Not since the Dutch linguists, Cense and Noorduyn, have we had expert translated editions of the most important of them, and most today (like myself) make do with less scholarly Indonesian renditions. It is therefore an event to hail another pioneer, joining a handful who have mastered Dutch, Indonesian and the bigger challenge of key lontara, and then melded the data into a coherent historical study in English.

Wellen has chosen to focus on explaining the fascinating Wajo (Wellen's Wajoq) polity, which epitomises the unique and sometimes contradictory qualities of Bugis statecraft and economic enterprise. It offers more evidence than any other premodern Asian society so far analysed for institutionalised freedoms, contractual pluralities and oligarchic conciliar governance, but in a framework of status hierarchy with slaves at the bottom. It contributed more than any other society to the diaspora Bugis maritime enterprise that became the most effective Indonesian competition for European and Chinese shipping throughout the Archipelago in the nineteenth century. By focusing on Wajo, Wellen does much to clarify these issues and explain the unique successes of this society in its eighteenth/nineteenth century moment.

Past scholars have often speculated on the motives or conditions that enabled Buginese, and Wajo people in particular, to play such an effective diasporic role. Several have proposed a link between the stern hierarchies of Sulawesi, from heaven-descended aristocrats to slaves, as the factor motivating those on the lower rungs to raise their status through success in the diaspora. Dr Wellen uses one of the first such theorists, B.F. Matthes, as the target for rejecting this view in favour of the opposite (p. 160). It was not Wajo oppression at home but Wajo encouragement that enabled its sons to play such a creative role. The strong cultural emphasis on pesse (solidarity), the collegial or oligarchic nature of statecraft, a habit of contractual arrangements with porous host societies, and specific steps by Wajo to open its doors and encourage migration were the keys to this success.

Wellen goes further than other studies to integrate the pattern of oligarchic, partly elective governance in Wajo with similar patterns in the Wajo diaspora of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She combs Dutch and English reports as well as primary and secondary Bugis material to explore the pattern of autonomous governance and local interaction of Wajo migrants in Dutch-ruled Makassar (where they were constrained by the power of Bone), Malay-ruled Kutai and Berau in eastern Borneo, and British-ruled Bengkulu (and nearby Inderapura) in Sumatra. She has less to say about the best-known case of the Riau/Johor sultanate, ruled de facto by a Bugis junior king in the name of a Malay senior one, since the Riau Bugis are already known through their own historian Raja Ali Haji, but also appear to have originated in Bone or Luwu rather than Wajo. She nevertheless provides a broader Bugis context to understand that celebrated case.

The remarkably successful system of Bugis maritime commerce is given a much fuller analysis in Wellen's chapter 4 than any other account in English. As the most successful indigenous entrepreneurs to survive into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the earier Southeast Asian 'Age of Commerce', Bugis (predominantly Wajo) traders badly needed to be examined for the keys to this success. Wellen makes full use of the Wajo maritime code drawn up by Amanna Gappa, the Wajo headman (matoa) in Makassar from 1697 to 1723, but also of contemporary Dutch and English descriptions of their methods in practice. From her evidence it would appear that the three key assets the Wajonese had in relation to other Indonesian maritime traders were their solidarity (Bugis pesse), the contractual, consensual habit which made that solidarity possible and also assisted their relations with host societies, and a supportive home government in Wajo. The social contract at the basis of the consensual Wajo polity emphasised the right of Wajo people to come and go as they pleased. Further, the Wajo paramount ruler (matoa) La Salewangeng, whose administration began in 1723, even ordered his people to go out and trade, and established a state fund from which they might borrow capital to finance such trade.

Wellen's elucidation of the Amanna Gappa code provides crucial evidence of the continuity and change between the high point of Indonesian trade in the sixteenth century, which other historians have analysed through the Maritime Code of Melaka (compiled around 1500), and modern studies of smaller-scale indigenous traders of the twentieth century. The kiwi (passenger-merchants) of the Melaka code appear to have survived as the sawi of the smaller Bugis vessels governed by the Amanna Gappa code in the eighteenth century. The nakhoda, the dominant figures of the Melaka code, 'like kings on their vessels', are however much diminished in that of Amanna Gappa, a system designed for smaller and more mobile vessels deploying much less capital than their European and Chinese rivals.

Although chapters 2 and 7 provide a narrative of general Wajo history and of the exiled hero La Madukelleng's triumphant return to Wajo in the 1730s, the book is basically organised thematically. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 have important things to say about commercial organisation, kinship relations and ethnic identity, respectively. This makes the material difficult for the reader to hold in mind, since incidents are returned to in different chapters in ways that risk either repetition or confusion for the reader who has not retained the previous details. There are strengths, however, for those who seek to use the book primarily for one of these themes rather than for an understanding of how Bugis society evolved. Chapter 6, in particular, shows the importance of oral and later written myths and recitations such as the La Galigo cycle in establishing group pride and identity.

Because Bugis materials are so unusual and inaccessible to most of us, it will be disappointing to specialists at least that Dr Wellen is not more forthcoming about the exact nature of the Bugis sources she has used. One presumes the bibliographic apparatus of the University of Hawai'i thesis was radically abbreviated for this more readable publication, obscuring the nature of many sources. Although some footnotes refer directly to Bugis texts such as the Lontaraq Sukkuna Wajoq, these texts are not listed in the Bibliography, even when they appear to have been published, like the Lontarak Akkarungan (Wajoq) I (Makassar, 1985)--(see p. 178 n.78). A typescript is twice mentioned (p. 138, and p. 197 n.ll) as a 'Short history of the Arrival of the Bugis in Samarinda Sebarang', but only if we happen to find it again in an earlier footnote (pp. 182 n.52) will we know it was written in Indonesian. A discussion on it is there promised in chapter 6, but apparently deleted in revision. Since substantial use has now been made of Bugis texts by indigenous scholars like Abdurrazak Daeng Pattenru, Mattulada and Zainal Abidin, and foreign scholars like Matthes, Cense, Noorduyn, Leonard Andaya, Christian Pelras, Roger Tol, Ian Caldwell and Campbell Macknight, and of Makassar ones by William Cummings, readers would have benefited from being told where the enterprise of making the lontara accessible stood before Dr Wellen's impressive labours, and what she has added to that important task.

Her style, similarly, is to weave a coherent narrative without drawing attention to whether the sources for each part of it are original Bugis lontara, already-translated and published versions of such texts, or European descriptions of Bugis arrangements. The footnotes at the back clarify some, but not all, these issues. They appear to reveal for example, that one of Wellen's fascinating finds is a Bugis diary written about events in Berau in the early nineteenth century, and read by Wellen in a collection of lontara microfilmed by a Hasanuddin University team and viewed at the National Archive branch in Makassar (see p. 182 n.48 and the first sentence of the Bibliography). We do not get any of the flavour of this remarkable document through direct quotation, however, but are given instead a seamless narrative apparently based upon it, as well as on some European sources. While this technique involves some loss for the specialist, it is a notable attempt to make the Bugis case relevant and accessible to studies of diaspora, entrepreneurship and comparative politics more generally.

doi: 10.1017/S002246341600014X


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Author:Reid, Anthony
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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