1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

'Speaking the Names, Naming the Titles': Ritual voice and the politics of indigenous revival in (one corner of) post-authoritarian Indonesia

In the first-ever election of a district governor on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2008, candidates were faced with the problem of communicating with a newly constituted voting public. In the absence of viable mass media outlets, a number of candidates chose to punctuate key moments in their campaigns with large-scale ritual performances ostensibly aimed at venerating ancestral figures. This presentation considers the ways in which participation (Goffman 1981; Levinson 1988) in ritual (Rappaport 1999; Seligman et al 2007; Stasch 2011) was a uniquely effective means for crafting and circulating an “inhabitable” political message (Silverstein 2003, 2011). Focusing on one gubernatorial candidate’s use of spirit mediums on the campaign trail, I show how participation in ritual and ritual oratory produced persuasive indexical links between the candidate and indigenous modes and models of authority. At feasts after formal campaign events, the candidate’s son and party leader regularly became possessed by specific ancestral spirits, who spoke in an esoteric poetic register and performed acts of healing. The candidate’s silent, peripheral inhabitation of these complex productions of ancestral voice and agency allowed others to attribute to him qualities that legitimated his bid for authority. As this presentation shows, however, the intrinsic polyphony of ritual performances meant that the inhabitable message produced in ritual inevitably eluded the candidate’s control.

  • Brooks Hall Conference Room, 2nd Floor
    Sponsored by Department of Anthropology
Event Date: 
Friday, 30 March 2012 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Adam Harr
Speaker Title: 
(University of Virginia)
Event Type: