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The Spoken House: Text, Act, and Object in Eastern Indonesia

Author(s): Webb Keane


Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp. 102-124
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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the spoken house: text, act, and object in eastern


Indonesia

WEBB KEANE-University of Pennsylvania

Although it is part of the everyday work of anthropologists to share in local conversations


about cultural things, they may listen to such reflexive discourse with some ambivalence. After
all, much of what we know about our world remains tacit-it can go unsaid and often is difficult
to put into words. Yet amidst the everyday flow of work and talk, moments occur in which
people reflect on and even objectify their world. In particular, when they talk about their own
culture, people often privilege descriptions and interpretations that have an almost textlike
quality, as if simply awaiting the writer's pen. For Malinowski, such moments provide an
unproblematic boon:
[T]he frequent, tedious repetitions and enumerations of customary sequences of events, interesting as

of the natives'
data of folk-lore,are not less valuableas ethnographicdocuments,and as illustrations
attitudetowardscustom.Incidently,this featureof nativemythologyshows thatthe taskof servingas
ethnographicinformantis not so foreignand difficultas mightat firstappear.He is quite used to recite
and he does itwith
one afterthe otherthevariousstagesof customaryproceedingsin hisown narratives,
an almostpedanticaccuracyand completeness,and it is an easy taskforhimto transferthese qualities
to the accountswhichhe is calleduponto makein the serviceof ethnography.[1961(1922):318]
Indeed, the virtuosity in self-description that Malinowski describes seems to characterize entire
societies. Barth (1990), for example, contrasts the high value Balinese place on decontextual
explanation with the resistance to verbalization posed by the more taciturn Baktaman. Many
observers have been struck by the way that regional patterns seem to have given rise to the
"highly word-oriented approach to cultural analysis [that]has been advanced by ethnographers
of Island Southeast Asia ... where ritualdiscourse and oratory abound and people engage one
another in speculative exegesis, with or without the prodding of anthropologists" (Atkinson
1989:332, n.2). By this account, it is distinctive local ways of talking that shape the resulting
ethnography.
Sumbanese descriptions of the "traditionalhouse" as a microcosm and emblem of
loca I identity are neither unproblematic expressions of a cultural totalitynorsimply
objectifications imposed by ethnography or modernity. One way the house is able
to serve as a discursive object reflects, in part, specifically Sumbanese models of
action and beliefs about language as refracted in changing historical circumstances. In ritual,speakers seek to engage and elicit responses frompowerfulothers,
whereas current religious and political developments reframe ritual words as
means of describing a cultural world. Both sets of practices draw on the authority
of "entextualized" language but interpret it in different ways. Emerging representations of cultural meaning are shaped by long-standing speech genres and by
recent social and cultural transformations,mediated by shifting language ideologies. [culture theory, representation, discourse, ritual speech, language ideology,
house, Indonesia]
American Ethnologist22(1):102-124. Copyright ? 1995, American Anthropological Association.

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On the otherhand, skepticsare reluctantto take for grantedthe reflexiveease, schematic


distance, and verbaladroitnessthatthese writersreport.Boas (1966[1911]) sounds an early
note of epistemologicalcaution, admonishingthe anthropologistagainstthe operationsof
Morerecently,Asadassertsthat"[d]iscourseinvolvedin practice
"secondaryrationalization."
is not the same as that involved in speakingabout practice"(1983:243)-words must not be
conflatedwith theirpurportedobjects.ForBourdieu(1977[1972]),talkabout practice,rules,
and meaningstendsto arisein speech directedto outsiders.Suchtalkcan obscureor discredit
tacit knowledge,helpingproducea pictureof cultureas a totalizableobjectthat is cut offfrom
action. Historicizingthe epistemologicalquestion,Foucault(1972[1969]:44)observesthatthe
very existence of somethingas an object of discourseonly arises as a functionof specific
conditions,for "onecannot speak of anythingat any time."When the object of talk is "local
culture,"add criticsof colonial knowledge,it may be in orderto serve externalpowersthat
seek a positionfrom which to see and yet not be seen, so that local worlds may become
and legible... readablelikea book"(Mitchell1988:33;see Heidegger1977).
"picture-like
Thussituated,even localwaysof talkingaboutculture,especiallythe moreformulaic"tedious
mustbe questioned:if somethinglooks like a book,we may be
repetitionsand enumerations,"
who
the
to
ask
impliedreaderis. Nonetheless,I arguethatthe skepticsmust still
prompted
contendwithMalinowski's"almostpedantic"interlocutor.Suchexpansiveself-consciousness,
abundant in some places and rare in others, should neither be taken for granted as a
straightforward
expressionof autonomousculturalmeaningsnor dismissedout of hand as
the
merely productof "officializingstrategies"(Bourdieu1977[1972])or ethnographicreification.
Thatreflexivediscoursecan providepowerfulinterpretiveinsightsor deceptive normative
claims is indisputable.Boththe acceptingand the skepticalview, however, if taken as fully
sufficientaccountsof the discourse in question,tend to reduce it to the service of a single
function,usuallythatof talkingaboutthe world. But languageserves multiplefunctions,and
even in face-to-faceinteractionis liableto exceed any given context,purpose,and intention.'
Reflexivetalkcan drawon verbalresourcesthatare shapednot only by, say, an inherentneed
to interpretone's worldor to satisfyan ethnographerbut by otheraspectsof speech altogether.
The relationshipbetweendiscourseand action is not given a priori.Theextentto which talkis
"in"or "about"practiceis, in part,a functionof specificlanguageideologies-that is, speakers'
assumptionsabout "the natureof language in the world" (Rumsey1990:346).2 Language
ideologiesarticulateinturnwithsocial institutions,modesof action,andbeliefsaboutthe world,
all of which aresubjectto historicaltransformation.
InthisarticleI lookat the shiftingstatusof
talkas peoplereflecton whatthey knowanddo, andsuggestthatthereis morethanone position
fromwhich to view a "picture-like"
world.3
InAnakalang,one exemplaryfocus of reflexivetalkis the "traditional
house,"which people
commonlytreatas an interpretivekey to local cultureand identity.My interesthere is not in
the house itselfbut ratherin seekingto accountfor its readyavailabilityfor talk
reinterpreting
aboutculturalmeanings.I do so by lookingat how it is constructedas a verbalobject in ritual.
AlthoughIdo notclaimthatthis fullyexplainsthe ways peopletalkaboutthe house, Iwill argue
thatsuchtalkis influencedbythe demandsimposedby ritualaction,whichareshapedby social
institutionsandcosmologicalbeliefsandby the semioticproblemstheypose. When institutions
and cosmologieschange, so do the practices,problems,and languageideologiesthey entail.
Atthe same time,as people drawon availablesymbolicresources,such as the wordsof ritual,
they often recontextualizethem. InAnakalang,I describeone resultingtendency,that many
people easilytreatthe verbalizedhouseas a culturalentitythatexistsindependentlyof speakers
and contexts, potentiallyable to totalize an entire social universewhose essence can be
summarizedin so manywords. Such representations
work in partby appealto the authority
and apparentconcretenessof both the words and the thingsto which they refer.They select

the spoken house

103

and take advantageof alreadyexistingfeaturesof ritualspeech that make it susceptibleto


treatmentas a sourceof stabletexts.
The resultingaccountsof the traditionalhouseand itsmeanings,I suggest,can be misleading
in two respects.Becausethey drawon genresof speech thatAnakalangeseassociatewith the
past,they can appearto be timelessartifactsthatexpressa fullyreadableculturethatlies apart
fromtheirown actions.Conversely,because representationsof the house have manyof the
schematizingand abstractfeaturesof talk addressedto outsiders,a skepticalanthropologist
mightassumethatthey are nothingmorethan "inventedtraditions"(Hobsbawmand Ranger
1983) or the effectof Westernor academicsortsof knowledge.To pose the matterin termsof
such simple alternativesthreatensto restrictour view of people's verbal resourcesto an
unrealisticallynarrowrangeof possibilities.By hintingat the richvarietyof ways thatpeople
can formobjectsof discourse,I hopeto shed lighton the sourcesand developmentof one sort
of culturalrepresentation
and its role in ongoing local effortsat self-definition.

house structure as a paradigm of cultural order


A common object of culturalrepresentationin easternIndonesiais the house, renderedin
detailed homologies among architecture,society, and cosmos (Barnes1974; Cunningham
1964; Ellen1986; Forth1991; Kana1980; cf. Fox 1993; Waterson1990). Nonetheless,when
I startedresearchin Anakalang,an ethnolinguisticdomain on the island of Sumba,I was
surprisedat how quicklyI foundmyselfthe recipientof similaraccounts.4Thisbeganduring
my firstweek on the island,when I, as a "studentof culture,"was presentedwitha remarkable
nine-pagetypescriptaccountof "Sumbaneseculture"in Indonesian(Wohangara1985). The
authorwas a Christianand a retiredcivil servantwho lived in the largesttown on the island-a
marketand administrative
centerand home to a mix of ethnicitiesuncharacteristic
of mostof
Sumba, all of which may help explain the cosmopolitannatureof the document.Clearly
embodyingthe seriousreflectionsof a speculativeintellect,the typescriptcovers manyof the
topics favoredby otherIndonesian-language
synoptictreatmentsof cultureandtradition,such
as the ancestraltreksand rulesformarriageand for burial.5One strikingfeatureof thisworkis
the prominenceit gives to the house, to which, afteran initialhalf page definingthe word
[are]
marapu(ancestorspirit),the authorturns:"[The]4 centralpillars(kambaniru-lundungu)
namedaccordingto theirrespectivefunctionsas the FourPrinciplesof the Sumbanesepeople
TURAPARAINGU)
that form a basis for orderingthe way of life of the
(PATUKALARATU
Sumbanesepeople throughoutlife."6
These pillars are identifiedwith "Godliness,""Marriage"(prescriptivemarriagerules),
and "Lifeand Death"(ritesof passage),withthe fourcompasspoints,andwiththe
"Prosperity,"
entrancewaysto the ancestorvillage. Here in a nutshellare the basic treatments:partsof the
houseare metonymicallylinkedto culturalprinciples(see note 16), andthe whole is a diagram
of villagestructureand largerworld.Throughsuch alignmentsthe authorportraysthe houseas
a schematicstructureand microcosm,both a practicalgroundand conceptualoutlinefor an
entiremoraland culturalorder.
Examplesof thistreatmentof the house could be multiplied.In manycasualconversations,
people told me aboutthe meaningof the house in preciselythe sortof "speculativeexegesis"
thatAtkinsondescribes.Thesimplestversiondividesthe distinctivebamboo,wood, andthatch
house(uma;see Figure1) intothreelevels,correspondingto the worldsof spirits(theatticunder
the high-peakedroofor "house'shump"[wogu uma]),humans(the livingplatformraisedon
posts),andanimals(corralandstockpenbeneaththe floor,the "house'sunderside"[lubuuma]).
Finerdiscriminationsproducefive levels-which, some tell me, parallelthe five-pointstate
ideology(Pancasila--or more, in some cases correspondingto the numberof clan ancestors,

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american ethnologist

kadu uma (house horns)

wogu uma (house peak)

halikuru kalihungu (rafters;21)

-,X

baga (veranda)

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.

tolaku maneni (peak frame; 17-18)


kerijialu (water jar base)
leli (pillar disk; 23-24)
walu toku (pillar carvings; 26-29)
kabaringu padua (central pillars)
karabuku (hearth)
korungu marapu (spirit chamber; 12-15)

1/~l

/n

8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

/
',

kabisu uma (house corner; 4-5)


lubu uma (house underside; 1-2)

kabaringu padaku (short pillars; 19)


halema (bench)
pena bakul (main room)
kabaringu uratu (divination pillar)
tapu papalekaru (meeting mat; 9-10 )
hedi marapu (spirit shelf)
panuangu (steps)
pidu (door)

Figure1. Peakedhouse. (Numbersin parenthesesreferto linesof UmbuSebu'srecitation.)

with additionalhomologiessuch as the partsof the humanbody (cf. Barraud1979:57; Forth


1981:29-30, 32).
ThatAnakalangese,at least in speakingwith outsiders,may take this model as a key to an
entirecultureis suggestedby two anecdoteswith which, as a searcheraftersuch knowledge
myself,I was often entertained(and,perhaps,admonished).The firstconcernsa Sumbanese
boy who, people say, was such a genius that he was sent to Javato study. There he was
interviewedby the authorities,who asked,"Whatdoes your fatherdo?""He'sa herdsman."
"Whatdo you eat?""Maizeandtubers."Basicmattersof productionandconsumptiondisposed
of, the clincherwashisabilityto schematizethe house:"Wheredo you live?""Ina three-leveled
house:thetopcontainsourfood,the middlethe humans,andunderneath,the cattle."7A second
anecdoteconcernsa Dutchstudentwho had undertakenfieldworkin Anakalangseveralyears
before I did, but who had never completedhis dissertation.One versionof his fate is that he
failed his exam back in Holland,being unableto describethe house levels when askedto do
so by his professors.

the spoken house

105

Thehouse,as a structurethatembodiespubliclyknown,wide-rangingcategories,formsone
referentforculturaldiscoursein Sumba.Liketalkaboutgong tunes,stonetombs,
paradigmatic
marriageexchange, and stopping places on the ancestraltrek, this discourse often takes
schematicformslikethe list makingdescribedby Malinowski.Infocusingon speech, I do not
meanto discountthe importanceand complexityof the house as a social concept, as a ritual
space, or as a criticalsite at which these two aspects articulatewith everydaypractice-a
differentand longerproject(see discussionsinAdams1974; Forth1991; Kuipers1990). Rather,
my interestis provokedby the Sumbanesefacilitywith talkaboutculturalthingsand its links
to speech practicesand languageideologies. Forall societies producedwellings, doubtless
ladenwithmeaning-but noteveryonemakestalkaboutthe house as centraland as schematic
as do Anakalangese.Forexample,Bourdieu's(1979 [1970])accountof the Kabylehousedraws
not on explicit verbalmappingbut on activities,collatedwith proverbsand expressionsthat
speakersare notthemselvesgivento assemblingintoa synopticaccount(cf. Oliver1987:153).
discourseis selective: it does not captureeverythingof interestor importance
Furthermore,
aboutthe house.8
Thisis to suggestthatthe treatmentof the house as an object of discourseis not simplyan
expressionof its referentbut arises in partfromits place within speech practices.Indeed,to
focus exclusivelyon the referentcan be misleading:the house and its meaningsmay not be
sufficientto determinethe way they are spoken of. And conversely, I argue, even a fully
"traditional"
architecturalstructureis not sufficientto provideone with a cosmologicalhouse,
in the absence of the ritualpractices,includingspeech. Thus,currentaccountsof the house
builduponfoundationsthatare laid in speech performancesthatverballylay out the house as
a formalstructure,decomposedand displayedpartby part.InAnakalang,these practicesare
shapedby certaincommunicativeand pragmaticchallenges.As these challengesbecome less
important(withthe decline,forexample,of clan identity,spiritritual,andthe interlocutorsand
agencies they involve), the speech practices increasinglylend themselves to treatmentas
sourcesof textsthatreferto objects independentof actions.
ritual speech as cultural text
Sumbaneseritualspeech is a highlymarkedregisterthatcontrastswitheverydayspeech. It
is the principalverbalmediumof ancestralrites(forexample,in prayer,oratory,and song)and
of importantinteractionsamong humans, notablythe negotiationof marriageexchanges.
wordsof negotiation,alignedwordsof speech"(patali
Anakalangeseritualspeech, "patterned
a
li
lola
panewi),comprises largebutfixed set of canonicalcouplets in semanticand
kajiala,
syntacticparallelism,alongwith principlesfortheircombinationinto largerunitsand conventionsfortheirappropriateandefficacioususe, all of which aresaidto havebeen createdby the
ancestors.9As in many partsof Indonesia,people in contemporaryAnakalangoften treatthe
coupletsof ritualspeech bothas treasuredculturalartifactsin theirown rightandas descriptors
of traditionalculture.Thisdouble role is implicitin the statementby the Sumbanesecompiler
of a recentlexicon of ritualcoupletsthat his book could be called a "Dictionaryof Culture"
(KamusKebudayaan)
(Kapita1987:9).10
Fullperformance(Hymes 1981[1975]) of Anakalangeseritualspeech addressesan other,
humanor spirit,across some sort of social or ontologicaldifference.This differencecan be
defined,forexample,in kinshiptermsas the distancepermittingmarriage,or in politicalterms
asthe alienationbetweenfeudinglineagesegments,or,whenthe livingaddressancestralspirits,
as the ontologicalseparationbetweenthe livingand the dead. The gap between interlocutors
posesdifficultiesthatrequire,yet permit,specialcommunicativeeffortsto overcomethem.Two
of thisgap markthe ritualspeechthataimsto bridgeit. One is the reflexivitythat
characteristics
makesritualspeech a way of namingthe things,agents,and types of action involvedin the

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american ethnologist

actualevent in which it occurs.Theotheris the formalityof performance,poetic structure,and


canonical language that providesthis speech with aesthetic power, textlike qualities, and
ancestralcharacter."
Thefirstcharacteristicarisesfromthe needfortalkaboutsocial identitiesandculturalobjects.
Thisneed, often apparentwhen speakersaddresseach otheracrosscultures,opens up within
society-even in face-to-faceinteraction-at pointsof criticaldifferenceanddistance,motivating the abstraction that characterizes discourse directed at "outsiders" (Bourdieu
1977[1972]:17).InAnakalang,ritualspeech oftenmediatesbetweengroupswho, throughthe
veryformsof discoursethey use, definethemselvesas outsidersto one anotherand treattheir
mutualcommunicationas uncertain.Theirspeech thus has many of the propertiesof talk
betweenstrangers,dealingwith communicativeuncertaintythroughredundancyand constant
referenceto the relevantactors,events, and goals.
In addition,the formsof Anakalangeseritualspeech help speakersidentifythemselvesto
Eventstructureand performancestyle all help
ancestorsand claim some of theirauthority.12
of time and person,partiallydenyingthe situatednessof speech acts
mutethe particularities
(Keane1991; Kuipers1990). These formswork in tandem with ritualpoetics that support
"entextualization,"
makingsalientformalfeaturesof the speech thatallow itto be treatedas an
that
object
appearsto transcendparticularcircumstancesor speakers.13Indoing so, it stresses
thosepropertiesof languagethatare leastdialogic,linkedto context,or to speakers'intentions.
is of particularinterestherebecauseit allows highlycontextualspeech events
Entextualization
to createthe effectof texts,buildingon those aspectsof languagethatcontributeto what have
been treated,for quite differenttheoreticalends, as the "said"(Ricoeur1971), the "already
uttered"(Bakhtin1981), or the writingthat"supplements"
speech (Derrida1973 [1967]).Itthus
articulatesin practice aspects of language often considered analyticallyto be in mutual
opposition.
These two characteristicsunderwritethe use of ritual speech as a source of cultural
The reflexivedimensionof ritualspeech providesit withformssuitablefortalk
representation.
aboutculturalobjects,and itsformalitysupportsitstreatmentas a textthatexistsindependently
of, and is highly portableamong, particularevents, persons, contexts, or practices.These
properties,however,derivefromfunctionsthatarequitedistinctfromtheiruse as denotational
texts.ContemporaryAnakalangeseuse ritualspeech in a rangeof contextsand purposesthat
bearcontrastingsets of implicationsaboutthe natureof languageand its effects.The different
uses of ritualspeech implydifferencesin languageideology,emphasizingthe roleof language
in problematicand consequentialinteractionon the one hand,and its functionin denotation
on the other. Althoughin practicethe two aspects are often intertwined,they may pull in
differentdirections:ritualspeech thatprovidesa way of speakingto powerfulinterlocutorsand
inducingresponsescan also be readas text abouta separateand self-containedworld.
Thesetwo emphasescan be seen in speech practicesrespectivelyassociatedwith relatively
conservativeandself-consciouslymodernistpartsof Anakalangesesociety.Althoughbothkinds
of practicecoexisted in the 1980s, they mayprovideevidence of historicalshifts(forwhichthe
writtenrecord is scanty) in the languageideologythat informsthem. Forancestralritualis
involvementwiththe nation-state,and
becomingincreasinglymarginalized,while Christianity,
the formsof culturaldisplayand reflectionassociatedwiththem,areclearlyascendant.Atissue
herearespeech practices,since the actualwordsin questionneed notdiffer:rather,the crucial
differencesconcernthe contextsin which they occur,theirpresuppositions,and theirimplications.
To exemplifythe contrast,the followingsectionpresentsa briefcanonicaltextdepictingthe
house."Itwas offeredto me, as a studentof culture,in the descriptivemode (and
"traditional
as a displayof knowledge).Itssource,however,liesin ritualperformancesaddressedto invisible
spirits.Althoughthese two discursivepracticespresupposedistinctsocial fields of action, we

the spoken house

107

cannotunderstandthe formerwithouttakingintoaccountthe social andcosmologicalconditions that shape the words in the latter.Theirtextualcharacteris in parta functionof the
perceivedchallengesof communicatingwith distantinterlocutors,such as the dead, and of
Thecharacterof ritualwordsinturnfacilitates
obtainingfromthemrecognitionandresponses.14
their use in new contexts,supplyingan emergentfolkloricdiscoursewith materialsthat are
primarilyof interestforwhattheydenote,or as a code awaitingexegesis. Itshouldbe no surprise
to findthatthosespeechperformances
thatmostlendthemselvesto entextualization
arefavored
as lastingculturalobjects.

the house in words


I spentmanyafternoonssittingwith an elderlyritualspecialist,whom Iwill call UmbuSebu,
engaged in rathermeanderingconversations.An memberof a powerfuland ambivalently
modernistfamily,he had recentlyconvertedto Christianity,
but he enjoyeddisplayinghis rich
historicalmemoryand facilitywith poetic speech. Likemanypeople, he could easily launch
into longrecitations,itemizingexchangevaluablesor the stoppingplaceson the ancestraltrek.
Once, for example, he asked whether I knew about the house, and presentedit to me as
follows:15
yili pakowa
yili pataukaru

dug out site


excavated site

pakabuangu kamumu
pabongu wai baha

discarded remnants
thrown out bath water

deta ta

goes up to

kabisu uma
katikupenang

house corner
head of the main floor

tomaja ta

arrives at

tapu papalekaru
yeka da nula pakahorungu

unrolled mat
and the offered pillow

liya ta

stops by there at

koru mamutu
na bola mamutu

warm chamber
the warm basket

katikuoli nula
karasaoli tapu

head's companion pillow


flank's companion mat

lisa

stops by

da tolaku maneni
aharu lagapa

the attic uprights


crossbeam of lagapa

lisaka nau deta ta

stop by up there at

kabaringu padaku
halikuru kalihungu

short pillars
encircling rafters

purungu

descend

ta leli mangu isi


ta kajanga ma wua

to the full disk


to the fruited branch

liya

stops by there

na walu toku
na walu lara

the eight pokings


the eight flutings

na dakut nibu
na koba wai

the sharp spear


the water cup

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american ethnologist

10

15

20

25

As Umbu Sebu spoke, he gestured,as if to map out a series of points leadingthe spirit
addresseeupwardand intothe house fromthe villageplaza (althoughthe house in which we
sat lackedthe "traditional"
peak, altars,centralhearth,and pillars).The firstcouplet, referring
to the foundationholes in which the house pillarsareplaced,denotesthe housesite withinthe
village,a permanentpossessionof the clan and independentof any physicalstructurethatmay
momentarilystand there. The succeeding couplets name the pen housing pigs and horses
beneaththe livingplatform(lines 3-4); the frontcorner(lines 6-7); the benches in the most
publicroomof the house, metonymicallyindicatedthroughimagesof hospitality(lines9-10);
the interiorspace in which the seniorcouple sleep (lines12-15); the roofbeams(lines 17-18);
the postsand beamsthatreinforcethe centralstructure(lines20-21); the disk-shapedshelves
attachedto the fourcentralpillars(lines23-24); and the pillarcarvingsalong which communicationswiththe spiritsare saidto travel(lines26-29). Bythe time of thisconversation,I was
no longersurprisedat such displaysof schematicknowledge,forpeople hadstrongideasabout
what I was-and should be-seeking. But was this nothing more than a product of the
ethnographicencounter?I will arguethatmattersare not thatsimple.
ways of looking at a house
Textssuch as the precedingone do not come from nowhere-nor, if summonedup and
refittedfor my benefit, were they merely invented for "the service of ethnography,"in
Malinowski'sphrase.Neithereverysociety noreveryspeakerreadilyprovidessuch texts-nor
do they providetexts on any possible topic. If the partsof the house are common, everyday
knowledge,what social conditions favor their codificationas schematic objects of verbal
communication?Neitherexplicitpedagogy(largelyabsentin traditionalAnakalang)nor interThis
providethe only occasionsforformulaicself-presentation.
lopers(suchas ethnographers)
fragmentwas familiarto me, as I had heardindividualcoupletsquoted manytimes and had
recordedlongerversions,often extendingthe enumerationsto partsof the village, in several
kindsof ritualevents. Visitorswho come to negotiatemarriageexchangesare verballyled up
intothe houseto the matson whichthey will sit andfacetheirhosts-even when the encounter
takesplace in a temporaryshelter.When mortuaryprayersdirectthe deceasedto the villageof
the dead, these words lead them into houses that lie along the way. Other rites lay out the
progressionin an effortto drawthe good fortuneof the deceased back intothe house to bless
Aftera burnedvillagehasbeen rebuilt,a similarenumerationof pointssummons
the bereaved.16
the spiritsback fromthe forestswhere they have fled. The orderof the partscan be reversed.
Whena priest(ratu)sits on the floor,at the base of the divinationpillar,with offeringsin front
of him(speakingpriestsarenormallymen),the attentionofthe spiritsinthe atticmustbe directed
stepby stepdownwardto receivethem. Ritualpurification(heku)afterincestexpels the wrong
by a furtherlistingof parts(cf. Kuipers1988:106).
The currentprominenceof the house is doubtlessdue in partto its nationwiderhetorical
differencesanexemplarytokenof safeethnic
importance,forthe statehasfoundin architectural
difference.This is most evident in TamanMini Indonesian,the nationaltheme parkoutside
whereeach provinceis representedby an oversized"traditional"
house (see Anderson
Jakarta,
1990[1973]). As with well-known instancesin Sumatraand Sulawesi,the house providesa
visualemblemof culturaldistinctiveness;
forinstance,the firstlocalpublicationson Sumbanese
culturefeaturea pictureof the house on theircovers(Kapita1976a, 1976b, the latterdevoting
two chaptersto listingitsparts),and the shoulderpatchesof some local officialsin EastSumba
portraya roofpeak.
But in Sumbathis contemporaryrole intersectswith and takes advantageof preexisting
significances.Inadditionto the threelevels notedabove,the house'sinteriorspaces,physically
indicatedonly by low partitions,benches, or mats,are in practiceassociatedwith distinctions

the spoken house

109

of genderand clan affiliation.The veranda(Iaga) shouldface the centralpartof the village,


locationof the ceremonialplazasand the tombsthatserve as foci of clan identity.Thisis the
outermostpartof the houseandthefreestof access, forentrancethroughthe frontdoorrequires
invitationand recognizedpurpose.A placeforcasual interaction,it is where peopleexchange
theirfirstbetelchew beforefurtheror moreformaltalk,andwatchthe everydayandceremonial
events in the plaza;when largepartiesstay duringmarriagenegotiationsand funerals,it can
also serveas a sleepingplace. Behindand above it is a low wall on which manyhousesdisplay
the buffalohornsremainingfromformersacrificesor feasts.To the right,as one facesthiswall,
up a steportwo is a low doorintothe mainroom(penabakul),the mainindoorstageforformal
events.17In such events, the visitorssit along the outer benches facing inward,while those
associatedwith the house sit across from them, their backs to the heartharea. This inner
quadrantis framedby the sturdiestelements of the structure,four centralpillars(kabaringu
padua).Divination(uratu)and prayers(nyaba)usuallytake place at the foot of the divination
uratu),which isclosesttothe door.18Onlyintimatesof the inhabitants
pillar(kabaringu
normally
venturefurtherinward.There,at the centerof the house, the hearth(karaluku)containsthree
stones(tularu),one identifiedas maleandtwo as female,of whichonlythe lattermaybe moved
when adjustinga cookingpot. The hearthrestsin a slightlyrecessedsand box andformsboth
the warmcenterof the household,a comfortableplaceto loungewhile
literallyandfiguratively
chattingand pokingat the fire.Aroundit sleep the youngermembersof the household,while
the couple who head the householdtake a separatechamber(korung),which may also hold
inalienablevaluables,the "ancestors'portion"(tagumarapu).Overnightguestsremainon the
benchesof the frontroomortheveranda.Diametrical
ly acrossfromthe frontdooris an informal
entranceand the "baseof the waterjar"(kerijialu),the areareservedforthe washingand food
preparationactivitiesof women and young men.
In fact, however,only some existinghouses actuallyapproachthe canonicaldescription.
Today,increasingnumbersof people live in cementor stonehouseswithcorrugatedzinc roofs.
houses but in simpler
Moreover,even in the past many people lived not in "traditional"
the
roof
and
sometimes
even
the
central
dwellings,lacking peaked
pillarsorelevatedplatform.19
Whethera house took the fullycanonicalformwas a functionof the wealth and authorityof
the owners, of its ritualstatuswithinthe clan, and of whetherit was located in an ancestral
village (paraingu)or in a gardenhamlet(kalebugalu).20 Evenin the ancestralvillage, houses
often fall shortof the ideal-in manycases, all that is to be found is a vacanthouse site (yili
uma).Conceptually,however,these sites, which remainthe inalienablepropertyof the clan,
structureis
continueto be identifiedwith houses,and in practice,a full-fledged"traditional"
not always requiredfor the rites.Giventhe performativenatureof ritual,a temporaryshelter
can serve, if the properofferingsandotherperformanceconditionsare met.Conversely,many
otherwise"modern"houses,churches,and governmentbuildingsare given high-peakedzinc
roofs.Somewherebetweentheseextremeslie villagesof basically"traditional"
peakedhouses
where the hearthhas been removedto a cook shed and the altarslie in disuse because the
ownershave convertedto Christianity.
social action and semiotic difficulty
InAnakalang,as in other"housesocieties"(Levi-Strauss
1982; Macdonald1987),the heavy
forit is closely
loadof significanceattachedto the physicalhouse is yet furtheroverdetermined,
identifiedwiththe sociological"house"(uma),the basic constituentof the clan. InAnakalang,
house andclan identity,membership,and possessionsmustbe continuallynourishedin rituals
Theseritualsbringtogetherdispersedmembersto the villageswheretheir
forancestralspirits.21
houses and house sites are locatedto manifesttheiridentificationwith the ancestorsas active
collectivities.Ritualspeech is pivotalto politicaland affinalties among the livingas well as

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their relationswith the spiritworld,the latterstillconsideredby manypeople to be crucialto


the social and politicalefficacyand standingof the group.
The livingperiodicallygatherto face theirancestors,speakingthroughthe mediumof ritual
speakers.Bymeansof speech performances,they seek to compel the spiritsto recognizetheir
ancestrallygroundedsocial identity and to acknowledge the obligations between them,
creating,fulfilling,or renewingdebts.Theyattemptto inducethe ancestorsto grantthemhealth
andsafety,fertility,good crops,andsuccess inexchange.Clansmayvarygreatlyintheirsuccess
in stagingrituals,whichcan be logisticallyand politicallycomplexandexpensive,anddemand
the cooperationof often rivalrouskin, affines,and skillful-and at times highlyrecalcitrantritualists.Successandfailurebothmanifestandcompoundthe strengthening
orweakeningstate
of theirperceivedcharisma,theirsocial honor,and theireconomic and physicalwell-being.
People knowthatgood ritesdemandstrategyand economic calculation,but they oftensee
these as manifestingdeepersources,foundinthe qualityof theirrelationsto ancestors.Effective
communicationwithspiritsis neverassured.Forone thing,the verypresenceofinvisiblebeings
is notcertain,and,once they are in attendance,it is notguaranteedthattheywill recognizethe
speakersastheirproperdescendants.Evenifallthatisgiven,ritualactionsareinherentlydifficuIt
and their outcomes uncertain.Threeaspects of this problematiccharacterare the semantic
ambiguitiesand opacitiesof ritualspeech, the restrictionsthatconstrainits performance,and
the social constructionof the interactionitself. Ambiguity,allusiveness,and opacity are
commonfeaturesof ritualspeech andcontributeto the generalperceptionthatit is difficult.All
coupletsare supposedto have been transmittedfromthe ancestorsthroughhouse-basedlinks
to the present.Manyare semanticallyobscure because of esoteric vocabularyand allusive
metaphors,the latterknown in east Sumbaas "disguisedreference"(hangindingungara)(see
Adams1974:331;cf. Forth1988:135), and these featuresare oftenexacerbatedby truncated
syntax.Thespecificimportof anexpressioninanygiveninstancecan be ambiguous,andpeople
are veryconcernedwith the possibilitiesof misconstruedintentions.
These possibilitiesare underlinedby the restrictionsthat constrainactual performance,
of the ever-presentriskof failureand of the wrathof offendedaddresses.
remindingparticipants
Some restrictionsconcernthe actualchoice of couplets,forconventionsrestrictsome couplets
to specific types of event, lest one "wronglylifta sharpenedstake,wronglytake up a stone"
(kahalatebahoraku,kahaladekiwatu)andtherebyinvitesanctions.Performance
styledemands
highlyformalbody postureand prosody.Restrictionslimitwho may speak and where. Most
of night.
importantcommunicationsto ancestorsshouldoccuronly inthe ritual"cool"(maringu)
When people face the spirits,minoroffenses,such as forgettingto mentiona certainancestor
or omittinga stage in a sequence of prayers,may draw seriousconsequences,such as theft,
disease, accidents, conflagrations,infertility,drought, and, if certain clans are involved,
Indeed,priestshave been knownto trembleor faintfromanxiety.One ritual
lightningstrikes.22
I witnessedcame to a haltbecause a priestlost his nerveand refusedto perform.The sudden
deathof anotherpriest'sdaughterin 1993 is commonlyattributedto mistakeshe had made in
ritualspeech only a few days before.
The formaland performativecharacteristicsof ritualspeech in Anakalangultimatelytake
shape in referenceto the social actions that they mediate.Whetherused by contemporary
marapuritualistsor betweengroupsof livingpeople, as in marriagenegotiation,ritualspeech
is preeminentlya wayof addressinga listeneracrossa significantandpower-ladensocialdivide.
The kind of ritualdialogue in which formalspeech occurs presupposes-and helps make
imaginable-differenceand a distinctsortof interlocutor.Theseparationbetween participants
in the speech event is representedas physical.Thus,for instance,to prayto the spiritsis to be
"faceto face"(pahagangu)with them, requiringpassageacrossa gap. Prayersdirectthe spirits
to "descend"(purung)to the offerings(or,for largesacrifices,to tokens,which sit in frontof the
priest).In other situations,words are directedupwardsand outwards.Forexample, oratory

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111

(taunguii)in the villageplaza mustbe conveyedto the spiritsby a singerwhose voice must"go
alongthe gong rack,go alongthe drumbridge"(li ta ladatala,li ta lediuedu).23Ineithercase,
discourseis achieved acrossa space thatis felt to makecommunicationhardto achieve, and
which it is the functionof the elaboratelistingof places to define. One is never sure thatthe
spiritsare present,that they are listening,and that they recognize their descendants.The
invisiblelistenersmustattendand be preparedto engage:
whenI awakenthesleeper
bakubangutamangadu
letthemnotbe startled
halawada
abudakabataku
whenIarousethedozers
tamajiuda
bakukokida
letthemnotmishear
abudakadadangu
rangurajiaku
Theymustalso understandwhat is being askedof them:
don'thearpoorly

abu mu urungbamurangu

don'tsee unclearly

abumuyabarubamuelu

Having summonedthe spirits,the priestmightthen call out, referringto both spatial and
nutu?)
temporalpresence:"There!Are you horsesnow complete?"(Na!Jaraganakukadimika
have
arrived
whether
to
attention
careful
are
they
indicating
any sign
Prayers accompaniedby
in the appointedplace and have heardwhat was said, althoughthe clinchingevidence may
to pastritual
occuronly long after,when subsequentmisfortunesare attributedretrospectively
errors.24

Ritualencountersthusexhibittwo featurescrucialforthe discursiverelationshipto culture.


One is thatthey requirethatpeople speakto othersacrossa sociological,physical,and even
ontologicaldivide.The second featureis thatthiscommunicationis displayedas difficultand
subjectto failure.Thiscombinationof semioticandpragmaticuncertaintyis evoked in the way
one man interpretedfor me the couplet, "Soundof the hawk, rustleof the duck"(li hangula
kuala,li hamowiradi).Thehawkis too highoverheadforusto see, butit alwaysgivesa warning
beforesnatchinga chick. Inthe darkof the night,we can hearthe wings of otherwiseinvisible
duckspassingoverhead.This, he explained,refersto the obscurityof the knowledgethatthe
livinghave receivedfromthe ancestors.What littlewe know of the correctrites involvesus
with powersthatwe sense are there, but that remainelusive. Althoughthey are out of sight,
they bearthe threatof dangeras well. On the one hand,this is clearlya way of talkingabout
the problematicrelationsbetweenthe livingandthe dead, and the crypticnatureof the media
thatlinkthem.Butit mayalso be one way of acknowledgingthatinteractionultimatelyescapes
the intentionsof any given participant.
speaking to ancestors

like ancestors

The words that Umbu Sebu uses to denote a culturalartifacthave their source in actions
directedto ends otherthandescription.Theirpurpose,when used, forexample,to summona
spiritintothe house, explainsthe orderin which the partsare named,fromoutsideto inside,
bottomto top, iconically reproducingthe relevantaction. The role of predicationhere is a
functionof the task,of the sense thatitcouldfail,andof the delicacyof the etiquetteof directing
a deceasedelder.Thedesiredmovementsof the spiritarespelledout in step-by-stepdetail,for
only a minimal degree of shared informationabout the action being undertakencan be
presupposed,and no agreementon intentionscan be taken for granted.Only the one-line
directives(lines5, 8, 11, 16, 19, 22, 25), such as "goesup to," indicatethe highlyperformative
these directivesdo notformcouplets,and so arenotembodied
natureof thiscitation.Strikingly,
in fully canonical form. Thus, when people cite couplets in conversation,quote them in
subsequentritualspeech, or offerthem as culturaltextsto the ethnographer,they oftenomit
the unpairedlines-here, the directives-as well as other contextualizingmarkers(Kuipers

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1990:60). That is, they foreground as more essential those parts of the text that are least
contextual.
A significant verbal difference between Umbu Sebu's performance and that which addresses
spirits is that the former omits the words of the ritual respondent who sits facing the speaker. A
characteristic of full Anakalangese ritual speech performance, the respondent's role structures
the performance as a stylized dialogue. Every few couplets, the speaker cries out the ritual
address name (kadehang) of this house, to which a second person replies with the cry "Go
ahead!" (Malo!). This omission in the cited text is part of a general deemphasizing of the
interactive-and problematic-character of ritual speech. It also affects its practical authority
and efficacy. When the living address the dead, they speak as their legitimate descendants.
Knowledge of couplets provides indexical evidence of the speakers' relationship to ancestral
powers, something also denoted by the kadehang, the ritualavoidance names of the ancestors.
These structure speech as a dialogue in which verbal recognition of the speaker in terms of the
ancestor is continually asserted, and, with it, the legitimacy of their claims on the ancestors.
In addition, the gap across which speech is transmitted intervenes not only between groups
but also within them. Forexample, a preliminaryspeaker makes an offeringspeech (palaikungu)
to identify the offerings, their recipients, and their beneficiaries for the priest who will then
reformulate this information in prayers (for examples from other genres, see Hoskins 1988;
Keane 1991). In most cases given as instructions to intermediaries ("Youwill say 'such-andsuch' "), they situate the moment of speaking amid both of a chain of speakers and a temporal
sequence of interdependent speech events. Given the delegated structure of performances,
principals cannot assume that even their own speakers know what is going on-any relevant
actions, agents, instruments,and goals must be put into words.

words and consequences


The social structure of speech events helps explain why much of the referential content of
ritual speech consists of metalanguage that announces the purpose, context, and participants
in the event. Prayer, for example, insists on its purposefulness and indicates the spirit couple
that it addresses, invisible but still forming a distinct spatially localized other to be faced:
in orderthathe hearwell
kanapekukolungukanapekurangu
ubuna ma rarana matana
red-eyedlord
that'swhy I put it beforethe horse
jiayadukutauyata hagajara
in orderthatshe hearfeelingly
kanapekupadangkanaita
i rabuna ma miangna kuruna
blushingchested lady
that'swhy I put it at dog'ssnout
jiayadukutauyata oraahu
These lines refer to the message, but the offerings must also be specified, and the ancestral
warrant for the action noted in terms of foundational promises now being fulfilled:
na kawadakuhawala
na manuhangiwu

the one metalsliver


the one chicken

kapawolutu kawungaya
kaparawitu madainguya

as establishedby the firstpeople


as createdby the ancientpeople

Physically placed in front of the speaker, they are directed at the invisible interlocutor, with an
explicit demand for a response:
kanakayiwena lima
kanahimawena aba

in orderto receivewiththe hand


in orderto respondwiththe mouth

The structure of performance, its uncertainties, and its consequential nature underwrite and
mobilize its powers of reference.

the spoken house

113

As a result,the constructionof ritualencountersupportsa certaindiscursiveobjectification.


First,it presupposesa sociologicalandeven ontologicaldivideacrosswhichpeople mustspeak
about who they and the interlocutorare and how they are to act. In contrastto everyday,
face-to-faceinteraction,ritualspeakerscannotassumethattheirinterlocutors
are awareof the
relevantelementsof the context,can interpretthe messagesbeingconveyed,or are even able
to hearone another.Second,theircommunicationis displayedas difficult,highlyconsequential, and subjectto failure.Third,the mediumthroughwhich they communicateis best fitted
to this purpose by virtueof its ability to transcendparticularcontexts throughthe formal
propertiesof entextualization:it is ancestralspeech. The presenceof ancestors,embodied in
the actionsof speakers,is evoked by foregroundingthe absence of those speakersfromtheir
identitiesas speakersof the colloquial.Fourth,participants
understandthe semioticproblemin
termsof pragmaticoutcomes.Any given performanceis authorizedby the commitmentsthat
linkit to previousand futureperformances(forinstance,to give thanksor to make up forthe
shortcomingsof the presentrite)and lookstowardoutcome(thefame,wealth,and healththat
shouldfollow good performances,or the misfortunesthatmay motivateor resultfromerrors).
Referenceand predictionin marapuritual,then, are functionsof how speakersunderstand
theirwordsto act and haveeffects,andof the kindsof relationsbetweenspeakersandaddresses
discussionsthatsurroundthe event
theycan presuppose.Centralto the strategicand interpretive
is the bearing any given stretch of speech may have on the situation at hand and its
consequencesforthe listeners(cf. Rosaldo1982). Thewordsandstructureof performanceaim
at engagingan interlocutorin orderto imposeor respondto obligations.The risksare misfire,
practicalincapacity,and proceduralerror.

speech without obligation


I have arguedthatthe referentialcharacterof ritualspeech operatesin relationboth to the
distancethatis assumedto lie between interlocutorsand to speakers'beliefs aboutthe words
that can most effectivelycross that distance. In contrast,a quite differentrelationshipwas
enacted when Umbu Sebu produceda formaldescriptionof the house, offeringa nuggetof
culturalknowledgeand displayinghis own authority.25
Inthe contextof our conversation,his
wordswereto be understoodprimarilyas referentialin function,servingto pointout and name
the partsof the house. I was not the spiritaddressee,nor was this partof a speech event
respondingto an obligationor demandingrecognitionand action. In fact, he spoke "outof
context"ina breachof performancerestrictions
thata non-Christian
wouldconsiderdangerous.
Aselsewherein Indonesia(Fox1988:20),performancerestrictions
are loosenedif one's speech
is thoughtto concern "culture"(Indonesiankebudayaan)ratherthan "religion"(Indonesian
agama).
To use ritualspeechwithoutriskis madefeasibleby changesin the natureof practicalpower
under increasinglycoercive state rule and the ontologicaltransfigurations
broughtabout by
in
in
Church
and
state
intervene
local
institutions
and
practices interlocking
Christianity.26
ways.
Forone, bothchallengethe authorityof ritualspeech, or at leastresituateit, as the languageof
government,trade,and, to a largeextent,the church,is Indonesian.The state,havingalready
supersededthe mainpowersof clans, continuesto downplaytheir identitiesand discourage
theiractions.27Throughregulations,pedagogy,exhortations,and events such as interdistrict
sportsevents, it seeks to supplantthem with allegiancessituatedwithina nested hierarchyof
administrative-territorial
units.Althoughnot fullysuccessful,governmentaleffortshave begun
to underminethe clan as an effectivepoliticalprotagonistand ancestralties as a presumed
sourceof well-beingand, in the process,have obliteratedthe contextin which muchof ritual
speech operates,the differencesit mediates,and the consequencesit entails.

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Protestantism
also influencesspeech practiceand linguisticideology.Contemporary
marapu
ritualistsdistinguishthemselvesfromChristiansby callingthemselves"peopleof prayer"(tau
nya'ba).When ritualspeech is directedto marapuit is doublysituatedin temporalrelationsof
cause andeffect.Theconsequentiality
of performanceis protectedby strongtaboosthatprohibit
performanceout of context.Incontrast,prayingChristians,as membersof a global institution,
should not aim to createor fulfillspecificobligationswith individuated,potentiallyresponsive
ancestralagents.Nor do they aim to speaklikeancestors.Ministersexhorttheircongregations
to pray directly from the heartor "liver"(ati). Telling them to shut their eyes (a sign of
introspectionand-in contrastto Catholicpractice-the lack of prayerbooks),theyexplicitly
oppose two core featuresof marapuritual:the use of poeticallystructuredspeech,which they
see as not spontaneous;and the delegationof speakingroles,which they see as irresponsible.
Enjoinedto heartfeltspeech in religiousfunctions,Christiansare leftto see ritualspeech as
(Indonesian
somethingdifferent.Churchmembersaresometimesambivalentabout"tradition"
tradisi).Christianityis identifiedwith modernityand the West, and church servicesclosely
follow Europeanforms.Yetgovernmentpolicy,thoughdemandingadherenceto one of thefive
legally recognized world religions,also encouragesthe preservationof local culture.28As
elsewhere in Indonesia,the crucial issue in Anakalanghas become that of how to separate
paganpractices(whichareto be eschewed)fromculture(whichis to be promotedas furnishing
emblemsof local identity)(Kippand Rodgers1987; Volkman1990).
of marapuritualspeech can arisein at leasttwo basicforms:as
Non-marapuappropriations
or
as
a
cultural
text
in
citationor exegesis. Common contexts for display include
display
inductionceremoniesfor local officials,culturalshows held duringinterdistrict
events or for
of
and
the
of
stone
tombs.
The
first
two
contexts
are part
tourists,
parties
oratoryduring raising
of effortsto link culturaldisplay with territorialidentitiesand often presume a nonlocal
audience.The lastof these contextsinvolvescompetitivestatusclaims:althoughsharingmany
featuresof speech directedto spirits,it does not usuallypresupposethe same kindof efficacy.
This is evident in the fact thatChristiansare expresslyforbiddento makeor even to consume
offerings,a restrictionto which marapuritualistsobjectas an evasionof the chainsof obligation
in which the event is situated(Keane1994, 1995; cf. Volkman1990). When Christiansspeak
but omit the materialsign, this suggests,likeotheralterationsof speech events (performances
in daylight,inappropriate
and otherovertbreachesof ritualpropriety),eitherthat
participants,
orthattheydo so withoutanycommitment
theydo notface andaddressan invisibleinterlocutor
to, and fearof, the results.
Ifperformancewithoutdangerrevealsa shiftin linguisticideology,the second use of ritual
speech, as culturaltext, bringsout the focus on the denoted object. This can be seen in
Wohangara'stypescriptand is also evidentin a conversationI had in 1993 withAmani Delu,
a middle-agedelementaryschool teacher.Proudof his evangelicalefforts,he showed me how
he used the textualhouse to verypersuasiveeffect:
Who is at the "housecorner,headof the mainfloor"?Why is it calledthat?What'sthere?I'lltellyou, it's
Satan[Indonesianiblis],the tempterwho causedhumanityto fall. Becauseif you prayto marapu,look
at where you go. When you "stopby the headof the main floor,"it nevermentionsthe door-it goes
straightup fromthe plaza intothe room.Now who travelssecretlylikethat,withoutgoingby the front
door?Itmustbe the tempter.Andthat'swhy he's below Nuku[a termforthe spiritin the house peak],
below "thecreatorof humans"[mawolutau].Now, ifwe'reto believe in Jesus,we've got to go in by the
door.Thedoor is Jesus:"Iam thedoorof truth."29
Ama ni Delu went on to tell me that once after he made this argument, a whole valley converted

to Christianity.
(Not long afterward,I overheardhim usingit againwith a marapupriest.)As in
Wohangara'sexegesis quotedabove, he buildsan analysison the physicalhouseas a site and
sourceof broadermeanings.LikeUmbuSebu,he does thisby drawingon the ritualtext,treating
its pragmaticsequencingin termsof a spatiallogic:the absence of a door in the textexpresses
somethingabout the world it denotes. In this treatment,the effects of speakingthe text are

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115

subordinateto the objectsthat it denotes,which exist independentlyof the performanceand


itseffects.30
referentiality and what counts as culture
Ihave mentioneda numberof waysAnakalangesetalkaboutthe house,fromritualdirectives
with representatives
to writtenculturalsynopsesand casualconversations(withethnographers,
of the nationandstate,andwithone another).I have emphasizedUmbuSebu'sspeech, in part
becauseof the way in which it straddlesthe differencebetweenritualactionand culturaltext.
When UmbuSebuspoke, he stillcould assumethe authorityof one who is used to facingand
engagingthe spirits.31In contrastto Wohangara'stypescript,this recitationexhibitsa lack of
to the operations
forcethatcannotsimplybe attributed
contextualspecificityand performative
of, say, literacyin oppositionto orality.Likethe typescript,however,UmbuSebu'swordswere
directednot at an addresseefromwhom he demandscounteringactions,but at an audience.
Such an audiencepotentiallyincludesa world beyond Anakalang,introducinglistenerswho
are not able-or, at least, lack the authority-to speak by ancestralmeans and respondto
ancestralobligations.
UmbuSebu'srecitationwas clearlydistinctfroman addressto a spirit:his wordswere not
embedded in the otherspeech performanceswith which it should be linked,they were not
predicatedin earlierpromises,he did not cryout the ritualnameof an interlocutor,andwe did
not havethe appropriate
offeringin frontof us. Eachof these absenceswas sufficientevidence
thatno responsewas expected.Whateverauthorityhe mighthave invokedas one who knows
the texts, he was not for the momentclaimingto speak either as or to an ancestor.Forhis
audience,this use of coupletsposed problemsless of responseand outcome thanof interpretationandtranslation.Inthiscontext,his recitationis to be evaluatedprimarilyby itstruthand
completenessof referenceratherthan its consequences-and it is to such an evaluationthat
Ama ni Delu appealsin identifyingthe door altarwith Satan.
Inthe contextof his recitation,the text that Umbu Sebuofferedme bore two implications.
As an informative
text,itdenotesa referent,the symbolicallyladentraditionalhouse,something
existing independentlyof the performanceor of the demandfor response.As a display and
transmittal
of knowledgeto a note-takingstudentof culture,itoffersthatreferentas anexemplary
culturalartifact.Inboth respects,howeversimilarthe wordsmightbe, it departsfromspeech
that is addressedto a spirit-speech in which the criticalissue is whethercommunicationhas
been achieved,the spiritinducedto move, and itsblessingssecured.Insuch speech, reference
to the partsof the house is a functionof its role in directingand defininga place for actions:
likeotherformalizedlists,it emergesfromefficaciousperformances,as tracesof the moves in
which layingoutthose moves in speech playsa crucialpart.Theelaborationof thispart-by-part
accountreflectsthe need forprecisionin the face of the problemsposed by the encounter,the
cautiousetiquette,and the consequentialitythatthese entail.
I suspect that as the powers that Anakalangeseritualspeech was meantto mobilize lose
purchase,the emphasison denotationmaygrow.Whenthe presupposedinterlocutorand the
difficultyare both lost, what is left remainsthat much more availablefor treatmentas text.
where the denotativefunctionbecomes central,new aspectsof its object may
Furthermore,
come to the fore.One is the alteredtemporaldimension:becausethereis no event,there is no
beforeand no after.The step-by-stepdescriptionof the house (likeother rituallists,such as
stoppingpointson the ancestraltrekor componentsof exchange)does not constructa motion
acrossspace in timebut ratherindicatesa structurethatpotentiallyis fullypresent.Thesecond
follows fromthe first:as a picture, it neitherevokes nor respondsto possible failure.With
uncertaintyand dangerless at issue, the picturemightbe incomplete,but the actionwill not
be infelicitous.At most,the descriptionmightsimplylacka targetforostensivereference-the

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house in question might be absent. The fact that Umbu Sebu did not speak to me in a
"traditional"
housewould nothave affectedthe efficacyof the wordshadthey been spokenin
the rightframe,with appropriatespeakers,antecedents,and offerings.It did, however,affect
the referentialfelicityof the text:likethe wordsof a book, it did not denotethe place wherewe
spoke, but some hypothetical,ideal house.Withsuch a shiftin emphasis,this house becomes
less a site for encountersof consequence than an object of talk and of potentiallytotalizing
interpretation.

conclusion

I began this articleby arrayingagainstMalinowski's"almostpedantic"speakera series of


skepticsto suggestthatwhat makesit possibleto talkaboutsomethingis in parta functionof
what makesit necessaryto do so. Inthe exampleof the spokenhouse, I have focusedon ritual
speech because of the way it foregroundsand respondsto that necessity.The formsof ritual
speech are affectedby the actions it mediatesand the assumptionsabout language,and the
beingsthatinhabitthe world,thatunderliethem.Atthe same time,the verytextualdimension
in new contextsand to new purposes.Insome
of ritualspeech leaves it open to appropriation
Yetthis
contexts,itcan give riseto apparentlyobjectifyingortotalizingculturalrepresentations.
is only one partof the story,for ritualencountersdemandnot only entextualizedspeech but
also interactive,consequentialperformance.Bysuggestingwhatcan happenwhen one of these
dimensionscomes to be emphasizedover another,I have attemptedto tracea few of the links
among ways people think about theirwords, their capacities to act, and how they portray
themselves.A speakerin Anakalangmightemphasizethatritualspeech is a powerfulmeansof
interactingwith powerfulothers across social and communicativedistance, or that it is the
bearerof timelesstextsand codes. Inpractice,these treatmentsintertwineor oscillate:indeed,
fully performativeritualspeech requiresboth possibilitiesto operate,for the power of ritual
speech is not that it works,in Bakhtin'sterms(1986:74),as eitherutteranceortext, but that it
is both.
To askwhatmakescertainkindsof talkplausible,oreven necessary,is to placeepistemology
in socialand historicalcontext.As Rosaldo(1973)pointsout, languageideologiesoftenchange
as functionsof transformations
in institutions,ontologies,and the sourcesof power.Evenwhen
the words, such as Umbu Sebu's text, are not new, these transformations
can supportnew
of
what
it
means
to
them.
Neither
the
words
nor
the
understandings
speak
objects that are
there
determine
what
will
be
made
of
In
them.
on
formal
"already"
fully
dwelling
genresof
I
have
their
contribution
to
that
an
speech,
emphasized
self-representations play importantrole
in the interactionsof the "local"and "outside,"where "traditional"
practicesare reconfigured
and culturalidentitydebated. Culturalmetalanguagesmay give strengthto ongoing local
self-definitionor struggle(Comaroffand Comaroff1991:212).Alternatively,they may add to
the perceptionthatcultureis somethingthatexists primarilyas a self-contained,stableobject
of discourse(Handler1984) or as an expressiveartexistingin a sphereseparatefromeconomic
or politicalaffairs(Bowen1991:127;RodgersSiregar1979).Theycan providepeople withnew
sourcesof self-descriptionand recognition-or tell themthatthe heartof theiridentitylies out
of reachin the past,perhapsin anotherland,or inthe handsof thosefew people who are"best"
able to representit.32To follow these developmentsis anothertask.I havetriedto suggesthere
that, in listeningto reflexiveor objectifyingdiscourses,we shouldconsiderthe rangeof their
sources and possibilities,and their mediationby speakers'understandingsof their circumstancesand of whattheirwordscan do as they respondto the shiftingtermsof engagement.

the spoken house

117

notes
Acknowledgments. Fieldwork in Anakalang (January 1986 to November 1987) was funded by a
Department of Education Fulbright-HaysDissertation Fellowship, the JointCommittee on Southeast Asia of
the Social Science Research Council, and the American Council of Learned Societies with funds from the
National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for
Anthropological Research, under the sponsorship of the Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia and the
Universitas Nusa Cendana. Fieldwork in 1993 was funded by the Southeast Asia Council of the Association
for Asian Studies and the Luce Foundation Small Grantsfor Isolated Scholars. Furthersupport was provided
by the CharlotteW. Newcombe Foundation. Earlierversions of this article were presented at the Department
of Anthropology, Universityof Chicago (1991), the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University
of Michigan (1992), the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association (1992), and the
Department of Folklore and Folklife, University of Pennsylvania (1993). I have been helped by the
discussions on those occasions, especially by RichardBauman, Charles Briggs,JeanComaroff, and Michael
Silverstein. I am grateful for the comments of Donald Brenneis, Joseph Errington,Marilyn Ivy, John
Pemberton, Adela Pinch, Rafael Sanchez, PatriciaSpyer, and four anonymous reviewers. I am most deeply
indebted to all who worked with me in Anakalang. This article is dedicated to the memory of Umbu Pada
Buli Yora.
1. Bakhtin 1986 and/or Voloshinov 1973[1930] emphasize(s) the interactive and dialogic nature of
speech as an activity. The field of pragmatics draws particularattention to the role of context (for example,
Duranti and Goodwin 1992; Hanks 1990). At the same time, as I discuss below, an emphasis on situated
speech can be complemented by attention to the role of decontextualizing features of language in actual
use (Bauman and Briggs 1990). Although some ritual forms, such as divination, "actively subvert the
expression of intention"(Du Bois 1993:48), even the performatives that inspired speech act theory depend
on conventional codes that cannot be fully grounded in the context of use and the intentions of speakers
(Derrida 1982).
2. Differences in language (or linguistic) ideology, such as privileging reference and predication over
performativity,can affect the ways people actually use language (Silverstein 1979) and embody historical
and cultural differences in concepts of person and agency (Rosaldo 1973, 1982; see the useful review in
Woolard 1992). Even people who speak "the same" language may operate from differentassumptions about
its functions, and these assumptions may produce important distortions of cross-cultural conversations
(Briggs1 984).
3. Speech "about" practice is itself "in" a form of practice. This means also that any instance of
metalanguage is itself a form of language and thus, potentially, the object of furtherreflexivity(Lucy 1993;
Silverstein 1979; Urban 1991). Bateson (197211955]) argues that the problems of framing, recursiveness,
and vulnerability to reinterpretationare not just linguistic issues but a fundamental aspect of sociality more
generally.
4. Anakalang (population 16,000) is a one of the dozen or so related societies of Sumba. As in east Sumba
(Adams 1974; Forth 1981; Kapita 1976a, 1976b; Onvlee 1973, 1977), to which it is linguistically closest,
asymmetric marriagealliance, mediated by multigenerationalexchanges of valuables, continues to structure
a large part of social interaction. But Anakalang also resembles its geographically nearest neighbors to the
west (Geirnaert-Martin1992; Hoskins 1988, 1993; Kuipers1990), for until the 1920s, although cooperating
in large rituals, "clans" (kal?isu) did not acknowledge a central authority, and their mutual relations were
realized as much through warfare and competitive feasting as through marriage.
5. D. H. Wohangara was introduced to me during my initial week-long visit to the eastern part of the
island in 1985, when he gave me this document. While the paper was typed for me and also addressed to
me, the care with which it was thought out suggests that the basic text had been prepared beforehand,
though for what audience I cannot say; he apparently also wrote a paper on marriage rules (Wohangara
1963), probably for a conference on customary law convened by the Regency government. I therefore offer
this as no more than a particularlyapposite illustrationof how easily one encounters schematic descriptions
of Sumbanese culture, and how central the house is in them. On several other occasions people offered me
similar texts, some produced for themselves, others for cultural affairsofficials.
6. The expression "FourPrinciples"(CaturSila) is formal, possibly meant to invoke the "Five Principles"
(Pancasila) of the official Indonesian state ideology. "Sumbanese People" (Suku Sumba) is rendered with a
term usually denoting an ethnic group. Although this degree of generality is common in colonial and
Indonesian language writing, Sumbanese rarely identify themselves in terms of the entire island. The
capitalized words in parentheses are a couplet from east Sumbanese ritual speech that might be rendered
"four rules, establish village" (Onvlee 1980).
7. The attic serves as storage bin for staple grains (rice and maize), including small portions set aside as
offerings to the spirits who watch over them. Whether the speaker emphasizes one function or the other
may well reflect the extent of the listener's perceived sympathy to "paganism."
8. Formal descriptions do not, for example, tell you how to build a house, nor how to live in one, and
may even neglect visually prominent features such as the "house horns"(fora criticism of totalizing models
of the house, see Ellen 1986). In one colloquial discussion about rebuilding a long missing clan house, I
heard a man say, "Ifwe didn't have a house, where would we gather? Where would we speak? Where
would we confer? Where would we dwell, huh?"Note his emphasis on the house as a site for certain socially

118

american ethnologist

marked actions. But this is not simply a logistical matter;after all, the speakers were not prevented by lack
of a "traditionalhouse" from conferring. Itwas their public identity and status as a clan that were at stake.
In contrast, talk about cultural preservation, usually by people identified with development, tends to
emphasize architectural form over practices, for example, proposing that pockets of tradition be required
to retain thatched rather than zinc roofs. When the Department of Education and Culture sponsored
rebuilding in LaiTarung, a nearly abandoned ritual center expected to attracttourists, it was done without
rites.
9. A rough idea of the size of the corpus is given by the 3,200 EastSumba couplets published by Kapita
(1987). Formore on Anakalangese ritualspeech, see Keane 1991; for other Sumbanese societies, see Forth
1988, Hoskins 1988, and Kuipers1990. Parallelism and ritualspeech are discussed more generally in Fox
1971, 1988; Jakobson 1960.
10. By Indonesian religious policy, possession of a sacred book is an important part of the definition of
a legally recognized religion (Kipp and Rodgers 1987). Sumbanese marapu followers, however, have not
sought to gain state recognition by producing a sacred book based on ritual speech. Many Anakalangese
claim that the ancestors once possessed a full book of ritualprocedures. Some insist that the ancestors had
their own book but left it behind in Bali during their trekto Sumba. This, they say, explains the phenomenal
success of the Balinese in achieving legitimacy in the national scene. The privileged status of sacred writing
surely also contributes to a linguistic ideology that privileges fixed texts and denotation.
11. In addition, fully authoritative performance of ritual speech must be accompanied by either
prestations or offerings, which make words binding and contribute to the temporal dimensions of ritual.
Usually a dish containing betel and either the prestation or some token to represent it lie in front of the
speaker, which helps define the space of speech performance. Prestationsto the living and tokens left from
sacrifices to the dead remain as evidence of former speech acts. The current willingness of some Christians
to perform without such materials both transformsthe political economy of speech practices and indicates
importantchanges in language ideology (Keane 1994).
12. Ritual speech is usually performed in public, and most Anakalangese adults have some knowledge
of it, as they often show by citing couplets in everyday conversation. Performances usually do not consist
of fixed texts, but are improvised. Because speakers must draw on the canonical set of couplets, follow
performance conventions, and are sometimes restricted by ancestral prerogatives, they are subject to
challenge by listeners and disapproval by spirits. This, combined with the difficulties created by esoteric
vocabulary and indirection, means that few people have the skill or self-confidence to perform. Most
importantnegotiations and rituals are delegated to specialists, normally men. Their skills are respected but
do not contribute much to their own social standing.
13. Bauman and Briggs (1990) show how a wide range of linguistic and performance properties, such
as reduced deixis, highly stylized prosody, and increased focus on poetic structure,contribute to "entextualization." For a thorough analysis of the full range of linguistic resources that promote entextualization in
.the ritualspeech of a West Sumbanese society, see Kuipers1990. Kuipers(1990:1 75-1 78) points out that
formalized speech has many of the features that supposedly distinguish "literacy" from "orality." The
salience of such features is especially marked in places such as Anakalang, where the indigenous language
is rarelywritten, and literacy in the national language, Indonesian, is largely restrictedto the young.
14. Marapu, a term for the most distant and powerful ancestors, is commonly used in Anakalang as a
cover term for ancestral ritual and its adherents. By "Christians"I mean the dominant Calvinists. Although
Christiansand non-Christiansdo not formdistinct sociological or economic groups, Christianityis associated
with education and participation in the cash economy, and is virtuallya legal requirement for civil service
employment. In the 1986 census, greater Anakalang was 42.4 percent Protestant, 6.48 percent Catholic,
50.6 percent marapu (KantorStatistik1987).
15. This is transcribedfrom dictation. Canonical parallel couplets are indicated by adjacency or parallel
indentations. Consonants marked [. ] are implosive.
16. There is great interclan variety in mortuary ritual, but in general the deceased is told the way to the
village of the dead at the time of burial. Three days later, a rite "receives the spirit"(kayi dewa) back into
the house. Afterthree years, wealthy families can "place in the shelter of the shade" (pahangerang ta mawu)
to secure furtherthe presence of the deceased's good fortune(kanyuru)forthe survivors.The relations among
these events hinge in part on distinctions among differentaspects of spirit (dewa and hamangu or hamawu),
which are raiher esoteric; as Forthobserves: "ndewa... is probably the most elusive term in the eastern
Sumbanese metaphysical vocabulary" (1981:77; cf. 439).
17. Formal speech at these events, such as marriage negotiations, divination, and mortuary and other
rituals, is-with the exception of keening for the dead-dominated by men. In some houses, this room is
forbidden to in-marryingwomen, who must enter the house by the back door. Just inside the front door, in
the corner where the roof meets the wall, is the "spiritshelf" (hedi marapu), a small, rough-hewn platform.
Betel offerings are placed there for a guardian spirit, sometimes denoted by its location, "house corner."
Betel is also placed on the disk (leli) of the divination pillar, and, in some houses, at an altar above the door
spirit shelf ("egg spirit, chicken spirit,"marapu tilu, marapu manu) and at the rearof the main room ("horse
spirit, dog fate," dewa jara, ura ahu).
18. Much house-building ritual centers on obtaining and erecting the central pillars, especially the
"divinationpillar."The pillars bear a varietyof names, not all of which are common knowledge. One version,
given to me by a Christian minister whose father and brother were marapu priests, is coordinate with
Wohangara's four principles above. The terms derive from activities associated with the quadrants of the

the spoken house

119

house. Moving counterclockwise fromthe divination pillar,they are the pillarsof "theway of life and death"
(li luri, li mati), "rice and corn" (uhu, watar), "way of marriage"(li lalawi, li mangoma), from the place for
the corpse during a wake, the food preparation area, and the main sleeping chamber.
19. The peaked ("able, good") house (uma piaku) is distinguished from huts (kawarung) or minor
buildings (uma an) along various crosscutting, but similarly hierarchical, dimensions. Nonpeaked houses
can be categorized by roof shape-four eaves ("square,"uma kabalolu) or two eaves (long like a "ship,"
uma tena)-or by whether they are elevated (uma deta) or stand on the ground (uma tana). Indonesian tax
categories look at materials and structure:in 1984, Umbu Pabal township (Indonesian desa) reported two
stone houses, 27 impermanent or rough houses (Indonesian rumah darurat),and 136 platform houses;
Anakalang township listed 27 partly stone, 47 permanent stone, 115 board, and 121 bamboo. As many
platformand bamboo houses do not have peaks, fully "traditional"houses form a subset of the last category
of each list;thus, well under half of the houses in Anakalang township are "traditional"(even if the question
of roofing material, noted above, is disregarded).
20. Ritual,politics, and economics all tend to support the exemplary status of the peaked house. To build
one requiresthe ability to mobilize and feed workers. Although laborand most materialsmaybe contributed,
they flow more readily to possessors of position or wealth. Of particularimportance is access to large trees
forthe central pillars;on this largelydeforested island, sources of wood maybe distant and require payments
to other clans. In contrast to garden houses, the building of those in the ancestral village, which serve as
ritual centers, is the responsibility of larger social units, often consisting of one or more clans. Residence
and status are therefore not isomorphic: people of low rankmay occupy large peaked houses that manifest
the status claims of clans whose more powerful members dwell elsewhere.
21. Houses are usually spoken of as offspring of the shared clan ancestor or in terms of their special
contributions to clanwide rituals.As the boundaries between house and clan are not always clear in actual
practice, and since the basic principles discussed in this article remain the same for both, Iwill not distinguish
between them here. Forthe complex intersection of marriagestrategies, exchange, ritual, gender, and rank
in other eastern Indonesian "house societies," see Barraud 1979; Fox, ed. 1980; Lewis 1988; McKinnon
1991; and Traube 1986.
22. In one ritual to summon the village spirits back after a fire, a priest arose in the middle of the night
and went out alone. The next day he told me he had forgotten a step and had gone to make an offering and
prayer. He feared that the success of the rite would be jeopardized and that he himself was at risk. The
presence of the interlocutor poses temporal problems that parallel the spatial ones. A great deal of effort
goes toward telling the spirits not just where to show up, but when. Many large rituals are preceded by
smaller rites to announce the forthcoming event.
23. For reasons of space, I mention only lexicalized examples of the space constructed by ritualspeech.
It is importantto bear in mind, however, that other elements contribute to this sense of facing an other, such
as performance structureand linguistic features such as deixis (Duranti and Goodwin 1992; Hanks 1990).
Thus, the directives in the quotation above point to parts of the house as in some sense present to both
speaker and addressee (cf. Kuipers1990).
24. Speech to ancestors is normally accompanied by a sacrifice, which provides entrails or a liver for
divinatory reading (Hoskins 1993; Kuipers 1990:99-105). In addition, however, people are alert to all
possible indicators: I have been present at worried discussions concerning how to interpreta stumble, a
coughing fit, and a spilled cup of coffee.
25. Presumably, this performance, like other ways of displaying knowledge, can arise from many
motivations at once, including pleasure, and it may, in this rivalrous social world, make an implicit claim
to a superior command of tradition. Our interaction is also pedagogic, but I should note that ritual speech
is not normally taught. Most specialists claim that they never learned ritualspeech but that it just comes to
them-which is a common way of experiencing the process of acquiring practical knowledge (Lave and
Wenger 1991). They usually attributetheir abilities to intervention by spirits. Some will also acknowledge
having acquired it through long experience on the sidelines. The point here is that explanation and
purposeful memorization play a very small role.
26. Under colonial rule, beginning early in this century, the chief mission on Sumba was Calvinist (van
den End1987; see Keane 1995). By the time the church came under local control in 1946, missionaryefforts
in Anakalang had resulted in only 180 baptisms in a regional population of over 22,000 (Luijendijk1946).
Large-scaleconversion began afterthe violent end of the Sukarno regime in 1965-66, when nonadherence
to a monotheistic religion was taken by many to be synonymous with communism. Government pressure
on nonconverts through regulation of identity cards, requirements for civil service positions, classes in the
schools, and direct exhortation has gradually increased. By the late 1980s, it was clear that Christianswould
soon be in the majority in Anakalang (Keane, in press).
27. Inthe firsttwo decades of the century, the Dutch consolidated a loose system of indirect rule through
petty kings of their own creation. One of the chief consequences was the removal of most legitimate force
from local hands. Nonetheless, until several administrative restructuringsduring the 1950s and 1960s
gradually implemented Indonesian state control and produced the present hierarchy of territoriallydefined
units, clans continued to hold much of the access to farmland,forests, water, and other resources. This clan
control has now been abolished by state decree, and the clans' ritual powers over the fertilityof land and
women have been eroded by religious conversion. Clan elders still retain considerable control over the
valuables necessary for marriage and, within the township structure,adjudicate legal matters such as theft,

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boundary disputes, and other quarrels. Their authority is implicated, albeit to a diminished extent, in the
continued coherence of clan identity.
28. In fact, a major sponsor of the publication of cultural materials in Sumba is the church (Kapita1976a,
1976b, 1987, n.d.).
29. Presumably an allusion to John 10:1, 9.
30. Of course, he does indeed speak to achieve specific effect, as he points out himself. But this is the
persuasive effect of an argument constructed around the object portrayedin the ritualtext-it does not draw
on indexical links to ancestral addressees, on conventional performativity,or on poetic structure.
31. People in Umbu Sebu's position can play self-consciously with these different roles, each with its
distinctive forms of authority. See Hymes' (1981) account of a man who is willing to tell a myth but resists
the ethnographer's desire to have him "perform"it, preferringthe role of linguist to that of "native." Forthe
role of citation and displaced agency in "traditionalization,"see Bauman 1992.
32. A brief note on the large topic of emerging hierarchies is called for here. The reader may already
have observed that my examples of authoritativewords are all spoken by men-although not all men speak
with authority, and the ability to speak formally does not map directly onto social standing (Keane 1991;
cf. Lederman 1980). In addition, today it is sometimes people who are distant from ritualpractices and can
draw on new sources of status, such as formal education, who seem most articulateabout "tradition."They
may undermine the authorityof those who in fact act but cannot explain (for unintended consequences of
"traditionalism,"see Hill 1985). Relatedto this is the experience of nostalgia and inauthenticity:when people
focus on denotation, they may find a mismatch between the referentand the text; for example, actual houses
frequently lack many of the features mentioned in the text. As noted above, to the extent that the text is
performative, this may not necessarily be surprising or significant. When the text is treated as meaningful
chiefly as evidence of a world to which it refers, however, the mismatch between text and objective
correlative may support a common perception that "authentic culture" either is imperfectly realized in the
given instance or has been perfectly realized once, but on ly in the past. This may help explain my experience
that many of the people most committed to what they see as modernity are also the most vocal about the
loss of tradition:they measure their vision of tradition against the imperfections of existing houses and the
apparent inarticulatenessof actual practitioners.

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submitted August 3, 1992


revised version submitted January27, 1993
revised version submitted May 7, 1993
accepted August 5, 1993

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