Feb 12, 2014

"Splitting a Coconut or Why did You Do That: Ancestors and Confession in an Eastern Indonesian Region"

Robert H. Barnes, Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Oxford (retired)

Although modern educations and ways of life are firmly established in eastern Indonesia, traditional understandings remain strong.  In fact Indonesia generally has in the recent period experienced politically supported revivals of traditions.  Anyone who has lived in eastern Indonesian villages knows that no matter how dominant the world religions may be in daily life, the ancestors are always present.  The ancestors are stern judges of serious infractions and may wreak misfortunes on persons who have themselves been responsible for misdeeds, or whose now dead relatives have.  To end the series of misfortunes angered ancestors may cause, it is important to consult a ritual expert who may search for the nature of the misdeed—which is not always known to the living.  In some cases public confessions may be required in front of large groups of assembled villagers.  Such confessions may extend to admitting homicide.  Three examples are presented gleaned from living in villages in the islands north of Timor in eastern Indonesia.

Robert Barnes is retired as a Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford. He is Emeritus Fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford, and an Affiliate of the Council on Southeast Asia Studies at Yale University in New Haven Connecticut, where he currently resides. He has published books and articles on three separate communities on the eastern Indonesian islands of Lembata and Adonara, and has written a book and articles about the Omaha Indians of Nebraska.

He received his B.A. in Anthropology from Reed College before going on to obtain his B.Litt. and D.Phil. in Social Anthropology from the University of Oxford. He became a lecturer in the University of Edinburgh from 1974 to 1977 and the University of Oxford from 1978 to 1996. In 1996, he became Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, retiring in 2012.

From 1988 to 1991 he was Director of the Asian Studies Centre St. Antony's College, Oxford. From 2005 to 2007, he was a member of the Economic and Social Research Council of Great Britain Virtual College. In 1980 he was Directeur d'Etudes Associé, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. In 1986 he was Visiting Fellow, Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies, The Australian National University. In 1986/87 he was Visiting Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan. In 2006 and 2007 he was Affiliated Fellow of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden, The Netherlands. He spent four months in 2008 at the National University of Singapore's Asia Research Institute as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow.

His most recent book, Excursions into Eastern Indonesia, was published in December 2103 by the Yale Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series.


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