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Marshall Sahlins - Elementary Forms of the Politics of Life

Marshall Sahlins - Elementary Forms of the Politics of Life

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Published by Tiffany Davis
Text where Sahlins suggests what would be the "elementary form of politics", in analogy to the Lévi-Strauss' elementary structure of kinship (the alliance structure).
Text where Sahlins suggests what would be the "elementary form of politics", in analogy to the Lévi-Strauss' elementary structure of kinship (the alliance structure).

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Published by: Tiffany Davis on May 24, 2010
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Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Indonesia and the Malay World
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713426698
THE STRANGER-KING OR, ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE POLITICSOF LIFE
Marshall Sahlins
To cite this Article
Sahlins, Marshall(2008) 'THE STRANGER-KING OR, ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE POLITICS OFLIFE', Indonesia and the Malay World, 36: 105, 177 — 199
To link to this Article: DOI:
10.1080/13639810802267918
URL:
Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
 
Marshall Sahlins
THE STRANGER-KING OR,ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THEPOLITICS OF LIFE
Stranger-king formations in Indonesia and Oceania are set in the larger context of similar  polities the world around. Across these societies, the same structures of the potency of alterity appear in a variety of political forms the experiential archetype of which, it is argued, isthe transaction of vitality between consanguinal and affinal kindreds. The conclusion is thatelementary forms of kinship and politics are one.
If humans were immortal, perhaps society could be confounded with the cosmos.Since death exists, it is necessary for society to be linked with something that isoutside itself – and that it be linked
socially 
to this exterior
. . .
[A]ffinity will beused to domesticate this founding bond, the bond with death and exteriority.(Viveiros de Castro 1992: 19091)A Chinese traveller to Cambodia in the late 13th century tells of a certain ritual thattakes place nightly atop the golden tower in the Khmer royal palace at Angkor Wat:Every nightbeforehecansleepwithhisownroyalwives,thekingmountsthetower tomatewith a Naga spirit, Soma¯: a snakewith nine headswho turnsintoawoman. She issaid to be the ‘owner’ of the kingdom the autochthonous owner, to judge from herserpentine form and if one night she fails to appear, it is time for the king to die.In uniting with her, the king rehearses nightly the origin of the first Khmer dynasty,Funan, founded by Kaundinya, a Brahmin from India by most accounts, who sailedto Cambodia laden with wealth and armed with a magical weapon. With an arrowor spear the powerfulstranger startled and disarmedSoma¯,daughter oftheindigenousNaga king, then married her, clothed her and initiated the Funan civilization. Since atAngkor thekingmustsleepwithSoma¯beforehecansleepwithhisownwives,whichisto say before he can maintain his own dynastic succession, he likewise marks hissovereignty as the usurpation of earth-sprung rulers from above, in a goldentower, as a celestial figure of great wealth.(Zhou Daguan 2001)
Indonesia and the Malay World Vol. 36, No. 105 July 2008, pp. 177–199
ISSN 1363-9811 print
/
ISSN 1469-8382 online
#
2008 Marshall Sahlinshttp://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13639810802267918
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ S O A S  Lib r a r y]  A t : 14 :45 28  J a n u a r y 2010
 
I have written about such stranger-kings before. This paper goes over some of the sameground,butIaimtoexpandtheargumentconsiderably:inthefirstplace,bynotingtheglobalextentandhistoricalrangeofthephenomenon.Fromancienttomoderntimes,therulersofaremarkable number of societies around the world have been strangers to the places andpeople they rule. By their dynastic origins and their inherited nature, as rehearsed inongoing traditions and royal rituals, they are foreigners who on that ground mustconcede certain privileges to the native people. In the same way as the Cambodian rulersof reputed Indian Brahmin ancestry, the Arabian
sayyids
who became Malay sultans, or theHawaiian ruling chiefs from islands beyond the horizon, immigrant dynasties have beencommonsinceearlytimesinSoutheastAsiaandOceania.Africaislikewisethesiteofnumer-ousdualisticpoliticalsystemsconsistingofindigenousorautochthonous‘owners’ofthelandandstranger-kingsofdifferentethnicoriginsandinclusivecosmicpowers.Referringbroadlyto West and Central Africa, Luc de Heusch (1982: 26–7) writes:Everything happens as if the very structure of a lineage-based society is not capableof engendering dialectical development on the political plane without the interven-tion of a new political structure. The sovereignty, the magical source of power,always comes from elsewhere, from a claimed original place, exterior to society.Well-known examples from around the continent include Benin, Shilluk, Nupe,Mossi, Kongo, Luba, Lunda, Zande, Ruwanda, etc. not to mention the manylesser kingdoms and chiefdoms that are effectively satellites of greater ones. In theAmericas, the famous empires of the Aztec and Inca were ruled by stranger-king dynas-ties, as were the Maya as far back as the classic-period cities of Tikal and Copan. Withouteven considering the permutation of original kings descended from the heavens – of which there are many, as this is always a good home address for outsiders of royalpretensions – the phenomenon is indeed widespread.To give some further idea of its nature, I rehearse a few founding traditions of stran-ger-kingship. Despite their cultural diversity, the narratives are noteworthy for theirstructural similarity. (I do not use the phrase ‘charter myth’ in this connection, asMalinowski famously did in his Trobriand ethnography notably in describing theimposition of a migrant chiefly group, through intermarriage, on autochthonousvillagers. Inasmuch as ‘myth’ has the connotation of ‘fiction’ in European languages,‘charter myth’ is an ethnological contradiction in terms. A narrative will not functionas a social or political constitution if it is by definition unbelievable.) Here, forexample, is a Fijian tradition of the origins of chiefship – analogous to the traditionsof Khmer kingship, including the marriage of the stranger to the daughter of thenative ruler. That the Fijian narrative also speaks to the origins of exogamy, wealthand cannibalism is not coincidental. In their different ways sources of the people’s pros-perity, all these aspects of good Fijian culture are conditional on the advent of chiefs whoare, as it is said, ‘different people’ (
kai tani
, ‘foreigners’):The ‘first man’ was brooding on killing his wife, as she was getting old, and repla-cing her with their three daughters. But one day a handsome young stranger, victimof an accident at sea, was cast up on shore and discovered by the daughters. Hisname was Tabua, which is also the name of Fiji’s greatest valuable, the spermwhale tooth, a ‘chiefly thing’, as Fijians say. The daughters desired Tabua and
178
INDONESIA AND THE MALAY WORLD
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ S O A S  Lib r a r y]  A t : 14 :45 28  J a n u a r y 2010

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