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Jacobs 2011 - Collecting Kamoro: Objects, encounters and representation on the southwest coast of Papua

Jacobs 2011 - Collecting Kamoro: Objects, encounters and representation on the southwest coast of Papua

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Published by Sidestone Press
The story of ethnographic collecting is one of cross-cultural encounters. This book focuses on collecting encounters in the Kamoro region of Papua from the earliest collections made in 1828 until 2011. Exploring the links between representation and collecting, the author focuses on the creative and pragmatic agency of Kamoro people in these collecting encounters.
The story of ethnographic collecting is one of cross-cultural encounters. This book focuses on collecting encounters in the Kamoro region of Papua from the earliest collections made in 1828 until 2011. Exploring the links between representation and collecting, the author focuses on the creative and pragmatic agency of Kamoro people in these collecting encounters.

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Published by: Sidestone Press on Aug 16, 2012
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Father Rievers’ description of the 1933 baptism feast already indicated
how the mission used a feast house (karapao) in the event. It is unclear
whether it was the mission or the Kamoro people who had chosen to
build the karapao. Before the permanent presence of the Dutch adminis-
tration and mission, Kamoro life was marked by a cycle of feasts. These
feasts had significant roles, such as facilitating contact with neighbouring
villages, revealing knowledge to uninitiates, and the transmission of nar-
ratives. The complete cycle of the large feasts was stopped rapidly by the
Dutch administration (Pouwer 1953: 2). Kamoro themselves, increasing-
ly influenced by Catholicism, also began to consider certain elements of
feasts inappropriate (Coenen 1963). Now these feasts, or certain tolerated
components, could only be held after government notification and when
they did not interfere with other tasks and duties, such as school attend-
ance and gardening. However, these feasts played a vital role in Kamoro
life. Father Tillemans, MSC, who worked amongst the Kamoro from 1930
until World War II, once told anthropologist Jan Pouwer that the Kamoro
use one term to denote both sago beating and feasting. The notion of
feast and play was related to labour and work (Pouwer 1952: 1). Work,
social obligations, prestige, play and ritual were all intertwined in feasts,
of which there was a wide variety. There were feasts to mark liminal phases
celebrating adolescence (tawri-kame) and adulthood (mirimu-kame) and



the parting from and commemorating the dead (watani-kame).46

involved the cutting of the apron of young boys; mirimu-kame was
the nose-piercing feast. After the prohibition of the act of piercing the na-
sal septum, these two feasts were unified and denoted as karapao, which is
also the name of the initiation feast house. A karapao feast involves a pig
hunt, a hunt for so-called tree lizards (water monitors, Varanus indicus),
fishing trips (as food supply and as gifts), sago making and the collecting
of bivalves (onaki), which expresses the high number of associated ‘work-
related’ activities. Apart from these ‘social initiations’, other feasts marked
a ‘cultus initiation’: emakame and kaware were central feasts (respectively
held in east and west Kamoro) during which initiates were introduced to
esoteric knowledge. These feasts involved a renewal of, and a reason to
make, material culture, such as spirit poles, canoes, so-called ceremonial
boards (yamate), drums, paddles, sago bowls and sago beaters (Coenen
1963: 64-69). Emakame was a kaokata or women’s feast, expressed in the
theme of fertility, procreation, growth and abundance. A kaware feast in-
volves the display of male authority. Accordingly, the emphasis lies on
male skills such as the manufacture of canoes, paddles and sago bowls and
on associated knowledge (Coenen 1963: 69; Pouwer 1987: 46).47

The de-
crease in these feasts directly resulted in a decrease of other activities, such
as carving, hunting and particular forms of food gathering – thus possibly
resulting in the cliché of the Kamoro as lazy people.
Simultaneously, festivities corresponding to the administrative and
mission festive calendar were introduced. Apart from Christmas and New
Year celebrations, Queen’s Day48

was a known kakuru tena-we or ‘foreigner

feast’ or ‘feast of the white people’ (Figure 5).49

These feasts were marked
by games and small competitions, which were mainly performed by the
children (field pictures Jan Pouwer; Verhoeff 1956: 90).
A crucial effect of Dutch colonialism was the amalgamation of the
various Kamoro river groups with similar cultural characteristics and
dialects into one group, which was given the name ‘Mimika’. From the
start of Dutch colonisation there was a tendency for cultural unification.
Longhouse communities were broken up into permanent dwellings focus-

46 Te suffix ‘-kame’ means ‘house’, referring to the construction of a different ceremonial house
for each feast.
47 For more information on Kamoro feasts, see Coenen (1963), Kooijman (1984), Pouwer
(1956, 1983, 1987, 2003b) and Zegwaard (1995).
48 Queen’s day has been a national holiday in Te Netherlands since the late nineteenth century.
Initially observed on 31 August to celebrate Queen’s Wilhelmina’ birthday, it was moved to
its current date of 30 April in 1948 when Juliana took the throne. Today, Queen’s day is still
celebrated in April even though it is not the official birthday of the current queen Beatrix.
49 Te last translation is borrowed from Pouwer’s documentation of his field pictures held in the
Leiden Museum. A few pictures show people celebrating Christmas, which was designated
a ‘kakuru tena-we’. In his thesis, Pouwer (1955: 259) writes kakuru tenaweta; ‘ta’ literally
translates as ‘property of’. In Chapter 5, the notion of kakuru will be expanded on.



ing on the nuclear family unit. The ‘model villages’, as they came to be
known at Atuka, Kokonao, and Uta, with single-family permanent resi-
dences, were the Dutch government’s and the mission’s idea of develop-
ment. The model family dwellings consisted of one room and were built
on poles. The construction differs completely from the indigenous man-
ner of building. Previously, longhouses (kam’oko, lit. real house), which
were up to 10 or 20 metres long and 1.5 metres in height, housed sev-
eral families who each had their own entrance. Similar temporary houses
were built on fishing or gathering trips (Bijlmer 1938: 102; Drabbe 1949:
227, note 53) (Figure 6).50

Permanent settlements led to an exhaustion of
the sago areas nearby, since people could no longer move temporarily to
gather sago elsewhere. Small-scale gardening was encouraged as a means
to keep the Kamoro sedentary on the coast. However, the gardens proved
unsuccessful, even leading to outbreaks of malaria in Kekwa as a result of
the standing pools of water created by the introduced gardening practices
(Schoot 1969: 116).

While both organisations were responsible for the imposed changes in
the Kamoro region, administration and mission agreed on very little be-
fore World War II. The government doubted the missionaries’ knowledge
and distrusted their motivations. The mission blamed the administration
for their lack of control, particularly when dealing with attacks by Asmat

50 Zegwaard notes how people from different regions who now had to live together attempted to
maintain their own identity by maintaining the dual organisation in the village structure. Te
new village was not a homogenous fusion of both groups but a heterogeneous mix in which
each group kept its identity (Zegwaard n.d.b: 10). Today temporary houses, known as kapiri
, are still built during fishing or gathering trips.

Figure 5: Honouring Queen Juliana during
Queen’s Day in Mimika (Kokonao), 1954
(photo: J. Pouwer, NME archives)



people in the Kamoro region. The latter were stimulated by the intro-
duction of ‘development programmes’, such as a timber cooperative in
Kokonao; the associated goods resulted in an unhealthy interest from their
eastern neighbours. Although they had previously occurred on a regular
basis, Asmat raids had not taken place on such a large scale as in the late
1920s and early 1930s. Known in the Kamoro region as Manowe51

, the
Asmat were believed to be attracted by the considerable presence of west-
ern goods. Zegwaard noted that the Asmat were driven by their ‘hunger
for iron’ (Zegwaard n.d.e: 1, my translation). According to the mission,
the weak administration was responsible for the long duration of these
raids. Kowatzki condemned the administration and remarked that ‘play-
ing real soldiers, …, is very different from levying taxes and collecting
taxes’ (Kowatzki 1930: 283, my translation). The role of the government
in the spread of Protestantism in the early 1930s was equally critiqued
(Bavel 1948: 22-25). The situation between mission and administration
improved from the 1940s onwards and grew into mutual respect.

51 According to Schoot (1996a: 415) manowe is derivated from wé-mban-wé, Kamoro for man-
eating people, but Zegwaard argues that the term stands for ‘inferior people’ (Zegwaard
n.d.e: 2).

Figure 6: Temporary housing on the coast, 1934 (photo: H. Tillemans, from MSC



Administrative and missionary work was interrupted by World War
II. In 1942 Japanese troops occupied the entirety of New Guinea, except
the sub-districts of Merauke and Upper-Digul (Schoorl 1996: 8). In the
Kamoro region, up to 800 soldiers exploited the Kamoro people as la-
bourers: an airstrip was constructed between Kekwa and Timika Pantai,
gardens had to be cultivated to provide food, and failure to do so led to
corporal punishment (Pouwer 1955: 238). Father Tillemans, MSC, who
returned to the Kamoro region in 1945, observed that the mission teach-
ers, under Japanese influence, had stopped baptising the children, marriag-
es were not consecrated in church and schools had been closed (Boelaars
1995: 292). After the war, Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta unilaterally
proclaimed Indonesian independence on August 17, 1945, and claimed
Netherlands East Indies as the new state of Indonesia. However, West
New Guinea remained a Dutch foothold and became a Residency divid-
ed into departments, sub-districts and districts (Schoorl 1996: 8).52

Kamoro region became administratively a sub-district under the Assistant
Resident of Merauke and locally under the Controller A. Scheele. The
presence of the administration now became more visible. In 1950, S.J.L.
van Waardenburg was appointed Governor of New Guinea. The main goal
was to prepare the region for independence (Jaarsma 1990: 33). However,
the administration was confronted with a general lack of knowledge about
the population. The gathering of ethnographic data thus became a pri-
mary issue during the 1950s and early 1960s. For this reason, the Kantoor
voor Bevolkingszaken
(Bureau of Native Affairs) was established in 1951.
Its task was to stimulate, coordinate and conduct social-scientific research
on the autochthonous population (Jaarsma 1991: 130-132; 1993: 110).53
West New Guinea became the subject of intense attention, and collecting
became a prime activity. However, the focus was on collecting information
as, compared to the wealth of material objects assembled during previ-
ous expeditions in the nineteenth and twentieth century, remarkably few
Kamoro objects were collected after the establishment of a Dutch admin-
istrative post in 1926.

52 In 1946 New Guinea became a Residency. In 1947, it was divided into four departments
under an Assistant-Resident, who looked after the local and daily administration. At the time
of the sovereignty transfer, on 27 December 1949, the existing authorities of Governor and
Resident merged (Sollewijn Gelpke 1996: 609).
53 Te Bureau combined three tasks: (1) to coordinate and conduct social scientific research
(mainly ethnographic research, but also linguistic, economic and demographic); (2) to advise
the Governor on issues such as development and welfare; (3) to co-operate with international
institutions with regard to the development of the Papuan population (Jaarsma 1991: 130).


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