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Indonesia and the Malay World

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THE STRANGER-KING OR, ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE POLITICS OF LIFE
Marshall Sahlins

To cite this Article Sahlins, Marshall(2008) 'THE STRANGER-KING OR, ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE POLITICS OF

LIFE', Indonesia and the Malay World, 36: 105, 177 — 199 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13639810802267918 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13639810802267918

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Marshall Sahlins
THE STRANGER-KING OR, ELEMENTARY FORMS OF THE POLITICS OF LIFE

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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, is the transaction of vitality between consanguinal and affinal kindreds. The conclusion is that elementary 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 is outside itself – and that it be linked socially to this exterior . . . [A]ffinity will be used to domesticate this founding bond, the bond with death and exteriority. (Viveiros de Castro 1992: 190 –91) A Chinese traveller to Cambodia in the late 13th century tells of a certain ritual that takes place nightly atop the golden tower in the Khmer royal palace at Angkor Wat: Every night before he can sleep with his own royal wives, the king mounts the tower to mate with a Naga spirit, Soma: a snake with nine heads who turns into a woman. She is ¯ said to be the ‘owner’ of the kingdom – the autochthonous owner, to judge from her serpentine 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 sailed to Cambodia laden with wealth and armed with a magical weapon. With an arrow or spear the powerful stranger startled and disarmed Soma, daughter of the indigenous ¯ Naga king, then married her, clothed her and initiated the Funan civilization. Since at Angkor the king must sleep with Soma before he can sleep with his own wives, which is ¯ to say before he can maintain his own dynastic succession, he likewise marks his sovereignty as the usurpation of earth-sprung rulers – from above, in a golden tower, 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 Sahlins http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13639810802267918

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I have written about such stranger-kings before. This paper goes over some of the same ground, but I aim to expand the argument considerably: in the first place, by noting the global extent and historical range of the phenomenon. From ancient to modern times, the rulers of a remarkable number of societies around the world have been strangers to the places and people they rule. By their dynastic origins and their inherited nature, as rehearsed in ongoing traditions and royal rituals, they are foreigners – who on that ground must concede certain privileges to the native people. In the same way as the Cambodian rulers of reputed Indian Brahmin ancestry, the Arabian sayyids who became Malay sultans, or the Hawaiian ruling chiefs from islands beyond the horizon, immigrant dynasties have been common since early times in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Africa is likewise the site of numerous dualistic political systems consisting of indigenous or autochthonous ‘owners’ of the land and stranger-kings of different ethnic origins and inclusive cosmic powers. Referring broadly to West and Central Africa, Luc de Heusch (1982: 26–7) writes:
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Everything happens as if the very structure of a lineage-based society is not capable of engendering dialectical development on the political plane without the intervention 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 many lesser kingdoms and chiefdoms that are effectively satellites of greater ones. In the Americas, the famous empires of the Aztec and Inca were ruled by stranger-king dynasties, as were the Maya as far back as the classic-period cities of Tikal and Copan. Without even 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 royal pretensions – the phenomenon is indeed widespread. To give some further idea of its nature, I rehearse a few founding traditions of stranger-kingship. Despite their cultural diversity, the narratives are noteworthy for their structural similarity. (I do not use the phrase ‘charter myth’ in this connection, as Malinowski famously did in his Trobriand ethnography – notably in describing the imposition of a migrant chiefly group, through intermarriage, on autochthonous villagers. Inasmuch as ‘myth’ has the connotation of ‘fiction’ in European languages, ‘charter myth’ is an ethnological contradiction in terms. A narrative will not function as a social or political constitution if it is by definition unbelievable.) Here, for example, is a Fijian tradition of the origins of chiefship – analogous to the traditions of Khmer kingship, including the marriage of the stranger to the daughter of the native ruler. That the Fijian narrative also speaks to the origins of exogamy, wealth and cannibalism is not coincidental. In their different ways sources of the people’s prosperity, all these aspects of good Fijian culture are conditional on the advent of chiefs who are, as it is said, ‘different people’ (kai tani, ‘foreigners’): The ‘first man’ was brooding on killing his wife, as she was getting old, and replacing her with their three daughters. But one day a handsome young stranger, victim of an accident at sea, was cast up on shore and discovered by the daughters. His name was Tabua, which is also the name of Fiji’s greatest valuable, the sperm whale tooth, a ‘chiefly thing’, as Fijians say. The daughters desired Tabua and

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offered to become his wives. The angry father, however, required the stranger to accomplish a miracle in order to win his daughters – which Tabua succeeded in doing by means of a cunning trick. The old man was not only defeated but sexually humiliated, as in glee his wife plucked out his beard, a customary sign of virility affected by mature men. Reluctantly he yielded his daughters and his supremacy to the stranger, but only on certain conditions: most notably that all subsequent strangers who wash ashore be eaten lest like Tabua they trouble the land. (Sahlins 1983:72 –3) Among other parallels to the Cambodian foundational narrative, notice how the princely or godly stranger, rather terrible and treacherous himself, is thus empowered to sublimate the pre-social, anti-social dispositions of the native people – the incestuous inclination of the Fijian ‘first man’, the nakedness of the Naga princess. Also notable in the Fijian account is the ambiguous mixture of contract and chicane attending the transfer of power from the original ‘owners’ of the land (i taukei) to their parvenu rulers. Something similar is almost always found in these foundational traditions, usually including demonstrations of violence on the part of the stranger – which will turn out to have positive values for the indigenous people. In the Fijian case the cannibal victims promised by the reign of the foreigner, and in essence doubles of him, are human sacrifices whose consumption by the indigenous people in conjunction with the god will afford them divine benefits. Man-slayers are welcomed home by crowds of women as heroes of sex as well as war, and the collective orgy that follows is testimony of the fecundity they bring to society. In sum, the legend of Tabua amounts to a human political system of godly powers, as effected through the assimilation of stranger-kings cum sacred enemies. Life from without. Referring to an analogous dynastic charter from the Fijian island of Viti Levu, James Fox (1995: 217) observes ‘In form this is a classic myth that is repeated throughout the Austronesian world.’ Conceivably one could argue for some historical continuity among these Austronesian sovereignties, but when we come upon very similar texts in classical antiquity, it suggests we are in the presence of a more general condition of human political order: Oenomaus, ancient king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus, could not persuade his daughter Hippodamia to sleep with him, his first recourse against the prophecy that whomever she married would kill him. As a second recourse, he challenged each of her suitors to a chariot race, they carrying Hippodamia, he in full armor: if the king overtook the suitor, he killed him; if not, the suitor won her. Many were killed. However, Pelops, the handsome Zeus-descended stranger gained Hippodamia’s favor, and she conspired to have the king’s chariot fixed so that it fell apart. According to the version, he died in the accident or else Pelops killed him. In any case, Pelops won her hand, and after subjugating certain other lands, he succeeded to Oenomaus’ kingdom. (Apollodorus 1921, Epitome ii.3 –9) According to J.G. Preaux (1962: 82), this tradition of the stranger who wins the native princess and the kingdom by mayhem or mendacity was a general pattern among the Indo-European ancients:

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Every foundation of a city, every conquest of royal power becomes effective from the moment that the stranger, charged with a sacredness by the gods or the fates, endowed moreover with the force of the warrior, symbolically gains possession of a new land either by receiving peacefully, or by conquering, valorously or through a ruse, the daughter of the king of the land. There was no genetic connection between the stranger-kings of Greece and the MalayoPolynesians, but there was a remarkable historical convergence when another Zeusdescended hero, Alexander the Great – alias Iskandar Dzu’l-karnain of Koranic fame, militant propagator of the Faith from the setting to the rising sun – appeared as the ancestor of ruling sultans in the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and coastal Borneo. A critical episode from the Sejarah Melayk or the ‘Malay Annals’ (Brown 1952), written probably in the early 16th century after the fall of Malacca, but drawing on earlier traditions, epitomises the historiographical convergence in structural as well as genealogical terms. Summarising and eliminating some details: Three handsome youths in royal garb appear on a mountain above Palembang in Sumatra, site of the once-great state of Srivijaya. Like Tabua in the Fijian narrative, they miraculously bestow great wealth on the land, here represented by the two widowed women who discover him. When it is learned that the youths are descended from the world ruler Iskandar/Alexander the Great, people come from various Malay states to take them as their king. The youngest, Sri Tri Buana, is so acknowledged by the Raja of Palembang. Yet he is not installed until the Raja is able to neutralise a certain malevolent power that becomes manifest in the affliction the stranger visits on the 39 princesses who are brought to him to be his wife. Upon sleeping with him, they all come down with a disfiguring skin condition (chloasma). However, when Sri Tri Buana asks for the hand of the Raja’s beautiful daughter, the native ruler imposes the condition that the stranger will never shame or humiliate his subjects, in return for which the Raja promises eternal loyalty. This contract concluded, the marriage takes place without ill effect; Sri Tri Buana is installed as ruler, and the Raja becomes his chief minister. Recorded more than once in the Malay Annals and in eastern Indonesia, this diarchic arrangement of immigrant sacred king and active second king from the indigenous people, as established by the marriage of the first with the daughter of the second, is also characteristic of a number of other Malayo-Polynesian dynastic charters – including many in Fiji. In a few generations a lineal successor of Sri Tri Buana will found Malacca and become sultan of a flourishing Islamic commercial kingdom. They and other rulers tracing descent to Alexander the Great will thereby inherit powers of global dimensions, world-dominating powers, originating in the great centre of ‘Rum’ – referring usually to Istanbul and the Ottoman emperors but sometimes to Rome or Macedonia – and running through rule of western and southern India (‘Kalinga’), as well as the undersea world, before reaching Indonesia. On an edict issued in the late 18th century by a sultan of Minangkabau were affixed three seals representing three sons of Alexander/Iskandar: the Sultan of Rum, the oldest; the Sultan of China, the second; and himself, Sultan of Minangkabau, the youngest but nonetheless ‘king of kings [. . .] lord of the air and clouds [. . .] possessed of the crown of heaven brought by the prophet Adam’ (Marsden 1811: 339). But then the historical Alexander himself, Alexander III of Macedonia (r. 336– 23 BC), conqueror of Egypt and western Asia, was a stranger-king of universal ambitions.

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In the so-called Alexander romances – of which at least 80 versions are extant in 24 languages including Malay – as well as the historical chronicles of Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch and Curtius, a genre not always distinct from romance, Alexander is represented with the distinguishing characteristics of stranger-kingship: including his marriage to the daughters of the kings he has defeated and replaced, most notably his union with the daughter of his greatest adversary, the Persian Darius III. At the end of his conquests Alexander staged the spectacular ‘Susa Weddings’, the occasion not only of his marriage to Darius’ eldest daughter, as well as another royal woman, but the union of his main companions by the score with other Persian noblewomen, and the legitimation of the liaisons of thousands of his Macedonian soldiers with the consorts of their campaigns. In its collective dimensions and political import, the event is reminiscent of the legendary union of the violent Latin invaders and the indigenous Sabine women. (Yes, Romulus was a stranger-king, as was Aeneas of Troy before him.) Important cultural unions between the Greek victors and the vanquished Barbarians were also happening, with influences going in both directions. On one hand, Alexander adopted certain dignities, costumes and customs of his defeated royal predecessors, especially Darius, and encouraged his followers to likewise adopt Barbarian habits. Generally understood as a politically inspired act of conciliation, the same can also be perceived as the domestication of the oftimes brutal conqueror. On the other hand, Alexander constructed numerous cities on Greek models from Alexandria in Egypt to Kandahar in Afghanistan; he set thousands of young Asians to learning Greek and enlisted them in his armies; he appointed Persian satraps over certain territories. The counterpart of his own domestication was the civilising of the Barbarians – Hellenisation. Taking the Oriental romances into account, Alexander’s civilising mission went down in history in two parallel forms: Islamisation, the conversion of the infidels, as well as the Hellenisation of the Barbarians. The famous tutor of the young Alexander, Aristotle, and a book associated with his teachings, had roles to play in both genres. Indeed in the Malay Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain (Winstedt 1938) it was Aristotle of Istanbul who taught Alexander/Iskandar to recite the Koran; and in the Oriental romances Aristotle often appears as a political counsellor – and sometimes, as Alexander’s vizier. Not to exaggerate too much, in the western historical accounts the revered book was the Iliad. Alexander is said to have owned a copy annotated by Aristotle that he carried on campaigns, sleeping with it under his pillow (along with a dagger) and taking it as a guide, insofar as he identified with his warrior-ancestor Achilles and emulated the great Asian expedition of Agamemnon. Waxing romantic himself, Plutarch says that Alexander made the Iliad common reading among Asians and set their sons to reciting the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. Bringing Asians into such community with Greeks, however, could not have pleased Aristotle, who held Barbarians to be natural slaves. On the other hand, in building cities, making laws and otherwise taming the ‘savagery’ of Asian peoples, Alexander would be following Aristotelian prescriptions for controlling the appetitive soul by good education and good legislation. According to Plutarch, Alexander persuaded the Sogdians to support their parents instead of killing them, the Persians to respect their mothers instead of marrying them and the Scythians to bury their dead instead of eating them. And this made him a great philosopher in his own right. For if philosophers take the greatest pride in civilising the untutored elements in human character, ‘and

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if Alexander has been shown to have changed the savage natures of countless tribes, it is with good reason that he should be regarded as a very great philosopher’ (Plutarch, On the fortune of Alexander). Alexander III of Macedonia, like his royal father Philip, already had considerable philosophical practice as a stranger-king before he even crossed the Hellespont to subdue the ‘countless tribes’. The rulers of Macedonia, the Argeads, claimed descent from the Heraclid kings of Argos in the Peloponnesus – and Alexander doubled his exalted derivation from Hercules on his father’s side by his reputed descent from Achilles on his mother’s. Coming to power in the early 5th century, the Argeads governed a Macedonian population that sophisticated Athenians still considered ‘Barbarians’ in Alexander’s day. At a time during his Asian campaigns when he had occasion to rebuke his Macedonian soldiers for ingratitude, Alexander reminded them that his father Philip had transformed them from a weak bunch of nomads, dressed in animal skins and wandering the mountains with their small herds of sheep, into trained warriors and properly clad, well-ordered city-dwellers of the Macedonian plain. ‘He made you city dwellers and established the order that comes from good laws and customs’ (Arrian 1983). Philip had greatly enlarged Macedonia by successful wars against neighbouring kings – whose daughters he took to wife. (It was already a standing joke in antiquity that ‘Philip always married a new wife with each campaign he undertook’, Greene 1991: 27). Moreover, the Argeads did not only practice stranger-kingship; as descendants of the Heraclids they positioned themselves in a series of Zeus-born, immigrant dynasties that succeeded the original earth-born kings of Sparta. Heraclids, Atreids, Lacedaemonians: it was stranger-kings all the way down – to the autochthonous Lelegians. The conquering Heraclids killed the last king of the House of Atreus or caused him to flee. Descended from Zeus via Pelops, Atreus had appeared on the scene with the reputation of having killed his own sons, a crime that his descendants complemented with fratricide and matricide – not to mention the sacrifice of Iphigenia. The family gained the kingdom of Sparta through Menelaus’ fateful marriage to Helen, ranking princess of the Lacedaemonians. For their part the Lacedaemonians had come to power through the marriage of their eponymous ancestor, another son of Zeus, with Sparta, daughter of the line of the earth-born Lelegian kings. Max Weber believed that scholarly attempts to create some sort of politico-social equality in history by putting the long-despised Bantu peoples on the same footing as the Athenians was ‘quite simply naıve’ (Veyne 1994: 52), but this didn’t stop ¨ Georges Balandier from drawing explicit parallels between classical Greek and Central African dynastic traditions. Speaking of a certain Wene, the violent immigrant who in the course of founding the old Kongo kingdom transcended the native matrilineal order by murdering his mother’s pregnant sister, a ‘high deed’ that gained him recognition as a real chief, Balandier was put in mind of the ‘heroes of Greek legends who seek the royal succession only after they have ceased to respect the prevailing laws’ (Balandier 1968: 36). Like the draconian deeds of Pelops, Romulus, Atreus or Alexander, the advent of African stranger-kings is generally marked by antinomian exploits of power and violence, including murder, incest or other crimes against kinship and morality. Often represented as a wandering hunter, the African hero and his royal successors remain identified with the wild – and with the dark forces of evil and destruction, of secrecy and animality, that reign there. Just so, the Shambaa ruler is king of the night:

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At night the whole country resembled the wilderness (nyika). There is darkness. A person cannot move. Night is danger. But he [the king] rules even at night. He does not sleep. In the darkest hours of the night the ruler listens. He sleeps in the afternoon. (Feierman 1974: 59) The protective function evokes the other, seemingly contrary aspect of the strangerking: the benefits he bestows on the people once out of the wild and in power. His violence is then turned outward towards the aggrandisement of the realm, even as his powers deployed inward bring order, justice, security and prosperity, as well as arts of civilisation such as metallurgy – again, a mission civilisatrice. Balandier can speak of the sovereignty of the Kongo founder Wene as contradictory and ambivalent; yet as he, Heusch and others have noted of the two sides of the African stranger-king, the terrible and the beneficial, the first is a condition of the possibility of the second. In the charter traditions, the two phases are successive, the ability of the king to constitute a new order being sequitur to his ability to violate the old. His initial transgressions put him above and beyond society, alienated even from his own kin; but in so demonstrating that he is stronger than society, he is then able to recreate it. In the analogous Indo-European ´ context, Dumezil (1988) described the excesses of the youthful founder as a kind of creative violence, inasmuch as it empowered the statecraft of his later age and his successors. Accordingly, the king’s darker nature is never extinguished. In Kongo it was celebrated notably at the installation of a new ruler. In a way much like Evans-Pritchard (1966) described for Shilluk in his well-known Frazer lecture, the king was enthroned in ceremonies that reproduced the narrative of the founding of the dynasty by the immigrant hero. Report has it that the proceedings included the ritual murder of one of the new king’s matrilineal kin. But they also entailed the compulsory marriage of the ruler with a daughter of the aboriginal chief: she became the queen, even as her father, the lord of the land, retained the permanent spiritual control of it in the new dispensation. This, too, had been part of the foundational narrative, for although Wene the foreign warrior could conquer the land, he found himself unable to rule it without submitting to it himself, that is, without the concurrence of the native chief. Thus the contractual aspect of the transfer of rule, the legitimation of the usurpation. Stricken with a debilitating illness, Wene had to abase himself before the indigenous chief and apply for a cure, the price of which was his acknowledgement of the latter’s priority as the ‘elder’ and ‘grandfather’ of the kingship. Since then, the native lords have kept the function of declaring the successors of deceased kings and transferring the sovereignty to them. Although the Kongo installation rites apparently do not include the abusive treatment of the new ruler of the sort found elsewhere, there is one moment that similarly signifies his domestication – indeed his transformation from male conqueror to female nurturer. It is when he places a heavy iron chain with many pendants around his neck – it is called the samba, a word meaning ‘to seize’ – and arranges the pendants on his back, ‘as a woman holds her child’. So if the king does not lose his transcendent powers, they must nevertheless be socialised if he is to become the benefactor of the land. This is the dialectical work of the original people, who master him as their enemy in order to acknowledge him as their ruler. The civilising mission goes both ways. Summarising and at some risk generalising, in these stranger-kingships, two forms of authority and legitimacy coexist in a state of mutual dependence and reciprocal

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incorporation. The native people and the foreign rulers claim precedence on different bases. For the underlying people it is the founder-principle: the right of first occupancy – in the maximal case, the claim of autochthony. Earth-people by nature, often characterised as ‘the owners’, their inherent relation to the land gives them unique access to the divine and ancestral sources of its productivity – hence their indispensable ‘religious’ authority and ritual functions. But the stranger-kings trump these claims of priority in aggressive and transgressive demonstrations of superior might, and thus take over the sovereignty. Typically, then, there is some enduring tension between the foreign-derived royals and the native people. Invidious disagreements about legitimacy and superiority may surface in their partisan renderings of the founding narratives, each claiming a certain superiority over the other. More than political, however, the conjunction here is cosmological, which is what helps it endure. Perhaps it is only lately in human history that power became a purely social fact, as established by real-instrumental means of coercion – the way it seems to contemporary Social Science. In the instance at hand, the foreign rulers are to the native people in some such encompassing relation as the Celestial is to the Terrestrial, the Sea to the Land, the Wilderness to the Settled; or in abstract terms, as the Universal is to the Particular, a ratio that also holds for their respective gods. We see, then, why the narratives of the original stranger hero function as all-round cultural constitutions: the union with the other, which is also an elemental combination of Masculine and Feminine, gives rise to the society as a self-producing cosmic totality, if it does not also restore a cosmogonic unity. On a specifically human plane, the same is replicated in the legendary marriage of the god-like stranger with the native princess that synthesises their opposition in the dynastic line they initiate. But then, as a fruitful union of socially and sexually differentiated persons, marriage itself demonstrates the principle that the acquisition of alterity is the condition both of fertility and identity. As in the founding anthropological charter that goes back to Levi-Strauss and Edmund Leach, unity is constituted by and as complementarity – though it may entail regret for a forsaken autonomy. Hence the wild arguments I pursue in this paper: most generally, that the social incorporation and distribution of external life powers is the elementary form of the political life, and that marital alliance is its experiential archetype. More especially, that the stranger-king polity is a developed expression of these principles, stranger-kings being to the native peoples as affinal relatives are to consanguines. All the critical features of the kingness of strangers – all the attributes of hierarchy, temporality, conflicts of precedence, usurpation, assimilation of the other, life-giving and life-taking – are always already present in the complementary relations of external affines to internal consanguines. In a way and as they say, all politics is local. Somewhat paradoxically, I also say that the sources of political power are generally foreign, drawn from realms beyond the self-governing community. Ranging from beasts to gods and ineffable forces – by way of the generic dead or the ancestors, of beings embodied in creatures and features of heaven and earth, and of other peoples and their remarkable gifts – the extraordinary subjects and agents that control the human fate live outside the space of human control. More precisely, the lack of control translates as being-in-other-space. I am speaking of the so-called and misnamed ‘supernatural’. I say misnamed because the term supposes ethnocentric concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ – an autonomous world of soulless material things or Cartesian res extensa – ethnocentric concepts not pertinent to people who are engaged in a cosmic

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society of interacting subjects, including a variety of non-human beings with the consciousness, soul, intentionality and other qualities of human persons. Admittedly, my notions of the so-called ‘supernatural’ rest on simple-minded and old-fashioned premises. I take the rather positivist and Malinowskian view that people must in reality depend for their existence on external conditions not of their own making – hence and whence the spirits. The going anthropological alternatives argue that divinity is some misrecognition of humanity. For Durkheim (1947), god is the misplaced apprehension of the power of society, a power people surely experience but know not whence it comes. For a certain Marxist anthropology, god is an alienated projection of people’s own powers of production and reproduction, an unhappy consciousness that has transferred human self-fashioning to the deity. Such theories may address the morphology of divinity, whether as projection or mystification, but they do not tell us why society is set in a cosmos of beings invested with powers of vitality and mortality beyond any that humans themselves know or control, produce or reproduce. Neither sense of false consciousness takes sufficient account of the generic predicament in the human condition: this dependence on sui generis forces of life and death, forces not created by human science or governed by human intentionality. If people really were in control of their own existence, they would not die. Or fall ill. Nor do they control the biology of sexual or agricultural generation. Or the weather on which their prosperity depends. Or, notably, the other peoples of their ken: peoples whose cultural existence may be enviable or scandalous, but by their very difference from themselves, proof of a transcendent capacity for life. Endowed with transcendent powers, the foreign is often an object of desire – and by the same token, of danger. ‘If humans were immortal’, as Viveiros de Castro says, ‘perhaps society would be confounded with the cosmos. Since death exists, it is necessary for society to be linked with something outside itself – and that it be linked socially to this exterior’. If so, society will be confounded with the cosmos in some measure, that is, insofar as people interact with exterior beings of many kinds in the overcoming of human finitude. The Amazonian peoples to whom Viveiros de Castro refers enter into external relations of predation, propitiation, reciprocity, spirit possession or some such means for harnessing the being and powers of otherness to their own existence. Here are peoples with ‘a passion for exteriority’, to the extent that the other is not so much a ‘mirror for man’ as a destiny and indeed an identity. This is not just a Hegelian or G.H. Meadian dialectic of knowing the self from the responses of the other. Rather, as Philippe Erikson (1996:79) observes of Pano people, the incorporation of the powers of outsiders is an internal necessity of social order; hence the concept of the stranger ‘connotes not only the indispensable antagonist but also serves as self-reference’. (One is reminded of the Plains Indian who told the ethnographer that people need enemies in order to be happy.) The Jivaro, observes Philippe Descola (2005: 467), find it necessary to ‘ceaselessly incorporate the bodies and identities of their neighbors in order to persist in being themselves’. Sustaining the life of the community through the part-conflictual, part-ritual assimilation of the potent enemy: is this not stranger-kingship in another form? For head-hunters in the Southeast Asian hinterlands, the structural resemblances are right on top. The transformation of potent enemies into local benefactors in the head-hunting feasts of the Ifugao, Toraja, Iban, Land Dayak and Kayan, among the better-known, was documented some years ago in a seminal article by Robert McKinley (1976). Ritually domesticated, the warrior-powers of the victims were thus turned to

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sustaining the lives and livelihood of the victors, prospering both agricultural production and human reproduction. When formally sacrificed, as was common, the victims’ heads rendered these beneficent services as alter-egos of the victorious sacrifiers; that is, insofar as the offering is something of the victor’s self renounced in favour of the god. The enemy heads were then likely to be as honoured as they were previously reviled. Often they were installed in special places in temples; offered food, rice wine or betel; perhaps kept warm with fires on cold nights. By such means, Kayan people say, ‘those who were once our enemies thereby become our guardians, our friends, our benefactors’ – the benefits including bountiful harvests and immunity to illness. At the end of the Ifugao headfeast, the quondam enemy is enjoined to combat sickness, sorcery, famine, evil gods and the Ifugao’s own enemies – ‘For you’, they say, ‘have become one of us.’ Suggestively (of stranger-kingship) the name ‘Ifugao’ means ‘earth dweller’ and like other inland Southeast Asian groups, the Ifugao live at the centre of a cosmos that includes other peoples, upstream and downstream, who are something less and more than human. They are less because they are beyond the Ifugao pale, culturally as well as spatially: they are orang bukai, meaning approximately ‘people who are not people’. Yet they are more than ordinary humans because they are closer to the gods of the still more distant celestial and underworld realms. Ideally, it is in these distant worlds of gods that heads should be sought, these being the most potent. But in practice heads are taken from the enemy ‘people who are not people’ on the principle that they ‘are similar to spirits residing in strange and wild places’. In a Toraja tradition of the origin of the head-feast, the hero indeed undertakes an arduous trip to the Upperworld to exact revenge on the killers of his parents, and then descends to the Underworld to take the heads of his victims’ ghosts. Corollary Toraja narratives tell that the village of the head-hunter has been dead during his absence but revives upon his triumphal return, and that the hero also brings home the magical daughter of his victim and marries her after the head-feast – thus transforming enemies into affines and marking their equivalence as reproductive agents. In sum, the Toraja warrior returns from a cosmic exploit with a foreign subject (the head) and enhanced reproductive virtue (the wife) in order to give life to (revive) the whole society. Allowance made for the inversion of the stranger-king formation – the local hero who captures foreign power as opposed to the foreign prince whose power is captured locally – here is another modality of the same relationship. Indeed, de Josselin de Jong likened the initiation rites of Toraja head-hunters to the foundation narrative of the Negri Sembilan kingdom of the Malay peninsula by a Minangkabau hero from Sumatra. The so-called ‘importing cultures’ of Melanesia similarly benefited by the appropriation of exterior powers, except that here it was in the form of the subjects embodied – or should we say ensouled? – in the objects of intertribal exchange. To adopt a distinction recently proposed by Descola, these peoples rely more on reciprocity than predation. Yet by such means they are equally absorbed in desires of alterity – the more so where hierarchical relations obtain among the interdependent peoples, as in the Sepik region of New Guinea focused on the dominant Iatmul, whose cultural forms are considered by their neighbours to be ‘surrounded by an aura of especially dangerous power, and are therefore valuable to acquire’ (Harrison 1990: 20). Insofar as the peripheral peoples have their own powers of wildness, a certain mutually beneficial traffic in mystical effects links the Iatmul with others in chains of reciprocal exchange. Like the exploits of the Toraja or Dayak head-taker,

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these feats of appropriation from across the cultural border at once benefit the local society collectively and redound to the status of those who pull them off. For many of the things so acquired are potent ritual items, including the spells used in productive work. The foreign provenance of these things, perhaps even the original language of the spells and songs, is a condition of their efficacy. But then, for people like the Chambri studied by Deborah Gewertz and Frederick Errington, foreignness may be a condition of their own being, as in the matter of their ancestry: Indeed, the Chambri explicitly regard their society as based on borrowing. They assert that most of their ancestors were of foreign origin; they recognize without embarrassment that many of their rituals were acquired from the Iatmul along with much of their esoteric knowledge. (Errington and Gewerth 1986: 99) Chambri and their neighbors eagerly traded back and forth the ritual items that conferred and evoked efficacy, such as flutes, masked figures, large rocks, and sometimes ceremonial performances. Many of the incantations through which Chambri clans regulated portions of the immediate natural environment derive their potency from polysyllabic names acquired from non-Chambri neighbors. (Errington and Gewerth 1996: 16) Note the retention of the marks of foreign origin. The incantations, flutes and the rest are inalienable things, in the sense that they embody the person-qualities and extraordinary powers of the donors. The objects of exchange are beneficial agents. Like stranger-kings, they are in effect foreign subjects that by means of feats of derring-do enter into the native society to promote its order and prosperity. Moreover, those who obtain these life-enhancing powers by travelling and trading ventures beyond their borders gain renown and prestige in their own right, which is to say, superiority among their own people. Here again are structural equivalents of the stranger-king – where there are only local big-men. Foreign objects functioning as regalia and palladia have played critical roles in the constitution of Southeast Asian sovereignties. To follow Heine-Geldern (1942), the royal regalia were the real rulers of certain coastal Sulawesi kingdoms; the kings were merely their agents. The kings, here heavenly strangers, were thus objectified subjects; the regalia, subjectified objects. Famous krises of Java and Bali, talking, acting and striking of their own volition, have been known to convey the kingdom to stranger princes. One that was sent from Majapahit in Java to a prince of that realm in Bali allowed him to pacify the island and establish the pre-eminent dynasty of Gelgel (Klungkung). In her excellent ethnography of Tanimbar in eastern Indonesia, Susan McKinnon relates a cosmogonic tradition of similar import. After the initial reproductive unity of heaven and earth was shattered by a culture hero of foreign origin – using a spear taken from the autochthonous people – humans were left in a kind of Hobbesian condition, wandering the land in small groups, clashing with one another, while searching for access to the otherworldly powers that would allow them to create a fixed existence. McKinnon relates what they were looking for: Named heirloom valuables, acquired by the ancestors through actions that transcended the social order, became signs of the powers that lie before, beyond, outside and even against society, but also signs of the powers that underlie

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society and constitute the very basis of its possibility. It was by forays into the heavens, the underworld, and lands beyond the horizon that these men appropriated objects of otherworldly power that would enable them to recompose their own world, the land within the horizon. (McKinnon 1991: 62) Note that a named heirloom, carrying thus a history of its ordering effects, is probably more than a sign of external powers; it is, rather, an agent able to exercise such powers. Here again the mission civilisatrice of the external subject – or stranger-kingship before the letter. Of course I am not claiming that differences between stranger-kings, head-hunters and local big-men – not to mention shamans, cult leaders, hereditary chiefs and leopard-skin chiefs – are inconsequential. Only that, as modes of political authority, they are structurally commensurable. All achieve their differential authority by their instantiation or command of external sources of vitality and mortality. Moreover, I risk such generalities in part because they are consistent with the equally broad and eclectically-documented treatises of Mary Helms on the politics of alterity in so-called ‘traditional societies’ (Helms 1988, 1993, 1998). I read Helms as mapping an ideal-typical cosmography of power, focused as she says on ‘an organized, morally informed “cultured” social entity at the centre’, surrounded by a series of concentric zones populated by all manner of visible and invisible presences of exceptional potency (Helms 1993:7). Again, power is foreign to the socius it empowers. Certain cosmographic complexities aside, according to Helms there is a direct relation between remoteness from the centre and the potency of these supramundane presences. Extending vertically from the heavens to the underworld and horizontally on the terrestrial plane, the beings and forces of the exterior increase in ‘supernatural’ power in proportion to their distance from the human centre – even as, in the same measure, they escape human control. Still, there being death, they are not beyond human desire: which, I am saying, is what the politics of so-called ‘traditional societies’ is all about. By that I mean internal competition as well as external adventure. Indeed exploits undertaken beyond the border are privileged ways of achieving local status. This competitive move to the outside is an extreme form of what Gregory Bateson (1958) has described as ‘symmetrical schismogenesis’. Bateson cites the example of an arms race in which each side tries to best the other by doing more of the same – on the principle of ‘anything you can do I can do better’. At the extreme, however, competition in quantity is exchanged for difference in quality: one goes outside the box, trumping the adversary by shifting the terms of contention to means of another kind and greater value – such as introducing a new, devastating weapon into the arms race. Even in so-called acephalous societies, the appropriation of outside potencies by hunters, shamans, warriors and traders bring them a certain differential standing in the community. The big-man politics of Melanesia and of chiefly potlatching in northwest America are institutionalised systems of rivalry based on trafficking in external spheres of power and renown. Likewise, the celebrated kula ring of the Massim (New Guinea) is a great transcultural system for the circulation of potent social values, principally in the form of shell ornaments. Nancy Munn (1986) has shown at length for Gawa island how extending one’s being in name and person abroad through success in the kula is then realised in authority at home. In this connection, European colonial expansion often did not alter the character of indigenous politics – at least not initially – so much as it

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greatly expanded the cosmography of potency, adding a new, transcendent arena from which local powers-that-would-be extracted goods, identities and other novel means for achieving authority within their own society. During the early colonial period in Polynesia, local ruling chiefs became strangerkings – by assuming foreign identities. This tactic of taking on the personae of European greats was practised particularly by ambitious chiefs who could not claim by ancestry the authority to which they now aspired by power and wealth – through means largely acquired in trade with the foreigners they were pleased to imitate. Hardly 15 years had passed since Captain Cook’s death in Hawaii before the rival paramounts of the three main islands had named their sons and heirs ‘King George’. In 1794, when he was embarked on the unprecedented unification of the archipelago, the great Kamehameha posted a man to the galley of one of Vancouver’s ships for the purpose of learning how to cook. When Vancouver was preparing to leave, Kamehameha made several requests to the British to supply him with domestic furnishings and kitchen utensils. Master’s Mate Thomas Manby (1929: 46) comments in his Journal:
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And now that he was in possession of the requisites for the table, a tolerable cook and every kind of implement for culinary purposes, the monarch boasted with evident pride and satisfaction that he should now live like King George. Manby had already heard from a high priest that the Hawaiian ruling family traced its descent to white men who had come to the islands some generations before – a story of an ultimate connection with Europeans of the kind told by many indigenous peoples the world over. Perhaps this genealogy played in Kamehameha’s addressing George III in a letter as ‘Dear Brother’. In the last years of Kamehameha’s reign, John Adams Kuakini was governor of Hawai’i Island, Cox Ke’eaumoku ruled Maui and Billy Pitt Kalaimoku was the ‘Prime Minister’ of the Kingdom. These were not just sobriquets bestowed on Hawaiians by Europeans for their own amusement. Kalaimoku insisted on being called ‘Pitt’, and the casket in which Ke’eamoku was buried in 1824 was simply inscribed ‘Cox’. Also to be seen in Honolulu in those days were Billy Cobbet, George Washington, Charley Fox, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Napoleon Bonaparte. This kind of identification with powerful others is interesting in light of the question, of urgency especially to historians, of whether traditions of immigrant kingship actually happened, or at least reflect such happenings in a fantastical way. The suggestion of this history is: not necessarily. As indigenously formulated, stranger-kingship may be a structure without an event. Of course, in a more general sense, the contingent advent of powerful strangers seems a necessary condition for claims of foreign provenience, identity or genealogy on the part of indigenous rulers. The intervention may take the form of European colonialism as in the Hawaiian case, but may also arise in some other globalising process, such as the Persian and Arab participation in Indian Ocean trade that brought Alexander the Great to the Malay Peninsula. Likewise, the mode of stranger-kingship constituted by immigrant rulers who claim descent from long-lost native ancestors – like the ruling Kafika clan of Tikopia or the Abahinda kings of Ankole – may develop without the benefit of European colonialism. In any event, as has been said of the origins of Sumatran rajas in Rum, the irruptions from other worlds add a new and transcendent dimension of power to their own, offering unprecedented opportunities for magnifying native rule by

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grafting it on to a hegemony of greater scale and authority. Fijians of the 19th century similarly told of comings of their ruling lineages from Tanganyika, Egypt, Turkestan, Turkey, and/or the Malay peninsula – an innovation on older traditions of chiefly origins in Tonga. Incongruous only in our own eyes, such narratives have been subject of a small industry in historical debunking, if not just pooh-poohing, on the part of western scholars – too often at the expense of ethnological understanding. Whether by means of outside rulers who become insiders or insider rulers who become outsiders, the politics of so-called ‘traditional societies’ aims to invert Helmsian cosmography by accumulating ‘supernatural’ resources at the centre and bringing them, and hence the world, under human control. Rather than increasing in proportion to distance, divine power is concentrated in an axis mundi at the heart of the kingdom, whence it is diffused outwards in progressively diminishing degrees. At the hierarchical extreme are imperial systems governed by rulers of universal pretensions, such as the Buddhist Chakkavati King of Kings, the Persian Achmaenid dynasts of similar description or the Chinese Ruler of All Under Heaven, potentates who fashion their hegemony in the form of cosmocracy. By means of a bureaucracy that extends their presence as well as their power, these cosmocrators synthesise the ontological and theological dualisms that mark stranger-king polities to produce a distinctive system of totalised and centralised rule. No particular authority or ritual privilege remains to the underlying people on the basis of their indigeneity. They are an unmarked demos, whereas the king detains the powers of heaven and earth both. J. Gonda (1966: 81) tells of the consecration ceremonies of the ancient Vedic king, wherein: Placing his feet on the earth he pronounces formulas in which he declares himself to be established on, or to find support in, the sky and the earth, in both kinds of breath, in day and night, in food and drink, in brahma and ksatra – that is to say, in the highest complementary pairs in the universe. Or consider this oft-cited Confucian text from the Han dynasty: Those who invented writing in ancient times drew three [horizontal] lines and connected them [vertically] through the middle, calling the character ‘king.’ The three lines are Heaven, Earth and Man, and that which passes through the middle joins the principles of all three. Occupying the center of Heaven, Earth and Man passing through and joining all three – if he is not the king, who can do this? (Granet 1968: 264) By their privileged relations to world-encompassing gods – whether by descent, incarnation or superior virtue – such rulers would finally overcome human finitude by confounding their polis with the cosmos and submitting both to their own agency. They represent and condense the universe in their royal palaces, cosmopolitan courts, exotic regalia and foreign tributes – including all manner of monsters and wonders collected from the world peripheries. These tributary products, ensouled with the wild potency of the hinterland peoples, thus empowered their imperial recipients. Edward Schafer observed that the incense from Southeast Asia wafting through the T’ang Emperor’s court ‘marked the presence of the royal afflatus, breathing supernatural wisdom through the worlds of nature and human affairs’. In the formal levees of the ministers, a ‘table of aromatics’ was placed before

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the Son of Heaven. ‘The great councilors of state then stood before the table and, perfused with the magical fragrance, proceeded to conduct the business of state’ (Schafer 1963: 155–56). Inhaled by the court officials, the scent of sandalwood from Borneo insinuated the virtuous presence of the emperor into their own persons, whence it was realised in imperial statecraft and spread through the world. Just so, another Confucian scholar, writing in Qing times, reflected on a certain European emperor of long before: During the T’ang dynasty, Charlemagne, a wise and learned man, gifted with civil and military talents, became Emperor of the Germans and the French. His fame and virtue spread far afield, and all the barbarians submitted to him. (Wang 1967: 123) The text refers to the civilising mission of the Emperor: his transmission of celestial order to All Under Heaven by means of his wisdom and virtue – backed, if need be, by military strength. The cosmocracies not only accumulate other-worldly power but generate a dynamics of its circulation, which is to say a dynamics of cultural constitution. Politico-spiritual power moves outward by such means as main force and proxy forms of the emperor’s presence, while it is drawn inward from the ‘barbarian’ peripheries by the force of attraction of the imperial centre.The attraction lies in the competitive uses the peripheral peoples can make of their contact with this power – thereby sending it outwards again to order the hinterland. Richard von Glahn relates that long after the famous Shu Han minister, Zhuge Liang, pacified certain ‘barbarians’ along China’s southwestern marches, the subdued peoples continued to give him a place among their own deities. According to local traditions, moreover, ‘their chieftains’ bronze drums, the universal symbol of authority in the southwest, originally were bestowed by Zhuge Liang’ (von Glahn 1987). Such honours were even paid to Zhuge Liang in areas he never actually conquered or visited, thus by local people on their own initiative, in the interest of giving their authority a Chinese cachet. Magnus Fiskesjo (2000: 85) ¨ tells of ‘Sinicized local potentates’ on the southwestern frontier in more recent periods ‘who came to discard their original non-Chinese names and take Chinese ones, in order to claim Chinese ancestry, or even traced a purely invented ancestry to those specific Chinese conquerors who had imposed civilization in ancient times’ – like the European ancestors of Hawaiian chiefs. Just as the potency of imperial centres is sustained by tributes from the peripheries, so conversely do cosmocratic rulers empower and ‘civilise’ the tributary peoples – thereby becoming strategic sources of the rise of local chiefs and the advent of stranger-kings. The effect is the de facto organisation of the planet in regional systems of greater and lesser polities focused on powerful apical states from which the others derive their own legitimacy – and often enough their ruling dynasty. Or else the more distant places refer their ruling groups to tertiary and secondary centres, while the ancient primary kingship, perhaps superseded, persists only in historical memory. Common around the world are political genealogies tracing the descent of recent kingdoms to ancestral names to conjure with: Toltec, Teotihuacan, Funan, Champa, Sina (China), Majapahit, Rum (Byzantium, Turkey), Ife, Lunda, Zande, Troy, Mycenae and so forth – although as Janet Hoskins (1993: 35) comments of the similar claims of eastern Indonesian

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aristocrats, ‘it could hardly be that all the peoples of the outer islands were descended from exiled Javanese princes’. Anthropologists will recognise here the process of ‘secondary state formation’ as described by Morton Fried (1967) and its effects in the form of ‘galactic polities’ as described by Stanley Tambiah (1976). Ethnographically they will be reminded of Edmund Leach’s observations in The political systems of highland Burma of the continuum of political and ritual forms stretching from imperial China through the Burmese kingdoms and Shan states to the Kachin Hills chiefdoms (gumsa), becoming progressively less elaborate as they move from the imperial heartland to the mountain hinterland. In recording how some Kachin leaders ‘become Shan’, Leach also presented another instance of local people fashioning themselves as prestigious foreigners. More recently, Magnus Fiskesjo (2000) has documented how certain Shan princes, who themselves held ¨ titles (tusi) of indirect rule from the Chinese, displaced and subordinated the autochthonous Wa peoples in the irrigable lowlands of the Yunnan-Burma borderlands by means of a classic stranger-king arrangement. The marriage of a daughter of the native chief to the immigrant Shan prince sealed the Wa retreat to the highlands and their tributary relations to the Shan, even as it perpetuated certain ritual functions of the Wa in the lowlands, including their sometime participation in the installation ceremonies of Shan rulers. From these and other sources, we also know that the galactic systems are often marked by war and instability, especially where there are conflicting claims of universal domination among powerful neighbouring states or between the cosmocrators and their major vassals. In any case, the galactic polities generate regional ecumenes of power that are at the same time hierarchies of cultural order. The combined action of cosmocratic ambitions at the centre and upward mobility at the peripheries amounts to a politics of acculturation in which the circulation of concepts, objects, persons and even religions is effected through the tactical pursuit of the potency of alterity. In the event, the hinterlands of the galactic systems are breeding grounds of strangerkingships – as I will continue to illustrate, all too summarily, from Southeast Asia. The outlying island and inland peoples of the region present an interesting array of political variations on the common dualistic theme of foreign-derived rulers and indigenous ‘owners’. As in Africa and elsewhere, the parvenu outsiders overturn the principle of superiority on the basis of temporal priority by which the native people were and are organised. Typically associated with a complementary division of cultural labours – the immigrants taking political office, the original owners controlling the cult of the land – the two sectors are integrated in various degrees, in more or less direct relation to their distance from the great historical kingdoms of the mainland and nearby large islands. Some outlying areas (Gayo, Sumba, Tanimbar, Mambai, Toraja, etc.) know a sort of colonial status, with certain local officials appointed by a dominant neighbouring potentate, principally to collect tributes. In the more peripheral reaches, the ruling group and the native people do not comprise anything like a unified society. Ethnically distinct and geographically separated, they constitute a transcultural stranger-kingship – held together not so much by the power of the distant foreigners as by the indigenous people’s desire to acquire some of it. The so-called ‘tribal’ peoples of the region are well known for actively seeking the means of their own life enhancement and political advancement by voyages of derring-do to remote centres of power, wealth and order. Often involving trading and raiding along the way, the voyages culminated in tributary gift-exchanges with the foreign ruler. In olden times, the foreign centre may have been a secondary or tertiary focus of a galactic

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polity; more recently, it was a European colonial outpost; and now it is a modern coastal city where wage labour and market exchange have replaced traditional tributary relations. Aside from heads and plunder taken on the journey, the trophies of these border-transcending exploits included titles and goods bestowed by the foreign ruler, embodiments of his agency that function to extend it in space and time. The bejalai or journeys of young Dayak men to the coastal centres of Sarawak and beyond are classic ethnographic examples. J.H. Walker (2002: 20) writes of them: Many of the goods acquired through bejalai were themselves sources of potency. Antique jars, for example, were credited with supernatural powers and healing virtues and would thereby contribute to the potency of the community to which they were taken. Moreover, the successful accumulation of prestige goods and other wealth would indicate, in itself, an increase in spiritual powers, status and strength. This passage is taken from Walker’s book on James Brooke, the famous ‘white rajah of Sarawak’, a work that among other virtues has the merit of showing how successive waves of European colonials have been incorporated in long-standing local practices of capturing external spiritual authority. For the Iban and other interior peoples of Sarawak, Brooke was a source of attraction of the kind the Chinese literati attributed to the Celestial Emperor – and Charlemagne. Indeed only the Chinese settlers of Sarawak – who precisely had their own imperial traditions and ancient gods – were immune to the powerful virtue (semangat) the native peoples sought from contact with Brooke. Some Iban considered Brooke the son of their ancestral mother and father – hence a recuperation in his own person of a lost cosmogonic unity. Others say he was not the son of the ancestress, Kumang, but her lover – thus a repetition of the topos of the stranger-king who marries the indigenous princess and becomes ruler of the land. On a visit to a certain interior group, Rajah Brooke and the Bishop of Sarawak were received by an old woman who proceeded to wash their feet in coconut milk, which she then set aside for steeping the rice seed before planting. Others ‘brought portions of cooked rice in leaves and begged the Englishman to spit on them, after which they ate them up, thinking they should be better for it’ (Walker 2002: 116). Although it is sometimes claimed that the notion of the European as native god is just an imperialist fiction, one wonders if western art did not follow indigenous life in the matter of Conrad’s Lord Jim, and Heart of Darkness, and Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. If the Sarawak people thus absorbed semangat from the European raja, at the eastern extreme of Indonesia the Biak islanders absorbed the Islamic equivalent, barak, from the Sultan of Tidore in the Moluccas. The sultan claimed a certain sovereignty as far as the coasts and offshore islands of western New Guinea. The voyages of Biak people from offshore New Guinea to the Moluccas were proof enough of the sultan’s reach – or as the Chinese might say, of his virtue. Trading and sometimes raiding as they went, the Biak carried tribute to the sultan and returned with the mana-like barak ensouled in his goods and his person, having been accorded gifts of the former and the privilege of prostrating before the latter. One may judge the boost thus given to the Biak people’s own status by their transmission of this power upon their return through handshakes with their relatives – who proceeded to rub their own faces with it. In her excellent
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ethnography of Biak, Danilyn Rutherford (2003) provides a detailed analysis of how these foreign journeys and prestige goods were engaged in the local politics of distinction, notably through affinal relationships. Internally, Biak politics is played out in the long-term exchanges between houses or patrilineages allied by marriage, between wife-givers and wife-takers. Considered as the male side and superior as donors of life to their affines, the wife-givers distinctively put foreign wealth into these transactions, as against the foods presented by the female and subordinate wife-takers. The exchanges, which were both collective and individual, provided an arena in which men could differentially make their names by gifts of prestigious foreign objects in support of their out-married sisters’ children – thus testifying to their feats of appropriating valuables from abroad. At the same time, the foreign wealth acquired from their mothers’ brothers distinguished these children as valued persons in their own right. For they were endowed by the agency of the foreign goods with special talents, not least being those that gave sisters’ sons unusual gifts of love-making – again, reproductive virtues – and the ability to raid the lands of foreigners themselves. Such achievements could even earn sisters’ sons the honourable status of amben or ‘foreigner’: a term Biak use for Europeans and Indonesians of other parts, but also for their own elite of civil servants, soldiers, pastors and village chiefs. If in Sarawak, foreigners can become local elites, in Biak people of standing can become foreigners – a domestic integration of the stranger-king ideology of the kind we have seen elsewhere. Affines as life-giving outsiders: clearly we need another amendment of Helms’s model of ‘supernatural power’ increasing by social distance. It will help explain this fundamental contradiction – the common conflation of intimate affinal relatives with remote cosmic powers – which Helms recognises at length but for which she does not provide an effective conceptual place. ‘Certain categories of people’, she writes, ‘especially affines (in-laws), are associated with the cosmographically charged outside world and, therefore, convey distinctive supernaturally informed qualities associated with the wider cosmos’ (Helms 1993: xii). (Especially interesting in the present connection would be the symbolic assimilation of bride and groom to royalty in marriage ceremonies, a phenomenon to which Hocart (1927) devoted a chapter of his work on Kingship, including examples of ritualised marriage-bycapture that in effect replicate the foundation narratives of stranger-kingship). Helms notes that the series of concentric zones surrounding the social nucleus in the idealtypical cosmos is generated by a recursive opposition of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, each exterior zone being ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’ zones it encompasses. But she does not explore the structural dimension that is critical for the present discussion: precisely that this is a nested segmentary system of social categories, the outer and greater ones including the lesser and inner ones. Hence ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ are relative and contextual terms, their use depending on the familiar principle of segmentary opposition. Other houses in my village are outsiders in relation to my own, but they are insiders relative to other villages of my tribe or language-group, although all of these are again insiders relative to other tribes, etc. Under this structural condition, direct proportionate relations, as between geographical distance and other-worldly power, must be qualified, since ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ do not represent determinate positions on a linear scale. Different social zones at various distances may be meaningfully conflated as ‘inside’ or ‘outside’, to the extent that certain outsiders within the home community, most particularly kinsmen by marriage, are identified with distant and foreign peoples – and even with gods. ‘The other’, Vivieros de Castro says of Arawete, ‘is first and foremost an affine’, including in that category guests, friends,

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foreigners, allied communities, trade partners, forest spirits, certain animals and, as husbands of the female dead, the gods themselves. Not incidentally, a lot of structuralist analysis rides on this sort of segmentary relativity, insofar as it provides the logical opportunity for categorical equations between different cultural registers, as between affinity, polity and cosmology. It is the actual sociology of seeming metaphor. The outsider or stranger, then, is a qualitative relation of difference rather than a quantitative distinction of distance. In Tanimbar, there are strangers even within the natal house: namely the daughters destined to reproduce the houses of affinal others. McKinnon (1991) reports that when a child is born, the inevitable question of its sex is here phrased as ‘stranger or house master?’ As in the old Roman law, a daughter is the terminus of the family. However, one may judge her beneficial value to Tanimbar wife-takers, by McKinnon’s report that a pregnant woman ‘is often compared to a boat that makes a long-distance journey and returns to land laden with valuables’. Here again, direct relationships with affinal others take on the character of mystical encounters with distant others. More particularly, the affinal relationship is the experiential ground cum social enactment of people’s dependence for their own existence on external sources they do not control. But precisely in the form of marriage people do engage and transact such external life powers, and in the children of the marriage they assimilate the outside in themselves. In the classic statement on these matters, Edmund Leach (1961: 2) wrote: In any system of kinship and marriage, there is a fundamental ideological opposition between the relations which endow the individual with membership in a ‘we group’of some kind (relations of incorporation), and those other relations which link ‘our group’ to other groups of like kind (relations of alliance) and that, in this dichotomy, relations of incorporation are distinguished symbolically as relations of common substance, while relations of alliance are viewed as metaphysical influence. Commenting on this passage, Vivieros de Castro (2004) notes that the so-called metaphysical influence of affines may also be transmitted by substantial connections (as between mother’s brother and sister’s son in cross-cousin marriage). Nor are the consubstantial relations of the ‘we-group’ necessarily without metaphysical powers, for example first-born sons in many Polynesian societies who are in effect first-fruit offerings to the group’s ancestors and accordingly hedged in taboos. Yet there remains a critical metaphysical opposition between ‘relations of incorporation’ and those of ‘alliance’, or as de Castro characterises the two sides, relations based on similarity and those founded on difference – or then again, for simplicity and comparative utility, relations of consanguinity and affinity. If gods in the Amazon are in certain contexts affines, in Oceania certain affines are conflated with gods. Hocart spoke of the Fijian kinship system as ‘a whole theology’. The phrase is particularly apposite for the key affinal relationship of mother’s brother and sister’s son. Ritually and effectively in ordinary practice, the privileged uterine nephew steals the sacrifice offered to the god of his mother’s brother’s people. He usurps the place of the mother’s brother’s god: thus the sacred respect he is accorded by his mother’s people and the powers he assumes over their possessions. As a theology, then, the affinal kinship practice is also politics. In Fijian traditions, as we have seen, dynasties are typically founded by a stranger-prince who marries the daughter of the

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chief of the original people, a union that gives rise to a royal heir who is the sister’s son cum living god of the land. By contrast, among Kedang of eastern Indonesia, where wife-givers are superior to wife-receivers, one’s mother’s brother, reports J.R. Barnes (1977: 22), ‘is spoken of and regarded as a god’; for ‘through the gift of his sister he has presented Ego’s patriline with new life, the means of continuing its existence’. So to repeat and conclude: my argument is that the affinal relationship is the archetype of stranger-king politics. Of course the incest taboo is the more fundamental condition, inasmuch as it requires that life is gained from and lost to the outside, thus establishing the basic correspondence between the human ontological and sociological predicaments: the dependence on external sources of existence. But then, I claim, stranger-kingship is a developed political expression of the same. Its attributes are found in nuce in the opposition between consanguinity as constituted relations of being and affinity as formative relations of becoming – a description that would equally apply to the difference between the native people and their foreign rulers. As a Fijian once put it to me: ‘Brothers are only brothers, but the sister’s child is a new path [of kinship] . . . Brothers are only in the house; they have been there from the past to today. But the descent of my sister is a new line’. Effectively, this holds even in the case of marriage within prescribed kinship categories. Notice too the difference in temporality. Consanguines are original as well as forever, as contrasted to the in-marrying people, a difference also of nature and contract. Like the native people in the stranger-king polity, the consanguinal group are generally localised and stable, the ‘owners’ of their ancestral sites in contrast to their in-coming, late-coming affines. Also like the original owners of the kingdom, the consanguineal group is ordered by temporal priority, by the authority of the seniors in age or in descent, if not also the ancestors, as compared to the current privileges acquired by arriviste affines. Then there is the intrinsic ranking effected by marital alliance. Marriages create the greatest of advantages and disadvantages in transferring generative powers from one group to another – simultaneous exchanges of sisters or brothers excluded. At least temporarily, the relationship between affines and consanguines is unbalanced. The inequality may be reversible or reproducible, depending on the marriage rule. It may favour the wife-givers as in island Southeast Asia or the wife-takers as in Fiji or Northwest America: the former by virtue of the irredeemable debt of life-powers; the latter by the capture thereof. But in any case, there is a critical element of inequality, thus a relationship at once contractual and conflictual. Yet if the affines represent contradictory and transgressive principles of relationship, they nevertheless order the consanguineal group. I revive another old chestnut from structural-functional anthropology: lineage mates are differentiated by their respective affinal connections. External alliances become points of segmentation among consanguines, thus imposing from the outside a discontinuous ordering of the diffuse solidarity of relations by common descent. Here again is identity made by the assimilation of alterity, the way that patrilateral kinsmen are distinguished by their respective matrilateral affiliations. Moreover, as we have seen, the status of senior affinal relatives as sources of a child’s life is commonly associated with their endowing him or her with life-enhancing means and talents. In practice this means providing the children of their out-marrying members with ritual and material services that again distinguish them as valued social beings. Like the benefits conveyed by the stranger-king, persons are differentiated and prospered by their outsider-affines – which is also to say, they are thus organised and

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civilised. And on the negative side, perhaps nothing resembles the blasting powers of kingship so much as the curse of the senior affinal relative. My modest conclusion is that the elementary forms of kinship, politics and religion are all one.

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