AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 22

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Session 22: Social Memory and the Representation of the Past in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Shu-Yuan Yang, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Discussant: Hiromu Shimizu , Kyoto University, Japan

The quest for the Southeast Asian past has taken two main theoretical turns in recent years. On the one hand, there has been a reaction against colonial history and a move to search for autonomous histories and histories from below. This de-centering move attempts to avoid cramming Southeast Asia into one historical argument, whether seen from the colonialist standpoint or the nationalist counter-narrative. On the other hand, there is an effort to delineate distinctive regional modes of structuring the past, and to bring to light local societies’ own categories of meaning and situated historical knowledge. It has been pointed out that history in Southeast Asia is constructed less by means of abstract theorizing or objective marshaling of facts than by practical engagement, moral appreciation, objectification, embodiment, and ceremonial performance. How is the past articulated with the present to give a particular shape and form to history? And how have distinctive local forms of social memory and representating the past undergone transformations in contemporary societies? These are some of the questions explored in this panel. Drawing from ethnographies and historical analysis from different parts of Island Southeast Asia, the papers in this multidisciplinary panel examine how history is mediated by culture, how new perceptions of the past brought about by globalizing forces challenge traditional forms of engaging with the past, and how different genres of social memory compete with each other in the transmission of historical experience and the reproduction of social institutions.

Social Memory and Changing Representations of the Past in Tagalog metrical romance, 1900-1946
Reynaldo C. Ileto, National University of Singapore, Singapore

In 1948, an obscure poet named Ignacio Facundo published a 1800-stanza Tagalog awit (metrical romance), Sa Lupa ng mga Lakan (In the Land of the Nobles). Subtitled tulang kasaysayan (historical poem), it covers the Spanish conquest to Independence Day. Many of the events appear also in prose writings of the period, so what was the point of rendering this history in the awit form? After the end of Japanese occupation, a post-war emplotment of history took shape in which the narrative of joint Filipino-American struggle against the Japanese is central. U.S. colonial rule is posited as a Golden Age ruined by Japanese conquest, which plunged the nation into a Dark Age, necessitating liberation by MacArthur’s armada. The awit, shaped by an oral tradition since the 18th century derived from medieval tales of chivalry, offers an interesting twist to this dominant emplotment. It captures a collective sentiment about the past that differs from other writings also called “nationalist.” The 1948 awit is compared with two earlier awit about the nation from the Spanish conquest to the present: Pinagdaanang Buhay ng Islas Filipinas (Life Story of the Philippine Islands) and Pasion ng Bayan sa Kahapo’t Ngayon (Passion of the Country in the Past and Present). The former was composed in 1900 to bolster morale in the fight against U.S. occupation, and is different from Facundo’s awit half a century later. Changes had taken place in the configuration of social memory since the introduction of mass education with U.S. rule in 1901.

Competing Genres of the Past in Makassar, Indonesia: Chronicle, Hagiography, Epic and History
Thomas P. Gibson, University of Rochester, USA

In the 1980s, many Makassar were literate in three different scripts, each of which was used to record a different form of knowledge about the past. The lontara script was derived from Indic sources and was used to record royal chronicles and genealogies that validated claims to high hereditary rank. The Arabic script was used to record hagiographies of Islamic wali Allah, and silsila, the chains of masters and pupils through which mystical knowledge had been transmitted from the time of the Prophet to the present. The Roman script was used to record all matters relating to the Indonesian nation-state, including accounts of national heroes who had played a key role in the fight against Dutch colonialism. In addition, there were still several elderly men capable of reciting oral epics that lasted for up to six hours, which recounted the exploits of local heroes during the time of the Dutch East India Company. Each genre of social memory played a central role in the reproduction of a different social institution: the noble house, the Islamic mosque, the nation state and the ethnic group. Each of these institutions was also associated with a different form of temporality: cyclical, temporal/eternal, developmental and allegorical. Any attempt to reduce the Makassar past to a single narrative will thus result in a profound distortion of the reasons why certain events are remembered in the first place.

“That’s the rule here, from olden times up to now”: Representing the past among the Ifugao
Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme, University of Oslo, Norway

For the Ifuago of Northern Luzon, the Philippines, the past is present in a very practical way. A wide system of taboos, prescriptions and proscriptions guide both daily action and ritual life. These were laid down by ancestors and should be followed to show respect for them and their way of living. At sacrificial rituals these rules are important as they control the potentially dangerous conjunction of the domain of the spirits and ancestors and the domain the living human beings. In this paper I will discuss how these rules and the practice of adhering to them is a distinct local form of representing the past. I will argue that through the practice of such rules, the Ifugao engage with the past in a relational manner, making it both present and distant through reordering their relations with the ancestors. I will further discuss how this form of representing the past has moral implications and how these have an important role for social memory and the maintenance of tradition. However, the practice of following these rules are now increasingly being challenged by the growing presence of Pentecostalism in the area. Those who have converted continue to see these rules as representation of the past, but with their changed understanding of the moral character of the spirits, their evaluation of the moral implications of adhering to the rules is transformed.

Christianity, Headhunting and History among the Bugkalot/Ilongot of Northern Luzon, Philippines
Shu-Yuan Yang, Academia Sinica, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The invasion of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) in the mid 1980s is a significant and marked event for the people of Gingin, a settlement located at the center of the Bugkalot area. It has stirred up feelings of fear, terror, panic, and anger among the local residents, who were predominantly Christians by this time. The killing of seven Bugkalot men at the hands of the NPA in July, 1988, has aroused Bugkalot Christians and some of them “backslid” and went headhunting again to revenge the death of their relatives. How do we comprehend the resurgence of headhunting among the Bugkalot when Christianity has already taken a strong hold? Is it just an old cultural habit that dies hard? Is it a slap at the face of missionaries who consider the eradication of headhunting their most important achievement? Does it demonstrate the insincerity of the Bugkalot’s conversion to Christianity? How do the Bugkalot themselves interpret this historical event? This article seeks to address these questions. I suggests that headhunting still figures significantly in the shaping of local memory and historical consciousness, however, the Bugkalot’s representations of the past have been reworked within the framework of Christianity. Christianity does not only serve as the meta-narrative of change, it also informs the ways in which the Bugkalot contemplate their existence in the contemporary world.