The Potent Dead: Ancestors, Saints, and Heroes in Contemporary Indonesia

The Potent Dead: Ancestors, Saints, and Heroes in Contemporary Indonesia

The Potent Dead: Ancestors, Saints, and Heroes in Contemporary Indonesia

The Potent Dead: Ancestors, Saints, and Heroes in Contemporary Indonesia

Synopsis

"A collection of studies by leading scholars of Indonesian culture, history and anthropology examining the death practices and rituals of Indonesian tribal groups in the context of ongoing changes is Islam."

Excerpt

Death is the central fact of life—the source of our most extravagant hopes and fears. Religious and ritual activity has always sought to cope with it by regulating the most important of life's passages, channelling the spiritual forces it unleashes, and allowing the living to grieve and move on. No substantial part of the human family has given richer examples than the Austronesians (of whom Indonesians form the current majority) of these processes at work. At least since Arnold van Gennep a century ago the preoccupation of Austronesians with death ritual has provided the most important field for ethnographic exploration and theoretical speculation.

None of the authors in this book, however, set out to study this phenomenon as such. Yet each of us, whether anthropologist, historian or literary scholar, has been struck by the continuing importance of the recently dead for our Indonesian friends and informants.

When Henri Chambert-Loir was able to take a few months away from his duties in Jakarta to become a Visiting Fellow at the anu, therefore, it seemed to us both that we should use the opportunity for a workshop on this topic. Henri had long been concerned with the kramats of Java and the role they play in pilgrimage, an interest he shared with George Quinn and James Fox at anu. I had recently returned from fieldwork among the Toba and Karo Batak, still puzzling about their attitude to the dead.

Chambert-Loir, Reid, Fox, Quinn and Sakai were able to participate in this workshop, and became interested enough in the phenomenon to wish to pursue it further. Gradually the net widened to scholars working in other parts of Indonesia. Henri was able to extend it to a Francophone circle of scholars whose work is not always sufficiently appreciated by Anglophones. We are grateful especially to those who were willing to contribute to the volume despite not having been part of the initial excitement.

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