Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Household and Shared Poverty in the Highlands of Central Sulawesi

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The Household and Shared Poverty in the Highlands of Central Sulawesi

Article excerpt

In this article, I address the apparently incongruous processes of development and the intensification of tradition in a highland village in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. The To Pamona of the village of Tentena(1) are swidden cultivators resettled by the Dutch from several nearby hill-top hamlets in 1908 and forced to take up wet-rice, or sawah, agriculture in the valley floor on the shores of Lake Poso. This change in productive technologies was part of a broader programme of development intended to incorporate them into the larger capitalist structures of the Netherlands East Indies. Wet-rice cultivation was but one of the policies intended to create a nuclear family household peasant economy Multiple household longhouses (banua) were to be broken up into their constituent units, and each of these units was to own and individually to work its own property. In this way, 'native communalism' was to be discouraged, and an ethic of individual initiative and self-interest introduced, a policy which Dutch liberals considered the only means of bettering native welfare (de Kat Angelino 1931 II: 517-30; Kahn 1993: 75-81; Kruyt 1924: 50).

During the last eighty-five years, development has been accompanied by the fragmentation of land holdings and the commodification of the means and relations of production. I found, however, that the differentiation of the peasantry had been uneven, blunted by 'shared poverty' among kin, to use Geertz's (1963) phrase. Geertz used the term to refer to a pattern in which agricultural output was evenly divided among village households through the elaboration and expansion of traditional systems of labour relations, especially share cropping, rather than through changes in proprietary control of land (1963: 98). This ethic of 'shared poverty' limited the differentiation of the peasantry in Java to 'just enoughs', and 'not quite enoughs' (Geertz 1963: 97). In an analysis of sixty-eight related households in four highland villages,(2) I found that differentiation in land ownership seemed clear: land holdings varied from those with no sawah, to those with up to 6 hectares. There were clear differences in lifestyle between the well-to-do (nineteen households), middle peasants (nineteen households) and the poor (thirty households).(3) However, like Geertz in Java, I found that differentiation in ownership of land was only an 'indifferent guide to the social pattern of agricultural exploitation' (1963: 99), and necessitated a careful examination of how agricultural production was distributed. Much of the difference in wealth between households derived from civil service jobs or pensions. Wealth and land ownership seemed to have little to do with relations of production. Members from all three groups took part in traditional labour exchanges, pesale, and a significant proportion of all three groups depended on hired agricultural labour to work their holdings. The persistence of 'traditional' labour exchanges and their attendant metamorphosis into new forms among all three groups, the development of sharecropping, and the existence of an ethic of sharing among kin all led me to wonder if shared poverty was typical of the peasant economy, despite the absence of a significant plantation sector which Geertz thought central to the development of shared poverty in Java.

As this last point makes clear, the analysis of 'shared poverty' has taken place within a 'dual economy' framework first proposed by the Dutch economist J.H. Boeke (1953), and refined by Clifford Geertz in Agricultural involution (1963). Although Geertz's argument deals with Java, his theoretical formulation has provided impetus for the analysis of the role of culture in the modernization of all Indonesia. Geertz argues that Indonesia had two economies: one, a modern plantation sector, the other, a subsistence-oriented indigenous sector. These two sectors were distinct but interrelated, because of the unique characteristics of sawah fields which allowed for seemingly infinite degrees of intensification of production. …

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