Preferred Citation: Peletz, Michael Gates. A Share of the Harvest: Kinship, Property and Social History Among the Malays of Rembau. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1988 1988. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6m3nb481/


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A Share of the Harvest

Kinship, Property, and Social History among the Malays of Rembau

Michael Gates Peletz

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1988 The Regents of the University of California

For Ellen Lois Peletz



Preferred Citation: Peletz, Michael Gates. A Share of the Harvest: Kinship, Property and Social History Among the Malays of Rembau. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1988 1988. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6m3nb481/

For Ellen Lois Peletz

PREFACE

The inhabitants of the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan have long fascinated and baffled outside observers. Although Muslims, they have matrilineal clans; houses and land tend to be owned and inherited by women, and in times past most agricultural work was performed by women. Early observers interpreted these features of Negeri Sembilan's social system as evidence of a "primitive matriarchy." Subsequent accounts, however, have dispelled this as myth. They have also suggested that the matrilineal system has broken down under modern pressures and given rise to institutions characterized by patriliny or bilaterality, and that contemporary kinship and social relations have become "loosely structured."

This study examines persistence and change in the social organization of Malays living in the Rembau district of Negeri Sembilan during the period 1830–1980. It is especially concerned with the evolution of kinship and property relations in the face of British colonial rule (1887–1957), modern market forces, and Islamic nationalism and reform. The study demonstrates that the system of matrilineal clanship retains many of its earlier (precolonial) features and moral entailments. It has neither broken down nor given way to patriliny or bilaterality: property codes still exhibit a strong bias toward females in the proprietorship and inheritance of houses and land, and there is little if any evidence to support the assertion that present-day kinship and social relations are "loosely structured." More generally, the study provides new perspectives on the social history of Negeri Sembilan Malays, as well as a critical reassessment of the structure and organization of kinship and property relations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—with important implications for comparative analyses of social structures and social change and for current debates on matriliny, siblingship, and gender.


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Negeri Sembilan is one of thirteen states comprising the Federation of Malaysia; situated in southwestern West Malaysia (Malaya), it encompasses 2,566 square miles. In 1978–1980 I lived for sixteen months in the Rembau district of Negeri Sembilan, which is both a modern administration unit (jajahan ) and the locus of a once largely autonomous polity. The village in which I resided, here called Bogang (a pseudonym), had a January 1980 population of 476 individuals, all of whom were Muslims, with the vast majority of them holding membership in one or another matrilineal clan (suku ). Their economic pursuits involved the subsistence-oriented cultivation of wet rice, the collection and sale of forest products, and smallholder rubber tapping. In Bogang and most other villages in Negeri Sembilan, the production of latex for the world market was the main source of cash income and the principal means of satisfying domestic needs.

A number of factors influenced my decision to settle in the village of Bogang. I had already decided that I would be best off living by myself, but I wanted to find an empty dwelling close to currently occupied houses. Thanks to the transportation, advice, and other kind assistance of the local parish headman (penghulu mukim ), who had many relatives and contacts in the community, I was able to locate such a house in Bogang.

My first lesson in Malay kinship and social relations began even before I settled in Bogang in December 1978, largely as a result of my search for someone in the village to hire to cook one or two meals a day and do laundry. Although I had assumed that this would be relatively easy to arrange, I was mistaken. The parish headman, among others, told me that rural Malays were not accustomed, nor did they like, to be paid in cash for the labor and other aid they provided friends and fellow villagers; they would be especially ashamed and embarrassed (malu ) to accept cash in return for cooking and cleaning, which are usually done for free in the context of relationships of reciprocity. At the same time, the parish headman and others observed that Bogang undoubtedly had many households composed of married couples whose children had left home, some of whom would surely welcome me to join them at their afternoon and evening meals. This possibility struck me as ideal, especially since it would present me with many of the research and social benefits of living in a Malay home.

Within a few days of settling in Bogang I discussed the matter with the wife of the village headman (ketua kampung ), who was a close relative of


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the parish headman and one of my immediate neighbors. I asked her if she knew of any households without children that might like to have the newly arrived anthropologist join them at their afternoon and evening meals in exchange for payment. She replied that most villagers would be reluctant to accept such an arrangement because "people here aren't comfortable with the idea of charging guests for meals." So I decided to upgrade my sparsely provisioned kitchen to allow some improvement on the meals of eggs, bananas, peanuts, and tea I had been preparing for myself since moving to the village.

In our initial conversations, the headman's wife had plied me with numerous questions about my eating habits in America, the composition of "typical" American meals, and my experiences with Malay cuisine. Although much of what I told her elicited only puzzlement (about the unfathomable ways of orang putih , or "white people"), a fair number of my remarks also met with approving nods and comments such as "my husband likes that too" and "that's just what we eat." It did not occur to me at the time that she was exploring our culinary compatibility and trying to assess my reactions to various Malay dishes, including, especially, her favorites. Nor was I aware, needless to say, that she would soon—and perhaps already did—regard me as her "adopted child" (anak angkat ).

Within a week of my arrival in the village I realized that I was both welcome and expected to join the headman and his wife for lunch and dinner, and that they had in fact adopted me. Informal adoptions among villagers are extremely common; the important point is that our eating together on a regular basis presupposed our having a relationship couched in the symbols and idioms of kinship. The imperatives of this relationship were quite varied but most definitely included the unspoken expectation that I reciprocate the sustenance and care I received from my adoptive parents as village-born children of working age (ideally) acknowledge and repay their obligations to their parents—that is, through periodic gifts of cash and store-bought consumer items such as tobacco, tea, canned or imported fruit, and good cuts of fish and meat.

My adoption also aligned me with other members of the lineage compound in which the headman and his wife resided, as did the location of my house, which was in the same compound. Consequently, during the initial months of fieldwork I became much better acquainted with the members and dynamics of this lineage than with those of other lineages in


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the village. Although this situation might have posed obstacles to my interacting freely with the members of other segments and factions of the community, fortunately it did not; soon after settling in the village, I managed to establish close working relationships with a number of village elders outside my lineage compound.

During the initial four months of fieldwork I devoted most of my time to participant observation and to building rapport with my neighbors. I attended numerous ceremonial feasts (kenduri ) held in connection with weddings, funerals, and the Islamic ritual calendar, and I spent a great deal of time at village kedai , where dry goods and other supplies are sold, but which have the more important (social) function of serving as "coffee shops" where men congregate, relax over cups of coffee or tea, and discuss issues of local interest. Throughout this period I collected data on the content and ideology of bonds among members of households and household clusters, as well as between individuals and groups residing in different parts of the village; the basic characteristics of lineages, clans, affinal ties, kin group alliances, and kinship terminology; and forms of exchange, sharecropping, and tenancy. In addition, I began detailed sketches of local political alliances and various secular organizations. The material gathered during these early months increased my awareness of local sensitivities with regard to community factionalism and strife (and various national-level political and religious issues); it also helped me organize more structured interviews and design a comprehensive household survey.

My interaction with villagers during the early months of my research was greatly facilitated by my fluency in Malay/Indonesian. The fact that my speech incorporated certain Indonesian (to wit, Jakartan) idioms was, initially, a source of great amusement to adult villagers, some of whom were nonetheless quick to take me aside and instruct me in the more appropriate (local) conventions. Somewhat to my surprise, a fair amount of this instruction—and the ribbing that typically preceded it—came from women over fifty years of age. I soon realized that in most situations adult women of, or senior to, the generation of my adoptive mother (aged fifty-three) were just as accessible as, and in addition were typically more informative and uninhibited (in their dealings with me, at any rate) than, their male counterparts. Partly because of these unforeseen circumstances, I spent the greater portion of my time—especially during the first three or four months of fieldwork—among middle-aged and elderly women,


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where I was able to collect extensive data on the dynamics of women's relationships with their natural and classificatory sisters and other kin. These dynamics appeared in especially sharp relief in the context of labor and other exchanges associated with feasting, and in women's appraisals of one another's behavior and motivations.

My observations of interactions among sisters, along with other experiences with villagers of both sexes, confirmed many points emphasized in the literature on Negeri Sembilan, for instance, that ties among adult natural sisters were of central importance in numerous realms of society and culture. At the same time, however, my observations led me to question other published conclusions. The moral force of relationships cloaked in idioms of siblingship, for example, appeared far more compelling than the available literature suggested, yet many such relationships were infused with ambivalence and tension as well. I was similarly struck by the fact that most of the local terms and categories villagers used to describe their ties to their relatives were keyed to concepts of siblingship, and only secondarily, if at all, to notions of descent. Initially, I interpreted the relative hegemony of siblingship and the profound ambivalences surrounding these and other types of relatedness as indicating the erosion or collapse of an earlier (precolonial) system based primarily on principles and idioms of descent. Only much later did I realize that norms and values derived from matrilineal descent were far less pervasive in precolonial times than other observers had assumed, and that principles and idioms of siblingship have long, and perhaps always, been of comparable if not greater significance in myriad domains of society and culture.

In April 1979 I left the village for approximately six weeks, which I spent largely in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and the United States. In late May I returned to Bogang with my American wife, after which time I no longer ate regularly at the headman's house. My wife's presence in the village was greeted with considerable enthusiasm even though she spoke no Malay at the outset and had to devote much of her first few months in the village to informal language study. Her commitment to learning Malay and to exploring the experiences of Malay women and children was extremely rewarding to her and enriched my own understanding of women, gender, socialization, and other issues.

By September 1979 I had finished much of the informal, open-ended interviewing pertaining to kinship, property relations, and local history, as


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well as the survey questionnaire that I administered from October 1979 through January 1980 to each of Bogang's 106 households. The questionnaire focused on basic census issues: the residential and marital histories of household members and their formerly resident children; the acquisition, utilization, and future conveyance of various categories of rights over houses and land; tenancy relations and labor exchanges; and income sources, living standards, and participation in various Islamic rituals and other religious activities. The scope of the questionnaire was, in retrospect, overly broad; but it did yield a wealth of valuable information that lent itself to quantification, diachronic analysis, and a fairly precise delineation of continuity and change in numerous realms of village society and culture.

In January 1980 I began a month-long study of all District Land Office records for the village of Bogang (from 1888, when land titles were first recorded in writing, through 1980), to augment the household survey data and elucidate continuity and change in property and inheritance relations from the late nineteenth century to the present.

The final months of fieldwork (Feburary–May 1980) were devoted primarily to gathering, through open-ended, taped interviews, additional information on the substance and local conceptualization of kinship bonds and other social ties. I also collected mythical material on the origins of the universe and human society, the initial settlement of Negeri Sembilan, and the domain of spirits.

In mid May 1980 my wife and I left Bogang and went to Kuala Lumpur to spend four weeks analyzing early British administration reports on Negeri Sembilan and other historical documents deposited at the Malaysian National Archives (Arkib Negara Malaysia). We then spent six weeks in archival study in England, focusing on colonial records housed in the Public Record Office, the British (Museum) Library, and the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London.

The collection and interpretation of the data on which this study is based also owe much to the existence of a vast body of published literature on Negeri Sembilan. Various British accounts containing valuable (but highly unsystematic) information on the area appeared in the early 1800s (e.g., John Anderson [1824] 1967; Begbie [1834] 1967; Newbold 1839). In subsequent decades many essays were published on Negeri Sembilan's early political history and on numerous aspects of what came to be known


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as "customary law" (e.g., Hervey 1884; Lister 1887, 1890, 1891; Hale 1898; Parr and Mackray 1910; Wilkinson [1911] 1971; Caldecott 1918; Winstedt 1920; Taylor [1929] 1970, [1948] 1970; DeMoubray 1931; Gullick 1949).

Since the 1950s there has been continued interest in Negeri Sembilan's political and legal institutions (e.g., Gullick 1951, 1958; Hooker 1969, 1971). In addition, and of greater relevance here, the 1950s witnessed the initial phase of anthropological research in Negeri Sembilan and the earliest contributions to a now voluminous corpus of ethnographic material that includes the writings of de Josselin de Jong (1951, [1956] 1977, 1960), Swift (1958, 1965), Lewis (1962), Abdul Kahar bin Bador (1963), A. Wahab Alwee (1967), Nordin Selat (1976), Khadijah binte Haji Muhamed (1978), and Stivens (1985). The works of de Josselin de Jong (1951, [1956] 1977, 1960), Swift (1958, 1965), Lewis (1962), and A. Wahab Alwee (1967) are among the best-known contributions to the literature on Negeri Sembilan and are most pertinent to the principal concerns of this study.

My analysis of kinship and property relations in Negeri Sembilan differs from those of de Josselin de Jong, Swift, Lewis, and A. Wahab Alwee largely because of developments in anthropological theory and method that occurred after these scholars' investigations. By and large, theoretical and methodological orientations are more important here than either regional differences among our respective research sites or the fact that my investigations took place in the period 1978–1980 as opposed to the 1950s or 1960s. My concern to document the conceptual and organizational importance of principles and idioms of siblingship has yielded numerous insights that eluded earlier observers, all of whom accorded analytic primacy to features of descent and/or alliance. Also different from the largely synchronic perspectives and methodologies employed by most other scholars working in Negeri Sembilan is the historical thrust of my research, which permitted a fairly precise reconstruction of the structure and organization of the sociopolitical order characteristic of Rembau and other parts of Negeri Sembilan during the fifty or so years prior to British colonial rule. Such a reconstruction is, in my view, essential to any discussion of social and cultural change under colonial administration.

My explication of data entails introducing various Malay terms, most of which I have spelled in accordance with the conventions of Standard Malay (as set out in Awang Sudjai Hairul and Yusoff Khan's 1977 Kamus


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Lengkap ). I have provided English translations for many such terms, both for the sake of convenience and for the benefit of readers not familiar with the Malay language. The exceptions involve lexical items for which the English language has no satisfactory equivalents.

The Malaysian unit of currency is the ringgit . One ringgit (M$1) was worth approximately U.S.$0.46 at the time of my fieldwork.


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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This study is a substantially revised and shortened version of my doctoral dissertation, which was submitted to the University of Michigan in 1983. The research was generously funded by the National Science Foundation (under Grant No. BNS-7812499), the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of Michigan, the University's Horace Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society of North America. Expenses associated with preparing the manuscript were kindly defrayed by the Research Council of Colgate University. Portions of the present volume have appeared in previous publications (Peletz 1981, 1985, 1987a, 1987b) and are reprinted here with the permission of the publishers.

Throughout the course of my research in Malaysia I received assistance from many people. I am especially indebted to members of the village community to which I have given the fictitious name of Bogang, and would like to thank them, and my adoptive parents in particular, for their hospitality, warmth, and willingness to instruct me in the ways of Malay society and culture. I would also like to acknowledge my gratitude to Dato Professor Ismail Hussein, former Chairman of the Department of Malay Studies, University of Malaya; Dr. Mohd. Nor Ghani, Director General of the Socio-Economic Research and General Planning Unit of the Malaysian Prime Minister's Department; Manogaran Maniam, former Executive Director of the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange; Dr. Khadijah binte Haji Muhamed; Ramli Mohd. Salleh; and Siti Shariah binte Haji Shaari. Thanks are also due the staff of the Malaysian National Archives (Arkib Negara Malaysia) in Petaling Jaya and the following state- and district-level offices and departments in Negeri Sembilan: the Office of the State Secretariat (Pejabat Setiausaha Kerajaan), the De-


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partment of Islamic Religion (Jabatan Agama Islam), the Department of Agriculture (Jabatan Pertanian), the District Office of Rembau (Pejabat Daerah Rembau), the Rembau Office of Islamic Magistrate (Pejabat Kadi Rembau), and the Office of Rembau's Undang (Balai Undang Rembau).

At the University of Michigan I am deeply grateful to Raymond Kelly, Conrad Kottak, Gayl Ness, Sherry Ortner, and Aram Yengoyan for their inspiration, insights, and encouragement. Aram Yengoyan in particular provided considerable guidance and support throughout my graduate studies and taught me much of the anthropology I know and value. Raymond Kelly's contributions to my understandings of siblingship and social structure also merit special emphasis, as do his incisive suggestions concerning the elaboration of theoretical issues either implicit or glossed over in the initial drafts of the manuscript. P. E. de Josselin de Jong, William Merrill, and Siti Shariah binte Haji Shaari read all or part of the book and offered valuable comments.

I would also like to emphasize my gratitude to Amin Sweeney, who helped arrange institutional affiliation in Malaysia; Robert Kushler, who assisted in the coding and processing of quantitative data; Jennifer Braak, who typed many drafts of the manuscript; and James H. Clark and the editorial department of the University of California Press, who provided invaluable assistance in the publication of this book.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Ellen, for unwavering moral support and for everything else she has given me over the years. Her encouragement and contributions during all stages of the project will always be deeply appreciated, as will her enthusiasm to spend both our honeymoon and the first year of our marriage in a rather remote Malay village at the edge of the forest.


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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS

 

ARDIDNS

Annual Report of the Drainage and Irrigation Department, Negeri Sembilan

BUR

Balai Undang Rembau Files

CRACNS

(Further) Correspondence Relating to the Affairs of Certain Native States in the Malay Peninsula in the Neighborhood of the Straits Settlements

FMGG

Federation of Malaya Government Gazettes

FMGGGNS

Federation of Malaya Government Gazettes, Government of Negri Sembilan

JAR

Annual Report on the State of Jelebu

LNS

The Laws of Negri Sembilan

MARDI

Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute

NSAR

Negri Sembilan Administration Report

NSGG

Negri Sembilan Government Gazettes

NSSSF

Negri Sembilan State Secretariat Files

PMIP/PAS

Pan-Malayan Islamic Party

PMS/PMU

Peninsular Malays' Union

SUAR

Annual Report on the State of Sungei Ujong

SUSCP

Sungei Ujong State Council Proceedings

SU/JAR

Administration Report of the States of Sungei Ujong and Jelebu

UMNO

United Malays National Organization


1

INTRODUCTION

This study examines continuity and change in the social organization of Malay Muslims in the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. It focuses on the district of Rembau during the period 1830–1980, and is primarily concerned with the evolution of kinship and property relations under the impact of British colonialism (1887–1957), modern market forces, and Islamic nationalism and reform. The principal objectives are three: first, to describe and analyze the development of one society's system of social relations and property institutions, as a contribution both to the ethnographic literature on Negeri Sembilan and Southeast Asia and to cross-cultural understandings of kinship, property, and agrarian change; second, to reassess earlier work on the comparative study of social structure; and third, to demonstrate the value of bridging the chasm that frequently separates ethnographic field research from historical inquiry. This disjunction can be eliminated by basing investigations of social process on an analytic differentiation of actual patterns of social relations and activities (social organization) on the one hand, and indigenous models of and for such behavior (social structure) on the other. The task confronting the historical anthropologist is thus to document the multiform evolution of linkages between structural principles (and other cultural concepts)[1] and associated fields of social activity. This calls for empirical investigations of the temporally diverse expressions of such linkages. It also requires careful attention to shifting relationships among structural principles and attendant cultural concepts, whose existence and behavioral manifestations, although embedded in history, are nonetheless informed by an analytically distinct logic of their own. In these latter areas, then, I stand in agreement with the program set forth and summarized by Sahlins (1981, 8) as follows: "The great


2

challenge to an historical anthropology is not merely to know how events are ordered by culture, but how, in that process, the culture is reordered."

As a study of the social institutions of Negeri Sembilan Malays, this work represents a contribution to a corpus of literature that spans well over a century. The earliest works of relevance here (e.g., Newbold 1839) are concerned especially with political and commercial matters of immediate interest to European investors and military strategists with a stake in local trade, but they also provide insightful (though unsystematic) sketches of the system of matrilineal clanship found in nineteenth-century Negeri Sembilan. Inquiries of a more focused and systematic nature were under-taken by British officials during the early decades of British colonial rule (e.g., Lister 1887, 1890, 1891; Hale 1898; Parr and Mackray 1910; Wilkinson [1911] 1971; Caldecott 1918). Most of this literature discusses precolonial political history, chiefly succession, proprietorship, and inheritance, and other domains of what came to be known as "customary law." One problem, however, lies in the relatively narrow juridical scope of these works and the fact that they devote scant attention to the interconnections among various institutions and their overall relevance within local society and culture (Lewis 1962, 2; Hooker 1970, viii).

The essays written during the first few decades of the twentieth century centered on many of the same themes addressed at the outset of British intervention, and were dominated as well by concerns with jurisprudence. The works of British administrators like Taylor ([1929] 1970, [1948] 1970) and DeMoubray (1931) are far more sophisticated than those of their predecessors, however; they also furthered the tradition of historically oriented research that prevailed throughout the colonial era (see also Gullick 1949, 1951, 1958; Hooker 1969, 1971).

A highly significant development in the study of Negeri Sembilan society and culture coincided in a general way with the ending of colonial rule in 1957, for it was in the 1950s that anthropologists first undertook intensive fieldwork in selected villages of the state and began analyzing data from holistic perspectives, a type of analysis conspicuously absent from the accounts of colonial scholars. De Josselin de Jong's classic 1951 monograph represents the earliest contribution to the extensive corpus of anthropological material on Negeri Sembilan, which includes subsequent essays by de Josselin de Jong ([1956] 1977, 1960) as well as the writings of


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Swift (1958, 1965), Lewis (1962), Abdul Kahar bin Bador (1963), A. Wahab Alwee (1967), Nordin Selat (1976), Khadijah binte Haji Muhamed (1978), and Stivens (1985).

Anthropological accounts of Negeri Sembilan differ from the earlier works of colonial scholars in a number of areas. The principal contrasts stem in part from dissimilar problem sets and modes of data collection, but they also reflect radically divergent views concerning the importance of historically oriented research. Specifically, while much of the colonial-era writing on the area was shaped by historical concerns, most anthropologists working there have opted for the essentially synchronic "community study" approach popularized by Redfield and others beginning in the 1930s. (Khadijah binte Haji Muhamed [1978] and Stivens [1985] constitute noteworthy exceptions.) Further, even when currents of social and cultural change have received the attention of anthropologists, they have usually been given only a minor role or taken up primarily through the reconstructions of village elders. This latter point is not intended to call into question the analytic value of people's understandings of their own history; rather, it is to emphasize that numerous sources of archival and other historical material on Negeri Sembilan have been ignored by an entire community of fieldworkers. It is precisely on account of this situation that anthropological knowledge of Negeri Sembilan is temporally bounded in the extreme, and that we lack an in-depth understanding of persistence and transformation in kinship, property relations, and other facets of social organization.

There are also similarities between recent anthropological contributions to the literature on Negeri Sembilan and the earlier reports of colonial scholars; these, too, merit attention if we are to accurately assess the gaps in our knowledge of this society. One such commonality lies in the relative analytic significance accorded behavioral ideals and associated cultural constructs, as opposed to actual patterns of behavior. Additionally, most twentieth-century observers have been rather unconcerned to specify precise links between indigenous (or their own) models of behavior and patterns of social activity. In many cases, moreover, the distinction between model and reality is collapsed or defined as a nonissue (e.g., de Josselin de Jong 1951; Nordin Selat 1976), and the models presented by the analyst are dominated by an all-pervasive concern with varied dimensions of bounded groups (their internal composition, external linkages,


4

and social reproduction, for example). This latter preoccupation has received divergent expression over the years, particularly in consequence of de Josselin de Jong's (1951) pioneering efforts to highlight the structural significance of cross-cousin marriage and affinal exchange and alliance. The fact remains, however, that anthropological discussions of alliance are no less wedded to group-level analyses than are those that focus largely on descent. In both instances descent-based social units constitute the point of departure and ultimate locus of investigation. More to the point is that in neither case is much if any attention devoted to other structural principles, such as siblingship, which may have highly variable implications for the presence or absence of bounded groups but may nonetheless help shape a broad array of social relations and many domains of cultural order. In consequence, certain fields of kinship and social relations have been seen as unordered or otherwise misconstrued, and the overall social system deemed "not highly structured" (see, e.g., Swift 1965, 167–174).

The historical design of this study reflects my belief that the essentially synchronic accounts of most other anthropologists have been based on certain faulty assumptions about Negeri Sembilan's precolonial social order, and have thus inaccurately represented continuity and change in this society. It is my contention that an accurate reconstruction of this social order is essential to any analysis of the impact of political, economic, and religious changes engendered by (or otherwise associated with) the imposition and consolidation of British colonial rule.

An understanding of kinship and property relations in precolonial Negeri Sembilan fully requires that we range beyond discussions of descent and alliance and devote sustained analytic scrutiny to the social and cultural relevance of principles and idioms of siblingship. Following the theoretical leads of Kelly (1977), I argue that principles of siblingship cannot be subsumed under the rubric of descent; indeed, they may in fact enjoin behaviors and social linkages that are at sharp variance with a descent-based logic (as frequently occurs when the calculation of structural distance proceeds through ties between cross-sex rather than same-sex siblings). Furthermore, the connective and overall ideological scope of siblingship was, I maintain, of comparable if not greater relevance in myriad domains of precolonial society and culture than were norms and values tied to descent (and/or alliance). The data adduced to support these


5

contentions are significant to my elucidation of processes of continuity and change. They also suggest the need for a critical reappraisal of received wisdom, which has it that the limited scope and force of descent-based values and norms in present-day Negeri Sembilan is a function primarily of the combined impact of colonialism, modern market forces, and other individualizing and socially divisive developments (de Josselin de Jong 1951, [1956] 1977, 1960; Lewis 1962; Swift 1965; A. Wahab Alwee 1967). I shall illustrate that this view rests on erroneous a priori assumptions that accord unwarranted analytic importance to the descent-based constructs, norms, and social groupings in Negeri Sembilan prior to British intervention.

My reassessment of the precolonial social order and its development through to the present is thus shaped by a conceptual focus that differs substantially from those of earlier observers. My orientation allows for a more precise delineation of continuity and change in Negeri Sembilan social organization, and likewise facilitates a better understanding of contemporary social dynamics and tensions. Specifically, my historical analyses of the shifting entailments of various categories of siblingship and other forms of social relatedness reveal that twentieth-century changes in the domain of property and inheritance are qualitatively different, and far more limited, than was previously assumed. That is to say, the system of inheritance has not broken down in the direction of bilaterality or patriliny, as has been suggested by Lewis (1962), Swift (1965), and A. Wahab Alwee (1967); and females do in fact continue to inherit most houses and land. There have, of course, been profound changes in the nature of proprietorship and devolution, many of which stem from the demise of the traditional institution of divided rights or title. Accordingly, collateral kin in the matriline, including sisters, can no longer automatically lodge residual claims against a proprietor's house, land, or other properties. We must distinguish on analytic grounds, however, the horizontal thrust of this development from the fact that the bulk of the (now concentrated) rights at issue ultimately pass between women and their daughters—women who, by definition, are of the same matriline. Hence, the changes that have occurred amount to a historical erosion of rights grounded in the bonds among collateral kin in the matriline—especially natural and classificatory siblings—rather than an ongoing or incipient shift from one variant of


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lineality to another (e.g., from matriliny to patriliny or bilaterality). Thus, the major changes in both property and social relations appear in the domain of siblingship.

Most of the twentieth-century transformations that have occurred in property and inheritance relations proceeded in terms of a realignment and reweighting of precolonial structural principles, and did not involve the creation ex nihilo of an entirely new range of structural phenomena or cultural categories. One of the more critical structural precedents in this area received expression in the context of precolonial conventions associated with "paternal provisioning" (tentukan ) and patrifiliative inheritance. These conventions were largely congruent with, and can be seen as logical extensions of, certain property transactions that took place at a man's marriage; the fact remains, however, that they allowed for compromises in various jural and broadly moral prerogatives and responsibilities inhering in the bonds of siblingship and descent that linked married men with their sisters and other matrilineally related kin. More important, they provided much of the raw material determining the direction, scope, and cultural realization of subsequent change in the field of property and inheritance.

The case of Negeri Sembilan is of broad significance despite its unique social and cultural features. Negeri Sembilan is but one of many Southeast Asian societies that is said to lack "a highly structured system" of kinship and social relations. Swift's (1965) previously cited comment to this effect recalls an earlier, now classic article by Embree (1950), who first advanced the argument that the social systems of Thai peasants are "loosely structured." Embree invoked the notion of "loose structure" to draw attention to and explain a number of interrelated findings, most notably that "considerable variation in human behavior is sanctioned," that reciprocal rights and duties are not clearly marked or carried out, and that behavior in general "does not conform closely to formal social patterns of human relations." It is of some interest here to note that the contributors to a subsequent volume of collected essays (Evers 1969) failed to establish a consensus as to the utility or accuracy of Embree's thumbnail sketch of Thai society, and debates along these lines continue to embroil many Thai specialists (e.g., J. Potter 1976; Hanks 1977; S. Potter 1977). Yet the debates were never limited in scope to data from Thailand. Social structures in much of the rest of lowland Southeast Asia have come to be seen as equally anomalous from the perspective of social scientific models conceived to accommodate data


7

from societies in Africa, China, India, and Japan. As one illustration, Koentjaraningrat (1960, 114, 163) speaks of the "'loose structure' of [south central] Javanese kinship relations outside of the nuclear family" in light of "the absence of clearly defined rights and duties" in this sphere. Characterizations of this sort also appear in the literature on urban and rural Malay societies in the western portion of the Malay Peninsula, as noted by Provencher (1971, 205). More generally, there are scholars who find little of value in the "loosely structured social systems" paradigm but would nonetheless place Thais, Javanese, lowland-dwelling Filipinos, and most other Southeast Asians in a unique category:

[They] share certain orientations that are in sharp contrast to those of people with whom consensus theory has provided a fairly adequate approach. . . . [In these societies]. . . non-group organizations (e.g., dyads, networks, and chains of alliance) vie with group organization in satisfying personal and organizational needs, and in performing functions provided by groups elsewhere. Commitment to groups tends to be provisional, statuses are less ascribed than personally bargained, and norms are meaningful mainly in particular circumstances underlain by reciprocal obligations. All roles are to a considerable extent manipulable—created at the pleasure of interacting individuals. Social sanctions for norms tend to be weak. . . . A value orientation emphasizing "optation" dominates the "normative" orientation. . . . In short, in achieving social goals and in rendering social association determinate the thrust of social life is upon dynamic personal decision-making (optation) and interpersonal manipulation and sanctions rather than upon static categorical bases for action. (James Anderson 1970, 418–419)

This latter focus on decision making and interpersonal manipulation constitutes one approach to the dilemma confronting scholars of Southeast Asian social structures. A similar orientation appears in Leach's (1960, 1961) work on the Sinhalese of northern Sri Lanka, who, along with the rest of their countrymen, are occasionally included in the Southeast Asian cultural field. Thus Leach (1960, 124) contends that "social structures are sometimes best regarded as the statistical outcome of multiple individual choices rather than a direct reflection of jural rules."

This formulation receives lavish praise in the introduction to Social Structure in Southeast Asia , where Murdock (1960, 9) makes the following claims: "I would go even further and assert that social structures are always best regarded in the same light, and that jural rules themselves are the 'outcome of multiple individual choices' in situations where one kind


8

of choice is likely to be appreciably more strongly or regularly rewarded than possible alternative choices." Behavioristic approaches of the sort proposed by Leach and Murdock have two major drawbacks. First, they effectively abandon the search for correspondences between, on the one hand, structural principles and other cultural constructs and, on the other, patterns of social activity. And second, they essentially strip all structural and other cultural phenomena of any moral force and sociological relevance. This latter tendency is especially evident in Murdock's more recent (1971) work.

We need not resort to such approaches to make sense of Southeast Asian societies. One of the theoretical objectives of this study is to demonstrate that a much-preferred alternative lies in reworking extant models so as to accommodate relational principles, such as siblingship, which may have highly variable bearing on the presence or absence of bounded groups, but may nonetheless serve to inform a broad range of behavior and interrelations, and many domains of cultural order as well. Although wider applications of this alternative perspective are beyond the scope of the present work, I would draw the reader's attention to several noteworthy analyses of siblingship: McKinley (1975), on urban-dwelling cognatic Malays; Kelly (1977), on the Etoro of New Guinea; and Smith (1983), on the Palau Islands of Micronesia. Each of these studies shows that the notion of a "loosely structured social system" testifies to faulty models with no provision for the various modalities of siblingship, which may indeed be informed by principles at variance with other features of the system.

It is useful here to outline the development of the concept of siblingship. Anthropological understandings of siblingship owe much to Radcliffe-Brown's 1924 essay "The Mother's Brother in South Africa." This piece highlighted the structural importance of ties among brothers, especially their solidary features and culturally constructed equivalence. Subsequent work in Australia (Radcliffe-Brown 1930–1931) led to a broadening of this notion of equivalence to embrace siblings of both sexes, although what was essentially a quantum leap in the realm of theory received cursory treatment at best (Schneider 1981, 389–390). In both instances Radcliffe-Brown emphasized concrete social relationships among individuals associated with the same localized, unilineal group and failed to make adequate provision for differences between same- and cross-sex sib-


9

ling relations. Because siblingship was subsumed under the rubric of descent, it was effectively denied any autonomous connective or ideological significance as regards either external linkages among clans, lineages, and the like or wholly separate non-descent-based relationships among persons, collectivities, and other socially relevant categories. Many of the same limitations appear in the accounts of African societies by Evans-Pritchard ([1940] 1972, 1951) and Fortes (1969) (see Kelly 1977, 266–273, 290–298).

A burgeoning postwar interest in Southeast Asia and Oceania forced a reassessment of conventional wisdom concerning the supposed dominance of descent vis-à-vis siblingship and other structural principles (see Freeman 1958, 1960; Appell 1976). In a seminal piece on siblingship in Tangu, Burridge (1959) argued that values and social forces derived from descent were undoubtedly of far greater scope and weight during the precontact period than now, but that relationships keyed to siblingship have probably always carried not only greater conceptual significance than those keyed to descent but also, in all likelihood, stronger moral and social force. Additionally, Burridge endeavored to "unpack" the concept of siblingship, by distinguishing relations of structural equivalence from those of complementarity. He proposed that the former tend to prevail in same-sex relationships, whereas the latter are more common among brothers and sisters, whose occupational tasks and overall social roles tend to be both somewhat separate and mutually complementary (rather than strictly equivalent).

In recent years Oceanic materials have encouraged an analytic formulation of siblingship relatedness in terms of equivalent, parallel, or essentially complementary rights, obligations, and experiences, with respect to a particular territorial domain, political office, or other mediating element (Kelly 1977; Marshall 1981c; Smith 1983). This formulation has significance both within and well beyond Oceania, as evidenced by Kelly's (1977, 290–298) reinterpretation of Evans-Pritchard's ([1940] 1972, 1951) data on the Nuer of Africa. It is also directly relevant to Negeri Sembilan, where villagers seem always to have invoked symbols and imagery of siblingship when talking about or otherwise dealing with relationships of equivalence or complementarity.

Negeri Sembilan Malays have much to tell us about sibling relations in their varied guises, and I offer this work as a contribution to our theoretical knowledge in this area. My historical treatment of the shifting entail-


10

ments of various categories of siblingship and other forms of social relatedness will add a valuable diachronic dimension to understandings of siblingship, matriliny, and social process.

Clarification of some of the terminology employed in this study is necessary here, too. I shall use the term Malay in lieu of other, more cumbersome glosses, such as Minangkabau Malay , to refer to the lowland-dwelling Muslim inhabitants of Negeri Sembilan who are descendants of, or otherwise culturally associated with, the Sumatran Minangkabau. Issues of convenience aside, this alternative is consistent with local practice. It should be noted, though, that Negeri Sembilan Malays do pride themselves on their Minangkabau origins, which they believe set them apart from Malays elsewhere in the Peninsula, as well as the still-pervasive Minangkabau motifs manifest in their culture and social institutions. The most pronounced feature of this ancestry, at least in a comparative sense, is a system of dispersed, matrilineally constituted clans, each composed of localized segments including lineages, lineage branches, and the like. (The immigration of Minangkabau settlers to Negeri Sembilan beginning around the sixteenth century will be taken up elsewhere.) I need only comment here that the social structures of the Malays inhabiting states other than Negeri Sembilan seem always to have been essentially cognatic in conceptual design and behavioral expression. In sum, in using the term Malay I refer only to the Malay inhabitants of Negeri Sembilan and not to their (Malay) counterparts in other states.

Although I have settled on English translations for most Malay terms, I offer no English approximation for the term adat , a shorthand gloss for adat perpatih . English translations of this term have included "tradition," "custom," and "customary law," but none of these, or any others that come to mind, adequately convey the cultural meanings, moral force, or social relevance of this unifying, broadly hegemonic construct. The adat concept provides models of and for behavior and also subsumes that which is natural, in the sense of being consistent with the God-given laws of nature. The central position of adat in Malay society and culture finds ethnographic analogues in the traditional Chinese notion of tao and in the aboriginal Australian Dreaming, to name but two examples of immediate relevance.

Finally, a few comments about the organization of this work. The study is composed of three parts, each of which centers on an analytically distinct


11

phase or segment of Rembau history. The first, dealing with the nineteenth century, especially the fifty or so years leading up to colonial intervention, provides a reinterpretation of Rembau's precolonial polity and social organization, particularly kinship, marriage, and property relations.

Part II concerns the period of British colonial rule. Discussion of this era encompasses historical processes within both Rembau and other districts of the state, and aims to elucidate the local-level impact of new forms of secular government and religious administration, along with attendant currents of Islamic nationalism and reform. Political and religious changes during the colonial interlude are thus examined in terms of their implications for the traditional polity—especially the authorities and prestige of clan leaders—and with an eye toward assessing the conceptual segmentation and progressive attenuation of adat. All such shifts are viewed in relation to colonial-era incentives and constraints that served to encourage villagers' involvement in the production of cash crops for the world market and to devalue reciprocal exchange and other features of traditional wet-rice cultivation. These developments fostered the emergence of new categories of wealth and simultaneously gave rise to a realignment and reweighting of traditional constructs bearing on proprietorship and inheritance (all of which contributed to the dissolution of divided title and the erosion of property rights linking various categories of siblings).

Part III is devoted to the postindependence era, with a focus on Rembau (rather than Negeri Sembilan as a whole) and the fieldwork site of Bogang in particular. (At the risk of stating the obvious, I might note that rural communities in contemporary Rembau differ dramatically from their counterparts of earlier decades. Since my assessment of these contrasts is confined largely to the final part of the study, it should be emphasized here that the present-day satisfaction of domestic needs presupposes cash earnings derived from highly individualized agricultural production or extra-local employment. Moreover, many houses are equipped with piped water, electricity, and a broad range of modern-day conveniences and commodities.) One of the primary goals of this section is to present a historically oriented description and analysis of agricultural production and household subsistence in Bogang, and to link socially divisive developments in these realms with settlement patterns, intralineage dynamics and tensions, and declines in all variants of local endogamy. Trends in these areas are associated with a diminished scope and force in affinal ties as well as


12

marked reductions in the incidence of divorce; they are also realized in the linealization of property and inheritance relations, and in the segmentation and shattering of the once-unitary adat concept. At the same time, all such shifts are muted by the persistence of nonagricultural exchanges involving the households of adult women related to one another as sisters, either natural or classificatory. In short, women still honor their sisters' claims to a share of the harvest of their own labors—which, in a very basic sense, is what female siblingship and kinship on the whole are, and always have been, all about.


13

PART ONE—
REMBAU IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY


15

1—
Clans, Territorial Alignment, and Offices

This chapter provides an introduction to settlement and social organization in nineteenth-century Rembau. The mythic and other material presented here indicates that, whereas the reproduction of clans and less-encompassing units of descent presupposed recruitment based ideally on ties of matrifiliation, the alignment of descent units (and territorial domains) was framed instead by principles and idioms of siblingship. Principles of siblingship also informed the system of clan offices and political succession, even though the system of offices simultaneously served to encode a model of "pure matriliny." These data suggest that the interplay of disparate structural principles, especially those of siblingship and descent, provides the key to an understanding of the workings of the precolonial polity and social process.

Settlement and Social Organization:
An Introductory Sketch

In the 1500s, and perhaps even earlier, Minangkabau males engaged in voluntary migration (merantau ) navigated the narrow Straits of Malacca,


16

sailed up the Linggi and Rembau rivers, and founded settlements in Negeri Sembilan and Malacca, just to the south (Newbold 1839, 2 : 215–223; NSAR 1927, 1; Gullick 1958, 9) (see maps 1 and 2). Some of the first immigrant settlements appear to have sprung up in the lowland valleys of Rembau (Wilkinson [1911] 1971, 291), owing in part to its favorable waterways and hence its accessibility to seafaring and river-born pioneers.

[

figure
]

Map 1.
Sumatra and Malaya


17

[

figure
]

Map 2.
Malaya and Negeri Sembilan, Showing Contemporary State Borders and
the Principal Administrative Districts in Negeri Sembilan

In Rembau and throughout Negeri Sembilan, the Minangkabau settlers encountered aboriginal horticulturalists of Jakun (or related) stock (Newbold 1839, 2 : 76–77), who enjoyed more or less uncontested political rights to the region's territory and resources.[1] Myths told in Bogang about the initial contact between the two groups portray the Jakun women as exceptionally beautiful and of irresistible charm. Indeed, they were so enticing, even from afar, that the Minangkabau quickly sought out the Jakun headmen to discuss the prospects and conditions of arranged marriages


18

with their daughters. Although the aborigines were extremely reticent at the outset to allow the foreigners even to gaze upon their women, they eventually acquiesced and agreed to sanction a union between one of their daughters—a sylvan "spirit princess," no less—and a Minangkabau leader of considerable renown.

This symbolic betrothal and alliance aside, the precise nature and extent of historical contact between these two groups, whether in the form of intermarriage, trade, or warfare, remains unclear. Various myths and written sources suggest extensive intermarriage between the Jakun and the Minangkabau (Newbold 1839, 1 : 421, 2 : 77, 78, 377, 396; Lister 1887, 38; Parr and Mackray 1910, 3; Lewis 1962, 17), just as village elders of contemporary Bogang cite instances of amicable trade relations with individual Jakun well into the twentieth century (cf. NSAR 1892, 12–13). Undoubtedly, though, many aborigines fled deep into the forest so as to avoid all interaction with the better-armed and expansionist Minangkabau and their descendants (Newbold 1839, 2 : 78, 376–377; Gullick 1958, 7). Whatever the realities may have been, the widely accepted and mythically supported assumption is that many of the aboriginal inhabitants of Rembau and other areas of Negeri Sembilan were soon absorbed into the newly established Minangkabau colonies (Newbold 1839, 1 : 422). In the process, or so myths inform us, they came to be acquainted with wet-rice agriculture and the Sufi-influenced teachings of the Shafi'i branch of Sunni Islam, the knowledge of which the Minangkabau brought with them from Sumatra. More generally, they were introduced to the Minangkabau's social and cultural system, known as adat (adat perpatih ), which was grounded in pre-Islamic (that is, Hindu-Buddhist and pre-Indic) beliefs and practices and codified in a rich corpus of oral tradition consisting largely of customary sayings and sequences of quatrains (perbilangan and pantun , respectively).[2]

In Negeri Sembilan the initial phase of Minangkabau colonization was followed by a period that saw the arrival of successive waves of Indonesians, only some of whom claimed Minangkabau or even Sumatran ancestry (Gullick 1958, 38, 40, 41). The accommodation of these individuals within the framework of Minangkabau institutions thus necessitated certain structural innovations on the part of the immigrants and their descendants (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 217; Gullick 1958, 38–40; and below). Owing to such innovations and to contact with and borrowings from the Jakun, the organization of agricultural communities and political alliances


19

in Negeri Sembilan has long differed from those of the Minangkabau residing in Sumatra.[3]

By the nineteenth century dispersed matriclans (suku )[4] existed throughout Rembau and all other areas of Negeri Sembilan settled by Minangkabau (Newbold 1839, 2 : 121–123; cf. Gullick 1958, 40). Each of these dispersed units consisted of a variable number of localized clan segments (also known as suku ). In addition, they were divided into residentially aggregated components such as lineages (perut ),[5] lineage branches (pangkal ),[6] and the less-inclusive groupings defined in relation to a married (or formerly wed) woman, her adult daughters, and their household plot(s) (kampung ).[7] Both dispersed and localized clans were named and further differentiated from other units of like order not only by pedigree but also by virtue of their generally exclusive rights to ritual prerogatives, territorial domains, and certain political offices (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 119–123; Parr and Mackray 1910, 25). Individual lineages were also conceptualized as having mutually exclusive (or equivalent) rights to one or more political titles, and they, too, had distinctive names. These features distinguished clans and lineages from smaller genealogical groupings in the form of lineage branches, which embraced only those individuals with whom one could actually specify enatic (that is, matrilineal) linkages, and which probably had horizontal boundaries no broader than the third degree of collaterality (see chapter 2).

Postmarital residence patterns of the nineteenth century were derived from and generally congruent with codes governing the intergenerational transmission of rights over houses and land. To oversimplify, all such rights were vested in women (Lister 1887, 39, 45; Lister 1890, 316; Hale 1898, 48). (These rights were provisional, however, and because a female proprietor's enatic kin retained residual claims to the same property, they could thus exercise liens over it and otherwise help guarantee its conservation within the clan and less inclusive components thereof [Lister 1887, 44–45; Lister 1890, 316; Parr and Mackray 1910, 27, 65].) This favoring of female heirs worked to ensure uxorilocal residence (Lister 1890, 316; Hale 1898, 54), since women's rights to houses, homestead plots, and agricultural acreage flowed from their mothers and centered quite literally on their natal compounds. Men's access to property of this sort usually came through wedlock and the establishment and continued maintenance of a conjugal household in or near their wives' natal compounds, this despite


20

the fact that a married man retained certain proprietary interests in his sisters' holdings (Parr and Mackray 1910, 70) and might also claim a share of the harvest if he had contributed to its production.

The sexual division of labor was such that women assumed the major responsibility and most of the actual work for the maintenance and productivity of agricultural acreage (Gullick 1951, 47; cf. Hale 1898, 56). Men in bachelorhood, however, frequently worked in the fields held by their mothers and sisters (Parr and Mackray 1910, 70); in exchange, they received compensation in the form of food, clothes, lodging, and the implicit guarantee that the "marriage gold" (mas kawin ) and other capital called for on the occasion of their weddings would be forthcoming when needed (Parr and Mackray 1910, 73, 92, 94). Similarly, married men were expected to aid in the cultivation of—and if possible to add to—their wives' acreage. Men also planted and tended fruit trees,[8] collected and traded jungle produce (with the aim of acquiring commercial items and/or cash), and raised poultry and livestock, the yields of which they shared, depending on their marital status and the source of the capital involved in the investment, with the consanguineally related (but primarily female) members of their natal compounds or with their wives and offspring.

Clan Recruitment and Alignment

Clan membership was a prerequisite for permanent residence among Rembau Malays during the nineteenth century (Newbold 1839, 2 : 123; Parr and Mackray 1910, 5, 26). A widely known saying sums up the issue: "The stranger seeks a place [or clan] as the boat requires anchorage" (dagang bertepatan, perahu bertambatan ) (cf. Hale 1898, 53–54; Parr and Mackray 1910, 99). The notion of anchorage or mooring is especially relevant here, since at the most fundamental level this is what clanship—and kinship more generally—was all about. The same could be said of adat, for just as kin and social relations ordered in accordance with adat presupposed affiliation with a clan, so too did the corpus of symbols and idioms defined in relation to adat provide models for behavior in virtually all domains of existence. This latter theme is expressed succinctly in another customary saying frequently encountered in both the literature (e.g., Parr and Mackray 1910, 146; Caldecott 1918, 24–25) and present-day villages: "The living are moored and guided in all their actions by adat, just as the


21

dead are surrounded and held in place by the earth of the grave" (hidup di kandung adat, mati di kandung tanah ).

Since we are dealing with clans constructed on a model of matrilineal descent, the principal links implicated in recruitment should have been confined, in theory as well as practice, to those between mothers and their children. Yet in fact, recruitment often proceeded via other kin ties, and occasionally even embraced strangers.

Contemporary elders' delineation of recruitment policies of the precolonial era suggest that residential, defense, and other essentially political considerations could override those based on matrifiliation (even though an all-encompassing matrilineal ideology served in the long run to reorder and contain all such "ground-level noise"). One should bear in mind that the centuries preceding British colonial rule witnessed considerable movement of population throughout Negeri Sembilan, and in other areas of the Malayo-Indonesian world where local groups found themselves affected by the shifting political fortunes of regionally dominant powers, be they Johorese, Buginese, Acehnese, Minangkabau, or European (Newbold 1839, 2 : 32, 36, 117, 165–166; O'Brien 1884, 342; JAR 1892, 1, 9; Wilkinson [1911] 1971, 309; Gullick 1958, 29; Andaya 1971). In the case at hand, then, it was not inconceivable for individuals or entire communities to choose or find themselves forced by feuding or warfare to resettle within another clan's territorial domain. In some such situations, peaceful resettlement hinged on successful negotiations with the leaders of established communities, who might agree to accept the newcomers into a local clan in exchange for pledges of loyalty and support (Parr and Mackray 1910, 5–6). Additionally, it appears to have been necessary for an outsider to find an older woman of the host community willing to stand as his or her adoptive mother, thus maintaining at least the fiction of recruitment via matrifiliation (DeMoubray 1931, 176, 178–179). When a married couple sought to affiliate themselves in this way, one adoptive mother would suffice for the two of them and would likely define only the woman as her adoptee; the man would then be ascribed the status of son-in-law and in-marrying male rather than enate (DeMoubray 1931, 178–179). The basic structure of filiation and descent was thus reproduced inasmuch as the adopted daughter and all children born to her would share the same descent affiliation as the adoptive mother.

Also important is that emigration from the Minangkabau area, as well


22

as from Aceh, Jambi, and southern Thailand, continued over many centuries, as did overland migration from the neighboring regions of Sungei Ujong, Malacca, and Pahang. Given the military and other advantages of augmenting one's clan through the adoption of new members, together with the absence of unilineal descent reckoning among many of the so-journers, it became necessary, or at least highly advantageous and convenient, to group individuals into Rembau clans on the basis of regional or ethnic origins (Newbold 1839, 2 : 123; Parr and Mackray 1910, 5; Wilkinson [1911] 1971, 315–316; de Josselin de Jong 1951, 138). There is no way of ascertaining dates for the emergence and spread of this classificatory scheme, though village elders in Bogang assert that its appearance coincided with one of the earliest waves of emigration from Sumatra. Be that as it may, persons from the Payah Kumboh region of Minangkabau, for example, whether or not related to one another or in any way associated with the descent group of that name in their homeland, were deemed to be members of Rembau's Payah Kumboh clan. Those claiming other than Minangkabau ancestry were classified in similar fashion; Malaccans, Acehnese, and Buginese, for instance, each tended toward affiliation with particular clans, some of which continue to bear names denoting these settlers' non-Minangkabau origins (such as Anak Melaka, Anak Aceh). It is especially significant in this regard that Hervey's (1884, 259) enumeration of Rembau's principal descent units includes separate entries for the "nationality" of each clan.

The larger issue here is that relationships among clan mates, including persons recognized as having territorially or ethnically diverse origins, were both cloaked in and partially informed by the symbols, idioms, and constraints associated with common matrilineal ancestry (Parr and Mackray 1910, 5–6, 113). This entailed shared responsibilities toward the clan's estate of residential and agricultural acreage, unexploited tracts of forest lands, and, in some cases, political titles, particularly since the bestowal of rights guaranteeing eventual access to these estates typically accompanied most modes of recruitment to the clan. The activation of such shared rights over land served as a critical material referent of matrilineal kinship, and classificatory siblingship more specifically, regardless of whether the bonds in question were biologically grounded or simply imputed on the assumption or fiction of common descent from the same ancestral set of female siblings. Joint claims to an estate vested in a localized clan or lineage


23

undoubtedly fostered genealogical revision to ensure matrilineal consistency among individuals unable to demonstrate shared descent through the female line. Indeed, even today, if villagers are at a loss to explain the details of kin connections among individuals classed as collateral relatives within the matriline, they frequently invoke shared property rights as evidence, or at least a good indication, of common matrilineal ancestry. This suggests that genealogical connections were not the sole, or even the most important, criteria of relatedness among persons of the same clan.

It remains to consider certain aspects of clan affiliation via formal adoption in order to underscore that the enatic ties so created were conceptualized primarily in terms of siblingship rather than descent. The distinction merits emphasis in light of the more general point that constructs of siblingship seem always to have been hegemonic in defining both relatedness within and links among descent units of various degrees of inclusiveness.

Throughout the nineteenth century, a female of any age could obtain formal affiliation with a clan other than that with which she stood associated by birth.[9] This might occur in the case of a relatively poor individual seeking to attain access to productive acreage vested in a daughterless old woman of another local clan, and would typically involve assuming responsibilities for the adoptive mother's welfare in exchange for rights of proprietorship over her lands and house. (Adoption of this nature bears certain structural similarities to the other instances of formal adoption referred to earlier, but we are dealing here with isolated cases involving individual adopted children rather than entire households or larger groupings seeking acceptance within an established community. All such adoptions are also to be distinguished from informal transfers of children, which at present usually occur among women belonging to the same lineage or lineage branch; see chapter 6.) Reaffiliation presupposed public proceedings in the form of ritual animal slaughter and feasting, symbolizing the severance of the adopted person's links with her original enates on the one hand and the creation of new ties of enation on the other (Parr and Mackray 1910, 27; Taylor [1929] 1970, 139–141; DeMoubray 1931, 182–188). Analogous proceedings could also effect formal reaffiliation at the level of lineage. All such phenomena are designated as kadimkan (or berkadim ), a term denoting the process of becoming siblings—in particular sisters—and clearly suggesting a cultural emphasis on (enatic) siblingship rather than common descent (cf. Lewis 1962, 137–188). This is


24

wholly consistent with the conceptualization of relations among persons affiliated, by whatever means, with the same descent unit, be it a dispersed or localized clan, a lineage, or some less-inclusive segment, for such individuals think of their relatedness primarily in terms of siblingship.

Constructs of siblingship also provided the dominant idioms in terms of which clans and less-encompassing components thereof were held to be related to units of like order. This can be seen from mythic accounts of the scheme of clan ranking, which is evident in Rembau by the early 1800s (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 121–123; Hervey 1884, 259), although it is probably of much greater antiquity.

Local myths do not mention a Minangkabau clan hierarchy prior to or at the time of the first immigrant settlers' arrival in Rembau, but a system of clan ranking did eventually emerge, presumably during the earliest decades of foreign occupation (see table 1). This scheme of ranking had its mythical origins in the aforementioned union of a Minangkabau chief, To Lela Balang, and a Jakun woman, To Bungkal, which ultimately gave rise to three daughters and a son known as Seri Rama. This son, basing his claims on ties of matrilateral filiation with To Bungkal, whose tribesmen

figure


25

were the original "heirs to the soil" (waris ), emerged as the acknowledged head of a newly constituted gentry clan, thereafter styled Waris Jakun. Some myths suggest as well that Seri Rama became the first territorial chief and Supreme Law Giver, or Undang , of Rembau,[10] and that his candidacy for the office and his title—Dato Lelahmaharaja—were approved by the Sultan of Malacca (Parr and Mackray 1910, 4). Whether or not this is true, the designation Lelahmaharaja has long stood as a common synonym for the clan first known as Waris Jakun (Hervey 1884, 243; Lister 1887, 47).

The only other clan claiming the prerogatives and status of gentry traces its origin to To Laut Dalam, a contemporary and a "chiefly brother" of To Lela Balang, and quite possibly his patrilateral half-brother by virtue of a common father (or other male ancestor) and different mothers (from separate Minangkabau clans).[11] To Laut Dalam had once been married to a woman who bore him four daughters (the eldest of whom, Siti Hawa, married the chief Seri Rama); but as she hailed from Java, none of their children could claim matrilineal ties with the aboriginal Jakun, the group that, through descent, gave the Lelahmaharaja clan the status of "heirs to the soil." Nonetheless, To Laut Dalam's apparent envy over his "chiefly brother"'s success in gaining political recognition and privileges for his son motivated him to persuade the Sultan of Malacca to agree to a provision whereby the office of Undang would rotate between his "chiefly brother"'s descendants and his own. To Laut Dalam and his progeny thus assume prominence as the effective origin of the gentry clan known from that time on as Waris Jawa (the latter being the local term for Java and Javanese) or, alternatively, as Sediaraja, from the title granted to the first Undang chosen from their clan, the son of Siti Hawa and Seri Rama (Parr and Mackray 1910, 4–5; cf. Hervey 1884, 252).

Referred to collectively as Biduanda Waris or simply Waris, the Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja clans together occupied the highest rung of Rembau's clan hierarchy (Newbold 1839, 2 : 120–123). They are currently held to be related as (or like) siblings (adik-beradik ), and presumably always were, despite the profound ethnic differences between their respective apical ancestresses and their wholly disparate enatic origins. Interestingly, the generalized siblingship linking the two clans is most emphatically maintained in Bogang culture, even though the mythic texts I encountered in the field do not widely recognize the tie of "chiefly siblingship" as the initial genea-


26

logically framed bond between these two clans. Rather, the construction of this linkage in terms of siblingship testifies to the continuity of a pervasive tendency to define individuals and social units as related like (or as) siblings whenever they share equivalent, parallel, or essentially complementary rights, obligations, or experiences with respect to the same political office, territorial domain, or other mediating element (cf. Kelly 1977; Marshall 1981a; Smith 1983).

The sibling equivalence of these two clans was manifest in the fact that neither of them could exercise any appreciable precedence over the other as regards political authority or other privileges (Parr and Mackray 1910, 5). For instance, rights to the office of Undang rotated in theory between them, with each alternately providing a candidate for the position (Newbold 1839, 2 : 119–120; CRACNS 1874, 12; Hervey 1884, 242; Lister 1887, 47; Parr and Mackray 1910, 48–49). Additionally, the marriage payments due their women were equivalent in value, and higher than those received by women of all other clans (Parr and Mackray 1910, 52); and intermarriage between the two groups seems to have been the ideal, as would be expected in light of analytically distinct, though mutually reinforcing, considerations of status endogamy.

The siblingship that united the two gentry units was also exclusivistic, for it linked only them; other clans were therefore defined as nonsiblings in relation to gentry clans, or in any event "much less like siblings."[12] This disjunction has long been realized in the gentry clans' sanctified monopoly on furnishing candidates for offices whose jural domains were of districtwide significance, as in the four posts comprising the Undang's Privy Council (Orang Besar Undang ) (Parr and Mackray 1910, 29) and of course the position of Undang itself. Members of these two clans also enjoyed the right to demand higher retributions for the murder of their kin (Hale 1898, 59; Parr and Mackray 1910, 52; cf. Newbold 1839, 2 : 123), although most of their other privileges surfaced only in ritual contexts.

In accordance with a rationale phrased largely in terms of historical precedence, or "origin point" (asal-usul ), Rembau's nongentry clans were ascribed commoner status, for according to most mythical explications of clan ranking, their forefathers were not the leaders, and in some cases were not even members, of the original expedition to Rembau. Consequently, permission to clear land, set up villages, and wield legitimate political


27

power derived neither from the autochthonous aborigines nor from the Sultan of Malacca. Instead, these privileges were granted them—in exchange for token payments, or the promise of such—by the representatives of the Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja clans, who thus stood, if only on that account, as their benefactors (Hale 1898, 53; Parr and Mackray 1910, 108–109; cf. Lister 1887, 39; Lister 1890, 304). This patronage relationship appears to have been most explicit in the case of the Biduanda Dagang clan, which contemporary villagers regard as the lowest-ranked of all Rembau descent units. Persons affiliated with this clan are held to be descendants of the most recent arrivals in Rembau, many of whom fled their homelands as a result of famine or warfare or were simply itinerants or foreigners (as suggested by the term dagang ; cf. Parr and Mackray 1910, 72). In some instances the ancestors of contemporary Biduanda Dagang were slaves (hamba ),[13] having been purchased in Mecca by Rembau Undang or else acquired through military victories. Whatever their geographic and social origins, those who attained Biduanda Dagang standing in the past purportedly did so thanks to the benevolence of Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja leaders, who agreed not only to accept their presence in or near their own settlements but also to extend them protection and clan representation, as well as a number of less-prestigious political titles.

For such reasons the Biduanda Dagang clan seems always to have had a unique and structurally ambiguous relationship vis-à-vis the Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja clans. All three clans, after all, could be referred to by the shorthand gloss Biduanda, and, as noted, all three owed their allegiance to the same clan chief. And yet in terms of manifold expressions of power, status, and genealogical purity, Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja occupied the uppermost niche of the clan hierarchy, whereas Biduanda Dagang fell at the other extreme of the continuum. Even at present, those identified as Biduanda Dagang continue to bear the burden of an ancestral stigma, as reflected in gentry reluctance to seek them out as potential marriage partners and in occasional references to their tainted pedigrees.

Not much is known about the nineteenth-century construction of linkages among commoner clans. Information collected around the turn of the century, however, reveals that the members of certain of these descent units could not intermarry because of ties of patrilateral half-siblingship between their apical ancestors (Parr and Mackray 1910, 77; see also chap-


28

ter 2).[14] This suggests a recognition of brotherhood that was altogether separate from enatic calculations of relatedness; it also lends further testimony to the relevance of siblingship as a connective, and potentially disjunctive, principle at the clan level.

Territorial Alignment

Within the domain of territorial alignment, principles of siblingship were accorded far greater centrality than those of descent and clearly provided the dominant idioms underlying both the conceptualization and actual organization of relationships and activities. This is best illustrated by examining various levels of such alignments, proceeding from the most inclusive to the most restricted.

Perhaps the most fundamental territorial distinction ever recognized by Malays in Rembau or other districts of the state was that between their homeland of Negeri Sembilan and all other regions of the Malay Peninsula (DeMoubray 1931, 182–188; cf. Gullick 1958, 135). This distinction symbolized the most basic level of social and cultural variation among Malays anywhere in the Peninsula.

Numerous mythic portrayals of Negeri Sembilan's cultural origins suggest that the relationship between the Malays of Negeri Sembilan and those residing elsewhere in the Peninsula is one of siblingship, inasmuch as the two ancestral figures associated with the genesis of cultural divergence are held to be related as (or like) brothers (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 220–221). It is not clear from any of the accounts with which I am familiar if these two culture heroes, Dato Perpatih Nan Sebatang and Dato Temenggong, were actually full brothers or were instead half-brothers (or, for that matter, classificatory brothers). As their titles indicate, though, the former was responsible for conceptualizing and establishing the framework of adat perpatih institutions, while the latter either founded or simply continued to support that body of tradition known as adat temenggong . Judging from Negeri Sembilan accounts, their divergent opinions concerning the status and rights of women in inheritance and the ideal organization of communities laid the foundations for the earliest cultural distinctions among the Minangkabau. More important, given the Negeri Sembilan perception that most if not all Malays are of Minangkabau ancestry (Newbold 1839, 2 : 215–216), the lack of consensus between these brothers gave rise to the


29

dominant cultural marker serving throughout history to distinguish Negeri Sembilan Malays from all others. Here, then, the principle of siblingship structures a critically important nexus of relationships embracing mythical culture heroes as well as the origins, history, and contemporary expressions of social and cultural diversity.

Within Negeri Sembilan, moreover, a focus on (classificatory) siblingship rather than on common matrilineal ancestry appears in the reckoning of relationships among the Undang of Rembau and those of the three other regional polities (Sungei Ujong, Jelebu, and Johol), who formed an unprecedented but largely ineffectual politico-military union in the 1770s. Ever since that time, both the four Undang and their respective territories (luak ) have been regarded as related to one another "like brothers"[15] —all of which is consistent with the fact that each of the leaders then stood, and still remains, more or less identically situated vis-à-vis the titular head of the union (the Yang diPertuan Besar ).[16]

Interestingly, just as their politico-military pact contributed to the intensification of strife and warfare throughout the area (Newbold 1839, 2 : 87–92, 149–150; Parr and Mackray 1910, 19–23; Wilkinson [1911] 1971, 296–310), so too did many of the military and other altercations of the next century revolve around confrontations, frequently bloody, between the principal chiefs of Rembau, together with their supporters, and those of Sungei Ujong (Newbold 1839, 2 : 89–92, 97, 105, 111–112; CRCANS 1874, 18–20, 232–236; CRCANS 1875, 8–10; CRCANS 1876, 193–222; Gullick 1958, 16–17). Many of these conflagrations thus involved a variant of fratricide. More generally, whether or not the cloaking of all such potentially bellicose relations in idioms of siblingship endowed them with a modicum of cordiality (to say nothing of amity), the fact remains that competition, petty rivalries, and overt antagonisms among titled males and political aspirants defined as brothers is a pervasive theme throughout Negeri Sembilan's precolonial history (Newbold 1839, 2 : 89–92, 97, 105, 111–112; Parr and Mackray 1910, 19–22, 63; Gullick 1958, 16–17; Hooker 1972, 22–23; Khoo 1972; Andaya 1971).

There also exists strong evidence that siblingship figured in the representation of the earliest known political division within the district of Rembau. To appreciate this we need only consider the mythic genesis of this division, as well as why clan leaders in the first of the two regions settled, "Lowland" Rembau, enjoyed certain ritual and political preroga-


30

tives not extended to their chiefly compatriots in Rembau's "Upland" territory (Hervey 1884, 250–251; Parr and Mackray 1910, 3).

Stated briefly, To Lela Balang and To Laut Dalam founded Rembau's first two villages, which were in the Lowland district (Rembau Baroh) (Parr and Mackray 1910, 3). Affiliated with the Batu Hampar and Payah Kumboh clans respectively, these chiefs were accompanied in their emigration by other clan members and by members (including leaders) of the allied Mungkal and Tiga Nenek clans. Together, but presumably after the Upland area (Rembau Darat) was settled, these four clans forged the earliest formal politico-military pact within Rembau. Known as the (Lowland) League of Four (Yang Empat or Yang Empat Sebelah Baroh ), this federation stood as the most esteemed and powerful political body in all Rembau's precolonial history (Parr and Mackray 1910, 6–7, 42, 43). Indeed, even after 1831, when the council was expanded to include four leaders from Rembau's Upland district and renamed the League of Eight (Yang Delapan ), the chiefs of the original federation continued to exercise many of their earlier privileges and played a pivotal role in Rembau politics and in Rembau's relations with neighboring and other foreign polities (Parr and Mackray 1910, 20, 42, 49).

The colonization of the Upland district may have taken place shortly after Lowland Rembau was opened up by To Lela Balang and To Laut Dalam. Judging from myths presented by Hervey (1884, 253–255) and Parr and Mackray (1910, 8), it was settled in part by To Laut Dalam and other Payah Kumboh clan members, along with persons affiliated with the three clans of Seri Lemak, Batu Balang, and Seri Melenggang. Each clan staked out a specific locale, over which the individual clan leaders claimed jurisdiction. These chiefs then forged a political counterpart to the Lowland League of Four, designating it the Upland League of Four (Yang Empat Sebelah Darat ). This body also assumed a position of centrality in Rembau's precolonial polity, even though its more recent emergence (hence less prestigious "origin point") resulted in its being accorded lower status and fewer ritual and political prerogatives than its predecessor.

There are also scattered mythical references to a tie of patrilateral half-siblingship between To Laut Dalam and the apical ancestor of the Tiga Nenek clan (Parr and Mackray 1910, 77). Hence, of the original four clans to settle within Rembau, three were linked through a particular variant of siblingship, which also emerges as the earliest—and for some time the


31

sole—genealogical connection between the Lowland League of Four and the Upland League of Four, and between the entire Lowland and Upland divisions in Rembau.

Although these two federations bore some of the trappings of strictly matrilineally constituted alliances, they were actually territorially based defense organizations whose structure and operations were simply couched in idioms of matriliny and siblingship. This situation obtained as well with respect to subsequently formed political alliances, the most recent of which, comprising five different clan chiefs, emerged during the period 1795–1820, operated in Rembau's Lowland district, and took as its name the League of Five (Parr and Mackray 1910, 7).

The origins and conceptualization of the League of Five are quite instructive. As set out in a myth presented by Hervey (1884, 253), a Biduanda woman was "taken to wife" by a man in the Mungkal clan residing in the Tampin territory, but in a grave breach of adat his people failed to provide her kin with the requisite marriage payment. The head of her clan consulted an allied chief representing the clan of Batu Hampar (Petani). These two then summoned their kin and proceeded with them to Tampin to demand the outstanding payment. After an unsuccessful two-week siege, the chiefs called on the leaders and members of three other, unrelated Lowland clans (Anak Aceh, Anak Melaka, and Tanah Datar) to aid them in their quest for justice. In unison the five chiefs and their supporters attacked and defeated Tampin and finally obtained the marriage payment in question, thus terminating the Biduanda-Mungkal hostilities. But these events also provided the foundation for a politico-military pact among the chiefs who had joined forces for the offensive, for on returning from Tampin they vowed to act together "for as long as the sun and moon endure" and to share in whatever advantages and injuries came the way of any one of them. The solemn oath they registered occurred in the context of a ritual feast (kenduri ) and entailed a blood pact in which each chief put a small amount of blood into a common cup and then sipped a drop of the mixture. Not surprisingly, this ritual pact appears identical in overall design to the traditional symbolization of siblingship between clan mates and those formally adopted into the clan (Taylor [1929] 1970, 139–141; Lewis 1962, 138).

Formal political alliance at the clan level apparently presumed no matrilineal ties or genealogical proximity among the constituent descent units.


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Nevertheless, while territorial, demographic, and political factors were the effective prime movers in clan federation, the cultural expression of material realities related to such alliances was commonly framed in the imagery of kinship, especially siblingship.

There are various other levels at which the alignment of territories defined by, or simply identified with, discrete and theoretically exclusivistic social units appear both cloaked in and consistently shaped by idioms of siblingship. To illustrate, we may examine the mythically enshrined structure of relationships among settlements associated with Rembau's gentry clans.

Returning to the mythical account of the origins of the Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja clans (see figure 1), we see that To Laut Dalam (founder of the Lowland village of Padang Lekoh) had four daughters by his marriage with the unnamed Javanese woman said to be the apical ancestress of the Sediaraja clan. By her marriage with Seri Rama, To Laut Dalam's eldest daughter, Siti Hawah, gave birth to a male child who is considered to have been the first member of the Sediaraja clan and to have eventually resettled and established the Lowland village of Kampung Tengah. Likewise, the descendants of Siti Hawah's three sisters opened up three new communities (also in Lowland Rembau), each tracing its origin to a different sister. In brief, the progeny of To Laut Dalam's four daughters succeeded in founding four distinct villages regarded throughout history as the most senior of the Sediaraja settlements.

At the apex of their mythical genealogy, then, these four villages stand connected by virtue of the fact that they were founded by sisters. Note, however, that since none of the four women actually belonged to the Sediaraja clan founded by the son of Siti Hawah, or to any other descent units, it makes little sense in terms of an exclusively matrilineal transmission of clan membership and status that the descendants and settlements associated with Siti Hawah's sisters stand on a par with those of her son. This parity obtains owing to the sibling bond that not only links the four women in question and renders them more or less structurally equivalent but also dictates a de facto mythical extension of Sediaraja status from Siti Hawah's son to the offspring of his mother's sisters.

A similar pattern of territorial expansion and alignment appears in the case of the Lelahmaharaja clan, which, as discussed earlier, traces its origins to the union of To Bungkal and To Lela Balang, the latter being the founder of the Lowland village of Kota. Although none of the four off-


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figure

Figure 1.
Mythic Genealogy of Relations Among Founders of Rembau's Gentry Clans and Senior Gentry Settlements
Note: Most of the relationships depicted here can be pieced together from myths presented in Parr and Mackray (1910).
A more complete version, appearing in Abdul Samad Idris (1968, 167–174), serves as the basis for this figure.


34

spring of these luminary figures are linked in any direct way with the establishment of new settlements, one of the female children, To Lijah, did give birth to two daughters, each known curiously as Tiaman, who appear to have been responsible for the initial occupation of the Lowland areas (later to become villages) of Chengkau and Chembong. In turn, their brother, Dato Uban Puteh Kepala, fathered two daughters, Halimah and Kasiah, who rank as the founders of two additional villages: Tebat in Upland Rembau and Gadong in Lowland Rembau, respectively. During the lifetime of To Lela Balang's great-grandchildren, then, the Lelahmaharaja clan's territorial domain embraced five distinct settlements or senior gentry villages and by that point had also come to include a colony in Upland Rembau.

The structure of genealogical connections among these senior gentry villages is analogous to, though somewhat more complex than, that of the Sediaraja case. Strictly speaking, there are five of these Lelahmaharaja villages, although two of them, Chengkau and Chembong, occupy a single politico-jural status. Thus myths, written sources (e.g., Parr and Mackray 1910, 29), and contemporary elders tend to speak only of Lelahmaharaja's four senior gentry communities, even though they recognize that Chengkau and its apparent offshoot, Chembong, are separate settlements located some distance apart. In any event, the structure of ties among these villages is also patterned on siblingship rather than descent. Here too, then, myths effect an extension of descent unit affiliation from a male clan founder (Seri Rama) to his otherwise unaffiliated sisters. In so doing, the myths emphasize the equivalence of siblings and the connective significance of the siblingship principle. More specifically, they serve to generate a bond of siblingship between Seri Rama's village of Kota and those founded by the descendants of his sisters' daughters, namely, the settlements of Chengkau and Chembong.

The structural relevance of siblingship in village and descent unit alignment is manifest as well in the relationship between these latter three villages and the communities of Tebat and Gadong. Tebat and Gadong were originally connected through bonds of patrilateral siblingship and possibly (though not for certain, since the myth is silent on this point) through common ties of matrifiliation. Interestingly, the founders of these villages, Halimah and Kasiah, share their father's descent group membership. This could indicate an incestuous union on the part of the father, but is more


35

likely yet another mythical expression of the structural equivalence of siblings (that is, Dato Uban Puteh Kepala and his sisters). In short, the descendants of Halimah, Kasiah, and the two Tiamans do not stand related to one another through an unbroken succession of matrilineal links. Rather, the structural logic connecting these groups and their associated villages derives from the principle of siblingship. I might add here that there is no principle of descent that can accommodate these mythic representations.

The relations of equivalence suggested by the mythic siblingship links among the senior settlements of Rembau's two gentry clans were also realized in the principles governing the devolution of rights to gentry political offices, and were therefore of far greater structural significance than data derived from myth alone might lead one to assume. Moreover, the logic of succession to the title of Undang sheds light on the structure of genealogical relations among the founding settlements of individual commoner clans, for the same principles based on siblingship obtained in the case of commoner titles and territorial alignment.

The System of Offices

An overview of the principal relations of authority in Rembau's precolonial polity can be gleaned from part of a customary saying (perbilangan ) that is widely known at present and commonly encountered in the reports of earlier observers as well (e.g., Lister 1887, 43, 44; Hale 1898, 53–54; Parr and Mackray 1910, 87, 116):

The Undang rules the district,
The clan chief governs the clan,
The clan subchief rules his enates,
And the wife's enates prevail over in-marrying males.

These and intermediate relationships are depicted in figure 2, a schematic representation of Rembau's traditional polity and the territorial domains associated with each political office and council.

The Undang sat at the apex of the political hierarchy and was regarded by his subjects as sacrosanct (berdaulat ) and as Allah's caliph or vice-regent (berkhalifah ) within Rembau (Parr and Mackray 1910, 48, 50, 52, 53). This figure not only symbolized and effected the institutional integration


36

figure

Figure 2.
The Indigenous Political Hierarchy in Nineteenth-Century Rembau, Showing
Territorial Domains of Political Offices and Councils

of adat and Islam, but he also enjoyed rights to conscript male villagers for defense purposes and to make periodic demands on household labor and food resources (Newbold 1839, 2 : 85–86; cf. Lister 1887, 48). The Undang was also entitled to collect annual payments in kind from the proprietors of certain categories of land (see chapter 2), even though he was barred by adat from intervening directly in any clan's affairs unless petitioned to do so by the chiefs of those clans (Parr and Mackray 1910, 48, 58). In a word, adat granted the Undang broad powers and variegated ritual prerogatives but simultaneously imposed quite specific constraints on his authorities. It was in fact as enforcer of such constraints that the four-person Privy Council, or Orang Besar Undang, came into being during the eighteenth century. This body served to check the Undang's comportment vis-à-vis clan chiefs and thus constituted a buffer of sorts between Rembau's highest-ranking leader and the largely autonomous but politically vulnerable heads of dispersed clans (Parr and Mackray 1910, 34).

Succession to any of the foregoing titles presupposed affiliation with one of Rembau's gentry clans, for rights to these offices were vested in the gentry in accordance with mythic alliances and exchanges with aboriginal Jakun, which endowed them with privileged proprietorship over the whole of Rembau and all its inhabitants and resources.

Certain clan councils, for their part, also enjoyed districtwide realms of


37

jurisdiction. As one example, the council known prior to 1831 as the League of Four, and thereafter as the League of Eight, exercised legitimate powers throughout Rembau, even though the clan chiefs on the council were in most other respects limited in jurisdiction to specific territorial domains, such as Lowland or Upland Rembau (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 25, 26, 40). Succession to the chieftainship of any clan also entailed ascribed status with respect to all clan councils—as a member of certain rank, for example, or as a nonmember. Thus, in most instances rights to an office of clan chief included legitimate claims to a specified role in one or another council, and all such rights not only vested in particular clans (or more precisely, in the Lowland or Upland segments thereof), but also stood as their "ancestral property" (harta pesaka ).

Because there were usually only one or two clan chief titles for any given clan in Lowland or Upland Rembau, responsibilities for regulating a broad range of community affairs typically devolved on the chief's immediate subordinates. I refer here to clan subchiefs (buapak or ibubapak ), each of whom exercised authority over the compounds of a localized clan (Lister 1887, 45–46) and concurrently served to link village residents with extralocal political figures. Clan subchiefs also helped guarantee that the members of their communities received equitable treatment at the hands of clan chiefs, much as the chiefs themselves served to check the activities of the Undang (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 36–39).

Titled individuals occupying the lowest rung of the political hierarchy were also charged with promoting justice in accordance with adat and increasing the likelihood that their immediate superiors did right by their relatives. Deemed to be officials of the clan chief, these lineage heads, or "big men among the kin" (orang besar dalam anak buah ),[17] helped ensure that capricious, partisan, or extortionary behavior on the part of subchiefs either did not occur or resulted in appropriate punishment (Parr and Mackray 1910, 34). If punishment were required, portions of the fine paid by a guilty subchief to the clan head were shared with the lineage heads; apparently these comprised the main income associated with the office (Parr and Mackray 1910, 34). Lineage heads also received direct remuneration in the form of percentages of the fees paid by male clan members in the village who were involved in "irregular marriages"—for example, marriage by abduction (cf. Parr and Mackray 1910, 82–85)—although they were prohibited by adat from levying fines on their own accord.

Of broader concern is that the office system served to encode a model of


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"pure matriliny," and yet did so in a larger context of territorial and descent unit alignment where matrilineal idioms provided but one component of the relevant structure (and thus only a partial explanation for its expression "on the ground"). The other nexus of idioms here, and in many other realms of indigenous social theory and practice, was based on notions of siblingship, the behavioral imperatives of which were contextually variable but could be wholly inconsistent with those based on matrilineal descent.

Bear in mind, for example, that rights to each political title were vested in a single dispersed clan, or territorially defined segment thereof, with the partial exceptions of the Undang and two or three other gentry titles. Disregarding these cases, each title was held to be the property of one specific social unit, membership in which was frequently expressed in terms of common matrilineal relatedness and typically ascribed at birth by virtue of ties of matrifiliation with a woman belonging to that same category (or, alternately, by adoption). As in most ethnographic instances of such estates, rights to any given political office were wholly concentrated among the members of a single clan or segment thereof, and could not devolve on persons or collectivities defined as external to the relevant category. Viewed from the other side, an appropriate descent affiliation was a pre-requisite for political succession, even though many other considerations—moral character, verbal skills, charisma, physical well-being, patrilateral connections—also figured.

Further testimony to the prevalence of descent idioms in the system of offices was the convention whereby the term used to designate enatically related kin of junior generational standing, anak buah , was also employed by political leaders in referring to their adherents.[18] Just as a man's sisters' children stood as his anak buah, to take the most relevant example, so too did everyone in Rembau share that designation in relation to the Undang. Conversely, all titled males were defined as mother's brothers in relation to their charges.

We turn now to the logic of succession to political office, in which siblingship serves as a basic ordering, and fundamentally disjunctive, principle. An example drawn from contemporary Bogang provides a useful illustration. Bogang's Lelahmaharaja clan, which comprises three named lineages, holds exclusive rights over four political titles: clan subchief and the three lower-ranking "big men among the kin," or lineage heads. Rights


39

over these offices pass from one lineage to the next in a set sequence; thus, when any one of these political figures dies, his title will be bestowed on a member of the lineage next in line for that particular title. Stated differently, even though rights to these titles never pass out of the localized clan, neither do they devolve from mother's brother to sister's son, as occurs in many other political systems associated with matrilineal descent. Instead, they pass among structurally equivalent social units held to be related to one another "like sisters."

An analogous logic governed access to the title of Undang, which has been defined as the "ancestral" property of Rembau's two gentry clans ever since its inception during the period 1540–1640. Recall that the mythical genealogies of these clans portray their respective apical ancestresses as unrelated to one another except for the tie of "chiefly brotherhood" between their husbands. That is, although these two men belonged to separate clans and were thus structurally distant in terms of matrilineal calculations, their relationship of "chiefly brotherhood" provided the primary link between both their wives and their wives' enatic descendants. I need only reiterate that rights to the office of Undang have always rotated in theory between Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja, which implies the same structural equivalence that appears in myth as a particular variant of nonenatic siblingship.

Yet to point out that rights to the office of Undang rotated between Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja is to oversimplify; it was also the case that rights to provide a candidate for this office passed among each of the senior settlements associated with these clans (Parr and Mackray 1910, 48–49). For example, when an Undang of the Lelahmaharaja clan died or vacated office owing to impeachment or infirmity, the title passed ideally to one of the Sediaraja communities not only endowed with senior standing but also held to be next in line for candidacy in relation to the other three Sediaraja villages of equivalent status. This second circuit of rotation provides additional justification for regarding siblingship as the dominant idiom regulating accession to the office of Undang, for we have already seen that the genealogical bonds among the senior villages of each clan receive mythical expression in terms of sibling ties. So, too, does the existence of a third circuit, which specified that the residentially localized lineages in each of these settlements were to take turns in furnishing nominees whenever their village was eligible for candidacy. Unfortunately, we do not know how such lineages were held to be connected to one another


40

during the nineteenth century, although present-day residents of Bogang do view them as related like siblings, especially sisters. I suspect that this has always been the case.

This material suggests that all social and territorial units associated with the founding settlements of gentry clans and vested with equivalent, parallel, or essentially complementary rights to the same political title(s) were held to be related as (or like) siblings by virtue of their common relationships to the office(s) in question. The same rules of political succession can be discerned in the case of founding settlements associated with individual commoner clans as well (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 120–141; cf. Lister 1887, 45, 47; Lister 1890, 308–310; Gullick 1958, 77), with an identical logic grounded in siblingship.

It remains to elaborate on my earlier point that principles of siblingship also assumed a disjunctive role in the political system. Consider, for example, that no explicit notion of structural precedence is apparent by which certain adult males within a sibling set, lineage branch, or lineage would merit preferential or exclusive consideration when their lineage was due to provide a candidate for office. That is, while the Rembau schemes of rotation enjoined serial succession at the levels of dispersed and aggregated clans and lineages, they seem not to have ranged beyond these units by specifying a variant of primo- or ultimogeniture, or anything of the sort commonly reported for conical clans (Gullick 1958, 70, 74, 77). This might be interpreted as a mechanism promoting intralineage equality, since distance from a founding line or apical sibling set was not explicitly relevant and candidates could thus be selected instead on grounds of "paternal luster" or some combination of acquired skills or other achievements. The problem, however, was that this might also promote the emergence of invidious intralineage distinctions, based on potential military prowess or some special acquired competence, which could effectively negate the structural equivalence otherwise characteristic of relations among adult male enates (particularly those of the same relative generation). Further, this meant that all males in a particular sibling set, lineage branch, or lineage might well be vying for the same political stakes (Gullick 1958, 70, 74, 77); hence, their competition could well give rise to divisiveness within the very unit they sought to represent.[19] Indeed, in light of the pronounced cultural emphasis on the equivalence of same-sex siblings, one would certainly expect a man to harbor profound resentment toward a


41

brother who attained political office while he himself simply muddled along as "mere villager." More to the point perhaps is that structurally induced sentiments of this nature continue to provide a context for the expression of myriad variants of fraternal strife.

Other tensions engendered by the structure of the nineteenth-century political system had profound social and cultural significance as well. Many stemmed from the fact that in-marrying males were not only subject to the control of their wives' enates (Lister 1890, 317; Hale 1898, 56–57; Parr and Mackray 1910, 95, 116–117; Caldecott 1918, 36–37) but also owed allegiance to their own enatic relatives, whose interests they were clearly expected to further, especially those of their female kin (see chapter 2). Some of these tensions were realized in the domain of inheritance, in that rights over certain of the proceeds of a deceased man's labor might be divided between his widow and children on the one hand and his sisters and their progeny on the other. The potential for conflict in this situation, where two distinct sets of enatic kin could lodge legitimate claims over the intestate properties of one particular male decedent, is clear.

More important still is the fact that titled males (and subsequent generations of indigenous elite) stood partly outside the system of affinal control that both underlay and made possible the social reproduction of enatic units at all levels of inclusiveness. One reason for this is that they were vested with symbols and bases of authority and prestige generally unknown to their untitled counterparts, and were thus far less vulnerable to the sanctions imposed on them by affines. Elites were therefore ideally situated both to contravene established canons of order and to endow largely unpopular or ambivalently embraced innovations with a modicum of sanctified legitimacy.[20] The implications of these circumstances will be clear after we examine the political elite's critically important role as entrepreneurs during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (chapters 3 and 4).


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2—
Kinship and Property Relations

This chapter begins with a discussion of residence and household composition; it then describes siblingship, incest prohibitions, marriage and exchange, and the roles of in-marrying males, fathers, and mothers. The final section focuses on relations of property, inheritance, and residence, numerous aspects of which helped to produce in the interrelationship of sisters what could well be judged the paramount structural bond within both the domestic sphere and Rembau society as a whole. Yet neither the strength of this bond nor its conceptual significance can be reduced to or derived from the interplay of these factors. Rather, the phenomenon of sisterhood is most profitably viewed against the more encompassing domain of siblingship, which subsumed ties among parallel-sex as well as cross-sex siblings and also informed constructs of gender and incest, and a great many features of property and inheritance codes.

Residence and Household Composition

As we have seen, the population of settlements in nineteenth-century Rembau consisted for the most part of individuals born in the village and


43

belonging to one or another matriclan, but also of men originating elsewhere who moved into the community upon marriage. Those born in the village were affiliated in turn with one of the local lineages, each of which was represented by residential clusters of households reflecting less inclusive genealogical divisions, the largest being the lineage branch. Given the explicit ideal, and actual predominance, of postmarital residence within the wife's mother's compound, the domestic groups associated with a particular lineage or component thereof comprised a core of women related through the matriline and men who, upon marriage, moved from their natal compounds to those of their wives.

A man's postmarital residence was often in the wife's natal household initially, since the construction and provisioning of a new home for the couple—clearly the duty of the husband,[1] even though the wife's father (or parents) might assume the responsibility—could take some time. In the case of a man joined in wedlock with the youngest daughter of the household, however, residence within the home of his parents-in-law was a permanent rather than temporary arrangement; for upon his wife would fall both the responsibility of attending to her parents throughout their old age and the privilege of inheriting their house as compensation for her troubles (and for the convenience of everyone involved) (Parr and Mackray 1910, 68).

This latter exception aside, postmarital residence eventually resulted in the creation of a new household adjacent to the wife's home but still within the compound or homestead plot controlled by her mother (and maternal aunts). Although I characterize this pattern as uxorilocal, we are dealing with postmarital residence involving settlement in the wife's village and the establishment of a separate household in the wife's mother's compound.

Household composition varied in accordance with the developmental cycles of domestic groups and the availability of homestead acreage and rice land. To illustrate the nature of such cycles, we may consider a hypothetical household containing a woman, her spouse, and two unmarried children of each sex.

Assuming that our ideal household had sufficient land, and bearing in mind as well that females were married off at a much earlier age than males (roughly 12–14 and 17–19, respectively), we find the first change in household composition occurring when the elder daughter attained marriageable age and had a spouse chosen for her (apparently by her mother


44

or the latter's mother or sisters). The household would then receive a new member in the person of the daughter's husband. Sooner or later—but presumably prior to having any offspring—the couple would move into an adjacent home, constructed ideally by the groom, and establish a household of their own. Within a few years the elder son of the household would marry and establish residence within his mother-in-law's compound, if not her actual household. This pattern would repeat for the other son and daughter. Now both sons would have moved away, returning only for visits, to attend feasts, and to fulfill ritual obligations (unless they divorced and remained divorced for an extended period of time). The two daughters and their husbands, in contrast, would have settled within the ancestral compound. Since the youngest daughter typically lived with her husband and eventually their offspring in her parents' home, the genealogical depth of that household would be extended one generation beyond that of her sister as long as one parent remained alive.

Until the mother's death, the two households within her ancestral compound stood as a single kinship grouping defined largely in relation to the mother's social role and status, which included that of guardian and transmitter of ancestral land. After the mother's death and the formal division of property, her daughters attained a degree of genealogical and social recognition for themselves and their households as well as a behavioral autonomy theretofore unknown to them; for eventually these two women would raise and marry off their own female offspring, all of whom—the availability of suitable homestead land and rice acreage permitting—would establish households in or near (and in the latter instance thereby extending) their own natal compounds. The two sisters would thus emerge as the focal points of two distinct kin and residential units, each defined in relation to one of the sisters and her property. The children of these two women would stand related as saudara sanak ibu ,[2] that is, as cousins whose mothers were sisters (see figure 3). Given sufficient land, the enatically related offspring of saudara sanak ibu, who ranked as saudara sanak dato (cousins whose maternal grandmothers were sisters), would also find themselves living in adjacent compounds. At the next generation, then, the children of female saudara sanak dato stood as saudara sanak moyang (cousins whose great-grandmothers in the matriline were sisters); under favorable circumstances all of the females and unmarried males in this latter category would reside in a single section of the village.


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figure

Figure 3.
The Genealogical Structure and Boundaries of a Lineage Branch

Those related as saudara sanak moyang viewed themselves as members of one pangkal ("branch," "root," or "trunk"), this being the most inclusive genealogical grouping within the village below the level of lineage. At the next generation, however, the children of adult female saudara sanak moyang probably did not regard one another as members of a single lineage branch. (This assumes that recent data from Inas [Lewis 1962, 83–84] and my own findings in Bogang are indicative of nineteenth-century villagers' ability to trace unilineal [or any other kin] ties back in time.) This latter classification appears generally restricted to lineage members able to recall a tie of female siblingship in an antecedent generation. Thus, rather than being of the same "branch" or "root," the children of adult female saudara sanak moyang would belong to two or more different categories of that order, each identified with the female offspring of one of the two daughters with whom we began this illustration.

This streamlined, hypothetical case outlines the process whereby lineage branches crystallized from a single household consisting minimally of a


46

woman and two daughters.[3] In many instances, to be sure, the formation of separate named lineages within a given community occurred in much the same fashion, albeit over a longer period of time.[4] Not surprisingly, this assumption underlies present-day views of the origins of the three lineages comprising each of Bogang's gentry clans (Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja). These lineages are generally regarded as having developed from a single, long-forgotten set of female siblings, such that in both instances the lineages of a single clan are related "as (or like) sisters."

The Cultural Construction of Siblingship

Various features of proprietorship, inheritance, and residence helped to produce in the interrelationship of sisters what could well be judged the primary structural bond within the domestic realm, as well as in local society as a whole. Yet neither the strength nor the conceptual significance of this bond is derivable from the mutual interaction of these variables. Rather, the conceptual or ideational dimensions of ties among sisters, including their classificatory meanings, are best assessed against the more inclusive category of siblingship relatedness.

To elaborate, I would reiterate that kinship nomenclature—in the form of reference terminology—and the actual reckoning of kin ties among collaterals in the matriline placed considerable emphasis on links among female siblings. More generally, the major subdivisions within localized lineages were essentially projections back in time of ties among sisters (cf. Lewis 1962, 125–127). Thus the children of two sisters stood related as (and were classified together by the term) saudara sanak ibu, which focused more on the fact that their mothers were sisters than on their own descent from the same maternal grandmother. Similarly, the daughters of these women stood as saudara sanak dato, the emphasis here again being on a female sibling tie in an ascending generation (in this case between their maternal grandmothers) rather than on their common descent from the same woman in the +3 generation. The same logic prevailed with regard to more distant collaterals of ego's generation within the lineage branch, just as it underlay the reckoning of reference terminology employed by persons of different generations within the unit. We have seen as well that entire lineages within a single clan and village stood related as (or like) sisters, as did all of the senior (or Waris) settlements associated with the Sediaraja clan.


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Ties among natural and classificatory sisters were of crucial significance in numerous domains of cooperation and exchange as well. We have seen that a woman's right to occupy, cultivate, or otherwise make use of ancestral property was vested in the mother (from whom it derived in the first place), frequently until the latter's decease. Usually only well after the mother's death was the land formally and more-or-less equally divided among the female offspring, even though specific sections of the mother's holdings were commonly and informally designated for the use of this or that adult daughter during the mother's lifetime (Parr and Mackray 1910, 74). Prior to adulthood, then, sisters, along with their unmarried brothers, jointly worked the land of their mother and had a common stake in its upkeep and productivity. Upon attaining adulthood, each sister received a comparable portion of the mother's holding for her own use and management. Assumption of this responsibility, however, did not lessen the sisters' obligation to aid their mother either in the cultivation of her now reduced rice plot or in other tasks. For this and other reasons (and in sharp contrast to the situation among brothers), cooperation and frequent interaction among sisters persisted long after they married and established themselves in separate households. Moreover, such relations continued well after the mother's death, for the fact of having adjacent rice fields watered by the same stream and a single network of irrigation canals and brushwood and earthen dams increased the advantages of mutual cooperation (even while it might simultaneously have caused some antagonism).

Labor exchanges and cooperative endeavors associated with rice cultivation also involved many women who were not related as natural sisters but were nonetheless of the same lineage, and lineage branch in particular—hence, classificatory sisters. Such women were ideally situated to assist one another during various stages of the production process, if only on account of the immediate proximity of their plots. Other residentially proximate female kin, as well as unrelated neighbors, could also be counted on during the most labor-intensive stages of production, such as the harvest. The requirements of harvesting presupposed considerable extrahousehold assistance, especially since the principal harvesting implement up until the mid to late 1960s was a small finger knife (tuai ) that was used to cut the stalks of ripened grain one at a time. The details and variants of the institutionalized labor arrangements do not concern us, but it is worth emphasizing that the most common of these social forms appears always to have been subsumed under the rubric tolong-menolong . This term, denoting mu-


48

tual assistance and reciprocal aid, has long served to symbolize the disinterested willingness to assist others (without calculations of return) that is expected of all villagers but is most frequently realized in the case of female kin.

Additionally, many of the ceremonial duties and everyday chores defined as "women's work" (kerja perempuan ) called for cooperation in the exchange of goods and services among women in the matriline. Here I might cite the importance of santan , a thick liquid made from grated coconut flesh mixed with water. Santan was a central ingredient in many cakes and sweets, and in virtually all of the curry and hot-chili sauces used to flavor and preserve fish, fowl, and other foods served with rice. Even today, the grating of coconut is an extremely labor-intensive endeavor, and women often call on their sisters, nieces, and cousins to aid them in this task, particularly if there are any guests to feed. Many of the preparations for ceremonial feasts also required contributions of labor from one's female kin in the matriline, along with small gifts of foodstuffs (coconuts, uncooked rice, and eggs, for example) to help cover shortages and defray expenses incurred by the sponsors of such events. It seems reasonable to assume, moreover, that small gifts of cooked food, including especially fish, chicken, water buffalo, and cakes, were frequently exchanged among the women of proximate households, as they are today. Thus, however else these women stood connected or linked through exchange, they were also involved in numerous networks of reciprocity based on the sharing of prepared foods.

All such instances of cooperation and exchange undoubtedly enhanced the conceptual significance of ties among natural and classificatory sisters. As noted earlier, however, the ideological or affective import of such bonds cannot be derived from these factors, or from the interplay of norms or sentiments flowing from common residence, socialization, and shared rights to property coupled with a system of reckoning descent through the matriline.

My contention that female siblingship is best analyzed in regard to siblingship more generally receives support from the previously discussed mythical origins of the sibling ties between the Lelahmaharaja and Sediaraja clans on the one hand, and among the senior (waris) settlements linked with these clans on the other. In both cases the structural equivalence of units linked by siblingship—which subsumes but is not limited to "sister


49

ties" among the constituent units—carried over into the political domain (in the devolution of rights to certain offices, for example, most notably that of the Undang) and simultaneously contributed to the ordering of major political elements and relationships.

Additional support for my argument appears in the form of contemporary kinship terminology, many features of which were documented earlier in the twentieth century (see Winstedt 1920; de Josselin de Jong 1951, 123–125; Lewis 1962, 110–127) and presumably were employed in similar if not identical fashion throughout the nineteenth century as well.[5] We might first note the scope and the varied meanings of the polysemic term saudara . At the most inclusive level, the designation saudara encompasses all of ego's relatives, despite generational differences and regardless of whether connective links are through females or males. At the same time, saudara may refer primarily to individuals of the same generation linked to ego through either parent's same- or cross-sex siblings. Saudara can also be used in a generic sense to embrace natural siblings of either gender. In the second and third instances, alternative terms may be employed as well. In the third case, for example, we encounter sekadim or adik-beradik (siblings) or, referring more specifically to particular individuals, abang (elder brother), kakak (elder sister), and adik (younger sibling of unspecified gender). The most fundamental point, though, is that the designation saudara is neither gender-specific nor applied only to members of the same matriline. It can, of course, be used with qualifying terms to delineate relationships very precisely (to distinguish matrilateral from patrilateral cousins, say, or cross from parallel cousins through a single parent); but even in these cases the designation effectively promotes non-gender-specific siblingship over any of the other categories of siblingship. The same holds true for the partially overlapping term adik-beradik , which denotes siblings and sibling relationships (natural as well as classificatory) without invoking the issue of gender.

More generally, generational and relative age distinctions appear to have received far greater elaboration than distinctions based on collaterality, sex, or enatic versus affinal relatedness (Winstedt 1920). As with teknonymous usages, this elaboration served to promote a classificatory scheme whereby all members of one's social universe were grouped into generationally defined age grades (great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and so on), each of which com-


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prised an extended sibling set. Similarly, conventions of reference and address served to differentiate persons associated with either the same or first ascending generation based on birth order, thus highlighting the relational importance of siblingship by defining individuals with respect to their position vis-à-vis their siblings.

Also fostering the cultural significance of siblingship were the beliefs and ritual activities centering on the placenta, its relationship to the unborn fetus, and the interactions between the afterbirth and the individual born at the time of its expulsion. Throughout the course of a woman's pregnancy, the placenta, or temuni , was viewed as a sort of "elder sibling" to the developing embryo—for, like an elder sibling, the temuni nourished and protected the fetus, guiding its growth and maturation. This potentially beneficent relationship continued throughout the "younger sibling's" life, although it was perhaps most crucial during the first forty-four days of the child's existence. The temuni's guardianship over the newborn during this critical period was partially ensured by a ritual known as "planting (or burying) the afterbirth" (taman temuni ). A brief consideration of the essential components of this ritual as conducted in contemporary Bogang affords valuable insights into certain of the themes mentioned above, particularly since villagers view this complex to be of great antiquity (see also Lewis 1962, 147; McKinley 1975, 220–234).[6]

Local accounts and my own observations indicate that the disposal of the afterbirth required a midwife (bidan ), or some other woman regarded as competent, to cleanse it and to oversee or conduct the other preparations preceding its burial. The hole into which the temuni was to be placed could be dug by either a male or a female; however, both the location of the hole and the gender of the person chosen (typically from among the onlookers) to place the afterbirth within it depended on the gender of the newborn. In the event of a female child, the hole was dug beneath the central, most inaccessible, protected, and private section of the mother's house, where the resident females slept, thus symbolizing female centrality within the household.[7] If the child was male, the temuni was placed underground either in the open garden or below the verandah (serambi ), which was exposed on three sides, unprotected, and quite "public," the part of the house where males slept and guests were received and entertained. The child's gender also determined how villagers reckoned the temuni's gender and what items were selected for placement into the hole along with the


51

afterbirth (for instance, sewing needles or other "typically female" items in the case of a girl).

Once a hole roughly two feet deep and eight or ten inches across had been prepared, the covered temuni was laid gently at the bottom and covered with loose dirt until not much of a depression remained. Bits of coconut husk and small twigs were then piled atop the depression and ignited with embers from the kitchen hearth, and the midwife or whoever else had filled in the hole recited Koranic incantations over the flames. This recitation marked the end of the burial of the temuni, although the mother's kin generally constructed a rough lean-to over the hole to prevent rain from falling on or otherwise dampening it. Further, if they were conscientious (rajin ), they would rekindle the flame daily throughout the forty-four-day period corresponding to the mother's observance of dietary taboos. This act would guarantee the complete "drying out" of the temuni and thus decrease the probability of the child crying incessantly or falling ill from stomach or abdominal pain (sakit perut ).

This ritual illuminates important issues bearing on cross- and parallel-sex siblingship. On one level we have an unambiguous statement concerning an individual's behavior toward siblings: protective toward younger and respectful toward elder siblings. Yet at the same time, the elder/younger relationship is symbolically confined to parallel-sex siblings; a male child's sibling spirit is an "elder brother," that of a female is an "elder sister." This does not mean that individuals are not encouraged to protect and further the interests of younger siblings of the opposite sex. Nevertheless, parallel-sex siblings are represented as bound together through moral obligations of a greater (or in any event different) sort than those obtaining among cross-sex siblings. For that matter, the convergence of interests and identities among parallel-sex siblings is symbolically realized in the spatial aggregation or segregation of afterbirths according to sex—namely, the clustering of female temuni beneath the house proper and of male temuni in an entirely separate spot underneath the verandah or in the immediate garden area. Here we have a ritual statement that brings into focus not only the shared—though essentially complementary (rather than structurally equivalent)—interests and identities of opposite-sex siblings, but also the marked social distance that should characterize all their interactions.

The fundamentally separate and distinct interests and identities of opposite-sex siblings were also realized in inheritance: women alone in-


52

herited rights over houses and land, and men monopolized rights to political offices and weapons.[8] This gender-based demarcation in inheritance not only promoted female centrality in the household (and in enatic residential groupings more generally), but it also reinforced the important role male kin played in representing enatic units and ensuring the virginity and moral standing of their unmarried natural and classificatory sisters.

As brothers and other male enates were charged with safeguarding their sisters, it stands to reason that sexual activity between brothers and sisters ranked as among the most heinous of all moral infractions; indeed, it was likened to cannibalism and defined as a treasonous crime (celaka derhaka ) punishable by death (see Lister 1887, 49; Lister 1891, 143–144; and below). Interestingly, such activity was subsumed in a category of offenses that also included harboring vampirelike and potentially murderous spirits-familiar, or pelesit (Parr and Mackray 1910, 79). The origins of pelesit, in fact, have apparently long been attributed to an incestuous union involving a brother and sister, as shown in the following myth, obtained from a woman in contemporary Bogang.

There were once three beautiful siblings, two males and a female, who was the youngest. As both their mother and father had died, there were just the three of them. One day the elder of the brothers said, "Let's leave and find a house, for our mother and father are gone, and who is going to look after us?" Thus they set off in search of a house with no owner, looking everywhere, even in the forest. They came across an empty house and decided to rest. The eldest told the others to stay there, that he was going to search for food. While he was away the other brother did wrong with his sister, and she became pregnant. As her belly grew large, the sister complained of abdominal pains and said that she was going to give birth. She then went below to wash, even though it was raining. She bathed and bathed for forty-four days. It continued to rain, but still the sister bathed. She finally bore a child. Its blood was white—"unlike ours," said the [offending] brother, who went down from the house and began lapping up the discharge. His sister was mortified, as was the elder brother, who demanded an explanation for the other brother's behavior. "What are you doing?" he asked, "eating the blood?" "That's right," the younger brother responded, adding as well that the blood was delicious and that the elder brother should keep quiet. Extremely upset by all that had happened, the elder brother, who was knowledgeable in sorcery and curing, told the younger brother that he no longer deserved a place in the house. He then went off to fetch some thorny reeds, which he placed under the floor [amidst the discharge]. He ordered his brother to continue lapping up the blood, lest their sister die. As the thorns pierced the younger brother's tongue, he grew infuriated and was forced to in-


53

terrupt his eating. Driven on by pain and anger, however, he continued to feast upon the blood. Eventually, after his anger subsided, he grew remorseful and searched for a curer to tend to his wounds. His condition improved, but he and his brother and sister were subsequently attacked and strangled by a spirit who devoured their blood, and all three of the beautiful siblings became pelesit.

The most explicit moral to be gleaned from this myth is that sexual activities involving a brother and sister are guaranteed both to incur the wrath of elder siblings (and other guardians) and to evoke fatal retribution entailing transformation into dreaded spirits whose sustenance derives from the blood of postpartum women and newborn children. These messages are also congruent with the dominant themes in the ritual burial of the afterbirth: both texts foreground the social distance and the complementarity of interests and identities that should characterize relations among cross-sex siblings. It remains only to add that most prohibitions on mating and marriage concerned persons who were held to be of common stock and interrelated by virtue of sibling ties (enatic or otherwise). This will be clear once we consider the concept of sumbang , which has long been used in Negeri Sembilan to refer to incest.

Incest and Proscribed Unions

Lister (1887, 49, 1891, 143) and Parr and Mackray (1910, 77–79) give the impression that actions designated as sumbang were incestuous in the Western sense of the term—that is, that they involved sexual activity between individuals who could not marry owing to considerations of biological relatedness, culturally defined intimacy, common descent-group membership, and the like. Although the sumbang rubric certainly did cover this class of transgressions, it also denoted a far more inclusive category of offenses, as indicated both by contemporary villagers and by official correspondence written in 1924 by Rembau's then Undang, Dato Abdullah (bin Haji Dahan) (NSSSF [1924] 1881/24). Subsumed under the sumbang gloss were in fact a number of different though related types of moral impropriety, in addition to the more serious crime of illicit sexual contact. In the case of an adolescent or adult male, for example, these improprieties included sitting in a secluded or confined area alongside a woman other than one's wife, particularly a woman with whom adat forbade marriage (sumbang kedudukan , from the root duduk , "to sit"); walk-


54

ing side by side or conversing with such a woman (sumbang perjalanan , from the root jalan , "to walk or travel"; and sumbang percakapan , from the root cakap , "to talk or speak," respectively); engaging in sexual activity with such a woman (sumbang perbuatan , from the root buat , "to do or make"); and being frequently observed in irregular conduct associated with one or another variant of sumbang (sumbang pemandangan , from the root pandang , "to observe, look, or see") (NSSSF [1924] 1881/24).

A male guilty of any of these improprieties might well be fined and, if married, ordered from his wife's village. (His resistance to an expulsion decree could lead to his being permanently driven out of the community by a hail of sticks, an action known as dikerat kayukan .) If his improper behavior caused a pregnancy, the case necessarily came to the attention of the Undang for adjudication, and the financial retribution would be particularly costly (NSSSF [1924] 1881/24). If the guilty parties belonged to different clans or were members of lineages between which intraclan marriage was permitted, they might be forced to wed, especially in instances of "incestuous sitting" (sumbang kedudukan ) with an unmarried woman. This solution would bestow a measure of respectability on all concerned.

As I have already noted, the vast majority of prohibitions pertaining to specifically sexual relationships involved persons interrelated through siblingship, and sexual contact between a brother and sister of the same parents ranked as the most reprehensible of all such offenses. Villagers today contend that physical intimacy involving matrilateral or patrilateral half-siblings was (and still is) comparably criminal—and in the same league as sexual activity between a mother and son or a father and daughter (cf. de Josselin de Jong 1951, 125–126). One resident of Bogang likened such sexual contact to the purported cannibalism of a local species of fresh-water fish (Ophicephalus striatus ) said to prey on its own offspring (macam haruan makan anak ).

Sexual relations between siblings of the same mother were classed as sumbang sekadim and it seems that any sexual activity between members of the same lineage might fall into this category as well. All of these crimes merited the death penalty (Lister 1887, 49), although the Undang could decide instead to expel offenders from Rembau and confiscate their ancestral property (Parr and Mackray 1910, 78). As with parent-child liaisons, those involving persons of the same lineage strike present-day villagers as immoral to the point of contravening the most basic God-given


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designs of nature. Hence the customary saying "Like a chicken eating its own flesh (or meat)" (Macam ayam makan daging sendiri ), which draws an explicit analogy between such liaisons and domesticated chickens picking and consuming the meat from discarded scraps of cooked chicken. Sexual encounters between persons of a single lineage are thus equated with the ultimate horror—and horribly unnatural act—of cannibalism, a view Freud ([1913] 1950) would have found intriguing given his position on cannibalism and the origins of incest taboos.

Ranking as lesser, but nonetheless grave, transgressions were illicit contacts between persons belonging to different lineages within the same exogamous clan or subdivision thereof. Although some early observers (Lister 1887, 49) and contemporary reports claim that these encounters (designated sumbang sewaris in the case of the two gentry or Waris clans) constituted capital offenses, turn-of-the-century sources suggest that retribution involved merely confiscation of ancestral property and banishment from Rembau—and might even be commuted by the Undang to a simple fine, which included fifty measures of unhusked rice and a buffalo (Parr and Mackray 1910, 77).

Conventions of exogamy varied from one clan to another and necessarily involved diverging proscriptions on sexual relations, since these relations were condoned only in the context of marriage. In the case of the two gentry groups the entire clan stood as the exogamous unit, owing to the mythically validated assumption that all clan segments originated from the same apical ancestress (and thus shared in the same matrilineally transmitted daging [flesh or meat]). Among commoners, in contrast, marriages could be contracted between persons belonging to certain of the separate localized components of the same dispersed clan (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 121–141). Unions of this sort, however, attained legitimacy only if the two clan segments in question claimed no common ancestress (hence no shared daging), as for example when one traced its origins to Lowland Rembau and the other arose following later emigration from Sumatra (or anywhere else) to Rembau's Upland region (Parr and Mackray 1910, 77).

Genealogically based restrictions on marriages between members of separate dispersed clans (or segments thereof) did not rest merely on considerations of structural distance within the matriline. In Lowland Rembau, for instance, the Tiga Nenek and Payah Kumboh clans could not intermarry because the pioneer chiefs of these two clans were patrilateral


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half-brothers (Parr and Mackray 1910, 77). Clearly this interdiction is not based strictly on matrilineal relatedness, for the matrilineal descendants of the two leaders belonged to different clans. These and similar prohibitions pertaining to unions with a father's brother's child (Parr and Mackray 1910, 92–93) suggest that marriages between individuals linked through demonstrable or even putative ties of patrilateral siblingship were as inappropriate as those involving persons linked through matrilateral siblingship, however remote the original bond.

The explanation for these prohibitions lies with conceptions of shared, biologically transmitted bodily substance, along with notions of substance and "closeness." We know, for example, that the children of sisters are believed to share the same matrilineally transmitted flesh or meat, and on that count alone are viewed as "too close" to enter into sexual relations with each other. We also know that brothers' children, as well as brothers' sons' children, are seen as originating from the same semen or seed (beneh ) and are forbidden to marry—and that this injunction also encompasses all of their patrilateral descendants who recall or acknowledge the existence of the original sibling tie (Lewis 1962, 130). I therefore suggest that the recognition or assumption of shared biological substances conveyed through men has long, if not always, served as the basis for the prohibition on all varieties of patrilateral parallel-cousin marriage. Hence, we need not invoke the existence of exogamous patriclans and a system of double unilineal descent, as de Josselin de Jong (1951, 126 et passim) has done, to account for the prohibition on a man's marriage with his FBD. Indeed, neither acknowledgment of the father's role in the procreative process nor the passage from a father to his children of bodily fluids, personality traits, or property rights has any necessary bearing on the presence or absence of patrilineally constituted descent groups.

My contention that persons presumed to share common biogenetic substance were disqualified from legitimate sexual activity and intermarriage is well supported. The underlying logic of this contention is consistent with, indeed would have promoted, the view that cross cousins (a man's FZD and MBD, for example) do not share common bodily substance; individuals thus related were held to be ideal marriage partners (see below). Also relevant are the prohibitions on sexual contact and marriage between otherwise unrelated persons who were breast-fed by the same woman ("milk siblings" or "siblings of the same milk," adik-beradik/saudara sesusu ).


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It seems reasonable to conjecture that individuals thus classified have always been subject to such constraints, given the rationale that the mother's (or another woman's) milk nourishes and sustains an infant in much the same way the mother's womb (rahim ) nourishes and sustains an embryo. Ontogenetic development leading toward the formation of a healthy individual requires both pre- and postnatal transmission of bodily substances. Hence, whoever breast-feeds the child necessarily contributes some of her own growth-inducing essences to it, including in particular those responsible for the development of the child's flesh (and bones). In the event that a child is nursed even temporarily by a woman other than its mother, its flesh, or daging, would be considered the product of the daging of both women. Given the prohibition on sexual contact and marriage between persons of the same daging, then, the child could never enter into any form of sexual or conjugal relationship with the offspring of the woman who nursed it, even if by all other criteria they stood as eligible marriage partners.

I should add that the sumbang rubric simultaneously subsumed polygynous marriages and extramarital affairs involving a man and two or more women of the same clan, the most serious transgressions of this type being sororal polygyny and other forms of intimacy with a current or estranged wife's sister. (Sororatic marriages were possible, however, as apparently were their leviratic counterparts [Parr and Mackray 1910, 78; Lewis 1962, 189].) Polygynous unions with women of a single lineage or clan ranked as "taboos imposed on in-marrying males by their affines" (pantang tempat semenda pada orang semenda ) (NSSSF [1924] 1881/24) and as capital offenses comparable in magnitude to harboring the dreaded, potentially fatal spirit-familiar (pelesit ) (Parr and Mackray 1910, 79). Arrangements of this nature were undoubtedly highly unusual, as suggested by the fact that polygynous unions of all varieties were both discouraged and extremely rare in occurrence (Hale 1898, 45; Parr and Mackray 1910, 78–79).[9]

It merits note, finally, that a divorcé(e) was not allowed to marry into the clan of his or her former spouse (Parr and Mackray 1910, 78). Assuming that divorcé(e)s tended to remarry, as I suspect they (especially the males among them) did, this prohibition would have contributed to the dispersal, rather than the reduplication, of existing alliances,[10] and would thus have helped local groups to maximize formal friendships, trade rela-


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tionships, and other bonds characterized by trust, reciprocity, and cooperation. As for the larger issue of parallel marriage, I know only that contemporary villagers feel it is "wasteful" for enatic kin of the same relative generation to reduplicate marriage ties with any particular group.

Marriage and Affinal Exchange

Engagement and Marriage Proceedings

With the notable exception of "irregular marriages" (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 82–85), negotiations as well as reciprocal hosting and small-scale feasting involving the kin of the prospective bride and groom might begin months in advance of the engagement proceedings, let alone the formal wedding.[11] Even the most preliminary inquiries (merisik ) concerning the pedigrees and backgrounds of the spouses-to-be involved visits by the future groom's kin (or their intermediaries) to the enatic relatives of the girl (or their representatives). If these and similarly oriented visits were to proceed smoothly, the guests were required to bear small packets of betel to symbolize their sincerity and honorable intentions, just as the hosts were more or less obligated to provide tea or light snacks (if not a substantive meal) and some of their own betel as well (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 294–295).

Assuming the girl's elder kin responded favorably to the proposed union, a simple gold "asking ring" (cincin tanya ), given to them as a token of the groom-to-be's sincerity in pursuing the match, would further firm up the agreement (Newbold 1839, 1 : 254; Parr and Mackray 1910, 79–80). A second gold ring presented by the suitor's kin then finalized the betrothal (Parr and Mackray 1910, 80). This latter transaction typically occurred in the context of an elaborate engagement feast (kenduri ) sponsored by the girl's side (NSSSF [1911] 252/11) and attended by the clan subchief and lineage heads of her local clan, the majority of her lineage mates (including out-marrying males), more distantly related persons in the community, and a large contingent of her fiancé's kin.

The first day of formal wedding ceremonies[12] revolved around the "marriage contract" (akad nikah ) and focused on a series of ritual transactions known as "fulfilling the adat" (mengisi adat ). The most elaborate of these transactions was the presentation of "marriage gold" (mas kawin )


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from the clan subchief of the groom, together with its receipt by the bride's clan subchief and its inspection by other representatives of her clan (Parr and Mackray 1910, 36, 94). This ceremony ranked as the central element of the entire ritual complex with regard to validating the bond between husband and wife, and the link between their respective descent units. The reasons for the significance of this transaction become evident when one considers that the marriage gold encompassed two separate payments: first, the marriage gold proper, which seems to have been regarded as a prestation from the groom to the bride (Newbold 1839, 1 : 254, 2 : 283; Parr and Mackray 1910, 83, 94); and second, the "adat money" (wang adat ), the handing over of which was apparently conceptualized as involving two clans in their entirety (Parr and Mackray 1910, 94). Part of this latter sum was earmarked for officials of the bride's clan. The remainder was claimed by the bride's mother, who distributed some of it to her close enates and used the rest to help defray wedding expenses, the bulk of which were borne by her household.

The marriage gold payments were immediately followed, and effectively reciprocated, by the return to the groom's side of the two engagement rings, which the bride's mother had safeguarded ever since they were first presented to the bride's clan subchief (or other representatives) (Caldecott 1918, 40–41). Additionally, at this stage of the ceremonies, if not before, the property (harta pembawa ) and debts, if any, that the groom brought to the marriage were formally declared, followed by a similar declaration concerning the property (harta dapatan ) that the bride brought to the union.[13]

The first day of formal wedding ceremonies was also the occasion for the specifically Islamic dimension of the marriage ritual, which called for the presence of a local mosque official, the bride's Islamic guardian (wali ), the groom, and, as witnesses, a few male onlookers. This aspect of the wedding focused on the mosque official's recitation of the marriage service (khutbah nikah ) and warrants special remark for two reasons. First, it symbolized—but most definitely did not effect—a transfer of legal responsibility and control over the bride from her Islamic guardian (usually her father, but in any case a male) to her husband.[14] Second, it appears to suggest that the system of affinal alliance was composed of descent units linked through exchanges of rights over women. I argue that the messages conveyed in this component of the marriage ritual were largely irrelevant


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to, and contradicted by, the overall design of the transactions in the formation of conjugal bonds and social reproduction. More specifically, the realities of marriage and affinal exchange did not center on a father relinquishing rights and obligations concerning his daughter, and doing so in favor of his daughter's husband; rather, they turned on a mother's transfer of claims and responsibilities over her son to the son's wife and the latter's immediate enates.[15] I shall return to this theme in due course.

After the recitation of the marriage service and the ensuing period of common prayer on behalf of the newly wed couple, the bride's relatives treated the groom's kin and all other guests to a sumptuous feast including oiled rice (nasi minyak ), meat, and other lavishly prepared and ornately garnished foods. At the close of the feast both sets of kin retired to their respective compounds, although the groom might have stayed at his bride's mother's house, sleeping alone on the verandah.

The second day of the wedding festivities, known as "the day of becoming one" (hari bersatu ), also witnessed a series of reciprocal exchanges between the kin of bride and groom. Relatives of the groom, for instance, arrived in procession at the bride's home bearing betel and various items of cooked food including glutinous rice (pulut ) prepared with turmeric. This rice was placed adjacent to the dais where the bride and groom would later sit in state (bersanding ) while being viewed by guests and hosts alike. During this phase of the marriage ritual, women from among the groom's entourage applied a henna mixture to the bride's palms and feet, and in a reciprocal gesture of goodwill their counterparts on the bride's side did the same to the groom.[16] Beforehand, however, a mock struggle between bride and groom was enacted, with assistance from their principal attendants. Focusing on reciprocity, the exchange of food, and relationships mediated and defined by the giving and receiving of food, this ritual feeding (makan suap ) consisted of bride and groom each attempting to force a handful of pulut into the other's mouth while simultaneously endeavoring to resist "receiving the other's gift." If all went well, neither party to the attempted exchange could claim an unqualified success. In short, the attendants saw to it that neither bride nor groom prevailed over the other, for such an outcome would bespeak a marriage marked by the victor's dominance, as opposed to a relationship characterized by balance and complementarity.[17]


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Following the ritual feeding, the bridal couple feasted while the groom's kin partook of another sumptuous meal provided by their affinal hosts. Thereafter both sets of relatives retired to their respective compounds and began (or continued) preparations for the third day of the wedding festivities. Later that night, however, the groom returned to his bride's mother's home, bearing gifts of food from his kin along with a bundle of clothes and other personal possessions, symbolizing the severance of residential ties with his mother, sisters, and other close enates. Once inside he was welcomed by his in-laws, offered betel by his wife, and otherwise accepted into her household. The groom slept inside the house that night, joined by his bride.[18]

The third, and typically the final, day of formal wedding ceremonies was known as "the day of introductions" (hari menyalang ), in reference to the ritualized introductions that took place then between the bride and a contingent of her kin (excluding her mother) on the one side and the groom's mother and kin on the other. These introductions were initiated by the bride's relatives, who traveled in a procession, headed by the bridal couple, to the groom's mother's house bearing gifts of betel and food, including packets of glutinous rice and sweet dodol cakes. On its arrival the procession was formally greeted by representatives of the groom's side, who assumed the role of host for the day. Following the presentation of the gifts, the bridal entourage and all other visitors were served a lavish feast sponsored by the mother of the groom. Later in the evening the groom's mother also gave representatives of the bride's group a small sum of money, as a reciprocal gesture acknowledging the glutinous rice and dodol cakes they had given her. Representatives of the other households that had also received food followed suit, or alternatively pledged their intentions to reciprocate these prestations at a future date. (The money thus collected was subsequently turned over to the bride, as were any other gifts that might have been offered up by the groom's kin on this occasion, such as plates or a table setting for two provided by the groom's mother.)

The winding down of the hari menyalang feast marked the close of formal wedding ceremonies, even though other ritualized introductions and exchanges typically continued for another week or two. One such series of events (glossed berbesan ) centered on the ritual meeting of the bride's and groom's parents. The first of these formal introductions took place when


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the groom's parents and kin, laden with offerings of betel, glutinous rice, and other food, visited the home of the bride's parents. The gifts were presented by the groom's mother to the bride's mother in the context of a feast hosted by the bride's household. The second round of introductions involved a similar sequence of events and similar gifts (probably with the addition of dodol cakes), but in reverse—that is, the visit and presentation of gifts by the bride's parents and kin, who journeyed to the home of the groom's parents.

A subsequent phase of ritualized visits (menyalang or menyembah ) involved the bridal couple's being formally introduced to the respective enates of bride and groom. In the first series of such introductions ("the small menyalang," or menyalang kecil ), the couple visited various households of the bride's kin. Each household received gifts of betel and other food from the bridal couple, along with glutinous rice and dodol cakes. They then provided the bridal couple with a meal, shared in the food the couple had brought, and presented the bride and groom with a small sum of money as a reciprocal gesture acknowledging the gifts of rice and cake. The duration of this period of visiting depended largely on the size of the bride's local descent group, but a few days at most was probably the norm.

The second series of formal social calls subsumed under the rubric of menyalang was also of short duration, although these visits appear to have been somewhat more elaborate and were designated by a separate term (mengulang jejak ), which, not surprisingly, refers to the groom's retracing his footsteps for the last time. The bridal couple now called on various households inhabited by the groom's kin, each of which was likewise presented with gifts of betel and food and responded as the bride's kin had during menyalang kecil.

This overview of the principal events and transactions associated with engagement and marriage proceedings is by no means exhaustive, but it should suffice for our present purposes.

Before broaching the subject of funerary rituals, I wish to emphasize that, of the items that a newly wed woman presented to her mother-in-law during her initial visits to the latter's home, dodol cakes were the most important. Moreover, a married woman was fully expected to offer dodol to both her mother-in-law and other women of the mother-in-law's lineage branch whenever she visited them. These prestations occur even to-


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day, and have always been among the primary symbols both of affinity and of women's crucial role in maintaining affinal bonds.

Funerary Rituals

Women's central role in maintaining affinal ties was even more pronounced in the realm of funerary rituals. For one thing, hosting burial and funerary rituals necessitated that female labor and other resources be mobilized from the entire lineage branch (at the minimum), just as attendance at such events obligated female guests to provide uncooked food to their hosts on entering the latter's compound. More generally, the wife's female relatives and other close kin served as hosts throughout the one-hundred-day-long funerary cycle, regardless of whose death led to the severing of the marriage tie. In the event of the husband's death, for example, the widow was responsible for all expenditures associated with not only the actual burial but also the principal funerary rituals and feasts (Parr and Mackray 1910, 88, 91; Taylor [1929] 1970, 123), all of which took place in her village. Particularly relevant here is the ritual batang tuboh , performed some one hundred days after the husband's death and revolving around symbolic prestations from the widow and her kin to the deceased's mother and other enatic survivors. Ideally at least, such prestations have long consisted of a pair of pants, a coat, a hat or cap, a knife, a sleeping mat, and a pillow (Parr and Mackray 1910, 88; DeMoubray 1931, 149–150)—the very, and highly personal, items the husband brought with him when he first began living among his wife's enates. The passing of these items from the widow to her mother-in-law symbolized both a complete and permanent rupture in the daughter-in-law's relationships with her former husband (but not necessarily his immediate enates) and a return to the mother-in-law of the son that she had in effect "given away" in marriage. Moreover, just as this ritual depicted the principal exchanges in the formation of conjugal bonds and affinal ties as centering on the transfer of rights over males, so too did it portray such exchanges as involving transfers between women, who were thus represented as trafficking in men—or at least in rights over them.

The rituals that occurred on a wife's death conveyed similar messages. At the end of the funerary cycle, for example, the widower's kin formally


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invited him back to his natal compound. This ritual gesture, jemput adat , symbolized the peripheral and ambiguous "guest" status of the widower (and of the in-marrying male in general) within his affinal community, for it emphasized that neither he nor his adat rightfully belonged there once his wife had been dead more than one hundred days. The jemput adat also coincided with the assessment and differentiation of rights over the separate estates of survivor and deceased, along with their jointly acquired holdings (Taylor [1929] 1970, 123–124). As with the batang tuboh and the concurrent distribution of property rights on that occasion, the jemput adat underscored the preeminence and permanence of matrilateral filiation, descent, and siblingship, and the qualified, conditional, and temporary nature of rights flowing from a man's marriage and his position as father.

Neither of these funerary rituals necessarily signaled the end of affinal exchange between two sets of enatic kin that had been linked through a single marriage. Even though a widow's remarriage resulted in her assuming a new series of affinal obligations (symbolized in periodic prestations of dodol cakes to her new husband's immediate female enates) and essentially canceled out all preexisting affinal responsibilities, her former obligations might be honored by her daughters from her former marriage, who would thus maintain the exchanges in question. Additionally, just as intermarriage in subsequent generations could serve to reestablish the bonds of affinity between the two groups, so could leviratic and sororatic remarriages; these could even be timed so as to preclude prolonged disruption or structural ambiguity in the relationship between the kin of survivor and deceased. A levirate remarriage, for example, could be contracted more or less immediately following the batang tuboh ritual, such that the mother of the deceased regained her dead son's personal possessions—and by implication his essence or spirit—and then proceeded to "hand over" another of her sons. A sororate remarriage could be similarly timed and would also promote affinal continuity.

Preferred Marriages and the Scope of Affinal Linkages

Data collected in contemporary Bogang suggest that in the nineteenth century there was a preference for local, but not necessarily village-level, endogamy, and for marriage within Rembau and within the same relative


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generation (even though a "good match" might join a man with a woman one generation his junior). In addition, a clear favoring of unions with relatives (saudara ), as opposed to nonkin and total strangers (both glossed orang lain , literally, "other people"), emerges from conversations with present-day villagers and from the accounts of earlier observers (e.g., Lewis 1962, 164–165). More precisely, ideal marriage partners were of comparable wealth and status, and stood related as cross cousins of the same generation and thus as classificatory siblings (who did not partake of the same biogenetic substance).

Less clear, however, is whether these ideals pertained specifically to cross cousins of the first degree (mother's brother's daughter or father's sister's daughter, in the case of an eligible male), to those of the second or third degree, or simply to all individuals related as cross cousins. Further, it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which matrilateral (as opposed to patrilateral) cross cousins might have been either favored or viewed as less desirable as potential spouses.

In this regard, de Josselin de Jong's interpretations are of particular interest. In one essay (1951, 174) he refers to the historical absence "of any very pronounced preference for marriages with mo-br-da." In a subsequent article, however ([1956] 1977, 250–251), he contends that contemporary villagers consider a male's marriage with his mother's brother's daughter as ideal. He implies as well that the latter relation was the more common of the two forms of cross-cousin marriage historically, and that consistency in this area would generate a society-wide structure of generalized exchange (or asymmetric connubium), wherein each clan stood allied through marriage with two others, the first of which provided brides while the second took its unmarried women as the wives of its own male members (de Josselin de Jong 1951, 126, 182–183; de Josselin de Jong [1956] 1970, 250–251).

These suppositions represent unsubstantiated historical conjecture that is largely out of keeping with recorded ethnographic facts. De Josselin de Jong's contention that the transactions involved in the formation of conjugal bonds centered on exchanges of women (or rights over them) strikes me as especially problematic, as does the idea that the units linked in affinal exchange were dispersed clans. Similarly, there is little evidence to support de Josselin de Jong's assertion that there is, or was, a bias in favor of a man's marriage with his (actual or classificatory) mother's brother's daugh-


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ter. (The data indicate only a general preference for marriage with classificatory cross cousins on either the maternal or the paternal side [Lewis 1962, 164; cf. chapter 7, below].) I would argue that, if any bias did exist, it was probably in favor of a man's marriage with his father's sister's daughter. The basis of this position will be clear once we examine the scope of the units linked in affinal exchange.

Following de Josselin de Jong, it seems reasonable to suggest that marriages in Rembau created links between dispersed clans in their entirety; for villagers may well have perceived such units to be the parties involved in the marital payments and in the transfer of rights and responsibilities over a bachelor-turned-bridegroom. At the same time, though, each of the two clan subchiefs handling the marriage gold and betel prestations at a wedding represented but a single clan chief, who had jurisdiction over kin and territory in either Lowland or Upland Rembau, but not both (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 25, 26, 36, 40). Consequently, one might argue that the descent units linked via marriage were not entire clans with constituents on both sides of Rembau's Lowland/Upland boundary, but rather the most inclusive territorially based political segments thereof (for example, the Lelahmaharaja clan of Lowland Rembau and the Sediaraja clan of Upland Rembau). Each perspective has relevance to the issue at hand, but neither one really clarifies whether the descent units of bride and groom that were actually affected in economic and political terms by the establishment or dissolution of conjugal bonds were the nonaggregated clans referred to above or were instead less inclusive localized clans, lineages, or—as I suspect—lineage branches.

The economic and politico-jural transactions initiated by marriage were unquestionably of paramount concern to the parents and maternal aunts and uncles of the husband and wife, and to their own siblings and sisters' children. I have emphasized as well that engagement and wedding feasts required the labor, food supplies, and capital resources of resident adults affiliated with the lineage branches of husband and wife. Most women within the lineage branch (but not necessarily female enates belonging to more expansive units of this sort) were also involved in exchanges of dodol cakes. These acts of prestation took place at least twice a year and continued throughout the duration of the marriage tie. Indeed, they may even have occurred after the husband's death (at least until his widow remarried, at which point her daughters might assume the responsibility with respect


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to their father's mother or sisters). Subsequent to all wedding festivities, and with the partial exception of transactions that followed the death of one spouse, the giving of dodol cakes was in fact the dominant act of exchange linking the kin of husband and wife. Hence—and also because burial and funerary rituals generated financial and other obligations (associated with both hosting and guest status) that fell primarily on members of the lineage branches of deceased and survivor (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 88, 91)—there is good reason to identify descent units of this order as the principal entities involved in and affected by the economic correlates of affinal exchange and alliance.

The situation regarding property and inheritance in the context of marriage, as well as its dissolution, lends further support to this position, even though lineage branches did not constitute the most elementary property-holding units. The marriage payments expected of a groom (the engagement rings and marriage gold, for example) were collected from a very narrow range of his kin, as was the harta pembawa property the groom obtained through channels of premortem inheritance and brought to the union. Just as all such property rights originated in the conjugal or familial fund of the groom's parents or sisters (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 70, 72, 73, 86), so too were most of those rights destined for a very narrow circle of individuals, composed primarily of the bride and groom, their future offspring, the bride's mother, and certain of the latter's close enatic relatives who helped defray expenses associated with the wedding feasts her household sponsored. Similar generalizations apply to the narrow origin and destination of the property rights that a bride brought to her marriage. More generally, the property and financial losses and gains of spouses in the course of their marriage, or as a result of its termination owing to death or divorce, did not usually have any impact on the property holdings or general economic standing of persons belonging to other lineage branches.

The political dimensions of affinal relations do not lend themselves to such straightforward characterization. Apparently, though, political alliances pursued through marriages involving indigenous leaders and their immediate kin were rather limited in both social scope and temporal duration. There is no evidence to suggest that dispersed clans in their entirety were commonly affected by the marriages their leaders contracted. Moreover, the greatest affinal demands on an in-marrying male's political loyalties were undoubtedly those emanating from the male members of his


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wife's lineage, and lineage branch especially. Such a man would probably regard other males who had married into the same lineage branch as his greatest potential allies. All this is certainly true at present, as will be apparent when we analyze the widely redounding dynamics and lines of cleavage at issue in Bogang's ongoing "adat crisis" (see chapter 9).

If my historical reconstruction is correct, the groups actually allied through affinal transactions (as opposed to symbolically linked through the transfer of betel and marriage gold) were the lineage branches of husband and wife. Thus, it is the lineage branch and its affinal ties with like units that we should examine when assessing patterns of spouse choice.

Consider, for example, cross-cousin marriage and the positive valuation of perpetuating and solidifying past alliances, which seems to have existed alongside a counterposed concern to create new networks of affinal exchange through the dispersal (rather than reduplication) of alliances effected by marriage. These phenomena neither pertained to nor engendered relationships characterized by alliance or by the exchange of men, labor, and food between or among units defined as clans. However, and regardless of which variant of cross-cousin marriage was the ideal or statistically prevalent form, these phenomena most likely did result in the lineage branches of a single lineage or (local) clan being party to a nexus of affinal bonds and prestations that may have overlapped with but were ultimately quite separate and distinct from those of similarly constituted, lineally connected units. In the case of the Lelahmaharaja clan of Bogang, for instance, in-marrying males belonged not to a single clan (the Sediaraja, for example), but rather to a variety of different clans, and to an even larger number of lineage branches—even in the rather unlikely event that matrilateral cross-cousin marriage had been practiced on a regular basis. (One need only recall the prohibition on a divorcé[e]'s remarriage into the clan of his or her former spouse to appreciate one of the mechanisms by which the system encouraged resident kin to seek mates not only from different lineage branches but also from entirely different clans.) Further, given the counterposed values and institutional supports associated with maintaining relations of affinal exchange and alliance, a divorcé(e)'s legitimate remarriage would necessarily bestow a degree of continuity on the dispersed nature of these relations. Thus a divorcée's remarriage could easily introduce a new set of in-laws into the system and, more importantly, an addi-


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tional group of potential spouses (that is, her husband's sisters' children) for her offspring. If the divorcée died while still wed to her second husband and had also produced daughters by him (or if the husband died while the marriage was intact), the exchange relationships centering on gifts of dodol to the husband's kin would persist and would continue to involve other women within the two spouses' lineage branches, who, for their part, were likely to be engaged in dodol exchange networks with the women of still other lineage branches. Sooner or later, however, the dodol exchanges underlying the affinal ties between the divorcée's kin and those of her second husband would come to an end, and the only means of reinstating the relationship (or precluding its termination in the first place) would be to arrange a marriage between someone within her lineage branch and a member of her (second) husband's group. To be more precise, the dodol exchanges would likely be disrupted, if not altogether severed, if the divorcée's second husband (or any woman's husband) died without fathering any daughters by her, and if she subsequently married a man affiliated with a lineage branch other than the decedent's. Additionally, even if the couple had produced daughters who assumed the responsibility for preparing and giving dodol to their dead father's kin after their mother remarried or died, their involvement in such transactions would cease on their own marriages. An identical situation would obtain if their mother predeceased their father.

These facts suggest that any two lineage branches allied through a single marriage could maintain their affinal connections whether or not grooms were exchanged (unilaterally or bilaterally) each and every generation. For the most part, though, and subject of course to the vicissitudes of demography, the gift of a groom from either group to the other in alternate generations would have been necessary, and in many cases sufficient, to ensure continuity within the fabric of affinal relations.

There were, finally, certain advantages to a union involving a man and his father's sister's daughter, advantages that did not pertain to a man's marriage with his mother's brother's daughter. We cannot know if local perceptions of these benefits led to a preference for patrilateral cross-cousin marriage, for there are no data on this matter—but it seems possible.[19]

The specific advantages of such a union derive in part from the property rights that would be consolidated; for if a male ego's son married a woman


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related to him as his father's sister's daughter, the property that the son received from his parents—through "paternal provisioning" or otherwise (see below)—would also help sustain ego's sister's daughter as well as her children, who were at one and the same time ego's patrilineal descendants and members of his own matriline.[20] Such arrangements would enable a male ego to surmount the conflicting expectations of conveying property rights to his offspring (his son) and his female enates (his sister's daughters) and, more generally, would facilitate his fulfilling certain of the counterposed obligations embodied in the roles of father and mother's brother. Conceivably too, a commitment by a prospective groom or newly wed male ego to help effect a future marriage between a son born to him and one of his sister's daughters would increase the likelihood that his enatic kin might provide him with economically valuable harta pembawa property. For, assuming that the marriage came to pass, his enates would not likely experience difficulty in resuming control over the property, a portion of which would certainly be utilized to help maintain the household established by one of their female members and ego's son. An appreciable harta pembawa would obviously be attractive to the kin of the prospective or newly wed bride as well, and it would thus be in their material interest to approve such a union.

A man's marriage with his mother's brother's daughter would also help conserve property rights among persons defined as relatives, and on this count alone was undoubtedly accorded value (as it is today). But it lacked the additional advantage of enabling the man's father to convey property rights to his son(s) via "paternal provisioning" and, in the process, to contribute to the domestic maintenance of one or more of the households established by his female kin. Marriages of this sort would thus be less efficacious in resolving the dilemmas men encountered in their roles as fathers and mother's brothers.

Viewed in this light, and in terms of the other advantages that were associated with patrilateral, but not matrilateral, cross-cousin marriage, it seems plausible that patrilateral cross-cousin marriages were considered as valuable as—if not more desirable than—their matrilateral counterparts. I would emphasize that the property and related matters outlined here were undoubtedly of great concern to nineteenth-century villagers and therefore merit analytic priority over the abstract issues that are so prominent in models of generalized (and restricted) exchange, especially since these latter issues were most likely irrelevant to the actors.


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In-Marrying Males, Fatherhood, and Motherhood

All married men were regarded by their immediate in-laws as outsiders, certainly at the beginning of their residence among them, but to some extent throughout their settlement within the in-laws' compounds (Hale 1898, 60). These aspects of married men's social and jural standing vis-à-vis their wives' enates are perhaps best summed up by the polysemic gloss orang dagang , a term that refers not only to the males who have married into a particular compound, lineage, or clan but also to traders and itinerants.

A summary overview of the relations of authority linking in-marrying males with their wives' kin can be gleaned from numerous customary sayings (perbilangan ) collected prior to and just after the turn of the century (see, for example, Hale 1898, 57; Parr and Mackray 1910, 87, 116–117). One such perbilangan translates as:

The married man must go, when he is bid,
And halt, when he is forbid.
When we receive a man as a bridegroom,
If he is strong he shall be our champion;
If a fool, he will be ordered about
To invite guests distant and collect guests near;
Clever, and we'll invite his counsel;
Learned, and we'll ask his prayers;
Rich, and we'll use his gold.
If lame, he shall scare chicken;
If blind, he shall pound the mortar;
If deaf, he shall fire our salutes.
If you enter a byre, low;
If you enter a goat's pen, bleat;
Follow the customs of your wife's family.
When you tread the soil of a country and live beneath its sky,
Follow the customs of that country.
A bridegroom among his bride's relations
Is like a cucumber among durian fruit:
If he rolls against them, he is hurt,
And he is hurt, if they roll against him.
                                                                 (Caldecott 1918, 36–37)


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Customary sayings of this sort served to define relations between married men and their in-laws, but partial exemptions and deviations from these standards have probably always existed (as they clearly do today). It may be recalled, for example, that titled males have always been less dependent than untitled males on the resources and goodwill of their affines, owing primarily to the privileges and support that the former derived from their political charges. Titled males' structural subservience to their in-laws was also symbolically deemphasized during wedding festivities, where they were exempt from the obligation to perform ceremonial messengerlike services for their affines, a task their untitled counterparts could not avoid.

These and other qualifications notwithstanding, the foregoing perbilangan suggests that married men came under the day-to-day jural control of their affines, and that their authority over their wives and children was thus necessarily constrained, as were other aspects of their behavior both within and beyond the domestic domain. It also supports my contention that married men were subject to heavy affinal demands on their labor power and productivity (Hale 1898, 56–57). As we shall see, these latter demands have probably always constituted a principal source of tension in marriage and one of the more important factors contributing to divorce.

Throughout the nineteenth century, a married man could address his predicament by distancing himself from his wife's compound for a variable period of time. Neighbors and other villagers would interpret this course of action in various ways, especially in light of the positive cultural valuation of temporary out-migration (merantau ). Nonetheless, I suspect that such action reinforced the view that married men were likely to abandon their wives and children when the going got rough and that males as a whole were both inherently less reliable than females and less inclined to suppress their capricious impulses. Stated more positively, such flight fed into local views that women were far more willing than men to endure hardship and sacrifices.

It is difficult to document the antiquity of cultural perceptions of this sort, but they probably prevailed throughout the 1800s, and long before. Support for their antiquity derives in part from ancient myths recounting the origins of Negeri Sembilan's system of matrilineal clanship and the attendant favoring of female heirs. One such myth (recorded by Newbold 1839, 2 : 221–222, and Lewis 1962, 3, among others) centers on the


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resolution of a dilemma confronting Sumatra-born Dato Perpatih (Nan Sebatang)—the quasi-mythical culture hero from which Negeri Sembilan's adat takes its name—as he endeavored to launch a large boat constructed to facilitate his search for an adat appropriate for his followers. The basic problem was that the completed vessel was too large to be moved into the water. Dato Perpatih decided to burn incense in an effort to enlist the support of spirits, and later he dreamt that the successful launching of the boat required a human to serve as a roller. Interestingly, the revelation called for the sacrifice of a female rather than a male; specifically, a young woman pregnant with her first child. Dato Perpatih thus sought the assistance of his own pregnant daughter. When she refused to cooperate, his sister's daughter, who was also pregnant, offered to sacrifice herself (and, in effect, her unborn child) so as to help him realize his objectives. The boat was eventually launched over her body, but, owing to the spirits' protection, she emerged from the incident unharmed.

Accounts of this sort illustrate the mythically enshrined sacrifices that females are supposed to be willing to undertake when called on by their enatic relatives.[21] They are also commonly cited by present-day villagers of both sexes to elaborate on the local perception that females are usually quite responsive in honoring kin ties and social obligations on the whole—certainly far more so than males.

Stereotypic perceptions of married men's inattentiveness to the demands and expectations they confronted in their roles as husbands and sons-in-law also informed local understandings of fatherhood, and gave rise to a sharp cultural differentiation between fatherhood and motherhood. It should be obvious, to take the extreme case, that any man who effectively deserted his wife and children would not only be regarded as a delinquent husband and son-in-law, but would also be condemned as an extremely callous and delinquent father. Men's abandonment of their families (through formal divorce or otherwise) may have been relatively frequent, particularly if mid-twentieth-century divorce rates are any indication of 1800s rates.[22] Far more relevant, though, are local perceptions of the likelihood that such desertion might occur; these perceptions were undoubtedly significant in shaping the normative dimensions of fatherhood as well as children's attitudes and sentiments toward their fathers, and toward males as a whole.

Turn-of-the-century references point to the relative absence in Rembau


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"of a sincere filial affection for the father" (Parr and Mackray 1910, 87; cf. Hale 1898, 58, 60). This (admittedly impressionistic) statement is, I think, highly instructive. So, too, is the fact that contemporary residents of Bogang could not recall any tales or myths highlighting the negative effects of a child's temporary denial of (or failure to recognize) its relationship to its father, and yet easily summoned up mythic accounts centering on the dire (indeed, fatal) consequences of such denial of the mother. Actually, this should not surprise us given the rather conditional nature of a man's relationship with his progeny—as reflected, for example, in his mandatory departure from his wife's home subsequent to divorce or his wife's death, and the simultaneous dissolution of ties with his offspring, who remained in the care of their mother or her close enatic kin. His departure could easily lead to an explicit and permanent sociological denial of father-child bonds. The father's divorce or death, by contrast, had no appreciable bearing on the children's relationship to their mother; if anything, these events enhanced the emotional and conceptual significance of that relationship.

Even more important in this connection was the pronounced intimacy characteristic of a young (and, to a lesser extent, an adult) child's interactions with its mother, coupled with the mother's greater tolerance and patience and the simple fact that she spent far more time nurturing, indulging, and instructing her children than did her husband. This is not to deny the father's typically strong emotional attachment to and paternal interest in his offspring, especially during their infant years. Rather, the situation reflects a sexual division of labor that assigned the bulk of child-rearing tasks to women, as well as a process of social distancing initiated largely by the father and leading to progressively formalized relations with his progeny soon after they attained roughly six or seven years of age. These factors also merit serious consideration when assessing the pronounced emotional attachment of mother and child, and the correspondingly weak tie between fathers and their children, particularly the relative absence of "a sincere filial affection for the father." The following comments, transcribed from a tape-recorded conversation with a present-day grandfather in his mid fifties, speak directly to issues of this latter nature; they can also be taken as broadly reflective of villagers' attitudes and sentiments during the nineteenth century.


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Children and their fathers aren't all that close because those who raise children from the time they are small are their mothers. . . . And while a mother's affection toward her children is pure and has no other intention or purpose, the affection of a father is temporary and depends on our heeding his words. . . . In fact, if you study the situation carefully, the responsibility to raise and instruct children is really the mother's. Her role is far more demanding than that of the father, who wakes up in the morning, bathes, eats, and goes off to earn money for the household. The mother must also tend to the clothes, cook rice and other food, and sweep the garden area. . . . As a child, then, you must respect your mother even though what she says may not always fit with your view of things. You must respect her because, according to a Malay proverb and the tenets of Islam, "a child's heaven lies at the feet of its mother." This means that heaven is a very special place where all is good, and that if you want to go to heaven you must obey your mother and never, ever upset her. . . . [The mother is special because] she is the one who gives birth to us. We are carried by our mothers for nine months and ten days. During that time the mother endures all sorts of misery and suffering. It is heavy and difficult; she gets ill, you know, when she is pregnant. In the course of giving birth to us, there's so much suffering and difficulty. According to what Malays say, a woman who has given birth to a child is just like someone who has crossed the sea. That's what it is like. Think of a person swimming across a sea—certainly there's suffering. And after the child has been born, it rests comfortably on the mother's lap such that the mother never gets enough sleep. If at two o'clock in the morning the child cries and wants milk, the mother must wake up and nurse it. Sometimes, after one hundred days have come and gone, the mother may want to do some work but must carry the child on her hip or back while working. These are a mother's sacrifices for her children. She doesn't get sufficient sleep or enough to eat and lacks so many other things. Thus, when the child grows up and is able to work, it's fitting that the child repay the mother, right? It is also true that our repayment has no monetary value. That's the meaning of "a child's heaven lies at the feet of its mother."

These comments illustrate some of the ways a child's ties with its mother have long been seen as fundamentally different from those with its father. I might add that the mother's role appears always to have been the subject of far greater cultural elaboration than the role of the father, despite patronymic conventions and the Islamic ritual emphasis on fatherhood and patrifiliation (in circumcision and certain phases of wedding ceremonies, for instance).[23] More specifically, pregnancy, birth, and postnatal rituals focused on and celebrated the mother—her procreative and nurturant role (and the mother-child bond more generally)—not the father. Indeed, no


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ritual performances or complexes placed comparable emphasis on fatherhood, either biological or sociological.

Property and Inheritance Codes

Myriad aspects of parent-child bonds and other forms of kinship emerge in sharp relief when viewed against the structure and entailments of property and inheritance codes. A few of the more important features of these codes merit special mention. The first is the taxonomic scheme by which property was differentiated as either "ancestral" (pesaka ) or "acquired" (sepencharian ). The second is the longitudinal or diachronic grading of the taxonomy, by which "acquired" property would be reclassified in consequence of inheritance, thus guaranteeing that it became "ancestral" and, by definition, subject to the residual control of enatic kin. The third feature concerns the labor power and property rights of in-marrying males, much of which came under the immediate or ultimate control of their affinal kin.

The origins and classification of settlement and land rights in nineteenth-century Rembau were keyed significantly to the mythic alliance between the Minangkabau colonists and Rembau's aboriginal Jakun, an alliance created by the marriage of a Minangkabau chief and an aboriginal spirit princess. This mythical event effected the transfer of rights over Rembau's soil from the aborigines to the apical ancestors of the two gentry clans, known collectively as (Biduanda) Waris. These two clans thenceforth stood as the rightful claimants to all of Rembau's land (even though ultimate title was vested in Allah [Lister 1890, 304; Hale 1898, 51], who was represented in this instance and in numerous other contexts by the Undang). All other clans thus derived their rights to settlement, resources, and the like, not from the aborigines, but from the prestigious Waris.

More specifically, cultivable land and the adjacent valleys and hills given over to nongentry clans in exchange for token payments (or the promise of such) ranked as "redeemed lands" (tanah bertebus ) and were, by definition, immune from taxation on the part of the Undang and other clan chiefs (Parr and Mackray 1910, 28–29, 66). All remaining acreage, which had never been so transferred, fell into the class comprising "unredeemed land" (tanah tak bertebus ), certain categories of which were subject to taxation. All unredeemed acreage used for residential or agricultural purposes, for


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example, was categorized as "live land" (tanah hidup ) and was taxable. (In the case of rice fields and homestead plots worked or occupied by Waris, this tax or tribute was paid annually with a packet of parched rice and a measure of husked rice from domestic groups or lineage branches to the Undang, who, it will be recalled, was both a Waris himself and the highest ranking person in all of Rembau [Parr and Mackray 1910, 67].) Unredeemed land that was unoccupied or otherwise unutilized, however, was classified as "dead land" (tanah mati ), for which no taxes, tithes, or tribute was due the Undang or other political leaders. Dead land had no real subsistence or other economic value until the foreign-backed development of Negeri Sembilan's tin and other mining industries, which began in earnest after 1830 (see chapters 3 and 4). It is important to bear in mind though that both "dead" and "live" variants of unredeemed acreage were under the direct proprietorship of Rembau's Waris clans.

The distinction between redeemed and unredeemed lands served as a critical symbolic marker of membership in nongentry as opposed to gentry clans; it also denoted an explicit dichotomy in the linkages between the Undang and Rembau's various clans. Of more immediate concern, however, is that all rights and transactions involving property were governed by a separate taxonomic scheme, which regulated all clans' property and inheritance relationships, regardless of whether redeemed or unredeemed lands were at issue.

There were two dominant elements of this taxonomy. The first was an explicit distinction between "ancestral" and "acquired" property (harta pesaka and harta sepencharian , respectively), involving a clear-cut differentiation of rights over property. Stated briefly (and ignoring for the moment those items of property that fell into both categories), there existed far more restrictions on the use and transfer of ancestral property than of acquired property (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 65–76). This situation follows from the fact that all ancestral property came under the residual control of a particular clan and lineage, even though that property might be held provisionally by much smaller social units (for instance, the resident females of a lineage branch compound or individual household). The use and alienation of acquired property, in contrast, was governed by less rigid constraints and a less uniform set of conventions. Individuals and groups could thus exercise greater freedom in their dealings with acquired property than with ancestral. This area of divergence was most pronounced


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with respect to acquired property that was jointly obtained by spouses during their marriage (charian laki-bini ).

The nature and implications of these restrictions become clear in the light of the second taxonomic element. This was the longitudinal dimension or diachronic grading of the taxonomic scheme, which effected a property reclassification over time (that is, in consequence of inheritance) and thus guaranteed that all property, however and by whomever acquired, ultimately came under the residual control of one or another clan or segment thereof (Parr and Mackray 1910, 65, 75–76). This feature of the system helped mitigate the consequences of demographic growth and partible inheritance practices; it likewise functioned to preserve and augment clan holdings with the passage of each generation or inheritance transaction.

This process may be illustrated by a stretch of previously uncleared land rendered suitable for wet-rice cultivation through the combined efforts of a woman and her husband. Typically—by virtue of such clearing and cultivation activities—the pair were acknowledged as the legitimate claimants to the land (see Hale 1898, 50–51; Parr and Mackray 1910, 66), which was thus defined as part of their conjugal acquisitions (charian laki-bini). Should the couple so desire (and assuming they were childless or did not thus jeopardize the future resource base of their children), they could sell or otherwise alienate rights over the acreage to persons associated with any clan. If, however, the plot was not sold but passed to the couple's children (that is, their daughters), it would be automatically reclassified as ancestral property (Parr and Mackray 1910, 65) and thus become subject to the clan's jurisdiction. The clan could then place a lien on the property so as to guarantee that in the future no members of any other descent unit could acquire rights over it. Insofar as the lineage held similar authority, the reclassification over time of charian laki-bini as ancestral served to conserve property both within the clan and within a particular lineage, and to solidify ties of siblingship and descent within both these units.

The recategorization of a specific item of property, and the concomitant increase in the restrictions associated with its future transfer, was not a simple one-step process. Rather, the ancestral status of property was enhanced with the passing of each generation or transaction. Even though no linguistic markers differentiated the ancestral category internally with


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regard to how long the property had been ancestral,[24] the relative ancestral status of property probably figured into the constraints bearing on the devolution of rights over it (DeMoubray 1931, 126–127, 248–249, et passim). Unfortunately, we do not know how, if at all, different degrees of ancestry on the one hand and varying types of jural rights and obligations on the other correlated. Perhaps jural variation took the form of largely implicit moral imperatives structured so as to foster a stronger sense of descent-group identification with, and reverence for, its more ancient ancestral property. These imperatives, in turn, could have been realized in varying degrees of descent-group tolerance for exceptions to established modes of transfer, depending on the relative ancestral status of the property in question (although the type of ancestral property may have counted for something as well).

Ancestral Property

The ancestral category comprised three analytically distinct types of property, each of which is dividable into several subtypes (see table 2). The first consisted of incorporeal property in the form of rights to office (known as gelar pesaka or gelar adat ); it included political titles as well as those held by such ritual specialists as the shamanic pawang and officials of local mosques (the imam and bilal ). The second was corporeal property of an immovable sort—namely, houses (rumah ) and land (tanah ). The third included movable corporeal property: jewelry, bridal attire, male clothing, weapons (knives, swords, guns, and cannon), livestock, and presumably any household or other items transmitted through the matriline.

Restrictions on the transfer of rights over ancestral property varied according to the nature of the property and its placement within one of the ancestral categories. Rights to political titles and most other offices, for example, passed only to men, but they did not devolve to sisters' sons or to other closely related male enates. Instead, they rotated among descent group segments that were linked as siblings and that might also derive from disparate enatic origins (table 2). In certain instances, to be sure, legitimate marriages between such groups could result in a man's title passing to his own son (or to his sister's husband or wife's brother), assuming of course that the son stood associated by descent with the group next in


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Table 2. Principal Types of Ancestral Property in Nineteenth-Century Negeri
Sembilan, Showing Pathways of Devolution

 

Usual Relationship of
Proprietors and Heirs

Incorporeal property

Titles to political office

Classificatory brothersa

Titles to ritual office

Classificatory brothersa

Corporeal property

Immovable property

Houses

Mother and daughter

Land

Mother and daughter

Movable property

Jewelry

Mother and daughter

Bridal attire

Mother and daughter

Male clothing

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son

Weaponry

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son

Livestock

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son (and/or daughter)

a By virtue of membership in clans or clan segments related as (or like) siblings.

line for the title (see Gullick 1958, 77–79). The point, though, is that siblingship, not descent, provided the hegemonic idioms of political succession, and of this dimension of inheritance more generally, and also seems to have governed access to the wholly separate titles vested in ritual specialists.[25]

Rights over ancestral houses and land, in contrast, passed exclusively to enatically related women, and typically from mothers to their daughters (table 2). Consequently, these rights were conserved within a particular descent group segment rather than transferred as a matter of policy among similarly constituted, structurally equivalent units linked as siblings.

The transmission of rights over movable property was likewise usually confined to inheritance by persons within the natal household or lineage branch of the former proprietor (table 2). Thus, rights to a deceased woman's ancestral jewelry passed to her daughters, just as a male's ancestral weapons and clothing passed on his death to his sisters (or mother) for the


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benefit of the sisters' male offspring (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 69, 70, 76, 86–87, 91–92).

These arrangements were not merely the ideal but were in fact prescriptions bearing on all transactions concerning ancestral properties. Barring major crises, in other words, ancestral rights were not to be mortgaged or sold, but rather should be either inherited by one's closest enatic relatives (preferably descendants) or else bestowed on them in life freely and unilaterally (in other words, with no anticipation of personal gain or compensation on the part of the bestower).[26] Contraventions of this basic dictum not only invited gossip and social ostracism but were also seen as likely to incur the disfavor of dead ancestors.

The circumstances minimally necessary to render the mortgage or sale of ancestral property legitimate in the eyes of kin and the community at large were relatively few in number, defined in very specific terms, and mostly classed either as "debts of adat" or as "ancestral debts," that is, as utang adat or utang pesaka (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 70–75; cf. Lister 1887, 44). The mother of a deceased bachelor, widower, or divorcé, for example, was liable for all the personal debts her son owed at the time of his death. Further, in the event that the deceased held political office and had been fined for improper performance of his duties, the mother (or whoever lived off the proceeds of her ancestral land) stood responsible for the final payment of that fine. Only the second type of unfulfilled obligation was considered an "adat debt," but either variety of unfinished business might lead to a successful petition for the temporary or permanent alienation of some plot of ancestral land.

Ancestral debts, in contrast, assumed a more varied character. The more binding of these debts included the marriage expenses of children and the costs associated with the burial of and funerary rituals held for one's parents (Parr and Mackray 1910, 73–74). The financing of annual graveyard rituals (tamat kampung ) aimed at "burying" all of the year's misunderstandings and antagonisms among siblings (as well as parents and their children) could also necessitate the mortgage or sale of ancestral property. Further, the recipients of ancestral land were expected to help subsidize their brothers' and sons' formal religious education in the (unlikely) event that their pursuit of Islamic knowledge took them outside of Rembau, and to assist their closest kin in defraying the costs of making the pilgrimage to Mecca (Parr and Mackray 1910, 74).


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The mortgaging or selling of ancestral property had certain important implications.[27] For one thing, the value placed on compensating the creditors of deceased sons and brothers could effectively diminish the funds of ancestral property vested in the decedents' mothers or sisters. Such compensatory actions were undoubtedly motivated in part by concerns to avoid grave breaches of adat. More importantly, however, these concerns were tied to analytically separate imperatives that enjoined all villagers to safeguard, and ideally to enhance, the reputation and prestige of their local descent lines. The importance of ensuring that one's pedigree remained free of "taints" (cacat ) could take precedence over the local group's preservation of all ancestral property, particularly in villages with relatively abundant cultivable land. A blemished pedigree, after all, decreased the likelihood of obtaining promising and potentially productive husbands for the women of the group. By the same token, it restricted the group's options to effect exchange and alliance relationships with highly esteemed or powerful clans, or clan segments. Further, since the quantity of ancestral land and other property available to future members of the matriline depended in part on the productivity of in-marrying males, the group's reputation assumed a long-term importance extending beyond the social standing of existent generations.

Moreover, the honoring of certain debts classed as ancestral could ultimately serve to compromise the broad spirit of siblingship underlying clanship, sometimes in the very name of narrowly conceived variants of sibling relatedness. This could occur as a result of mortgaging or selling ancestral property to finance annual graveyard rituals geared toward smoothing over the preceding year's misunderstandings and antagonisms among natural siblings (as well as parents and their children). It could also occur among proprietors who mortgaged or otherwise alienated their provisional rights over ancestral lands to help underwrite the cost of their brothers' (or sons') religious education or pilgrimage to Mecca. It is in circumstances of this nature that the imperatives of narrowly conceived variants of siblingship can be seen to work against the realization of the broader spirit of siblingship informing clanship. As discussed in subsequent chapters, these systemic features provided a crucial structural precedent that channeled the individualizing and otherwise socialy divisive consequences of colonial-era political and economic developments.


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Acquired Property

The linguistically tagged varieties of acquired property were three in number (see table 3), following from the origins of particular items of property—specifically, property brought to the marriage by either the husband (harta pembawa ) or the wife (harta dapatan ), or acquired by the joint efforts of husband and wife (charian laki-bini ). Such distinctions had crucial implications for spouses' rights of possession and disposal over household resources, and also for the distribution of property upon divorce or the death of one of the marriage partners.

Household residents, and spouses in particular, were not vested with equivalent powers of disposal over the various forms of acquired property to which their household had access. Without his wife's consent, for example, a man could not pawn or sell any jewelry or land she inherited (Newbold 1839, 2 : 220; Lister 1887, 44; Parr and Mackray 1910, 87, 92). Similarly, unless her husband gave his approval, a woman was prohibited from disposing of any of his weapons, livestock, or cash savings. A joint decision to offer up for purchase nonancestral items belonging to either of their separate estates was, of course, an altogether different matter (even though upon divorce each was obligated to compensate losses to the other's estate). So too, it seems, were mutual agreements to sell portions of their jointly acquired holdings. Yet in any case, restrictions on the alienation of rights to acquired properties that were obtained individually stemmed from the matriline's interests in retaining all property rights vested in its members within the clan, and among close enates in particular. Marriage, in other words, could—and typically did—result in an extension of use rights over weapons, land, and the like to persons of another clan (to one's spouse, for instance, and, in the case of fathers, to children); but neither marriage nor its dissolution should effect a major redefinition or change in the status of either spouse's personal estate (that is, no compromise in rights grounded in siblingship or descent should occur) (see Parr and Mackray 1910, 76, 87).

The principles regulating the devolution of rights over acquired property are expressed succinctly in a traditional saying that is widely known even at present: Pembawa kembali, dapatan tinggal, charian bagi (Lister 1890, 316; Hale 1898, 55) (see table 3). Each segment of this saying refers


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Table 3. Principal Types of Acquired Property in Nineteenth-Century Negeri Sembilan, Showing Pathways of Devolution and
Types of Property Subject to Paternal Provisioning

 

Usual Relationship of
Proprietors and Heirs

Property Subject to
Paternal Provisioning

Husband's personal estate (harta pembawa )

Male clothing/weaponry

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son

× (unless simultaneously classed as ancestral)

Livestock

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son (and/or daughter)

× (unless simultaneously classed as ancestral)

Cash

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's son

×

Wife's personal estate (harta dapatan )

House

Mother and daughter

 

Land

Mother and daughter

 

Jewelry/bridal attire

Mother and daughter

 

Conjugal acquisitions (charian laki-bini )

   

House

Mother and daughter

 

Land

Mother and daughter

 

Husband's share of movables

Brother and sister, Mother's brother and Sister's child

×

Wife's share of movables

Mother and child

 

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to one of the major types of acquired property, and to its fate ("where it should go") upon divorce. Thus, (harta) pembawa "returns" to the husband; (harta) dapatan "stays" with the wife; and charian (laki-bini) "is divided" between the two of them. The sole exception to this summary of divorced spouses' rights to the property they shared while married lay in the estranged husband's claim to immovable property technically classed as jointly acquired earnings. At issue here was not only the house a man may have built for his wife with capital and other resources he brought to the marriage, but also the previously uncultivated (or unoccupied) acreage he may have helped his wife clear, drain, and prepare for wet-rice production or residential purposes. Although these property rights were most appropriately categorized as conjugal earnings, their apportionment following divorce was subject to the provisions for harta dapatan transmission—that is, a divorced man could not claim them even if he had been primarily responsible for their creation (Parr and Mackray 1910, 90–91).

These latter stipulations aside, the saying cited above provides an accurate rule of thumb concerning the settlement of property rights following divorce. It is also relevant to the transmission of property after a spouse's death. In the case of the married man's decease, his closest kin in the matriline could, and apparently usually did, exercise their prerogative to claim his harta pembawa, especially if it had ancestral status (Parr and Mackray 1910, 76). Somewhat less predictable, it seems, was their course of action with respect to the decedent's share of the movable property he had amassed with his wife. In theory, his kin could rightfully demand a full half-share of this property—or, more accurately, one-half of what remained after his wife covered all the burial and funerary expenses. Nonetheless, such demands were most likely tempered owing to "extenuating circumstances," in the form of the deceased's children, who might benefit from (and possibly require for their subsistence) continued access to their parents' conjugal earnings (DeMoubray 1931, 150–154, 253). Likewise, repeated marriages between two groups, or even the anticipation of such, might well have contributed to mutually safisfactory compromises in this area. Be that as it may, decisions not to press such claims could easily compromise or dilute rights vested in the bonds of siblingship and descent linking the deceased with his surviving enates (in favor of ties of patrifiliation and affinity, as well as the relations of siblingship and descent obtaining among his affines).


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The practice of "paternal provisioning" (tentukan ) could also influence the devolution of a deceased male's rights over conjugal movable properties, thus exacerbating strained relations between his enates and those of his wife. The term tentukan refers most specifically to the process or fact of certification; here, however, it denotes a verbal statement by which a father designated one or more of his children as the rightful heirs to his share of the conjugal acquisitions (or other nonancestral properties) that his matrilineal kin could otherwise claim following his death. The implications of such paternal provisioning are of far-reaching significance, even though many details of the practice remain vague and contradictory (cf. DeMoubray 1931, 155–157, 226–227 et passim; Lister 1887, 45; Lister 1890, 316–317) and even though no data exist by which to assess either its prevalence during the nineteenth century or the property typically at stake in such arrangements. It essentially negated the prerogatives that his lineage mates might exercise (on behalf of his mother, sisters, and sisters' children) with respect to his portion of conjugal earnings. In short, their ability to lodge claims to the property in question was wholly undermined by the tentukan arrangement and his direct bequeathal of rights over the property to his own children.[28]

The practice of paternal provisioning might appear structurally anomalous, but in fact it was highly congruent with, and can be seen as a logical extension of, the narrow provisioning of a man at marriage. To appreciate this fact we need only consider that although paternal provisioning centered on rights over a man's share of jointly acquired earnings, it could also encompass rights over the nonancestral harta pembawa property he brought to the union (Lister 1887, 45) and utilized for purposes of conjugal maintenance and domestic reproduction (see table 3). The harta pembawa property a groom obtained through channels of premortem inheritance originated in the conjugal or familial fund of his parents or sisters and was thus collected from a very narrow range of his kin. Neither his mother's sisters nor her other collateral enates contributed to either his harta pembawa or his other marriage payments; thus, these payments did not draw on or reinforce ties of siblingship or descent. This situation is in keeping with the fact that his own sisters and his other collateral enates might be excluded from inheriting rights to the property he left at his death. Viewed from this perspective, the narrow provisioning of a man at marriage, and the harta pembawa complex in particular, embodied the struc-


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tural logic that not only informed all variants of paternal provisioning but also foreshadowed the colonial-era erosion of property rights grounded in the bonds of siblingship and descent linking married or formerly married men with their sisters and other collateral enates.

Acts of tentukan effected transfers of often appreciable amounts of capital savings and other resources from one clan to another. Such transfers assumed critical importance in the face of colonial-era developments in property and inheritance relationships. These developments grew from villagers' involvement in the cash cropping of rubber for the world market as well as the establishment and empowering of Islamic administrative hierarchies and other state bodies charged with overseeing the property and domestic affairs of the Malay populace. Specifically, in emphasizing patrifiliative links and marriage bonds at the expense of siblingship and other ties between married men and their enatic kin, the tentukan option facilitated a linealization and overall transformation of property and inheritance relationships while simultaneously allowing for their containment within the traditional ideological framework embedding them. These issues are addressed in greater detail in chapters 4 and 8.

We have examined the initial transfer of a deceased male's alienable portion of jointly acquired earnings and will now consider the fate of a deceased wife's share of conjugal property. For approximately one hundred days following her death, all such property was vested in her widower for future distribution among their children (hence the saying "upon the wife's death it rests with the husband"—mati bini, tinggal ke laki ). Thereafter, however, and once all of her funerary expenses had been paid for with conjugal acquisitions, her children became the designated heirs, if not the actual proprietors, of all immovable property as well as half of the remaining movables. All such inherited property was ascribed ancestral status, and was therefore automatically held on divided title and subject to various clan restrictions. An identical recategorization of property, moreover, inhered in the posthumous transmission of the husband's portion of the conjugal fund, assuming of course that the property went to his sisters (for the benefit of their children) or others in his matriline. The only exceptions to this automatic reclassification of property through inheritance were in situations where a man's offspring received shares of their father's property owing either to an act of paternal provisioning or to the benevolence of his immediate enates. Rights over property thus be-


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queathed were not accorded ancestral status until they passed to the children's enatic kin.

Similar recategorizations of conjugal property over time occurred as a result of divorce insofar as the property apportioned between divorced spouses ranked as their personal estates in subsequent unions. Thus, the cash and other items claimed by a disgruntled husband and eventually taken to another marriage were regarded as his harta pembawa and dealt with accordingly both within that relationship and upon its demise (Parr and Mackray 1910, 76). Likewise, his former wife's share of their joint acquisitions attained harta dapatan standing in her later marriages and in the property and inheritance proceedings following their dissolution (DeMoubray 1931, 227).

Continuities and transformations in the property and inheritance relations outlined thus far are analyzed in subsequent discussions. In chapter 8, for example, I demonstrate that much of what has occurred during the past one hundred years in the domain of property and inheritance can be accommodated within the traditional ideological framework of siblingship and descent, and is generally compatible with long-established notions of origin point and gender. I argue in addition that the major transformations in this sphere impinged more directly on principles and relations of siblingship than on those of descent, even though political, economic, and religious changes did effect numerous compromises, realignments, and reweightings in each of these areas. Because various colonial-era reforms in property and inheritance were phrased in Islamic idioms, a skeletal overview of Islamic inheritance codes is in order here.

Islamic Inheritance

Although Islamic inheritance conventions are theoretically obligatory for all Muslims, knowledge of such conventions was not necessarily widespread in precolonial Rembau, nor were Islamic property concepts appreciably significant in the conceptualization or actual organization of property relations anywhere else in Negeri Sembilan prior to the final decades of the nineteenth century. This situation must be kept in mind lest one conflate the distinction between the codes themselves, as expressed in Islamic texts, and their implications for precolonial property and inheritance concepts and property relations.


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Islamic legal theory recognizes three distinct classes of heirs. One of these, designated ashab al-faraid , was established by the Prophet Muhammad and enjoins the inclusion in heirship of various individuals often (if not altogether) barred from inheritance in pre-Islamic Arabia. Referred to by some scholars as "Koranic heirs," these initially included a proprietor's spouse as well as his or her parents, daughters, and sisters, and later came to embrace grandparents in addition to matrilateral and patrilateral half-sisters and son's daughters (Fyzee [1949] 1974, 402–418; von BendaBeckmann 1979, 200). This category is distinguished in Islamic theory from that class of heirs made up entirely of agnates, or asabat (even though fathers, daughters, and certain other individuals might thus share a dual designation). The final category of heirs, dhaw'ul-arham , comprises more distantly related female agnates and cognates of either sex.

It may appear that the range of heirs as defined by Islam is potentially limitless. Such might be the case were it not for an elaborate hierarchy of general principles and context-specific rules that not only give particular heirs priority over others but can also effectively exclude all but a few survivors from rights over a decedent's intestate properties. Perhaps the most fundamental of all such principles is the stipulation that Koranic heirs receive shares of intestate properties in accordance with the portions specified as their due in the Koran, and that the remainder should devolve on those defined as "agnatic heirs." Equally important are various principles of relative exclusion that tend to favor, on the one hand, descendants (and progeny in particular) over ascendants and collaterals and, on the other, males over females. According to these principles, the existence of a decedent's son effectively reduces the shares of various potential heirs, and can essentially cancel out the jural interests of others (a son's daughter, for example, and both full and half-sisters). By the same token, whereas a daughter may be entitled as a Koranic heir to a full half-share of her parents' property, if she has one or more brothers such rights become limited to one-half of a brother's share. In addition, just as a widow's portion of her former husband's intestate property would be cut from one-fourth to one-eighth if she inherited along with a child of either sex (or a son's child), so too would a widower find his share of his wife's estate reduced from one-half to one-fourth in the same circumstances (see Fyzee [1949] 1974, 405–440).

While the material presented here reveals a structural bias in favor of


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males and individuals related through males, females are by no means altogether excluded from inheritance. For that matter, Islamic legal theory sanctions certain pathways of devolution that are incompatible with a strict patriliny; for example, it permits inheritance by matrilateral half-siblings, spouses, and mothers, among others.

I argue in subsequent chapters that the decisive factor in the colonial-era impact of Islam on property and inheritance relations in Negeri Sembilan was neither the theoretical favoring of sons and other male heirs over their sisters nor the so-called patrilineal bias in all of this. Instead, Islam's influence during this period derived primarily from its emphasis on the property rights of lineal rather than collateral kin and its nonrecognition of local distinctions between acquired and ancestral properties. More specifically, just as Islam does not recognize the conventions associated with ancestral property, neither does it acknowledge as legitimate the inheritance claims of enates that derive solely from genealogical calculations rooted in matriliny. Islam's position on inter vivos bequests (hiba ), and in particular the doctrinal tolerance of paternal provisioning involving movable and immovable properties (whether or not classed as ancestral), served both to increase the likelihood of competing claims to deceased males' property rights and to effect resolutions in favor of the decedents' wives and children rather than their immediate enates and enatic collaterals more generally.[29] Islam's otherwise largely implicit orientation toward lineality thus provided a powerful rationale for the progressive erosion of divided title and the concomitant, albeit partial, denial of residual rights vested in collateral enates.


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PART TWO—
REMBAU AND NEGERI SEMBILAN DURING THE COLONIAL INTERLUDE (1874–1957)


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3—
Local Government and Religious Administration

The imposition of British colonial rule in Negeri Sembilan in 1874 precipitated the differentiation, polarization, and erosion of indigenous institutions. On the one hand there emerged a dualistic political system characterized by an eviscerated clan polity subject to a centralized bureaucracy concerned with law and order, revenue collection, and capitalistic development. Additionally, since the Pax Britannica all but precluded substantive political activities on the part of the Malay elite, the colonial period saw indigenous leaders encouraging the development and empowering of Islamic administrative hierarchies, which came under their dominion at the outset but soon evolved so as to diffuse still further their sanctions and authorities. This chapter looks at such processes, focusing on their implications for the status of clan leaders and the relationship between adat and Islam. The commercial and political climate prior to British intervention will be established, after which we will analyze secular government under British rule and early colonial-era trends in Islamic administration. We will then consider selected aspects of Malay nationalism


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and Islamic reform during the 1920s and 1930s, along with subsequent political crises, including the Japanese Occupation and Rembau's 1951 "adat controversy."

Prelude to Colonial Intervention

In considering many of the more important political and commercial trends preceding colonial intervention in Negeri Sembilan, we may profitably begin with the state's southern neighbor, Malacca. As discussed by Wolters (1970), Malacca's political fortunes centered on an impressive trade entrepôt with a history extending back to the fall of Sumatra's Srivijaya-Palembang Empire in the late 1300s and the founding of the Malacca Sultanate in the very early 1400s. Negeri Sembilan's location and its proximity to the port of Malacca itself thus facilitated its inhabitants' access to trade goods and market networks, and likewise heightened the state's susceptibility to encroachments by Malacca-based foreign powers. Although neither the Sultan of Malacca nor the Portuguese who overthrew him in 1511 seemed to be especially concerned (or all that well equipped) to involve themselves in the affairs of Negeri Sembilan's politics, a radically different situation prevailed following the Dutch victory over the Portuguese in 1641 (CRACNS 1874, 11–12). Representatives of the Netherlands East India Company entered into various formal agreements with Rembau's leaders guaranteeing their uncontested access to the tin mined within or simply transported through Rembau (see Newbold 1839, 1 : 216–217, 2 : 94–96, 437–444; CRACNS 1874, 12–13; Parr and Mackray 1910, 15–16). Indigenous rulers, for their part, were formally assured that these monopolistic policies would result in their receiving more or less uninterrupted supplies of firearms, opium, and the like, as well as Dutch military support should their rule be challenged. Treaties of this nature served in certain respects to stifle the growth of Negeri Sembilan's tin industry—and to deprive local miners and rulers of the profits generated by their endeavors. They also fostered competition and warfare among indigenous political leaders who vied for recognition by the Dutch and control over commercially valued resources.

The British routing of Dutch forces in Malacca in the 1790s put an end to the Netherlands East India Company's monopolistic enjoyment of profits derived from Negeri Sembilan's tin-mining industry and other trade. It


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contributed as well to the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824, whereby the British gained control of the port city of Malacca and relinquished their claims to various interests in Indonesia (Newbold 1839, 1 : 15, 449–456). Although the intervening period saw a series of political reversals, through which the Dutch succeeded in temporarily regaining their ascendant position over the port (Newbold 1839, 1 : 123–125), the British ultimately emerged victorious. More important, in 1826 their established outposts were organized into a single administrative unit known as the Straits Settlements, which included Singapore and Penang in addition to Malacca. British policies in each of these areas encouraged the exploitation of local resources through a version of free enterprise fueled by the capital of Europeans as well as Chinese merchants and financiers. This commerce proved highly successful and worthy of spiraling investment, and necessarily had profound implications for entrepreneurially oriented Malay elites in Negeri Sembilan and the rest of the Peninsula.

The historical development of Negeri Sembilan's tin-mining industry is well beyond the confines of the present discussion. I should emphasize, though, that the unprecedented expansion of the industry beginning in the first third of the nineteenth century greatly increased the stakes to be won in Negeri Sembilan's political and military arenas, and otherwise changed the face of the entire state (Khoo 1972). For one, the phenomenal growth in the scale of mining activities entailed a large-scale influx into the state of foreign—and especially Chinese—capital as well as thousands of trade-dependent Chinese seeking work in the mines. By 1828, for example, an estimated 1,000 Chinese had settled in tin-rich Sungei Ujong, whose Malay population at the time was about 3,200 (Newbold 1839, 1 : 419, 2 : 96); and by 1879 the size of the Chinese community there had increased roughly tenfold, whereas that of the Malays had apparently declined (Bird [1883] 1969, 157). These demographic and economic trends generated a heightened demand for bamboos, canes, and other forest products earmarked either for industry or for the consumption needs of the Chinese. Hence, they strongly stimulated Malay males' involvement both in the collection and barter or sale of forest items and in the rearing and trade of village poultry and livestock.

All such trends fostered the emergence and consolidation of new interest groups, alliances, and power blocs—such as Chinese secret societies, mercantilists, and shipping firms—with operations and concerns both


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within and far beyond Negeri Sembilan's territories (Khoo 1972). The entrepreneurial posturings of indigenous rulers were thus endowed with new meanings and economic consequences. Disputes over border areas and rival claims to the offices of district chief and Yang diPertuan Besar increased in frequency and scope, coming to focus ever more sharply on revenues derived from tin-mining activities in the state. The rapid growth of the state's commercial sector not only pitted local polities one against the other but also aggravated an unstable political environment in which surplus production by villagers had long invited confiscation by capricious or tyrannical rulers or else was lost through the ravages of warfare. More generally, as the frequency and intensity of armed skirmishes and major military altercations increased following the 1830s (Khoo 1972), so too did the likelihood that entire villages might be forced to flee their homelands (occasionally to return later, or to settle elsewhere). This climate provided villagers with little incentive to invest substantial labor or capital in either homes or irrigation works (Gullick 1958, 29–30). It also contributed, prior to the state's "pacification" by the British in the late 1800s, to the impermanent settlement of Jelebu, Linggi, and other areas most directly implicated in Negeri Sembilan's commercial networks (see Newbold 1839, 2 : 32, 36, 165–166; JAR 1892, 1, 9; Gullick 1958, 29).

The rapid expansion of the state's commercial sector was in many instances encouraged by district chiefs and other entrepreneurially oriented leaders with a stake in the extralocal trade—this despite the fact that their "prodevelopment" postures aggravated preexisting structural weaknesses in the state's numerous localized political hierarchies. In fact, this situation prevailed even in areas of Negeri Sembilan where traditional leaders discouraged the large-scale exploitation of tin-bearing resources from their territories. In Rembau, for instance, the two Undang whose reigns spanned the period 1819–1871 tried to prevent the industry from developing major local footholds, which would contribute to the silting of rivers and otherwise interfere with agricultural production (Hervey 1884, 256; Gullick 1951, 44). Their success may have been due in part to Rembau's simply having less tin than the neighboring territories of Sungei Ujong, Linggi, and Jelebu, making it not nearly so attractive to foreign capitalists.[1] Be that as it may, the critical issue regarding the development of the Negeri Sembilan tin-mining industry, as well as the intensification of warfare in and around the Rembau district, is that in order to reach the Straits


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of Malacca the bulk of the tin extracted from the state had to be transported down a river or major tributary, all of which at some point either cut across or bordered Rembau. The most widely used waterways, the Rembau and Linggi rivers, converged but a few miles from the straits in an area that had long been claimed as part of Rembau but that also served as a headquarters for the piratical and fiercely autonomous Buginese, who frequently allied themselves with Rembau's principal enemies (Newbold 1839, 1 : 46, 420, 2 : 32, 94).

By the late 1860s, Rembau and much of the rest of the state had lapsed into a civil war that bordered on full-scale anarchy (CRACNS 1874, 232–236; CRACNS 1875, 8–10, 18–20; CRACNS 1876, 193–222; Gullick 1958, 16, 17). Similar circumstances existed elsewhere in the Peninsula and were widely interpreted as posing intolerable threats to the mercantile interests of the Chinese, British, and certain of their partners among the Malay political elite. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the British would reassess their policies in the Peninsula and opt for direct intercession in the affairs of the Malay states.

Secular Administration under British Rule

The year 1874 is of profound significance in Malayan history, for it was then that direct British intervention in the political and other affairs of the Malay states was first instituted. In this year too, a blueprint for British administration emerged that served, in theory at least, to determine the allocation of authority between British officials and Malay rulers. I refer to the precedent-setting Pangkor Engagement, by which the Malay rulers of each "protected" state were obliged to provide suitable accommodations for a British officer, known as the Resident, whose chief responsibilities included overseeing revenue collection and the maintenance of law and order and otherwise "advising" indigenous leaders on all matters except those associated with "Malay custom and religion" (see Emerson [1937] 1964, 120–134).

The present-day states of Perak and Selangor had come under colonial administration by the end of 1874, as had Sungei Ujong in Negeri Sembilan, but other areas to be included in the Federated Malay States were somewhat later to receive British "assistance." This applies both to the state of Pahang, whose ruler had acquiesced to the British by 1888, and to


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the remainder of Negeri Sembilan, including Rembau. Let us consider the case of Rembau.

I already remarked that the 1860s saw major social and political up-heavals throughout Negeri Sembilan. During this period the leaders of Rembau found themselves besieged by well-provisioned detractors based both in outlying territories and within their own jurisdictions. By 1871, if not somewhat earlier, Rembau's Undang had petitioned the British for assistance in shoring up his government and settling trade and territorial disputes with Sungei Ujong. His death shortly thereafter, however, impeded British plans for Rembau's early "pacification"; it also provoked a devastating struggle for succession to his title (CRACNS 1874, 29–34; Khoo 1972, 148–151). The chief of the gentry clans—a Bogang resident named Haji Sahil—emerged as the victor, albeit apparently owing to military prowess rather than popularity or truly appropriate qualifications. Haji Sahil's subsequent adventurism and wanton disregard for justice forced clan chiefs into rebellion, and by 1883 they had obtained British backing for their campaign to overthrow this despotic ruler (Parr and Mackray 1910, 22–23). This agreement paved the way for the treaty of 17 September 1887, whereby Haji Sahil's successor and a number of clan spokesmen surrendered to the British the power of administering Rembau in exchange for one-third of its annual revenue. The entire district thus came under the immediate authority of a British official with the title Collector of Land Revenue (and eventually, District Officer) (NSAR 1887). Some two years later Rembau joined the neighboring polities of Johol and Sri Menanti in a confederacy subject to the jurisdiction of a British Resident, whose political realm was augmented by the ensuing treaties of 1895 and 1898 to include all of the territory within the present-day state of Negeri Sembilan (NSAR 1898, 1; Parr and Mackray 1910, 23–24).[2]

With the assignment to Rembau of British officials charged with administering the district, the authorities and prestige of the Undang and clan leaders especially were radically undermined. More importantly, in establishing a separate, all-powerful, and highly centralized political structure known as the Residential System, the British eviscerated the tradition of decentralized local rule, together with the very institutions through which it had been effected. This result is evident in the mandates of the Collectors of Land Revenue, each of whom governed one of the state's principal administrative units.


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The Collector of Land Revenue charged with administering Rembau also held the title Chief Magistrate.[3] His dual status testified to his two principal functions: first, the collection of revenue, which presupposed his hegemonic involvement in the administration of land matters in accordance with land enactments of 1887 and the Rembau Treaty of that same year (see NSAR 1887); and second, the maintenance of law and order, without which the collection and enhancement of revenue would obviously have come to naught. The latter in turn required the creation of a system of civil and criminal courts modeled on those existing in England at the time (NSAR 1888, 5). These courts handled cases of theft, assault, rape, murder, political subversion, and the like, and did so in keeping with Victorian-era judicial conventions rather than those of local origin.

The British did not, however, abolish the traditional system of clan offices or courts. Instead, these were left intact, if only in a formal sense, since one explicit but dubious colonial objective was to "preserve the customs and life styles of village Malays" and govern them through indigenous institutions insofar as practicable. Rembau's Collector of Land Revenue was thus enjoined by colonial policy to ask the advice of clan leaders and the Undang; but he was by no means bound to honor their wishes or formal rulings, or the sentiments of the populace at large. For that matter, he could discourage or even outlaw established custom should such action seem appropriate in light of revenue interests, administrative considerations, or Victorian notions of propriety.

One can say, then, that the earliest years of colonial administration witnessed the institutionalization of a system of political dualism, albeit one in which Rembau's Undang and the once fiercely independent clan leaders were both shorn of their control of many traditional sanctions and simultaneously pressed into serving colonial interests. In fact, these latter processes were set in motion at the very outset of colonial rule, as land policies promulgated during the first year of British administration in Rembau make clear. Codified in enactments of 1887, these policies led to the introduction of a version of the Torrens System of land registration as a preliminary for the taxation of all holdings in the district. By the very next year the British had enlisted selected clan leaders and other members of the traditional elite to help survey all of Rembau and issue titles of ownership to individual villagers (NSAR 1888, 4). The obvious objective: to accumulate annual revenue from Malay producers and assess the extent of unclaimed


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land that could be sold or leased to Chinese, European, and Malay entrepreneurs committed to mining or to the estate cultivation of tapioca, gambier, coffee, or other export crops (Gullick 1951, 41). These policies laid the foundation for momentous changes in long-established tenure, domestic, and social arrangements; moreover, and of more immediate relevance, they severely restricted the jurisdiction of clan leaders and the Undang over both ancestral property and their political subordinates. In addition to depriving clan chiefs of the fees previously presented them for their validation of kinsmen's land transactions, the policies rendered the leaders directly beholden to the British by requiring them to deliver all annual quit rents to colonial offices. Further, whereas clan spokesmen continued to be responsible to the British and their appointees throughout the colonial era, their participation in land matters involving their kin was soon to be curtailed thanks to governmental efforts to forge a more direct link between District Office personnel and village proprietors. Indeed, in 1897 local leaders' services in the collection of rents from their enates were deemed too cumbersome for efficient administration and so no longer necessary (NSAR 1897, 4–5; NSGG 1897, 2 : 155).

The operation of the British court and penal system, and of the larger political apparatus in which it was embedded, presupposed Malay cooperation and manpower. Hence, an initial dilemma confronting colonial rulers concerned the recruitment of petty clerks and assistant magistrates. Although the British had little difficulty selecting certain high-ranking members of the traditional elite for training and placement in the lower echelons of the civil service, they were reluctant to elevate all clan chiefs to positions in the local bureaucracy. Why this reticence appears to have been especially pronounced in the case of Rembau is not clear. It could well have stemmed from British perceptions—reinforced by disparaging testimonies from antagonistic Undang (see NSSSF [1924] 920/24)—that clan leaders in Rembau viewed all political prerogatives as just so many opportunities to line their own pockets.

Be that as it may, the turn of the century saw two events of profound significance for the status of clan spokesmen and ensuing trends bearing on Malay leadership. The first was the establishment of the office of Malay Assistant to the District Officer, which was designed to relieve the British of burdensome clerical work and other minor responsibilities and to allow Malays a more direct hand in administering their own affairs. Since the


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position was filled by a government official appointed initially from among clan chiefs, its creation introduced a cleavage previously unknown in the traditional leadership. For even though all clan officials received some form of financial remuneration from the British, now a select few enjoyed authorities, salaries, and symbolic prerogatives that clearly superseded those of the others.

A second turn-of-the-century development encouraged by British manpower requirements centered on formal education. Legislative enactments rendering modern primary education compulsory for Malay boys in the seven- to fourteen-year-old age group were passed in 1899 (although Rembau's first government-sponsored school had opened its doors a few years earlier) (NSAR 1896, 11; NSAR 1900, 1). As opportunities for vernacular schooling became widely available in the following decades, colonial administrators could draw on a burgeoning labor pool of literate Malays. More importantly, the British offered financial and other incentives to boys of gentry birth who expressed interest in English instruction, thereby encouraging their entrance into the world of white-collar government employ and simultaneously vesting descent-based distinctions with new meanings and privileges. This latter trend led to the creation of an English-educated class of civil servants destined to play a prominent role in galvanizing diverse currents of Malay nationalism and Islamic reform; it also culminated, in the early 1950s, in an explicit attack on clan leaders and much of what they symbolized.

One need not look much beyond events and processes such as these to appreciate how significantly the stature of the traditional polity was undermined during the earliest decades of colonial rule. The appointment of a Judicial Commissioner to Negeri Sembilan in 1896, in conjunction with an expansion of the state's court system, further limited the appellate jurisdiction of the Undang and Yang diPertuan Besar, stripping them as well of their long-sanctified prerogatives to invoke capital punishment (NSGG 1896, 1 : 277–282). Subsequent legislation accelerated these processes. Thus in 1908 one British official claimed that clan heads exercised "little or no authority as the power to enforce or maintain it has been gradually taken from them" (Supplement to NSGG 1909, 14 : 2). More broadly, as another contemporary civil servant commented, there were no mechanisms enabling rulers at any level of the indigenous hierarchy to enforce "even the minor customs of their people" (NSSSF [1904] 7002/04).


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With this transfer of power and authority from traditional leaders to the British, however, it would be incorrect to infer that indigenous rulers thenceforth played a passive role in the conduct of local affairs or the shaping of regional or statewide developments. The legitimate exercise of force, and of organized sanctions in general, was typically a last resort and probably relatively rare inasmuch as diffuse sanctions were fairly effective in assuring adherence to collective norms. As such points have been made with reference to Malay communities throughout the Peninsula (Roff 1967), I need only draw attention to the scope and force of pan-Malayan notions of shame (malu ) and good character (budi bahasa ), which even today enforce conformity to a great many community standards. The village-level impact of the transfer of authority from clan spokesman to the police and court system of the British, then, was less radical than might be assumed and, at least initially, more symbolic and formal than substantive. Clan leaders continued to exert social control over the enates and in-marrying males within their traditional realms of jurisdiction, mobilizing sentiment on their behalf through verbal exhortation and other informal strategies.

Traditional leaders were also actively involved in Islamic administration and reform and in encouraging and legitimizing rural economic change, especially the transition to cash cropping. Before addressing these issues, however, I should like to focus attention on the concept of adat and the factors contributing to its segmentation throughout the twentieth century.

One factor directly responsible for the shattering of the once unitary and all-embracing adat concept was the codification by the British of numerous aspects of adat that they perceived as consonant with the aims of colonial administration and revenue collection.[4] Obvious examples appear in the British government's maintaining the formal structure of traditional courts, the interrelationships among indigenous offices, and many of the constraints associated with female proprietorship and the system of divided title. Yet at the same time the British decreed that some sanctified traditions subsumed under the adat rubric should be legislated out of existence (the Undang's right to conscript labor and invoke capital punishment, for example), and that others (such as those pertaining to breaches of exogamous principles) could be adhered to or not as suited local wishes. Such policy decisions, coupled with those demanding conformity to certain practices and imposing new penalties on violations thereof, effected


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the initial conceptual distinctions and subsequent cleavages to which I referred earlier.

The cultural dilemmas thrust upon villagers derived from the simultaneous proscription of some behaviors previously enjoined by adat (and thus defined as eminently natural and God-given) and the toleration or outright prescription of others. It must be noted, moreover, that the relevant British policy decisions were inconsistent both regionally and over time. A noteworthy testimony to such inconsistency dates from just after the turn of the century when the British withdrew their formal backing from sanctified prohibitions (pantang larang ) embodying some of the most fundamental constraints of village culture. These included interdictions on marriage between the children of sisters (and other breaches of exogamy and sexual codes); but they also dealt squarely with inattentiveness to the prerogatives and other entailments of rank and status hierarchy, such as unauthorized displays of certain insignia of office. Since violations of such taboos amounted to treason (derhaka ) so far as Malays were concerned, the British initially adopted a policy of penalizing those guilty of transgressing them (see Lister 1891, 142–144). Although capital punishment was ruled out, the British had agreed by 1891 to levy fines of up to M$25 on the guilty. As with many other strategies of appeasement, however, British backing in this area was short-lived, and came to an abrupt end in 1901 (NSSSF [1908] 2790/08).

After the turn of the century, most offenses falling within the jurisdiction of adat leaders and their increasingly powerless courts were held to be too inconsequential to merit the serious attention of colonial officials or constitutional experts. This situation did not give rise to an outbreak of immoral or treasonous behavior at the village level; nonetheless, certain social codes associated with adat were now adhered to or not as suited individual whim and local sentiments, while others received the full backing of the state. Such distinctions proved to be of profound historical significance owing to land enactments and market forces of the rubber boom era, all of which placed a premium on individual acquisition and gain—and at the expense of property and social relations grounded in kinship commonality, and enatic siblingship in particular.

The intrusive policies of the colonial state thus contributed to undermining the scope and force of the adat concept as well as the stature of clan spokesmen. So, too, did the policies of the Japanese during their military


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occupation of Malaya from December 1941 through August 1945. Significantly, they created a new political office, that of village headman (ketua kampung ), which remains in existence today. This new official held a position in the secular hierarchy immediately subordinate to the Malay Assistant—now known as parish headman (penghulu mukim )—who, prior to the Japanese invasion of Malaya, was the principal link between district-level authorities and the rural majority. Village headmen served the Japanese in the administration of individual communities; they were also ideally situated to help the British, and later the Malayan government, maintain law and order during the nationwide state of emergency proclaimed in 1948 in reaction to the guerrilla activities of the Malayan Communist Party. For these and other reasons village headmen came to personify the machinery of modern government, and to symbolize both the declining fortunes of clan spokesmen and the devaluation and ever-narrowing range of adat owing to the state's progressive consolidation of power.

The Administration of Islam, 1880s–1921

The trends outlined above coincided with a related nexus of developments involving the creation of a wholly separate—though never entirely autonomous—political structure centered on the office and courts of Islamic magistrates (kadi ). As such, I should emphasize that the legal pluralism referred to earlier was not so much dualistic in nature as tripartite. As early as 1889, when Rembau received its first kadi,[5] the district had three separate court systems, each with its own realm of jurisdiction and distinct traditions governing procedure, justice, and retribution. From the very beginning, of course, Rembau's Islamic court and its cadre of officialdom came under the de jure authority of the Undang; he therefore retained his traditional supreme position as chief arbiter in religious affairs and as Allah's vice-regent (caliph) within the district. Nonetheless, events of 1889 engendered a separation of powers and legitimacy analogous to that between church and state, which had not existed in Rembau prior to colonial rule.

With the creation of an Islamic court in Rembau, many of the prerogatives, responsibilities, and symbols of adat leaders became vested in Islamic magistrates and their official representatives. As a direct consequence, in 1889 Rembau's Undang virtually ceased to participate in the


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civil aspects of villagers' marriages and divorces (Parr and Mackray 1910, 52, 57); these duties were thenceforth assigned to Rembau's kadi. The following decade saw the passage of legislation requiring Friday mosque attendance by males residing in the vicinity of a mosque; it also made village-level Islamic functionaries directly responsible to the kadi for enforcing the payment of small fines by those irregularly present at Friday services (LNS 1 : 1). These developments effectively extended centralized political control into an area where it had never before penetrated, creating in addition new loci and linkages of authority both in villages and in the district as a whole. All such legislation impinged on the duties and stature of clan leaders, who had previously regulated all local affairs, including the observance of religious obligations. Even though the processes in question were fairly gradual, continuing through the late 1950s, clan spokesmen were the clear victims.

Significantly, much of the impetus behind religious hierarchical expansion and more consistent enforcement of Islamic law emanated from the highest echelons of the indigenous polity itself—including the Undang and Yang diPertuan Besar. This was largely because Islamic administration and reform was one of the few areas in which elite initiative received the formal approval and encouragement of British authorities (see Roff 1967; Willer 1975). We need bear in mind that the British introduced legislation bearing on virtually all domains of Malay life, thereby severely restricting indigenous rulers' involvement in substantive political activities. These circumstances prompted indigenous elites throughout the Peninsula to seek refuge and expression in progressively more elaborate displays of their traditional power and status,[6] and further encouraged them to play an ever greater role both in the administration of religious affairs and in the more formal implementation of Islamic law. That their activities in this latter area often worked to erode the stature of clan chiefs and their subordinates was, it seems, of little direct concern, and occasionally was even to their advantage. One need only recall that status rivalries and political antagonisms rather than common interests seem always to have been characteristic of vertical (and structurally complementary) relationships the indigenous polity.

No less important here were the challenges posed to the traditional political elite by Sumatrans and other, mostly foreign-born, Muslims whose activities in Singapore, Malacca, and elsewhere in the Peninsula from about


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1900 threatened both the elites' positions of privilege and their supremacy in the eyes of Islamic subjects. Spearheading a movement that came to be known as the "Young Group" (Kaum Muda ), these activists sought sweeping religious reform as a means of improving the lot of Malays, their Indonesian brethren, and Muslims the world over. Among other things, they endeavored to rid Malayan Islam of local accretions emanating from adat, and to persuade influential Islamic men of learning (ulama ) to rectify past errors associated with their conveyance of "false doctrine," and religious impurities more generally (Roff 1967, 58). This involved encouraging individual Muslims to exercise rationality (akal ) and informed judgment (itjihad ) so as to eradicate the uncritical acceptance of intermediate religious authority (taklid buta ), which was said to prevail throughout village society and to ensure a perpetuation of the status quo.

In short, Kaum Muda spokesmen launched an explicit attack on the spiritual and other evils stemming from a blind adherence to the religious figures who throughout the Peninsula bolstered and sanctified the positions of traditional rulers, including the most senior. These latter, for their part, reacted rather swiftly to this challenge—albeit primarily through legislative channels, since by the turn of the century they enjoyed virtually no other legitimate options. Thus the year 1904 saw the passage of an enactment forbidding the teaching or preaching of any religious doctrines outside one's home without the prior written permission of Negeri Sembilan's Yang diPertuan Besar (see NSGG 1904, 9 : 337–338). This legislation also provided for the penalization of persons involved in propagating "false doctrine," which could conceivably occur even in the case of duly authorized religious instructors.

One other sphere of activity over which Islamic magistrates and their representatives attained jurisdiction during the early decades of colonial rule involved villagers' behavior during the fasting month, Ramadan. Kadis throughout Negeri Sembilan were charged with overseeing conformity to prohibitions on eating, drinking, smoking, and the like during the daylight hours of Ramadan, and by 1915 could also fine local shopkeepers engaged in the daytime sale to Muslims of any food fit for immediate consumption (NSAR 1915, 3). These developments further confirm the larger process whereby outside authorities backed by the state intruded on the realm of village religion, and clearly at the expense of clan leaders.[7]


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Negeri Sembilan's kadis had encroached on the authority of local clan spokesmen even earlier, however. In 1888, to cite one example, the State Council of Sungei Ujong gave the district kadi and village-level mosque heads (imam ) the power to prevent parents from demanding extortionate marriage payments from their daughters' suitors (SUSCP [of 7/7/1888], 62–63). Local people undoubtedly saw this act as an infringement on both the prerogatives of clan officials and the autonomy of those with marriageable daughters. Of greater historical significance is the Muhammadan Laws Enactment of 1904, which embraced offenses associated with the propagation of "false doctrine." One subject it covered was sexual impropriety, including adultery and incest as construed by Islam. Incest was defined in exceedingly narrow terms—as sexual relations between persons forbidden by Islamic law to marry;[8] this in itself is extremely revealing, since the British by this time no longer supported prohibitions within the far broader category of incestuous behaviors glossed sumbang. These constitutional biases engendered by British policy thus increased the cultural distinction between adat and Islam.

One can easily imagine that the kadi's jural sphere was of great concern not only to indigenous rulers but also to the architects of colonial policy. The creation of the kadi's office did in fact result in charged disputes within Malay and British official circles concerning both the types of penalties Islamic magistrates could impose on transgressors of religious law and the precise limits of their jurisdiction on the whole. Villagers obviously held opinions on such matters too, as suggested (although perhaps overstated) by the comments of Negeri Sembilan's first British Resident: "Nothing is more distasteful to the people than that Muhammadan law should be applied where custom provides the remedy, and as the Kathi is generally anxious to exercise Muhammadan law only, great care has to be taken to prevent him from interfering in cases of custom" (Lister 1890, 319).

Overall, issues relating to the kadi's authority proved quite problematic in terms of British policy and villagers' relationships with clan leaders and representatives of the state. This was particularly true within the area of property and inheritance. Indeed, as will be discussed in chapter 4, many of the major legal, political, and cultural quandaries that emerged as early as 1890 centered on the devolution of rights over certain categories of


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property, especially land, and the extent to which village-level inheritance affairs ought to be directed by religious authorities and Islamic property codes more generally.

The appointment to Rembau of an Islamic magistrate, in conjunction with the progressive empowering of religious hierarchies, precipitated myriad dilemmas within the village—as well as profound legal and administrative problems for the British—owing also to the Malay people's varying knowledge of Islamic doctrine. The rural majority's understanding of Islamic doctrine has always been far less sophisticated than that of indigenous elites at the highest levels of the traditional polity or religious bureaucracy. Until quite recently, villagers' familiarity with the specifics of Islamic texts was at best rudimentary; typically, it was confined to what could be gleaned from the preachings of itinerant ulama, local mosque officials, and clan spokesmen.[9] Through religious instruction in the village males gained the skills required to recite Koranic verse; yet this recitation proceeded in Arabic, not Malay, and the Koran was never widely available in the vernacular. This situation holds true even at present, with extremely few rural or urban Malays able to read (as opposed to recite) or speak Arabic. (The present-day village of Bogang, for instance, boasts no one with such skills, although it contains a mosque and a prayer house, three Islamic functionaries, a few certified religious instructors, and more than a dozen haji.) In the nineteenth century, then, the village majority undoubtedly lacked sufficient knowledge of Islamic legal theory to perceive and disjunction between adat and Islam within the domain of property and inheritance.

Representatives of the highest levels of the indigenous hierarchy, in contrast, have long enjoyed a relatively sophisticated understanding of Islamic doctrine, as well as an awareness of how adat and Islam diverge with respect to certain aspects of property and inheritance. It would be difficult to overestimate the extent to which colonial administrators and their policies contributed to the cultural realization of such divergences as contradictions; nevertheless, elite perceptions along these lines can be documented for the 1890s, and probably originated much earlier. By 1893, to cite one example, the Sungei Ujong leader with the title of Dato Klana had petitioned the district's British Resident to clarify official policy concerning rights over intestate property. More precisely, he had requested the British Resident to ask the State Council whether the kadi's adjudications in such cases should proceed in accordance with Islamic law or "the an-


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cient custom . . . by which the property always remains with or descends to relations on the female side." The outcome of this inquiry appeared in a decree of 27 April 1893, which stated that "the Muhammadan law should be the one to be followed in a Muhammadan state and [that] the other could not be recognized in a Kathi's Court" (SUSCP [of 4/27/1893], 86).

Historical sources concerning late-nineteenth-century Rembau testify to a similar situation as regards elite perspectives toward adat and Islamic inheritance codes—including their favoring of Islamic conventions, at least in certain contexts (see Lister 1890). In Rembau, however, the changes advocated by indigenous rulers were far less extreme than those proposed in Sungei Ujong, for they did not urge the elimination of the system grounded in enatic rights and divided title (as the Sungei Ujong measures definitely did). This divergence may be attributed to the greater commercial development in the tin-rich territories of Sungei Ujong (as compared with Rembau at the time), and the resultant premium placed on the autonomy of proprietors at all levels of that region's indigenous hierarchy. It is highly instructive in any event that Malay leaders in Rembau focused on a dimension of property relations that seems always to have been characterized by structural contradictions and that would undoubtedly have caused controversy even without an Islamic emphasis on patrifiliation at the expense of collateral links through women. I refer to the fact that rights to a full half-share of a deceased man's conjugally acquired movable property (cash, weapons, livestock, and the like) could go to his mother or sisters—for the benefit of the latters' progeny—rather than his own offspring, particularly if he had failed to bequeath such rights to his children through paternal provisioning. Specifically, by 1890 the leaders of Rembau's indigenous polity had tentatively decided that all such items "became unconditionally the property of his children and could not in any case return to the man's [enatic] relations," since the alternative "made a great deal of difficulty, as it [was] not in accordance with Muhammadan law" (Lister 1890, 317).

The implications of these perspectives will be taken up in chapters 4 and 8. Here I would only reiterate generally that elite awareness of areas in which adat and Islam diverge with respect to the distribution of intestate property rights existed as early as 1890, and clearly predated similar perceptions among the populace at large. This should come as no surprise given the wealth of the indigenous elite and the far greater likelihood, as


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compared with the village majority, that they could afford the pilgrimage to Mecca and fraternize with co-religionists of disparate cultural backgrounds, among whom were many of a strong reformist bent.

I next consider two more areas in which elite perspectives on Islam differed markedly from those of the rest of the population—namely, the related spheres of Malay nationalism and Islamic reform. In these areas, too, groups of indigenous elite not only helped instigate social and cultural change but also provided historically revised models for proper Muslim behavior.

Nationalism and Reform during the Reign of Dato Abdullah (1922–1938)

Many of the social and cultural currents that reverberated throughout Rembau and the rest of Negeri Sembilan in the twenties and thirties can be gleaned from the aspirations and accomplishments of Dato Abdullah (bin Haji Dahan), Rembau's Undang from 1922 through 1938[10] and a man remembered in contemporary Rembau as a gallant statesman and modernday culture hero.

As with many other intellectually promising boys of gentry birth, young Abdullah received British encouragement and financial backing to attend an English-language school, the elite Malay College at Kuala Kangsar. This was the normal course for upwardly mobile Malays of gentry background seeking employment in the civil service. Abdullah's long-range goals, however, were much loftier, and led him to seek training in medicine. Had he pursued his education in Hong Kong, as was discussed at one point, he might have been among the very first Malays to receive tertiary training outside the colony, not to mention one of the earliest Malay doctors. But since both his father and the British authorities took a dim view of this plan, it was decided instead that he should go to Singapore and study medicine to become an assistant surgeon. It is not entirely clear from the material at my disposal whether Abdullah actually went to Singapore following his graduation from the Malay College at Kuala Kangsar. If he did, his stay there was relatively brief, lasting less than three years—for in 1922 the twenty-year-old Abdullah succeeded to the office of Undang upon the bankruptcy and ensuing resignation of Dato Haji Sulong bin Ambia.


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The circumstances surrounding Abdullah's succession to office are likewise somewhat vague, although British correspondence written when he was a mere seventeen years of age refers to his "quite unusual ability, . . . ambition, determination and intelligence"; it also mentions that he was expected to be the next Undang of Rembau. He was of course born into the appropriate clan, the Sediaraja, and of wealthy parents, at least one of whom had been to Mecca. Moreover, since he was the nephew of a high-ranking clan official of Sungei Ujong, Dato Bandar Said, he may well have been groomed for Rembau's highest office from an early age. Viewed historically, however, it is of greater significance that intellectual and academic achievements in an English-language institution had become key qualifications for the Undangship. This situation was certainly a far cry from that prior to British intervention, when military prowess had been a decisive factor both in succeeding to office and retaining power thereafter. But, at the risk of stating the obvious, the balance and exercise of power had shifted dramatically with British administration, and the skills and competences required of indigenous leaders were very different from those demanded of their forebears during the precolonial period. Abdullah was thus eminently qualified to become Rembau's eighteenth Undang, for in contrast to the vast majority of his predecessors, his battles were waged not by force of arms along the rivers of Rembau but via memoranda, formal petitions, and council proceedings couched in the language of bureaucracy and addressed for the most part to colonial officialdom.

In short, the young man who came to be known as Dato (Sediaraja) Abdullah personified a new generation of Malay leadership and served to articulate and galvanize the sentiments and aspirations of an increasingly cosmopolitan, though still overwhelmingly rural, Malay society. When Dato Abdullah rose to office, most Malay boys living in Negeri Sembilan had ready access to modern Malay-language education and attended classes on a fairly regular basis.[11] There were in addition numerous secondary institutions in the Peninsula by this time, although these existed for the benefit of the indigenous political elite and their untitled gentry counterparts, not for the children of "mere peasants" with commoner pedigrees.

The privileges and incentives that Negeri Sembilan's gentry clans received in the area of secondary schooling and government loans bestowed new meanings on, and likewise fostered the perpetuation of, traditional distinctions based on descent—this despite the fact that government poli-


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cies also emphasized achieved status over ascriptive criteria. More important, whereas many of the educational opportunities made available to Malays aimed at providing the British with a well-born class of potential clerks, assistant magistrates, and other civil servants, the demand for education and bureaucratic posts soon outstripped all administrative requirements for native manpower. This posed no real problem for those content to pass their lives as farmers, but there was considerable dissatisfaction and frustrated ambition on the part of their brethren who sought white-collar employment or other avenues for social advance. The situation was aggravated, moreover, by the fact that petty trade and most forms of commerce were by this time controlled by Chinese, who predominated in all towns and quickly outnumbered Malays in the state as a whole (see chapter 4).

The problems stemming from the existence of a colonized Malay peasantry with a smattering of formal education—and among them a select few with white-collar credentials but no opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills—led to endless debate within British officialdom and among the Malay elite. Dato Abdullah, for example, lobbied vociferously for the establishment, in Rembau and elsewhere, of additional trade schools and English-language institutions, which would lay the foundations for a more informed and prosperous peasantry and a larger and better trained corps of potential administrators and professionals.[12] The future well-being of the entire Malay race was quite rightfully said to be at stake, and to hinge directly on the educational policies of the British. Unfortunately, however, Dato Abdullah's proposals met with steadfast resistance from colonial administrators. The problem, as articulated some years earlier by the Director of Education in Negeri Sembilan, was that "the stream of Malay boys now flooding our English schools is alarming. There will not be clerkships for them all." They would certainly be ashamed "to dig," he claimed, adding, "I am sure that the Dato Rembau will see there is a grave risque [sic ] in bringing English to the doors of an agricultural population" (NSSSF [1926] 668/26; cf. NSAR 1934, 19; NSAR 1935, 21).

Dato Abdullah's efforts at change ranged well beyond the arena of formal education. He also helped to found within Negeri Sembilan various cooperative and self-help societies geared toward the material and spiritual betterment of rural Malays. Voluntary associations had been cropping up in towns and metropolitan areas throughout the Peninsula since the turn of the century. These typically took the form of self-improvement so-


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cieties, cultural welfare organizations, literary groups, sports clubs, and the like (see NSAR 1931, 32; NSAR 1933, 35; Roff 1967). The activities and products of these associations had the effect of stressing the commonalities shared by all Malays—most notably, identification with Islam, communication in the same language, and a valuation of symbols and traditions defined in relation to adat. At the same time, however, and owing to regional differences throughout the Peninsula in dialects as well as adat symbols and conventions, these voluntary associations ensured that Islam would emerge as the most pertinent of these commonalities and ultimately the most powerful in generating and galvanizing pan-Malayan sentiment (Roff 1967).

Dato Abdullah also sought to discourage villagers' participation in various syncretic rituals and to foster a critical reassessment of long-sacrosanct cultural axioms underlying Malay belief in local spirits. Dato Abdullah's official position on territorial spirits and sacred shrines (keramat ) can be ascertained from articles he wrote and published in the 1920s ([Dato] Sedia Raja Abdullah 1925, 1927). One of these pieces provides a brief overview of the more revered keramat beings (glossed "saints") that were held to exist in Rembau during the 1920s; it concludes on the following note:

Such is the influence of these saints on the overwhelming majority of the Malays and it is needless to add that this influence is a lamentable obstacle to their economic, spiritual and moral advancement. Though Islam recognizes no intercessors between man and Allah, the relics of the pre-Islamic "Days of Ignorance" survive and will continue to exercise a disastrous influence so long as Malays are ignorant of the fundamental teachings of their religion and remain indifferent to the benefits of secular education. It is gratifying to note that for the rising generation primaeval beliefs are slowly but surely disappearing.[13] ([Dato] Sedia Raja Abdullah 1925, 104)

Dato Abdullah's diatribe on keramat and their spirit guardians was but one of many such attacks in the early decades of the century that struck at the heart of village notions of propriety and sanctity, and all in the name of Islam.[14] Dato Abdullah's successor, Dato Haji Ipap, shared Dato Abdullah's views on village syncretism (though he appears to have lacked the reformist zeal of many other modernists of the late 1930s and later). During the first part of his lengthy reign (1938–1962), Dato Haji Ipap convened Rembau's clan leaders and local-level Islamic theologians to emphasize that the week-long berpuar rituals (held every three years to enlist


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the intercession of benevolent beings seen as capable of vanquishing evil spirits responsible for agricultural failures) were inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and best discontinued. By 1943 he had taken to fining clan chiefs for allowing their kin to participate in this ritual (BUR[M] [1943] 1103). These actions did not result in the immediate discontinuation of the rituals, nor did they seriously undermine, let alone cause the renunciation of, beliefs in these rituals or associated spirit cults. The fact remains, though, that Dato Haji Ipap's position on berpuar not only placed him in opposition to clan leaders, shamanic specialists, and the adat of the rural majority, but also reinforced the conceptual bonds linking the highest members of the indigenous elite with the institutions and ideologies of Islam.[15] The interrelationship of adat and Islam was now seen ever more strongly in terms of contradiction rather than complementarity.

Successive waves of Islamic theologians trained in the early 1900s in Kedah and Kelantan, and more recently in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have also encouraged villagers' acceptance that various adat traditions are outmoded, against the teachings of Islam, and incompatible with progressive economic change. Moreover, extensive institutional supports bolstered these men's endeavors; indeed, each and every phase in the development of Islamic administrative hierarchies saw more traditional prerogatives pass from clan spokesmen to Islamic magistrates and other state-backed officials acting in the name of Islam.

Trends along these lines contributed to the polarization of adat and Islam. So, too, did subsequent crises that exacerbated antagonisms between Malays and Chinese and simultaneously politicized Islamic symbols and idioms, giving them greater centrality in Malay culture.

Crises and Polarization

The Japanese Occupation and the Emergency

The Japanese invasion of Malaya in December 1941 led to one of the most devastating military losses the British ever suffered. As such, but owing also to the hasty British retreat, the ensuing Occupation, which lasted through August 1945, raised new questions throughout the Peninsula concerning the invincibility of white rulers and their abilities to safeguard the lives and property of colonial subjects. The Japanese interregnum


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also occasioned severe disruptions of trade and commercial activities, as well as widely redounding economic crises, and Japanese policies contributed to a significant polarization of ethnic relations, particularly in the case of Malays and Chinese.

The first contingent of Japanese arrived in Bogang early in 1942, in the midst of the harvest season. This event sent shock waves throughout the community, even though news of the invasion of Singapore and Kota Baru (Kelantan) had already reached the village. Just how long the Japanese stayed in Bogang is unclear, although some elders told me that they requisitioned at least one large house near the railroad tracks and maintained a camp in that area of the village for approximately two weeks. They then relocated to a nearby settlement but reappeared in Bogang frequently, invariably demanding rice, eggs, poultry, and other supplies, and commonly leaving with adult men conscripted for labor projects elsewhere in the Peninsula or beyond.

Those villagers who remained behind were apprehensive about the stores of freshly harvested grain in household granaries, but they were most concerned with the fate of unmarried girls and other females of the community. Thus, whenever rumors of an approaching group of Japanese reached Bogang, young girls were gathered up and rushed off to secluded forest areas where they were relatively secure. Others were hidden in community trash pits, which were then covered with palm fronds to disguise their existence. Married and formerly wed women, for their part, sought to make themselves as unattractive as possible by dirtying their faces with ash and adopting hairstyles that violated all aesthetic canons. Deterrent measures of this sort evidently proved fairly effective in Bogang, but villagers also point to rapes of Malay and other women elsewhere and recollect more generally that Japanese soldiers behaved like hill-dwelling aborigines (orang hutan ). This comparison is significant, since in Malay culture the non-Muslim aborigines have long been construed as lacking any form of religion—hence, they are acultural and subhuman.

More broadly, however, the actions of the Japanese were interpreted as posing an unprecedented threat to Malay society, and otherwise as representing the triumph of unbridled natural forces over culture. Such perspectives emerge most clearly in villagers' references to Japanese lechery. They are supported as well by local recollections of the invaders' treatment of male elders (as well as of Chinese of all ages) and their wanton


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disregard of Malay social etiquette and religious propriety (for example, their refusal to remove their boots before entering Malay homes; their desecration of mosques and prayer houses throughout the Peninsula; and their forced enlistment of villagers in various physical and religious exercises, including what contemporary inhabitants refer to as "sun worship" [sembah matahari ]).

The Occupation years also brought severe shortages of rice, sugar, salt, dried fish, kerosene, cloth, and of course cash. Villagers' inabilities to obtain such items clearly meant material hardship, but it also bespoke a certain degradation. The dearth of cloth, for example, forced villagers to fashion death shrouds of banana leaves instead of white muslin, and thus prepare the deceased for a primitive burial that fell far short of the sanctified peacetime ideal. In addition, whereas villagers frequently cite widespread consumption of tapioca and various roots and tubers as evidence of the suffering they endured during the Occupation, it is also the case that a strong symbolic association exists between such foods and aborigines. In short, just as the Japanese, through their comportment, became associated in Malay eyes with pre- or noncultural aborigines, so too did the circumstances of war force Malays themselves down a path of cultural regression that led toward a precultural state.

Even though Malays were mistreated and abused by Japanese forces, they were spared the brunt of the invaders' wrath so long as they cooperated in provisioning them and also appeared not to be sheltering or protecting Chinese (who fled into the forest to escape Japanese search parties). Indeed, although village accounts of the Occupation dwell on Japanese atrocities, they refer primarily to abuses of Chinese rather than Malays or Indians. This situation might have led to closer ties between Malays and Chinese, but it did not; instead, owing in part to successful Japanese policies and propaganda but also to preexisting antagonisms between the two groups concerned, the opposite occurred. In particular, Malays in Bogang and other areas were forced to help Japanese soldiers locate the makeshift camps that Chinese established deep in the forest. Village accounts indicate that the discovery of such camps often led to bloody massacres of Chinese men, women, and children, and thus to a feeling on the part of Chinese survivors that their losses stemmed in no small measure from Malay collaboration with the invaders. This fact helps account for the force


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and brutality of Chinese retaliations against Malays during the immediate postwar period.[16]

The Japanese surrender in August 1945 witnessed the end of the Occupation, but it did not mark the beginning of an enduring peace in Negeri Sembilan or elsewhere in the Peninsula. Before the British had fully established civil order, supporters of the predominantly Chinese Malayan Communist Party prevailed throughout the Peninsula, seeking out wartime collaborators among Malays, Chinese, and others and meting out summary justice as befit the circumstances. Although the Party did not actually seize power, the scope of its underground and primarily forest-based activities prompted the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency in 1948. This state of emergency was still in effect on the eve of independence in 1957, remaining in force through 1960.

Throughout the twelve-year period known as "The Emergency" (Darurat ), curfews and restrictions on travel, trade, and the cultivation of comestibles easily seized by guerrillas operating from within the forest were imposed in various regions of the Peninsula. Since the government assumed that the bulk of the Chinese population was sympathetic to the guerrillas—and in any event highly susceptible to their propaganda and their demands for food and other supplies (NSAR 1948, 89)—during the initial phase of the Emergency large numbers of rural Chinese were forcibly resettled. Relocated at what were thought to be safe distances from centers of insurgent activity, Chinese were in many cases confined to fenced-off areas known as "New Villages."

As for Malays in Negeri Sembilan and elsewhere, the impact of the Emergency varied considerably according to whether a village or region was classified as "white" or "black"—that is, not known or presumed to be a staging ground for guerrilla campaigns, and vice versa. In "black" areas curfews and other restrictions were more severe. Because most Malay villages in Rembau were "white," their inhabitants experienced less disruption than Malays in other parts of the state (such as Jelebu and Kuala Pilah). Nonetheless, they too were subject to numerous constraints bearing on the purchase and transport of canned food and other provisions.

Certain of the conditions prevailing throughout the Emergency recall circumstances during the Japanese Occupation. Perhaps most obvious are the similarities in the limited availability of food and the restrictions


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on freedom of movement. Additionally, since many adult males joined Emergency-era auxiliary units established to eradicate the guerrilla threat, much of the rubber tapping and other productive activity within the village was taken over by women (NSAR 1948, 13; NSAR 1949, 14). This had also occurred during the Occupation, when the women remained in their natal communities while the men were transported to distant places in accordance with Japanese manpower needs. Further, rural Malays, among others, interpreted much of the strife characteristic of the Emergency as interethnic in nature and indicative of an all-pervasive Chinese hostility toward Malays and their culture, including of course Islam. In short, then, throughout both the Emergency and the Japanese Occupation Malays saw themselves surrounded by an ethnically foreign group bent on degrading their culture and capable of eradicating their entire society.

Administrative Reorganization in the Postwar Era

Local accounts suggest that Malays emerged from the Occupation beset by deep-rooted fears that their very existence was threatened by the Malayan Communist Party. These same accounts indicate that they felt menaced by Chinese and Indians as a whole, who by this time outnumbered Malays in Negeri Sembilan and other western Malay states. Some of the more cosmopolitan villagers still living also point to British policies just after the war as contributing to these feelings of insecurity and impending doom—for, as occurred also in Indonesia with the Dutch and among other colonial powers in Southeast Asia, the British resumed control in Malaya showing little concern for the past. It was as if they felt they should be able simply to pick up where they left off when they effectively abandoned their colony to the Japanese. By and large the Malay elite found this attitude unacceptable, especially since British plans for the immediate future of the Malays involved a serious curtailment of their positions of power and prestige vis-à-vis the Chinese and Indians. These three groups were in fact accorded more or less equal treatment under the constitution embodied in the Malayan Union, which was rushed into existence in 1946.

The foundation of the Malayan Union met with immediate opposition from Malay leadership and led in the same year to the formation of the first Malay political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).[17] This party was the dominant force in mobilizing Malay senti-


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ment against the Malayan Union; indeed, it has received much of the credit for the Union's replacement in 1948 by the Federation of Malaya. With the birth of the Federation, the residential system was dismantled in favor of a constitutional arrangement whereby Malays regained some of their prewar ethnic privileges and also acquired greater autonomy in administering their own affairs. Among other changes, the status of Resident was downgraded to British Advisor, who served primarily in an adjunct capacity to a Malay executive styled Chief Minister (Menteri Besar ). Henceforth the principal organs of government within the state were essentially twofold: a legislative assembly in the form of a unicameral parliament referred to as the Council of State (Majlis Mesyuarat Negeri ), whose president was the Chief Minister; and a cabinet known as the State Executive Council (Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan ), the members of which were both to aid and advise the Yang diPertuan Besar in the conduct of his executive functions as council head and titular head of state and to appoint the Chief Minister (albeit with the approval of Negeri Sembilan's Ruling Chiefs).[18]

With regard to religious administration, the state constitution empowered the Yang diPertuan Besar and Ruling Chiefs to enact laws regulating both Islamic affairs and adat. In consequence, the year 1949 saw the creation of a proposal to establish a Council of Islamic Religion and Malay Custom (Majlis Agama Islam dan Adat Istiadat Melayu) (FMGGGNS 1949 2 [25], 257–258). Given the thrust of state encroachments on the realms and interrelationship of adat and Islam, it was decided that an Islamic juriconsult (mufti ) should sit at the head of such a body. More important, in 1960 the state created a powerful administrative hierarchy, known as the Department of Islamic Religion (Jabatan Agama Islam) (FMGGGNS 1950 3 [3], 65–66). All dimensions of adat were theoretically excluded from the department's sphere of jurisdiction; moreover—and of broader historical relevance—adat received no institutional supports in any way comparable to those underwriting Islam. Perhaps most significant, the creation of Negeri Sembilan's Department of Islamic Religion furthered a process set in motion at the outset of colonial rule, that is, the institutional differentiation of functions and authority associated with state-defined realms of adat and Islam.

It remains to consider certain implications of the creation in Negeri Sembilan of the office of mufti, and to reiterate that this office, though common elsewhere in the Muslim world during the first half of the twen-


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tieth century and long before, did not exist in Negeri Sembilan before 1950. Up until then (or, rather, ever since 1889) the state's district-level Islamic magistrates stood as the highest-ranking authorities of a purely religious nature. These magistrates were free of the political influences of persons and agencies whose esteem and expertise derived from knowledge and explication of Islamic texts (even though their activities were regulated by British officialdom and, to some extent, by the district Undang). When Negeri Sembilan received its first mufti, however, things changed, for these officials have always been charged with issuing authoritative interpretations (fatwa ) of Islamic doctrine and theoretically binding rulings on all points of Muslim law.

All such trends undermined the autonomy of district-level Islamic functionaries and their village subordinates. They also further eroded the ritual prerogatives vested in the Undang, clan leaders, and local enatic groups. In the interest of standardizing and otherwise tidying up the administration of Islamic affairs, for example, the Undangs' role in declaring the opening and close of the fasting month of Ramadan was given over to a national committee. Their involvement in selecting Islamic magistrates, too, was greatly reduced. At the village level, moreover, localized clans were stripped of their sanctified privilege to provide mosque officials from among their members, and clan leaders were rendered superfluous in the collection and distribution of religious tithes and taxes (zakat and fitrah ). In some areas of the state, such shifts provoked militant reaction from villagers, who had long construed such responsibilities as falling squarely within the dominion of clan leaders and adat (see Swift 1965, 93–96).

These historic developments illuminate colonial-era trends marked by the tremendously enhanced jurisdiction of Islamic officials in regulating the domestic, property, and other affairs of villagers, all at the clan leaders' expense. In short, the institutional differentiation and segregation of adat and Islam contributed immeasurably to undermining the integrity of both adat and its most revered spokesmen.

Rembau's "Adat Controversy" of 1951

The polarizing processes examined in this chapter appear in sharp relief in Rembau's 1951 "adat controversy." (See also de Josselin de Jong [1960] for additional background, and an alternative interpretation to that given here.)[19]


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The crisis was touched off in February 1951 when the Religious Affairs Section of the Rembau branch of UMNO published a memorandum stating that, from the perspective of Islam, adat traditions concerning "ancestral" property were illicit (haram ). The memorandum claimed in addition that persons abiding these (constitutionally upheld) conventions were by definition guilty of sin (dosa ) and could not obtain absolution through "the recitation of pious formulae." Rather, they were called on to adhere to Islamic law (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 167).

Shortly after the memorandum appeared a meeting was held at which thirteen or so speakers addressed six hundred inhabitants of Rembau. The UMNO position was publicly backed by all but two of the speakers, including the chiefs of one commoner clan and a representative of UMNO's Women's Organization (Kaum Ibu ). De Josselin de Jong (1960, 167) refers to these latter groups' support as "striking," coming as it did from women and clan leaders, who "one might have expected to be solid in support of the old order." In any event, those in attendance adopted a resolution stating that "the law of inheritance should be altered in accordance with Islam" and that Rembau's Undang, Dato Haji Ipap, should confer with the state government to bring about the proposed changes (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 167).

A few weeks later the Undang acknowledged his support of the UMNO resolution, but rightfully pointed out that he could not effect any changes without the unanimous consent of clan chiefs. For reasons not entirely clear, a highly placed education officer associated by birth with the dynasty of the Yang diPertuan Besar then brought the matter to the Council of State, proposing a review of Chapter 215 of the Customary Tenure Enactment of 1926 on the grounds that it was unfair to men. (This legislation prohibited males from inheriting rights over any lands formally classified as "customary," that is, ancestral; see below, chapter 4.) Shortly thereafter a group of eighty-two Rembau Malays living in Singapore became involved in the broadly publicized controversy, held a meeting, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of the suggested reforms. Among the speakers not in agreement with the dominant opinion was a member of the opposition party, the Peninsular Malays' Union (PMS/PMU) (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 167–168).

In April of the same year Rembau's clan chiefs convened and rejected the UMNO proposals, upon which UMNO charged that the chiefs' stance in the dispute was at sharp variance with that of the majority of Rembau's


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inhabitants. UMNO then appealed directly to the Undang for his position on the issue. He merely hedged, indicating that he would urge clan leaders to consult with their kin and report back to him before taking any further action (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 168).

At this juncture the UMNO branch of the adjacent district of Kuala Pilah retreated from its earlier support of Rembau's UMNO group, arguing that it did not want to place local clan chiefs who supported their party in an untenable situation. Similarly, Malays of Rembau origin residing in Singapore canceled a scheduled meeting on the matter, evidently because they thought that the hostility of clan chiefs would render all such encounters meaningless (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 168).

The fasting month of Ramadan brought a truce of approximately four weeks duration so as not to compromise the spirit of the period. Early in July, however, the District Officer of Rembau—by this time a Malay, but apparently not one of Negeri Sembilan birth—publicized his intention to bring the issue to the office of the High Commissioner and, if necessary, to the House of Commons. His partisan intervention, which happened to be on the side of UMNO, resulted in his immediate transfer. According to de Josselin de Jong (1960, 169), this event "stands out in the memories of the inhabitants of Rembau as the dramatic climax of the whole conflict."

This was not the final stage of the crisis, however. In July a clan leader revealed that some women had begun taking steps to safeguard the female privileges they saw as being targeted by the reformers. The purported strategy was an interesting one and boiled down to women "threatening to institute divorce proceedings (or, expressed in legally more correct terms: . . . threatening to elicit their repudiation by their husbands) if their husbands continued to support" the UMNO position (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 169).

In September some 125 clan officers convened yet another meeting to respond to resumed UMNO agitation following Ramadan. They reportedly swore loyalty to adat and the disputed section of the Customary Tenure Enactment. Additionally, in November, a full nine months after UMNO had approached the Undang, the latter replied that he had conferred with the clan chiefs and could not honor the UMNO request to take the matter up with the State Council. By December, though, the State Council committee established at the education officer's initiative was still not fully formed. This failure also constituted a defeat of sorts for the


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UMNO group, which now called off the entire Chapter 215 initiative; they did add, however, that the ancient adat was illicit and had gone astray, taking its adherents with it. By most every criterion, according to de Josselin de Jong (1960, 170), the "traditionalists" had won a complete victory.

Such was the controversy in its major outlines. The question thus becomes one of interpretation. Why was it a crisis at all, and not merely a hotly debated political, religious, or moral issue? Why should the events have engendered such antagonism? And finally, what were the underlying social and cultural issues at stake? We can begin to answer these questions by considering certain of de Josselin de Jong's interpretations of the controversy. His analysis comprises one of the better-known pieces on Negeri Sembilan, and has been accepted by many scholars as an accurate depiction of the relationship between adat and Islam during much of the twentieth century. Not all specialists concur with de Josselin de Jong, of course (see, for example, Hooker 1972, 226–227, and Banks 1976); moreover, his interpretation of the controversy and his conclusions concerning the interrelationship of adat and Islam merit sharp analytic separation from his purely descriptive material bearing on the principal actors and events. Yet de Josselin de Jong's extensive contributions to our understanding of the 1951 crisis, and of Negeri Sembilan more generally, deserve both our attention and our careful analytic scrutiny.

De Josselin de Jong commences his discussion of this controversy on a seemingly historical note, which raises several issues of critical importance (1960, 158): "In an article on 'Minangkabau's old controversy,' Professor Prins not long ago drew attention to one of the recent manifestations of the perennial struggle between the ancient matrilineal institutions and Islamic law in Minangkabau. . . . Negeri Sembilan . . . knows the same tension between the same two systems. In 1951 matters came to a head, and the state of tension erupted into a conflict." Now, while the existence of the 1951 drama is beyond question, we must question the purported antiquity of the struggle within Negeri Sembilan "between the ancient matrilineal institutions and Islamic law." How are we to interpret the statement that "Negri Sembilan . . . knows the same tension between the same two systems"? Put somewhat differently, precisely which segments of society were really aware of this "tension," either in the early 1950s or during previous decades? So far as de Josselin de Jong is concerned, the issue is rela-


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tively straightforward, especially in the case of the 1951 dispute—for toward the end of his essay he comments that "we are not dealing with a conflict between value systems adopted in different layers of society" (de Josselin de Jong 1960, 198). The obvious implication here is that there was cultural homogeneity, namely, that familiarity with Islamic texts and other domains of cultural knowledge was, and perhaps always has been, more or less evenly distributed throughout Negeri Sembilan society. In fact, it often seems that the vast majority of individuals embroiled in the controversy (if not everyone who came to hear of it) viewed the doctrinal and other disputed issues similarly—including those issues bearing on the relationship between adat and Islam. We are also led to believe that people allied themselves with or against UMNO largely on the basis of a narrowly conceived self-interest.

In contrast to this position, I would propose that the highly uneven distribution of knowledge pertaining to Islam, in conjunction with the shifting political fortunes of distinct groups of Malay leadership—both the products, ultimately, of rapid social change—were the most decisive factors determining the opposing sides in the adat controversy. Moreover, the dispute as a whole testifies primarily to colonial-era processes that politicized adat and Islam while simultaneously polarizing their respective institutional expressions. This latter issue, however, should be viewed as analytically distinct from the village majority's perception of the relationship between adat and Islam; that is, the 1951 events were not simply another manifestation of "the perennial struggle between the ancient matrilineal institutions and Islamic law." Even at present, villagers tend to view the interrelationship of adat and Islam in terms of complementarity rather than opposition (see Lewis 1962, 1, 57–58 et passim; Swift 1965, 9; Hooker 1972, 9; and Nordin Selat 1976, 26–27 et passim). In previous decades, moreover, incongruities in this area have been acknowledged only by highly literate members of the religious and political elite—be they foreign-born Kaum Muda figures active early in the century, English-educated statesmen like Dato Abdullah, or, more recently, civil servants and modern-day party spokesmen, including UMNO leaders. Such groups of elite have assumed the role of cultural brokers and have been centrally involved in promoting social and cultural change. Islamic symbols and idioms have frequently been invoked in these arenas, but so too have Western notions of bureaucratic and agricultural efficiency. Conversely, matters tied


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to female privileges in inheritance (the focus of the 1951 controversy) constitute but a small range of the issues on which adat has come under attack on Islamic or any other grounds.

It is also questionable whether the conflict turned on "a set of binary oppositions of a most variegated nature," which de Josselin de Jong (1960, 192) lists as follows:

 

[1.] adat

sharak [Islamic religious law]

[2.] lembagas [clan chiefs]

politicians

[3.] PMS/PMU

UMNO

[4.] "commoners"

"princes"

[5.] women

men

[6.] daughters

sons

[7.] pesaka ["ancestral" property]

charian ["acquired" property]

[8.] land, houses

money

[9.] rice

rubber

Even if we confine ourselves to the first six of these pairs, it will, I think, be clear that the meanings of the adat controversy were not only much different than these dichotomies suggest, but also of far broader ramification than any such analytic scheme allows.

To take the first pair of oppositions, the dispute was indeed phrased—at least by the UMNO group—in terms of certain contradictions between the property codes of adat on the one hand and those of Islam on the other. As for the second pair, there is likewise no doubt that most clan chiefs stood allied against the "politicians" associated with the Religious Affairs Section of the Rembau branch of UMNO. Nevertheless, we cannot deduce from this fact, or from any of the other data available, that all other persons linked with the secular branches of Rembau's UMNO hierarchy stood in similar opposition. The third pair, too, between PMS/PMU and UMNO, requires considerable qualification at best. There was apparently only one PMS/PMU supporter directly involved in the dispute; thus we have no idea what position (if any) was advanced by the other members of the party, let alone its religious or secular leadership.

The opposition posed between "commoners" and "princes" (referring to the royal dynasty) can be similarly challenged. So far as we know, only one "prince" was involved in the affair—and he was (not coincidentally) a highly placed civil servant. His position in the colonial bureaucracy pre-supposed modern education, considerable literacy and sociolinguistic com-


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petence, and other credentials characteristic of the "new elite" (and thus shared at least to some degree by the UMNO leadership). The same holds for the District Officer, as well as the female representative of UMNO's Women's Organization, both of whom also supported the "pro-Islam" platform but are effectively glossed over in de Josselin de Jong's scheme. When one considers as well that the "commoners" category effectively embraces clan chiefs of commoner and gentry birth, in addition to the Undang, who stands as Allah's vice-regent for all of Rembau, the distortions in this opposition are especially striking.

The binary oppositions between women and men, and between daughters and sons in particular, are perhaps the most problematic of all. Implied here is the existence of mutually opposed interest groups defined in terms of gender; yet in fact neither historical nor contemporary ethnographic data support such a view of male-female or cross-sex-sibling relations. Men as a group do not invariably favor or benefit from the application of Islamic inheritance codes, let alone resist those associated with ancestral property (see chapter 8). Conversely, women are not always the firm supporters and exclusive beneficiaries of ancestral conventions; nor are they necessarily wholly opposed to the introduction and extension into this area of Islamic religious law.

In sum, I would suggest that Rembau's adat controversy did not really revolve around issues of "Islam versus adat"—to draw on the title of de Josselin de Jong's essay—but turned instead, albeit less obviously, on conflicting cultural constructions of the relationship between the two institutions. In other words, whereas most of Rembau's inhabitants undoubtedly viewed the relationship in terms of complementarity, the UMNO activists rejected this view in its entirety (even though they focused almost exclusively on matters of inheritance). Further, they were extremely visible in their assault, using all the symbolic and other capital at their disposal—including, of course, well-publicized and highly dramatic references to the grave sins incurred by "adat adherents" and to the afterlife horrors awaiting them. I would also argue that UMNO's perspectives on the adat-Islam relationship, and its involvement in the affair more generally, were in large measure a product of colonial-era processes that eviscerated traditional institutions and radically diffused the functions, sanctions, and authorities once concentrated among clan spokesmen. As the symbols and prerogatives once vested in these figures passed increasingly to representatives of


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the state's secular branches and religious hierarchies, they were necessarily endowed with new meanings and imperatives, only some of which were (or are) acceptable to the rural majority. Indeed, just as any mixing of modern-day politics and religion is anathema to villagers, so too is the mixing of politics and adat. In the contemporary situation, however, such boundaries and categories are impossible to maintain. This is especially evident, and no less ironic, in light of UMNO's mandate to protect Malay society and culture from the menaces and machinations of non-Malays—and to do so by transcending regional differences and parochial loyalties for the purposes of political unification, economic development, and the creation of a more pronounced and sustaining national consciousness based largely on the teachings of Islam.

Clearly implicated in all of this, as already noted, are issues of cultural heterogeneity and the fact that colonial-era processes not only accentuated the differential distribution of knowledge pertaining to Islam, adat, and the outside world but also bestowed unprecedented political meanings on virtually all sacred symbols and other cultural phenomena. On the other side of the coin, of course, we find the analytically distinct, though functionally related, development of geographic and social mobility, occupational specialization, and social stratification, all of which chipped away at the cultural like-mindedness characteristic of rural Rembau.


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4—
Currents of Economic Change

Colonial rule in Negeri Sembilan brought momentous changes in rural production and proprietorship, and in the state's economy as a whole. The infusion of Chinese and European capital benefited the Malay elite enormously, and the village majority gained some advantages as well, at least initially, from the concomitant commercialization of agricultural acreage and the growth of cash cropping in particular. The realization of these benefits, especially by males, gave rise to new categories of wealth and proprietorship that in turn fostered an individualization of property and social relations. While trends of this nature contributed to a partial linealization of property ties, I argue that the structural precedents for these developments not only predated colonial rule but also facilitated cultural continuity during this time of dramatic change.

Commercial Trends and the Indigenous Elite

In one sense, the history of colonial-era economic change in rural Negeri Sembilan is that of the progressive commercialization of land suitable for village agriculture. The larger trend, alluded to above, witnessed the


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growth of an extractive economy based initially on the exploitation of tin-bearing resources but also, especially after the turn of the century, on the estate cultivation of rubber and other export crops. That the expansion of mining and large-scale plantation activities both preceded and then generated major changes in the village economy is of course well documented (see Khoo 1972; Lim 1977). So, too, is the related point that activities of the former sort were encouraged through intensive capital investment and labor importation by British and other foreigners, whereas village agriculture (including the cash cropping of rubber) received no such major inputs of capital, planning, and the like. Lopsided investment patterns thus contributed to the emergence and persistence of two analytically separate though interpenetrating economic sectors, just as they hastened the process whereby village lands came to acquire commercial value.

In various areas of Negeri Sembilan, it should be emphasized, acreage suitable for village cultigens had acquired commercial value even before the onset of colonial rule. Here again the loci of the state's tin-mining industry and its expansion beginning in the first third of the nineteenth century are important. In the stanniferous region of Sungei Ujong, for example, some villagers were leasing out rights over their sawah (wet-rice fields) to Chinese miners and financiers, in exchange for a percentage of the tin extracted therefrom, as early as the 1830s (CRACNS 1874, 18). The extent and particulars of this practice cannot be precisely determined, but the precedent is of critical significance. More specifically, this and other developments in the mining industry during the precolonial period undermine the argument that village-level economic trends under colonial rule represented a radical departure from earlier theory and practice. In short, to summarize the history of colonial-era economic change in the rural sector as entailing the progressive commercialization of land suitable for village agriculture is to focus attention on a process that, although dominant throughout this time, had its origins in previous decades.

I have already pointed out that the traditional elite were important promoters of the local tin-mining industry prior to British intervention. They also encouraged the definition of certain categories of cultivable land as a resource that could generate monetary returns for villagers. Elite activities in this area need to be assessed in conjunction with subsequent British enactments bearing on rural proprietorship, and land administration more generally. Significantly, however, those individuals at the apex of the indigenous political hierarchy were themselves quick to purchase or other-


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wise exploit commercially valued agricultural acreage. As early as 1878, Dato Bandar, a high-ranking district-level official of Sungei Ujong, had opened up a large plantation, just as Dato Klana, the Undang, boasted an extensive estate consisting of over two thousand nutmeg and clove plants (SUAR 1878, 3). Malay holdings of this scale had yet to appear in Rembau, but by 1888 Malacca-based Chinese claimed rights over thirty thousand acres of land in Rembau, all of which were planted in tapioca (NSAR 1888, 7; NSAR 1891, 5). Since these rights had been ceded by the Undang, who was to receive duties on all tapioca exported from Rembau, the situation is remarkably similar to that of Sungei Ujong. In both instances the heads of state reaped the initial rewards of cultivation for the world market.

Certain clan leaders and gentry group members also shared the profits generated by local commercial endeavors, and likewise had an appreciable stake in encouraging their successful development. I already mentioned Sungei Ujong's tin-mining concessions; by 1887, moreover, Rembau's Undang had granted previously unalienated waste lands to individual members of the gentry clans for the production of tapioca. No less significantly, the Undang reportedly failed to share the duties levied on the export of this crop with certain clan chiefs, thereby causing strife over the distribution of revenue obtained from land with no prior commercial value.[1]

Overall, then, it stands to reason that the British worked through the elite to commercialize the state's economy. It was in fact in keeping with this objective that early British policies aimed to compensate the elite with a percentage of the revenue obtained from their territories rather than fixed monthly allowances (see NSAR 1891, 3). Hence, as British officers stationed in the district of Jelebu observed in 1890, the indigenous leaders did "not seem to take much interest in padi planting, but devote[d] all of their energies to inducing Chinese and others to come mine upon their land" (JAR 1890, 6).

We must now consider the enhanced trading opportunities that became available to men in the 1890s owing to the Malay elite's (among others) luring massive amounts of foreign capital into the state. They did so, of course, to encourage large-scale mining and plantation activities and thereby add to the state's coffers.

Chinese manpower and resources were very much responsible for the unprecedented growth of the mining industry after 1830. This fact helps explain Chinese enthusiasm for British plans to quell statewide distur-


131

bances during the decades immediately prior to colonial intervention: their mercantile interests, not to mention their very lives, were at stake in many of these altercations (Newbold 1839, 2 : 93, 96, 169–170; CRACNS 1874, 25), and they understandably assumed substantive protection and a relatively free hand to pursue commerce under British rule. Given extensive European investments in mining and that the mere presence of the Chinese in Negeri Sembilan afforded additional opportunities to enhance revenues (through taxes on gambling, opium, pig husbandry, and so on), the British elected to encourage Chinese emigration as a matter of policy. Thus, whereas Negeri Sembilan's Chinese population numbered only about four hundred in 1830, by 1891 it exceeded fifteen thousand, and it further doubled in size during the following decade (see table 4, which also reveals the phenomenal growth in the state's Indian population during the first decades of colonial administration).

These demographic trends provided male villagers with a ready market for forest produce and further solidified an incipient interethnic symbiosis in which Malays served as the middlemen in a trade involving hill-dwelling aborigines on the one hand and trade-dependent Chinese clustered around commercial settlements on the other. But these demographic shifts also fostered conditions of relative resource scarcity in which Malays found themselves competing with both aborigines and Chinese not only for forest produce but also for customers (NSAR 1892, 3; NSSSF 1893 [Sel. 2047/93]; NSGG 1896, 1 : 43; NSGG 1897, 2 : 107; NSGG 1898, 3 : 182–183).

The activities of Chinese, especially in rural areas settled by Malays, occasioned a multitude of problems for both Malays and the British. The presence in Malay villages of Chinese petty traders and itinerant vendors was "greatly objected to," since the Chinese were allegedly tempting Malay women into debt, extending credit to villagers engaged in the illegal (that is, unlicensed) collection of forest produce, and establishing pig farms "to the annoyance of the Muslims" (NSAR 1897, 3). It was for reasons such as these that local chiefs had ordered the Chinese to remove themselves to sites established for them by District Officers (NSAR 1897, 3).

The presence in Malay villages of Chinese settlers was not the only cause of antagonisms, however; the scale of their planting and mining activities (and those of Europeans as well) also imperiled successful village agriculture. The diversion of water resources for mining occurred sometimes (in Sungei Ujong, for example) at the direct expense of padi growers,


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Table 4. Population of Negeri Sembilan by Major Ethnic Group, 1830–1980

 

Malaya

 

Chinese

 

Indianb

 

Otherc

 

Total

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

1830

27,280

98.6

 

400

1.4

 

 

 

27,680

100.0

1891

46,069

70.6

 

15,391

23.6

 

1,117

1.7

 

2,642

4.1

 

65,219

100.0

1901

55,540

57.8

 

32,931

34.3

 

5,526

5.8

 

2,031

2.1

 

96,028

100.0

1911

68,052

52.3

 

40,843

31.4

 

18,248

14.0

 

3,056

2.3

 

130,199

100.0

1921

76,319

42.7

 

65,171

36.5

 

33,658

18.8

 

3,614

2.0

 

178,762

100.0

1931

85,748

36.7

 

92,371

39.5

 

50,100

21.4

 

5,580

2.4

 

233,799

100.0

1947

108,938

40.7

 

114,406

42.8

 

38,082

14.2

 

6,242

2.3

 

267,668

100.0

1957

149,095

40.9

 

150,055

41.2

 

54,399

14.9

 

10,975

3.0

 

364,524

100.0

1970

217,612

45.3

 

182,950

38.1

 

77,608

16.2

 

1,883

0.4

 

480,053

100.0

1980

265,000

46.2

 

209,700

36.6

 

97,100

16.9

 

1,700

0.3

 

573,500

100.0

SOURCES : For the years listed above, respectively: Newbold 1839, 1 : 419, 2 : 97; Federated Malay States, Straits Settlements Census 1891; Federated Malay States Census of the Population 1901; The Census of the Federated Malay States 1911; The Census of British Malaya 1921; British Malaya: A Report on the 1931 Census; A Report on the 1947 Census of Population; 1957 Population Census of the Federation of Malaya; 1970 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia , vol. 1, pt. 4, Basic Population Tables, Negeri Sembilan; Population and Housing Census of Malaysia, 1980, General Report of the Population Census , vol. 1.

a Includes Sumatrans, Javanese, and other Indonesians (who comprise less than 6 percent of the total Malay population in all censuses containing specific information on this issue).

b Includes Tamils, Sinhalese, Bengalis, etc.

c Includes aborigines, Europeans, etc.


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who suffered radically declining yields as a result and also witnessed an appreciable devaluation of their ancestral property (see SUAR 1877, 2; SU/JAR 1893, 8; NSAR 1909, 4; NSAR 1917, 6). Similarly, the untrammeled expansion of estate agriculture destroyed large tracts of cultivable land, the extreme case being acreage earmarked for two or three seasons of tapioca planting and thereafter fallowed for a decade, only to be overrun by virtually indestructible lalang growth. Thus one observer commented in 1890 that Rembau "is completely denuded of forest, and is now for the most part a lalang plain, with the exception of course of the Malay orchards" (NSAR 1890, 5). While patently disturbing to the British, dilemmas of this nature were not easily resolved. For, as Negeri Sembilan's British Resident reasoned in 1891, "if this Government refused to concede land for tapioca planting, the principal Chinese industry of this portion of the Peninsula would be abandoned" (NSAR 1891, 5).

These developments also had their positive side. For one, the Malays inhabiting Rembau and other districts of Negeri Sembilan obtained appreciable benefit in the 1890s from increased market demands for their forest produce and livestock, and from greater access to household necessities and prestige items. A British civil servant attending the 1895 Hari Raya festivities in Kuala Pilah, for example, was struck by the abundance of western perfumes, silk handkerchiefs, Chinese silk clothes, tweed suits, and smoking caps, all of which he described as "simply not possible ten years ago" (NSGG 1896, 1 : 112; see also SUAR 1885, 2; NSAR 1888, 16). The profits reaped through the sale of local produce and domesticates may have also contributed to villagers' successes in avoiding plantation work, except in cases of floods or other natural calamities that interfered with the planting or harvesting of rice (cf. Gullick 1951, 51–52).

One other area in which state-backed development policies brought economic benefits to villagers, and males especially, was the British system of land administration, which endowed proprietors with unprecedented security over their holdings but was of course grounded in foreign and highly individualistic notions of property.

Shifting Patterns of Production and Proprietorship

In 1887 British officials commenced a survey of Rembau to assess the extent of taxable Malay holdings and to determine the amount of "un-


134

claimed" acreage that could be sold or leased to European, Chinese, and Malay entrepreneurs committed to mining or estate cultivation. British notions of "unclaimed" land were at sharp variance with those of their Malay counterparts. The larger issue, though, is that all Malay rights over sawah and residential acreage came to be registered under the names of individual proprietors, even when the property in question was ancestral. Further, because the cadastral surveys aimed at identifying potential tax-payers, all registered claimants were held individually responsible for the payment of nominal processing fees and annual quit rents. These quit rents varied according to land use, although productivity levels also figured in their computation. Acreage per se was not an issue during the earliest years of colonial taxation, but neither was the indigenous distinction between redeemed and unredeemed lands (Taylor [1929] 1970, 133). Proprietors of redeemed holdings were thus no longer exempt from paying agricultural taxes to extralocal authorities; hence, the jural imperatives of a long-established cultural marker embedded in symbols and concepts of origin point were quickly undermined.

Of far greater consequence is that adult males were both allowed and encouraged to purchase or otherwise obtain rights over commercially valued acreage made available by the state. It is not clear whether these men were also enjoined to register such property in their own names, although this was a concurrent development (dating from about 1888 in Rembau) and a logical outcome of British policies regarding the responsibilities and prerogatives of individuals over the lands they cultivated or occupied. At the outset, the number of holdings registered in the names of male proprietors was quite small—in Bogang at the close of 1889, for example, only 6.8 percent (3.8 of 56) of village titles were listed as having been initially registered by individual male proprietors. One year later only sixty such cases existed in the entire district of Rembau, whose Malay population was roughly nine thousand. Similarly, just as less than 6.3 percent of the Malay titles recorded in the district by the end of 1898 were first registered as under male proprietorship, the corresponding figure for the state as a whole appears to have been about 1 percent (Gullick 1951, 41).

All such percentages increased rapidly as a result of the rubber boom, which soon followed.[2] It should be stressed, though, that even during the earliest years of colonial rule a married man's rights in this area could be established independently of his wife and female enates, insofar as he


135

might clear and maintain lands entirely through his own efforts (Gullick 1951, 41). This unprecedented possibility had profound implications for male proprietors' autonomy vis-à-vis affinal kin; it also exacerbated a situation in which social control over in-marrying males and the fruits of their labor seems always to have been fraught with tension and potential discord. Although there is no reason to assume that such circumstances led to heightened property or social conflicts during a proprietor's lifetime, since his wife and children would in any event derive the major benefit from his day-to-day earnings, they did, however, cause serious disputes after his death. These conflicts usually involved a man's wife and children on the one side and enatic kin on the other, for both these groups could legitimately claim shares of the property acquired by the deceased during his marriage (that is, his charian laki-bini ). We will examine such disputes in due course.

Of more immediate concern is that the British viewed traditional constraints on male proprietorship and inheritance as just part of a larger institutional framework deemed primitive, anachronistic, and overly cumbersome as regards the objectives of colonial rule (see NSAR 1889, 2; NSGG 1898, 3 : 151–152). At the same time—and this, I think, is the more critical issue—the British clearly viewed as highly unnatural a system in which provisional rights over land devolved upon females to the exclusion of males. In consequence, women appeared to have a great stake in agriculture and to "cultivate their holdings to the fullest extent," whereas men were said to "rarely help the women in looking after" the land owing to their position that "We shall never get it, so why should we help to improve it?"[3] This situation, aside from suggesting an inversion of the system of gender relations predominant in Victorian England, was believed to foster a lack of interest among males in local events and economic development, and to account for the "considerable majority of women" (NSGG 1897, 2 : 4) revealed by Rembau's 1891 census. "Unnatural" imbalances of this sort prompted British officials, in the mid 1890s, to induce Rembau males to acquire parcels of land for coffee cultivation; as a result, men were soon "beginning to have a stake in a country in which almost all landed property is vested in women" (NSAR 1896, 4).[4]

Overall, then, the British not only conferred legitimacy on male acquisition of full title to commercially valuable acreage, but also encouraged the trend through local policy. They did so by working through the indige-


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nous elite (clan and district chiefs), who were well suited to encourage the acquisition of land by adult men in their realms of jurisdiction. By holding political office, they stood as heirs to an entrepreneurial legacy that had always presupposed an ability to mobilize sentiment on their behalf. Moreover, being in the receipt of salaries and other remunerations, and relatively familiar with the workings of the colonial bureaucracy, they were ideally situated to purchase sizable holdings of state land themselves. In this connection we should recall the inordinate losses of prestige the elite suffered when British policies undercut their dominion over their subjects, and that one of their few avenues for partially recouping such losses entailed gaining control over commercially valued land and other cash-generating resources. We should also bear in mind that a man's prestige hinged on the nature of his relations with his affines, who tended to judge him in his capacity as provider and household entrepreneur; and that, through commercially valued acreage and other opportunities to obtain cash incomes, married men had a ready means for satisfying affinal demands on their productivity.

Also relevant to the theme of male prestige is that married men (like the rest of the [Malay] population) were Muslims and thus bidden to make the pilgrimage to Mecca should they be financially able. Rising to the status of haji also garnered considerable esteem. Gaining sufficient funds to make the haj was therefore a principal objective of men who engaged in cash-cropping activities in the 1890s. Even before that time, the sale of forest produce and livestock had been undertaken for this purpose. Thus in 1892 Lister wrote that the Yang diPertuan Besar informed him that

the money supply for luxuries had always been obtained from the sale of fruit, vegetables and orchard produce generally but in a far greater degree from the sale of buffaloes, goats, and poultry reared on these lands. . . . It was also by this industry that the people of the country were able to save up money to accomplish the pilgrimage to Mecca; . . . in former times, prior to the natives having been given facilities in regard to working for wages, this was in most cases the sole source of cash wealth.[5]

We see here the mutual reinforcement of two separate though interrelated criteria for prestige ranking: the one based on the cultural construction of affinal obligations, relatedness, and cleavages; the other resting on a more transcendent ideology by which all men were equal before God, but those among them who journeyed to Mecca enjoyed exalted spiritual standing.


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That a man could earn prestige on both counts through trade or the sale of agricultural produce is, I think, a critical factor in encouraging both the acquisition of land by males and their involvement in cash cropping on the whole.

Commercial currents during the final decade or so of the 1800s seem not to have affected any immediate restructuring of conjugal or affinal bonds, but they did contribute to an important conceptual shift in the domain of inheritance. This shift involved a reassessment and partial collapse of the distinction between movable and immovable property, the first evidence of which dates from about 1890 (cf. Lister 1890, 316–317; DeMoubray 1931, 202). To appreciate the issues at stake we must recall that throughout the precolonial era jointly acquired lands were apparently not divided between a man and his wife, or their respective enates, upon divorce or decease. Rather, since rights over such land (and houses) remained with the wife and her children or their enatic collaterals, questions as to the distribution of conjugal property between the two sets of kin focused only on movable goods, such as cash, weapons, jewelry, and livestock. A man's entire share of this movable property could pass to his enatic kin instead of his offspring, although the likelihood of this happening depended on numerous factors, including the occurrence or nonoccurrence of paternal provisioning. By 1890, however, Rembau's indigenous leaders seem to have decided that such property should thenceforth devolve upon the dead man's children rather than his enatic survivors, and that his rights over conjugally acquired land could now revert to his enates. The leaders were thus effectively equating land with cash resources and other consumer goods that had always been divided between spouses or their enatic representatives on the termination of a marriage.

We recall, too, that a married man appears always to have enjoyed the option of bequeathing rights over his share of conjugal acquisitions to his children but that if he failed to do so these rights passed to his sisters (or mother) for the benefit of their offspring. Thus, although children would stand to inherit their mother's entire share of jointly acquired earnings (and those of their mother's brothers as well), they would not necessarily receive any of their father's portion of such property. It was with reference to this issue, and to the transmission of a man's property classed as jointly acquired earnings more generally, that Lister (1890, 317) wrote the following:


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That property of this kind should not go entirely to the children made a great deal of difficulty, as it is not in accordance with Muhammadan law. . . . In Rembau the Chiefs decided that all property other than "herta pesaka" [ancestral property] or "herta membawa" [the property a man brought to his marriage] became unconditionally the property of the children and could not in any case return to the man's relations. It was ruled, however, that land should not be affected, coming as it does under "herta pesaka" and that weapons, ornaments and silver untensils which were "herta pesaka" must be returned.

One of the more interesting features of this passage, and of the article as a whole, is that despite the point concerning the chiefs' "decisions" on the devolution of rights over conjugal earnings, Lister also refers to the matter as "not yet . . . decisively settled" (p. 316). Yet Lister does not mention any such conceptual shift in a similarly oriented piece of 1887. The issue probably arose only during the intervening period, for Rembau men first acquired commercially valued acreage in their own names beginning in 1888 or 1889 and by that time had also experienced very lucrative returns from trading activities, which greatly enhanced the financial stakes at issue upon their decease. One would expect a cultural realization of such shifts to result in a realignment of property distinctions or in heightened specificity in the conventions pertaining to the postmortem distribution of male property rights. And indeed, both phenomena are evident in the passage quoted above.

One consequence of these developments was that children's claims to their father's share of conjugal acquisitions in the form of movable goods no longer turned on demonstrating the prior occurrence of paternal provisioning. Children were deemed to have unconditional rights over such property, even in the absence of "gift giving" by their father. Clearly, moreover, the strengthening of children's rights over their father's properties occurred at the direct expense of those competing jural interests vested in sisters and other collateral enates.[6]

None of this is to suggest the immediate demise of residual rights grounded in enatic siblingship, but it should be apparent that economic and jural developments in the first decade of colonial rule did strengthen the property bonds between Rembau men and their children. Further-more, even at this early stage the indigenous leaders of Rembau had assumed central positions both in commerce and in religious administration


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and reform. This combination of prestige-conferring activities had profound implications for the evolution of property concepts. In this connection we might refer back to Lister's inference that chiefly proposals concerning the devolution of rights over a man's share of conjugally acquired goods were prompted in part by a desire to conform more closely with Islamic property codes. This at least is my interpretation of the ambiguous opening line of the passage cited above, namely "that property of this kind should not go entirely to his children made a great deal of difficulty, as it is not in accordance with Muhammadan law." There is certainly room for speculation as to who was more directly concerned with "the difficulty" in question, the Malay elite or British administrators, but it is instructive that Rembau's first kadi assumed office in 1889 and undoubtedly consulted with Rembau's clan leaders on aspects of property (and other matters of common interest) from the very beginning of his tenure. In sum, one cannot dismiss the possibility that Rembau's kadi played a key role in encouraging the chiefs to propose the policy shifts outlined above, especially in light of Lister's (1890, 319) observation that "as the Kathi is generally anxious to exercise Muhammadan law only, great care has to be taken to prevent him from interfering in cases of custom."

More importantly in the long run, the position advanced by the chiefs paved the way for the kadi and his representatives' extensive involvement in the inheritance affairs of villagers. This trend had major implications, if only because Islam accords far greater priority to rights grounded in patrifiliation than to those based on enatic connections. Islam, moreover, not only allows but also encourages individualism of the sort fostered by villagers' involvement in the production of rubber for export after 1910.

Rubber, Colonial Administration, and Property Relations

Rubber (Hevea brasiliensis ) was introduced into Negeri Sembilan around 1895. It was immediately successful as an estate crop, as early-twentieth-century figures on the amount of acreage devoted to various agricultural products in the state make clear. The data in table 5 reveal a phenomenal increase in the area planted in rubber both in the 1903–1912 period and thereafter, as well as a corresponding decline in the estate cultivation of all other export crops. European and Chinese planters reaped unprecedented


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Table 5. Areas Planted in Various Agricultural Products in Negeri Sembilan, 1903–1918 (in Acres)

 

  Rice

Coffee

Gambier

Pepper

Rubber

Tapioca

1903

31,120

4,555

18,003a

1,636

6,188

36,991

1906

32,475

4,911b

20,401

1,241

15,103

10,856

1909

33,954

    324b

21,000

663

40,883

8,750

1912

26,550

2b, c

176b, c

78,564c

350c

1915

28,570

9b, c

323b, c

109,723c

300c

1918

n.a.

9b

1,511c

165,199c

1,567c

SOURCE : Manual of Statistics, Federated Malay States , 1904–1919.

NOTE : All acreage figures pertain to December 31 of the years in question.

a Includes twenty-five acres of cotton.

b Includes acreage interplanted with coconuts and/or rubber. Acreage interplanted with rubber is also included under rubber.

c These figures are from estates exceeding one hundred acres in size.

profits from this great rubber boom, as indeed did Malays, who by 1909 showed considerable interest in cultivating rubber and had successfully petitioned local authorities for plots suitable for the new crop.

Malay enthusiasm to grow and tap rubber posed a multitude of problems for the British owing to the contradictions in their policies toward indigenous subjects. On the one hand, British support of traditional institutions was highly selective, forthcoming in general only when it might enhance revenues and other colonial objectives; on the other hand, there was much concern to bolster certain Malay practices so as to "keep the natives native." It was partially in line with this latter goal that the British encouraged Chinese immigration to Negeri Sembilan and other Malay states and also imported thousands of Tamils and other South Asians to labor on plantations, road crews, and other public works. Relevant as well was the British view that Malays not only lacked interest in and were ill suited for year-round estate-sector employment (SUAR 1880, 2) but also that they required protection from the market forces unleashed by rapid economic development. This perception contributed to the promulgation of colonial legislation discouraging Chinese settlement in rural areas inhabited by Malays; it also helps to explain why the British responded with marked ambivalence to the flood of Malay requests for plots of state land to be planted in rubber.


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Despite misgivings in some official circles (see NSAR 1911, 5), over ten thousand holdings "under ten acres in size" were handed over to Negeri Sembilan Malays between 1908 and 1912 alone, primarily for purposes of rubber cultivation (NSAR 1912, 6). In the village of Bogang, the state alienated over 180 acres of land from 1910 to 1920, the bulk of which was planted in rubber and registered under male proprietors (see table 6). Alienated acreage thus increased by more than 44 percent, and the growth of market and credit networks, together with the accumulation of cash and theretofore largely inaccessible consumer goods, was sharply stimulated. These developments signaled a languishing interest in the purchase of any land not suitable for rubber trees, as well as a diminished concern with cooperative rice planting, including the proper care of dams and irrigation works. Stated differently, these trends heralded the beginnings of a shift from a subsistence orientation characterized by a fair range of economic activities and considerable self-sufficiency to a heavy dependence on mono-

 

Table 6. Alienated Land According to Use Classification, by Period of Initial Registration, Bogang, 1888–1957 (in Number of Titles)

 

1888–1909

 

1910–1929

 

1930–1957

Use
Classification

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Kampunga

3

3.1

 

9

5.2

 

20

47.6

Kampung/Rice

82

85.4

 

  —

 

Rice

8

8.4

 

6

   3.4

 

8

19.0

Rubberb

 

149

85.1

 

7

16.7

Miscellaneous

3

3.1

 

11d

6.3

 

7f

16.7

Total titles

96

100.0

 

175

100.0

 

42

100.0

Total acreage

   410.6c

   

338.9e

   

     88.1g

 

Mean size

     4.6c

   

1.9e

   

2.1g

 

NOTE : Includes land that was reappropriated by the state subsequent to alienation. In all cases, percentages are by column.

a Kampung land consists primarily of acreage utilized for residential purposes and fruit trees.

b Includes land earmarked for rubber and fruit.

c Based on 92.7 percent (89 of 96) of all titles.

d Includes three titles for which data on use classification are missing.

e Based on 99.4 percent (174 of 175) of all titles.

f Includes two titles for which data on use classification are missing.

g Based on 97.6 percent (41 of 42) of all titles.


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cropping for cash, Chinese brokers, and world-market prices. Such trends, moreover, posed further problems for the British in their self-assigned role as the protectors of the Malay populace, spawning a host of legislative measures designed to maintain food production and insulate Malay proprietors from Indian money lenders, Chinese and European speculators, and others who might tempt or force them to part with their land.

Land-related legislation passed during the first third of this century is profitably viewed against economic trends and protectionist concerns of the sort outlined above. Three measures—the Malay Reservations Enactment of 1913 and the Customary Tenure Enactments of 1909 and 1926—were of particular historical significance, and are at least indirectly responsible for innumerable aspects of property and ethnic relations even at present.

The Customary Tenure Enactment of 1909 was supposed to preserve the traditional system of land tenure and inheritance in its entirety (NSAR 1908, 3). The principal responsibility for doing so lay with the Collector of Land Revenue, who was to endorse existing titles to land according to whether the registered proprietors held their rights in a manner consistent with "the custom." If the Collector was satisfied that land was occupied "subject to the custom," he was "to add to the entry in the . . . [parish] register the words 'Customary Land' and authenticate the same by his signature." This act would be taken as "conclusive proof that the land to which such entry relates was occupied subject to the custom"; it would also guarantee that rights over it would not be "transferred, charged, transmitted or otherwise dealt with except in accordance [there] with" (see NSGG 1909, 14[38] : 633–636).

As a result of the 1909 enactment, a great many preexisting titles were endorsed with the designation "customary" or "customary land," which was intended as a synonym for land classed as ancestral. Despite the ambiguity of this ill-chosen gloss, the enactment did ensure that most rights over property thus registered not only devolved in accordance with the system of enatic constraints and divided title but also remained among Malay proprietors (Lim 1977, 110). The problem, however, was that the legislation was by definition backward-looking: it concerned itself only with existing rights previously transmitted or simply held in accordance with "the custom" and endorsed as such. Because it did not explicitly provide for distinctions of gender or for the potential existence of new catego-


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ries of rights, it thereby left open the question of how such new rights should devolve within the Malay community (as well as the possibility of their passing to non-Malays). At the same time, the legislation failed to address jural issues bearing on the recategorization of rights over time through inheritance, even though it implicitly recognized that land defined as "customary" property should be dealt with as such in the future. If only by default, it thus rendered possible the gradual elimination of the system's diachrony. Moreover, since the very existence of residual rights hinged on the automatic reclassification over time of acquired land as the ancestral property of enatic segments, this undermining of diachrony necessarily foreshadowed the eventual demise of divided title. In a word, the Customary Tenure Enactment of 1909 went a long way toward eviscerating the very system it sought to reinforce.[7]

The Malay Reservation Enactment of 1913 worked similarly, though it aimed less at bolstering selected aspects of the indigenous system than at making sure that Europeans, Indians, and Chinese especially did not gain control of Malay lands (see Lim 1977, 106–116). The British were quick to acknowledge that the Customary Tenure Enactment of 1909 was but a partial solution to the problem of Malay holdings passing to non-Malays, especially since it pertained only to lands formally classified as customary and thus included no provisions specifying that rights over other Malay-held plots would always remain within that ethnic community. One alternative would have been to endorse all current and future Malay titles with the words customary land , thereby effectively extending the provisions of the 1909 legislation to include all current and future Malay lands. This policy would have been partly consistent with—but also far more restrictive than—precolonial property conventions. The British chose not to pursue this course, however, being convinced that traditional constraints on the conveyance of land rights were generally acceptable in the case of residential acreage and sawah but rather "irksome," as one official later put it, when it came to land "taken up merely for profit" (NSAR 1916, 9–10). Another alternative lay in adopting a laissez-faire approach to the whole issue, but the likely consequences of such a policy were seen as disastrous.

A compromise was decided on, involving the creation of a new category of property, known as Malay Reserve Land, rights to which non-Malays were constitutionally barred from obtaining. These reserves encompassed large stretches of land already held by Malays, and they came to include the


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bulk of unalienated state acreage as well. Reserve land helped guarantee that the Malay community, or their representatives, would always retain control of agricultural acreage, and that Chinese and other non-Malays would continue to rely on plantation-sector activities, petty trade, public works employment, and the like to meet their economic needs. The most important aspect of the Malay Reservation Enactment, though, is not that it explicitly prohibited the transfer of land rights from Malays to non-Malays (but not vice versa), but rather that it clearly provided for a category of Malay property—that is, noncustomary land—that was not necessarily subject to preexisting constraints of the sort relevant to customary holdings. This was, in fact, one of its principal objectives.

There are two points of great importance here. First, the ensuing decades witnessed major controversies concerning the inheritance of intestate lands not formally labeled as customary. Second, the bulk of the litigation generated by competing inheritance claims (coupled with inconsistent administrative policy and procedure) focused on acreage planted in or suitable for rubber. Indeed, most plots alienated before 1910 were not only associated with customary titles but were also of relatively little monetary value given their utilization for subsistence rice production or residential compounds. In sharp contrast, the post-1910 era saw very few new titles defined as customary. In Bogang, for example, 94.1 percent (128 of 136) of the plots made available to villagers between 1910 and 1920 were alienated specifically for rubber, but only 17.6 percent (24 of 136) came under the customary heading. In subsequent decades this latter percentage declined even more radically. Villagers' interests aside, then, the questions facing British settlement officers overwhelmingly centered on the allocation of rights over intestate lands in the noncustomary category. In particular, the dilemma confronting colonial administrators was construed as one involving a choice between the property codes of adat and those of Islam. And, to oversimplify, British officials tended to favor resolutions defined as Islamic in nature.

A sterling example of the colonial bias in favor of Islamic property conventions appears in certain British administrators' interpretations of the Customary Tenure Enactment of 1926. This piece of legislation superseded the 1909 enactment and further codified the jural implications of rights associated with customary titles (in part by formally barring males from inheriting such rights, except in extenuating circumstances, where


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they might be awarded "life interests"). It is somewhat ironic, then, that the bias in question took the form of a rigid posture on the part of some officials concerning the devolution of rights over lands defined as noncustomary—to wit, that such rights could be allocated only in accordance with the letter of Islamic law. The assumption seems to have been that adat pertained only to titles formally registered as customary and that Islamic codes necessarily prevailed in all other situations, regardless of the history of the property at stake (for example, its classification by villagers as ancestral) (see Taylor [1948] 1970, 172–195). In the case of intestate property in the form of previously inherited land, this could occasion a serious compromise of the prerogatives vested in the enatic kin of the deceased. If the deceased were male, for example, rights over much if not all of his land could easily pass to non-enates (his wife and children), an impossible situation under previous circumstances, since the property would have ranked as ancestral harta pembawa subject to the unconditional jurisdiction of the dead man's enatic survivors. In any event, these settlement policies effectively denied the diachrony that was not only inherent in the system of property relations and central to its reproduction but also wholly necessary for the increase and future viability of enatic estates.

British motivation in pursuing policies of the sort outlined above is an interesting topic in and of itself. Certain of the architects saw the policies as likely to minimize the possibility of local Muslim opposition to colonial rule. Thus, Andrew Caldecott, a former District Officer and onetime Acting Resident of Negeri Sembilan, argued on their behalf that the Dutch had experienced formidable difficulties in Sumatra when they reacted hostilely to the Islamic reformers credited with fomenting the Padri War of 1803–1837 (Taylor [1948] 1970, 192). What Caldecott failed to realize, however, was that matters of inheritance were of little significance in this war, and in any case did not figure in colonial backing of traditional leaders against the reformers, or in the reformers' resistance to Dutch rule (Taylor [1948] 1970, 192; Dobbin 1977).

In all fairness to Caldecott's more enlightened contemporaries, it should be recalled that numerous nationalistic and Islamic organizations and movements had come into being throughout the Peninsula during the twenties and thirties, and were in many instances lobbying for change in the name of Islamic reform. Administrators thus had to determine which of these groups and movements actually represented the sentiments of the


146

Malay majority and then decide to what extent their objectives might be accommodated with those of efficient colonial rule (cf. DeMoubray 1931, 213–215).

We might bear in mind, too, that Rembau's eighteenth Undang, Dato Abdullah, discouraged certain agricultural rituals and other practices deemed unacceptable by Islamic orthodoxy, and also advocated reforms in property and inheritance that were conceptualized as Islamic in design. The property and inheritance reforms that Dato Abdullah proposed were actually of quite limited scope and focused entirely on the devolution of rights over jointly acquired earnings (Taylor [1948] 1970, 189–191). His basic argument seems to have been that a married (or formerly married) man ought to have greater autonomy in bestowing rights over such property, and in any case should no longer be bound by adat stipulations that a full half-share of conjugal acquisitions remain with or pass to his wife in the event of divorce. Apparently, Dato Abdullah merely sought a change whereby these property rights would go to children of the marriage as opposed to the wife. Nonetheless, and even though no such issues as gender in heirship were mentioned (that sons were to be included as heirs or awarded the larger shares of the property at stake, for instance), the proposed alternative was stated in exceedingly broad terms—specifically, that Islamic rather than adat codes should govern the inheritance of all conjugal acquisitions (Taylor [1948] 1970, 189–191). This sweeping generalization proved to be highly unfortunate. For, in conjunction with the Customary Tenure Enactment of 1926, some British administrators interpreted it as justification to effect rigid settlement policies grounded in Islam, even when villagers' legitimate property claims (such as over ancestral lands associated with titles not formally endorsed as customary) were thereby disregarded.

Dato Abdullah's position on changes in property and inheritance was shared by most of Rembau's clan leaders (Taylor [1948] 1970, 189–190). Because these leaders spoke for themselves and not necessarily for their clansmen, we have no way of knowing whether their sentiments coincided with those of untitled males, let alone the village majority. Yet these officials appear to have been the principal Malay advocates of change in property and inheritance; moreover, they stopped short of pursuing any measures that would have undermined the institutions of ancestral property and divided title. Their proposed amendment could even be interpreted as bolstering the system's foundations by focusing attention on one of its


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relatively minor elements. This point merits special emphasis, if only because it militates against any suppositions that they acted on behalf of any male-oriented interest group. In effectively upholding the temporal reclassification of acquired property as ancestral, the clan leaders were in fact supporting those indigenous policies that excluded males from owning previously inherited land.[8]

Although this discussion has taken us rather far afield from land-related legislation passed during the first third of the century, I have been concerned here to draw attention to British settlement policies that reinforced the individualizing implications of those enactments. Among other things, I have tried to show that processes contributing to the individualization of property and social relations stemmed partly from the legislative decrees in question but also, and perhaps more importantly, from the interpretation and execution of such legislation by British officials.

It remains to point out that a policy reversal seems to have occurred among settlement officers either during the late 1930s or shortly after the Japanese Occupation ended in 1945 (see Taylor [1948] 1970). This shift explicitly provided for the existence of ancestral constraints and prerogatives in the case of previously inherited intestate lands whose titles lacked formal endorsement as customary. Thus, if a woman could prove that rights over land to which she felt entitled had already devolved in accordance with adat and should also pass to her by virtue of enatic ties, her claims to the property would be accorded priority over those of individuals without such jurally based interests. For the most part, however, such settlement decisions still hinged on potentially troublesome evidentiary and procedural issues—such as whether Islamic magistrates or clan spokesmen, or both, were to evaluate the competing claims and inform secular officials as to the most equitable distribution of rights over intestate property. Moreover, and of far greater historical relevance, even when settlement decisions resulted in the rights of female enates, and divided title more generally, being recognized, there was no corresponding effort to endorse the relevant land grants with the designation customary. Hence, just as all subsequent transmissions of rights over the lands in question entailed more or less identical proceedings, so too did they leave room for controversy and dissatisfaction on the part of potential heirs. Further complications developed following independence, when there was a reversion to the practice whereby all lands lacking formal classification as customary were held to be subject to the property codes of Islam, as interpreted by


148

well-financed Islamic administrative hierarchies. The implications of this trend will be considered in chapter 8.

The vast majority of the property disputes following the rubber boom of 1910–1920 focused on lands, especially previously inherited acreage, not formally endorsed as customary (Taylor [1948] 1970). It is thus important to understand why previous generations of proprietors failed or elected not to register their lands as customary. Such an alternative has long been, and still is, available to proprietors. Yet only 17.6 percent (24 of 136) of the titles first registered in Bogang between 1910 and 1920 have ever been formally categorized as customary, and only 3.2 percent (10 of 310) of all titles recorded since then. Administrative oversight might be at work here; the complexities of dealing with the state bureaucracy, too, may have discouraged many individuals from formally reclassifying their land titles and attendant rights. In light of the contemporary villagers' position on this matter, however, neither of these explanations goes far enough.[9] Rather, the underlying issue would appear to be one of maintaining as much freedom as possible in conveying land rights through mortgage, sale, inter vivos bequests, or postmortem inheritance, and doing so both for oneself and for one's spouse and children. In short, while present-day villagers occasionally express hope that their funds of land will always remain intact and among kin, they are more directly concerned with enhancing, or at least maintaining, their own autonomy and that of the other members of the household. To register any noncustomary lands as customary would severely undermine such autonomy, for it would subject everyone with an immediate claim over the property to the residual prerogatives of the proprietors' collateral enates. Further, it would necessarily exclude sons from receiving any shares of the property, through inheritance or otherwise, and could even, if they had no sisters, lead to their being passed over in favor of female cousins.

On the one hand, then, most people with whom I discussed the issue felt that the existence of conventions pertaining to ancestral lands was of great social value—particularly in providing women with the resource base to satisfy their own subsistence requirements and those of their children (see below, chapter 8). On the other hand, no one thought it worth-while to actually register titles as customary and thereby guarantee the perpetuation of such conventions. Villagers simply want the best of both worlds: unobstructed personal and domestic autonomy, and at least diffuse


149

guarantees that future generations of female descendants will always derive the larger shares, if not all, of the inheritance. Thus, villagers themselves have also contributed to the demise of divided title, even though they still favor exclusive female proprietorship in the case of previously inherited lands, whether customary or otherwise. This distinction merits emphasis, because it demonstrates that a heightened concern with personal and domestic autonomy (that is, with relative immunity from the jural claims of collateral enates and affines) is a separate issue from that of gender-based moral imperatives bearing on the transmission of land rights.

Elsewhere we will see that throughout the past century most rights over inherited lands have passed to females and that there is no evidence for A. Wahab Alwee's (1967, 40–41) contention that the post-1926 era has seen a shift in inheritance "from matriliny to patriliny." Instead, a linealization of property and inheritance relations has occurred, whereby the rights of collateral enates have been undermined owing to the progressive foregrounding of individual freedoms and the links between parents—including fathers—and their children. Even when rights over conjugally acquired lands pass to male children, they tend to pass thereafter to female relations of the males (their sisters, or occasionally their own daughters) and thenceforth to the latters' enatically related female descendants (usually daughters). Aside from the initial transfer, then, land rights are still most commonly conveyed through individuals belonging to the same lineage, and to the females among them in particular. For that matter, the property ties involved in the initial transfers between men and their offspring by no means lack historical precedent. Married men have always had the option of bequeathing certain categories of property to their children; the major difference is that in precolonial times these rights centered on movable goods rather than land. There is thus considerable justification for viewing all shifts in the social links and categories of property rights implicated in inheritance as entailing a progressive realignment and reweighting of traditional structural principals and property concepts, rather than the creation ex nihilo of a new and distinct nexus of property or social constructs.

One other matter, however, represents a partial exception to the trends and interpretations discussed here. This is the concept of capital interest, or bunga , for which the precolonial system appears to have had no explicit provisions. Prior to the turn of the century little if any interest usually ac-


150

crued to a husband's personal estate such as the livestock, weapons, or cash he may have brought to his marriage. Perhaps for this reason alone there seems to have been no indigenous policy concerning the distribution of such interest when the marriage ended. Once males began to acquire rubber land, however, this facet of inheritance came to assume crucial importance. For example, a man might possess potentially valuable acreage suitable for the cultivation of rubber prior to betrothal, or he could inherit rights over such property in the course of marriage. Assuming the land was developed, what was to become of the increase in value, which could be phenomenal? Historical reports vary on this issue, but a general consensus seems to have emerged as early as the late 1920s that the enates of the deceased man could claim as his personal estate only the original value of the land, and not the increase or the land per se (DeMoubray 1931, 143). Both the land itself and the interest on it fell within the category of jointly acquired earnings, or charian laki-bini, and were therefore subject to restrictions on that domain of property. As noted by the District Officer stationed in Rembau at the time, "the ranking of increases of value as charian laki-bini went hand in hand with, and was a consequence of the progressive acknowledgment of the claims of children " (DeMoubray 1931, 143). This development constitutes but another stage in the historical advancement of rights based in patrifiliation and affinal relatedness (since a married man's affinal kin were the ultimate beneficiaries in this regard), just as it further undermined the nexus of property rights vested in the bonds of siblingship and descent linking a man with his enates.

Restrictions and Out-Migration

When Dato Abdullah became Rembau's eighteenth Undang in 1922, the Malays of Negeri Sembilan could look back on a decade of relative prosperity thanks to the rubber boom and their pronounced enthusiasm to produce latex for the world market. Because the rubber trees of smallholders were usually planted in previously uncleared forest areas rather than swampy lowlands given over to sawah, the spiraling Malay interest in rubber did not pose a direct threat to rice cultivation in the sense of encouraging a transformation of padi fields into holdings suitable for latex production. Yet Malay involvement in rubber tapping did serve to divert labor and other resources from rice growing and related subsistence pur-


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suits, for it fostered new patterns of consumption and a correspondingly enhanced reliance on the medium of cash. Thus British administrators reported in 1928 that it was becoming "increasingly difficult every year to persuade sawah owners to plant up their land and to take an interest in its efficient cultivation" (NSAR 1928, 15). This situation was to change rather quickly, however, for in the very next year there occurred a sharp decline both in the prices fetched by rubber and in the living standards of the rural majority, and a renewed concern among Malays with the growing of rice (NSAR 1929, 15).

By 1930 the depressed state of the rubber industry led to a major reduction in the daily wage paid to estate laborers and the repatriation of foreign workers, especially Indians. The following year all plantations in the state reportedly produced at a loss, and the tappers' wages afforded but a bare living, since the price of rubber had plummeted to four cents a pound (NSAR 1931, 14, 27).[10] Owing to cash shortages in all quarters and consumers' greatly reduced purchasing powers, Chinese and other shopkeepers saw their sales fall off dramatically and also had trouble paying rents as well as taxes. As a consequence, in the town of Kuala Pilah alone over thirty shops closed in 1931 (NSAR 1931, 29). These trends not only made the purchase of supplies even more problematic but also led to unprecedented declines in the volumes of cash Malays obtained through the sale of fruits, vegetables, poultry, and eggs (NSAR 1931, 35). British reports suggest that although few Malays engaged in padi cultivation experienced rice shortages, there was nevertheless a dearth of cash throughout the countryside. Villagers were thus unable to buy those subsistence necessities and other consumer goods they had come to rely on but did not themselves produce (NSAR 1931, 35).

In 1932, economic conditions worsened; short-lived experiments with the cultivation of tobacco were also undertaken, and there was a heightened interest in padi planting, with noticeable increases both in the areas of sawah cultivated and per-acre yields (NSAR 1932, 25). Subsistence requirements, however, could not be satisfied solely through rice production, particularly since some Malays (such as those in the coastal district of Port Dickson) had no access to sawah. As one British official pointed out, "a very large number of Malays own small rubber holdings . . ., [but] some unfortunately are wholly dependent on rubber. It was they who suffered so seriously during the slump" (NSAR 1935, 9). Persons in this


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latter category were not alone in enduring hardship, for as one colonial agent acknowledged in 1933, "the economic depression subjected the majority of the population to a hard and relentless struggle" (NSAR 1933, 39).

The immediate effects of the depression subsided somewhat in 1933, despite extreme subsequent fluctuations in the price of rubber. Furthermore, whereas improved market conditions during 1933 stimulated a resumption of tapping by smallholders (NSAR 1933, 8), the following year saw the implementation of colonial schemes restricting the output of village producers so as to limit their competitive threat to large-scale capital-intensive enterprises characterized by greater overhead costs, hence a more expensive product. Owing largely to what was known as the Rubber Control Scheme, for example, a mere 41 percent of the state's smallholding plots were in tapping during the final quarter of 1935 (NSAR 1935, 9). In the latter part of 1937 this figure was about 60 percent, but it fell to 40 percent by the end of 1938 and remained in the range of 38–48 percent throughout 1939 (NSAR 1938, 10; NSAR 1939, 5).

Restrictive policies of this nature continued in force until the Japanese army routed the British in 1942, and they were effectively reinstituted, albeit temporarily, following the Japanese surrender in August 1945. These types of policies not only curtailed village producers' incentives but also contributed to the emiseration of rural Malays and all others dependent on income from non-estate tapping (see Bauer 1948).

British efforts to ensure estate-sector profits ranged well beyond imposing production quotas on village tappers by requiring rationed coupons for the legitimate sale of latex. The British also introduced extreme restrictions both on replacing old, low-yielding, and diseased trees with new ones and on the overall acreage of potentially valuable land that villagers could obtain from the state. Bauer (1948, 14) summarized this policy succinctly when he concluded that "there has . . . been very little alienation of land for rubber planting in Malaya over the last quarter of a century, especially for new planting by small holders."

Quotas bearing on production and replanting aside, the total Malay-held rubber acreage remained more or less constant from the early 1920s through the late 1940s, despite demographic expansion of momentous proportions. In Negeri Sembilan, for instance, the period between the censuses of 1921 and 1947 saw the Malay population grow in size from


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76,319 to 108,938, an increase of approximately 43 percent. This growth occurred almost entirely in the rural sector, as opposed to urban areas, and was supported on the one hand through small-scale tapping subject to constraints of the sort outlined above, and on the other through the production of rice in a situation that remained more or less unchanged—that is, both the total amount of land given over to sawah (about thirty-six thousand acres) and all technological and organizational coefficients were much as they always had been. For the state's Malay population as a whole, sawah declined from 0.472 to 0.330 acres per person, or from 2.360 to 1.650 acres per five-member household. Even if we assume annual average statewide yields of 225 gantang (gallon measures) an acre,[11] a household would bring in only about 371 gantang a year, far too little to satisfy the consumption requirements for a domestic group of this size over a twelve-month period.[12] Even if we confine ourselves to the domain of comestibles, then, it is evident that household cash requirements were on the rise at a time when the possibilities of engaging in potentially lucrative cash cropping were severely restricted, or else simply unavailable.

These developments had important implications for the sexual division of household labor, and for the productive roles of in-marrying males in particular, for they coincided with a consistent decline in male proprietorship by virtue of inheritance. The variables accounting for this phenomenon were mentioned earlier and will be addressed at greater length in chapter 8. Here I will simply note that male proprietorship with respect to the total plots alienated in Bogang during the rubber boom decade 1910–1920 had by 1950 fallen from 54.6 percent to 42.9 percent. In the case of rubber, then, we are not merely dealing with a situation characterized by a more or less constant supply of land and an expanding population, but also one in which male rights over the acreage in question declined significantly.

These factors help to explain married men's stepped-up out-migration beginning in the mid 1940s. On this point Bauer (1948, 39), who visited Negeri Sembilan in 1946, had the following observations:

[The] economic position of men without a rubber holding is very insecure. By local custom, property in the kampong houses and in wet padi fields vests in women only; on marriage a man enters the household of his wife (or his mother-in-law) and cultivates her padi field. Moreover, the same custom also sanctions easy divorce when initiated by the wife, so that a man frequently finds


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himself at comparatively short notice without a wife, a house and a padi field. These somewhat one-sided arrangements do not, however, apply to rubber holdings, so that a man with a few acres of rubber is in a much stronger position. No land has been alienated for rubber for many years past, and there are thus many people in eastern and south-eastern Negri Sembilan who are landless and many more whose economic and social position is very uncomfortable. The more enterprising men seek to escape from this situation by migration, or by joining the forces, the police or the merchant navy . (emphasis added)

Bauer's comments are highly instructive, but his reference to men "seeking escape from this situation" through out-migration requires considerable qualification, insofar as the majority of all such individuals eventually resumed residence among their wives' enatic kin. In addition, while considerations of capital accumulation obviously figured into decisions to out-migrate, a married man also stood to gain inordinate prestige through successful ventures beyond the village. Further, many men who fared well outside their wives' communities during the forties and fifties were later ideally situated to take advantage of independence-era policies geared toward alleviating relative land scarcity and otherwise upgrading the living standards of the rural Malay majority. In Bogang, for example, village males who found some success outside the community today not only occupy the highest rungs of the community's socioeconomic ladder, but also predominate on the secular village councils that constitute the principal organs of local government.

All these facts reveal critically important threads of continuity in a political and economic context of momentous change. The long-standing and highly esteemed tradition of out-migration accounts not only for the "considerable majority of women" in Rembau's 1891 census but also for the initial Minangkabau emigration to Negeri Sembilan during the 1500s (or earlier). At the same time, more recent demographic movements along these lines testify to a partial reversion to precolonial patterns of tenure and labor division by sex, insofar as men, once again effectively distanced from productive agricultural acreage, were forced to obtain cash through extralocal trading and other labor activities. In this sense, economic constraints during the final years of British rule worked in the opposite direction to laws passed during the initial phase of colonial administration, particularly early state measures encouraging men's acquisition of commercially valued acreage.


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PART THREE—
BOGANG AND REMBAU IN THE POSTINDEPENDENCE ERA


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5—
Agricultural Production and Income

In Rembau and the rest of Negeri Sembilan, the first half of the twentieth century witnessed an increasing household dependence on cash-cropping activities and the labor inputs of males. This chapter delineates the acceleration of such trends following Malaya's independence in 1957. It commences with an overview of economic and ecological change over the past few decades, and then proceeds to an assessment of transition and decline in rice cultivation. Analyses of cash cropping and of the progressive centrality of money in intravillage economic relationships follow. The final section addresses themes of economic stratification, including the factors working against the cultural realization of stratification and other features of twentieth-century social process.

Economic and Ecological Change:
An Overview

Since independence Rembau and Negeri Sembilan have experienced an intensified reliance on cash income and production for the world market, and a corresponding decline in the importance of subsistence activities


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such as freshwater fishing and wet-rice cultivation. The general direction of these shifts was fairly well established as early as the 1920s, and discernible even before the turn of the century. Nonetheless, postcolonial history has fostered a nexus of economic dependence—most notably on monocropping, Chinese middlemen, and the vagaries of natural and world-market forces—that appears qualitatively different from that which prevailed under British administration. Additionally, the postcolonial era has seen the demise of traditional institutions based on reciprocal exchange and mutual self-help and their replacement by inflexible sharecropping and rental arrangements of a predominantly instrumental and self-interested sort.

Two mutually reinforcing developments are particularly relevant to these phenomena at the outset. The first involved the large-scale clearing of catchment areas and other forest lands deemed suitable for rubber cultivation by rural producers, and Malay smallholders in particular. Beginning immediately after Malaya achieved independence in 1957, this practice effected a radical break with colonial-era restriction schemes, which had all but precluded the purchase of commercially valuable state lands by Malay villagers. The subsequent alienation of lands in accordance with the new policy meant that many Malays who had previously been sharecroppers or landless in terms of rubber acreage were on their way to becoming smallholders in their own right. Less desirable, however, were the unforeseen ecological consequences of these massive government-sponsored deforestation projects. Rivers silted and apparent climatic shifts occurred, interfering with the irrigation requirements of wet rice and eventually resulting in greatly decreased yields. As a consequence of this unintended trade-off, rice cultivation over the past decade especially has been only nominally worthwhile in terms of yields relative to investments of time, labor, and capital.

The second development worked in much the same direction and centered on the introduction, beginning in the mid 1960s, of quick-maturing and high-yielding varieties of rice. The planting of these strains was at first optional, but it often came to be mandatory in the sense that the cultivation of traditional rice varieties was soon discouraged and ultimately prohibited by extension officers and other state agents involved in local-level agriculture. The shift to new strains heightened villagers' dependence on cash incomes and local as well as international market prices, for the successful cultivation of these hybrids has always necessitated relatively expen-


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sive modern chemical inputs (commercial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides). The widespread use of these chemicals also killed off the readily available supplies of edible fish once found in flooded rice fields and the lower stretches of streams. Fish, which along with rice has always been the mainstay of the Malay diet, thus had to be purchased daily. This chain of developments therefore rendered income from the tapping of rubber trees virtually essential for household maintenance.[1]

Analyzing just how each set of changes independently affected the local ecosystem and economy is problematic. Because the introduction and rapid spread of high-yield rice followed quickly on the heels of large-scale deforestation, for example, the individual significance of either event is difficult to assess. Villagers, moreover, tend not to include either of these variables in their interpretations of declining rice yields, progressively insurmountable irrigation problems, and apparent climatic changes; rather, they explain these shifts by reference to the abandonment, since about 1965, of an elaborate ritual complex known as berpuar , which was traditionally overseen by shamanic specialists (pawang ). The accounts of local historians are thus not especially helpful in this instance. The same holds for villagers' characteristically vague assessments of when the decline in local rice productivity began. Even so, there is justification, on both analytic and sequential grounds, for examining these two developments in turn, and for treating them as separate and distinct (though interdependent) phenomena.

Large-scale deforestation commenced in the independence year of 1957 and continues still today. In the village of Bogang in 1962 alone, for example, roughly seventy-two acres of land lying upstream from homestead areas and rice fields was cleared of all growth, parceled into twenty-two plots, distributed to about as many owners, and planted in rubber. Since that time numerous tracts of land in the same upriver area have been earmarked for residential purposes or banana cultivation and stripped of all vegetation. In consequence, and owing in particular to the destruction of subterranean root structures, a good deal of catchment area topsoil has been lost in the course of the past two decades' rains. Most of this soil eventually washed into the single riverine network watering the village's sawah, thus contributing both to the silting up of streams and to their periodically overflowing their banks. As a result, decreased amounts of water were channeled through irrigation canals and into the fields. In further re-


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stricting rice cultivators' tenuous but critically important control of irrigated water, all such developments diminished the effectiveness of the hydraulic system and the returns on labor and capital inputs. The immediate outcome was greatly reduced yields. The larger trend, as we shall see, has been for households to work fewer holdings and smaller plots and, frequently, to abandon rice production altogether. Such trends are by no means unique to Bogang but exist in other parts of Rembau and elsewhere in Negeri Sembilan as well (Kahn 1981, 545, 547, 554; Stivens 1985, 19 et passim).

It is also possible that climatic change followed deforestation, as a result of the heightened exposure of soil and ground moisture and an attendant acceleration of evaporation rates. Experienced cultivators in Bogang hold that annual rainfall has fallen dramatically in the past decade or so relative to the years before independence. Composite figures of monthly precipitation averages over multiyear periods, however, do not bear out this contention. But neither do they disprove it, insofar as the available data do not allow for fine distinctions within these periods and could easily conceal a trend toward a precipitation decrease in the last ten or twenty years. Also, as the figures are for rainfall measured some ten miles from Bogang, they might fail to reveal contemporary variation and slight historical shifts in both the timing and the overall amount of precipitation for different micro-environmental zones.

In any event, topsoil erosion and leaching, along with the silting of streams and possible shifts in the volume and periodicity of local precipitation, have interfered with the irrigation requirements of wet rice. This fact is quite apparent in Bogang, where the network of streams serving the community carries far less water than it once did. During most of the sixteen months of my fieldwork, for instance, the Bogang River was a mere trickle, rarely exceeding three to four feet from bank to bank or two feet in depth. Only after torrential rains lasting at least a few hours did its volume increase. Village elders repeatedly lamented the stark contrast with the situation "of long ago," or even a generation or two back, when much of the river was commonly over seven feet deep.

Bogang elders are not the only people aware of recent water flow problems. For good reason, issues of hydraulic control and overall water supply have been of major interest to government planners as well ever since independence. Official concern with the effects of large-scale deforestation on


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irrigation was no doubt instrumental in prompting the state to upgrade and expand government-sponsored drainage and irrigation services throughout Negeri Sembilan during the 1960s. In any case, by 1966 the government had embarked on an ambitious scheme of replacing the traditional brushwood and earthen waterworks with concrete dams and canals so as to improve yields, reclaim acreage in swamp lands, and otherwise expand the area suitable for rice cultivation. By the following year, and in pursuit of these same objectives, several thousand acres of Negeri Sembilan sawah had been given over to the double-cropping of rice on a trial basis. These experiments produced impressive yields and foreshadowed the rapid spread of double-cropping throughout the state.

For the residents of Bogang, the 1970–1971 period was historic on two accounts: quick-maturing, high-yield varieties of rice were introduced into the village during those years; and in 1970 a government-financed project providing irrigation facilities for approximately eighty acres of sawah was completed. At an officially estimated cost of over M$45,000, the project centered on the construction of twin-barrel culvert headworks along with about 4,700 feet of concrete-lined irrigation canals to replace ditches of traditional design (ARDIDNS 1970, 6). The dam itself was built upriver from all village residences and rice fields, but downstream from large areas of rubber acreage and other cleared land that had been alienated since the late 1950s. Whatever the initial effects of the new irrigation works on the flow of water into the fields, many of Bogang's elderly felt that the dam's location was ill chosen and that the diversion of stretches of stream leading from the dam site was a grave mistake. Indeed, more than a few elders feel that the project fell somewhere between a highly qualified success and a wholesale squandering of precious capital and labor, thanks to the dam's location.

Apart from local appraisals of the consequences and ultimate value of the project, no measures, such as reliable figures for consecutive annual yields, are available by which to judge its impact. Nonetheless, villagers assert that less water reached their fields subsequent to, and as a direct result of, the project's completion, and that per-acre yields over the past decade have declined 30 to 40 percent for some village holdings, and as much as 80 to 90 percent for others. The dam's placement, along with village attitudes that concrete canals do not require much maintenance and repair, could be crucial factors here. Western-style dams, too, unlike their


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traditional Malay counterparts, are not of the permeable filter-dam variety that allows trickles of water to pass through and over the structure; rather, they stop water completely, thereby allowing silt to build up appreciably. The sudden release of heavily silted water in the course of sluice openings and storm-fed overflows can damage streambeds, cause a deepening of local riverine valleys, and lead to a progressive lowering of water tables in irrigated fields (Dobby 1950, 108). This situation could easily lead to crops depending more heavily on moisture provided by irrigation and would also support the local view that less water reaches the fields nowadays as compared with the 1960s and before.

Just as the new hydraulic facilities were completed, quick-maturing rice was introduced into the village, with double-cropping being initiated in an area of roughly sixty acres. The problems of meeting the different and more exacting irrigation needs of short-season, high-yield rice varieties may well figure in villagers' conviction that less water has reached their fields since the dam was constructed. Be that as it may, double-cropping emerges as the more critical of the recent shifts in rice agriculture and village economics, and the one that merits greater scrutiny.

Transition and Decline in Rice Agriculture

The Scheduling and Organization of Traditional Rice Production

An assessment of agricultural change and the requirements of double-cropping requires first of all a brief discussion of the characteristics of rice cultivation on an annual basis. Traditional forms of this agriculture involved varieties of rice with a maturation period of approximately six months. This single factor controlled much of the timing and organization of agricultural work and a good deal of social and religious activity as well. Of comparable significance were the broad givens of equatorial climatic cycles, especially the bimodal clustering of annual rainfall during two distinct monsoon seasons separated by hot, relatively dry spells of a few weeks' duration. Moreover, the village majority had only limited technological means and stores of capital at their disposal. Ox-drawn plows, though never all that common in Negeri Sembilan (R. Hill 1977, 121, 130, 133; cf. Dobby 1957, 96–97), were probably on the decline throughout most of the twentieth century, and certainly long before mechanized tillers


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and four-wheel tractors were widely available to replace them. Even assuming some access to oxen, however, household cultivators relied largely on their own energy and that provided by fellow villagers on a mutual self-help basis, and on the simple hoes and harvesting implements they fashioned themselves or purchased locally. This approach to agriculture was highly labor-intensive and quite demanding as regards coordinating water and labor resources, but it had the advantages of presupposing minimal capital inputs and distributing household risks in production.

With some variation even among neighboring villages, preparations for padi cultivation in Rembau commonly began in mid June (see figure 4). The initial stages of work centered on the burning of rice thresh and weeds in the fields and the reconstruction of local dams and sections of irrigation canal that had been damaged by rain, the off-season pasturing of animals, and water-control activities associated with the previous harvest (R. Hill 1977, 41, 133). In Rembau and elsewhere in Negeri Sembilan, repairs both to dams and to the upper stretches of the village's irrigation system were held to be a communal responsibility, and each cultivating household was obliged to furnish one worker for these tasks (Dobby 1957, 93; Swift 1965, 40).[2] The renovation of waterways adjacent to and running through sawah plots, in contrast, was shared among those with holdings most directly affected by the flow of water in that immediate area; much of this work proceeded on an individual or household basis.

In July, following the month or so of intermittent work required to repair the local irrigation system, villagers flooded the sawah by opening all dams, and constructed nurseries either in well-watered sections of their fields or on swampy ground adjacent to the planting area. Each nursery bed was prepared and tended either individually or cooperatively by several cultivators working proximate plots. Owing to the sexual division of labor, partible inheritance, and the spatial aggregation of lineage holdings, these task groups tended to be made up of women related as sisters or simply female enates of the same lineage branch or lineage. Both in terms of siblingship and other kinship norms and by virtue of shared responsibility toward the upkeep of common nurseries, cooperation among these women was of cardinal importance, especially during the most labor-intensive stages of the cultivation process (early in the season and at harvest time). Prior to transplanting, for example, cooperation consisted of reciprocal labor exchanges (tolong-menolong ) to ensure that each cultivator


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[

figure
]

Figure 4.
The Agricultural Cycle in Rembau Under Single- and Double-Cropping Regimes
Note: Data on rainfall courtesy of Jabatan Pertanian, Negeri Sembilan.


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successfully completed all work associated with plowing and harrowing, leveling, and diking plots. The extent to which this work sharing was essentially ad hoc or was instead planned and publicized well in advance is unclear; the only major difference either way would have involved, in the case of the larger and more formalized arrangements (or seraya ), a greater obligation to feed helpers. In any event, the transplanting itself, which was carried out in August some forty to fifty days after seed was sowed in the nurseries, drew on the labor of these same women (although nonenatic kin and neighbors might provide assistance here and in all other stages of cultivation).

The completion of transplanting marked the beginning of a five-month period when cultivators concentrated on weeding and, during the final four to six weeks before the harvest especially, pest control (birds, field mice, and the like). These tasks were probably conducted primarily on an individual or household basis; even so, at least some coordinated effort and collective responsibility among individuals operating contiguous plots was essential. If plots with ripening grain were not tended for a few days, for example, birds that flocked to them in the cool early morning and late afternoon hours in search of grain could cause severe damage to even the most carefully tended holdings nearby. More generally, there seems to be an inverse correlation between the number and maximally efficient dispersal of people in a given area of the fields during the month or so leading up to the harvest, and the amount of damage birds cause to the grain in those fields. The larger issue is the consistently positive and close association between the volume of labor inputs per land unit of sawah and the productivity level of that unit (Geertz 1963).

Toward February, villagers drained their fields by breaking the dams and strategic sections of their canals, and began the harvest. The principal harvesting implement was the tuai , a small knife that could be concealed in the palm of the hand so as to avoid frightening, offending, and thus giving flight to the life force of the grain (semangat padi ). Harvesting with a tuai was highly labor-intensive, since it involved cutting stalks one at a time. This procedure permitted villagers to choose between fully ripened stalks ready to be cut down and those requiring additional sun and maturation. It also contributed to the drawing out of the reaping process, allowing for greater flexibility in the timing and application of labor and, in turn, facili-


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tating labor exchanges. Cultivators were thus intermittently freed from the harvesting requirements of their own fields and became available to assist kinsmen and neighbors on an immediate and short-term basis.

Following the harvest of all village grain by late February or early March, for roughly three and a half months villagers ceased all work directly related to padi cultivation and oriented their activities to somewhat separate concerns and objectives. Especially during the early part of that period attention shifted to the threshing, winnowing, and husking of rice and other preparations for long-term storage in household granaries. Other economic activities were also pursued, but these were not so much reinitiated then as simply given higher priority. This situation contrasts with the timing of rituals and feasts associated with marriage, which tended to be held during the off-season months following the harvest, when households were most likely to have large stores of rice and the means to feed guests and help underwrite the other expenses of wedding and affinal exchange. The clustering of weddings in the agricultural off-season also precluded conflicts in the scheduling and organization of the labor required for cultivation on the one hand and for a successful wedding on the other.

The Switch to High-Yield Variety Rice

Many of the recent changes and problems in local rice production stem from the shorter maturation period of high-yield variety rice—roughly half that of traditional strains. Thus, whereas before 1970 the period from transplanting to harvest covered approximately 180 days, the 1970s saw the same agricultural phase reduced to roughly 90 days (see figure 4). More broadly, the past ten years witnessed the reduction of the production cycle from nine to roughly five and a half months so as to accommodate a repeated semiannual cycle. This change amounted to the elimination of the three-and-a-half-month off-season from the village agricultural calendar and its replacement by two postharvest slack periods, each lasting only three or so weeks at the most. Viewed from February, a harvest month under both single- and double-cropping regimes, the bulk of March was now taken up with waterwork repairs and other preparations for off-season cultivation, just as the coming of April signaled the completion of all field diking along with the construction of nurseries and the sowing of


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seed therein. Similarly, the six-week period from early May to mid June was given over to transplanting and related tasks, even though it too had once been part of the off-season. Other changes of this sort can be found in figure 4; I might emphasize, however, that the new agricultural cycle made scant provision for the timing of village weddings. One result is that conflicts between the demands of cultivation and labor obligations to kinsmen and fellow villagers sponsoring weddings have often been resolved in favor of the latter, potentially causing appreciable delay in one or another phase of cultivation and thus working against the attainment of maximum yields.

A striking feature of the shift from traditional to short-season rice is in fact the reduction of cultivators' flexibility in deciding when to initiate or terminate the various phases of the production process. Perhaps most significant is the timing of the postharvest renovation of local waterworks. Under double-cropping regimes, canal and dam repairs must be undertaken almost immediately after the previous season's harvest. Further, owing to the extreme sensitivity of high-yield rice to water level fluctuations in the flooded fields, these repairs and all subsequent canal maintenance must be performed with greater precision and coordination of labor than is necessary with traditional single-cropping. The timing and extent of these labor inputs become all the more critical given the extensive deforestation, topsoil erosion, and leaching of the past two decades, and the related fact that in recent monsoon seasons water levels in the government-built canals have been insufficient for the irrigation requirements of the new rice varieties. Even if we assume enough rainfall and water in the canals, however, critical problems remain: to wit, labor shortages generated by accelerated out-migration and near-universal school attendance appear to have undermined cultivators' ability to maintain the stretches of embankments and earthen canals on which they also depend both individually and collectively. Difficulties in mobilizing and effectively coordinating communal labor are also important here, although problems of this sort, and of village leadership on the whole, predate double-cropping (Swift 1965). Since the organizational and technological requirements of rice agriculture have clearly shifted over the past decade, the limitations of local leadership are more critical now than in the years preceding the switch to "miracle rice." Again we come up against the question of timing, for the inability of the political elite to enlist support for the cleaning and repair of


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dams and canals can delay the production cycle by days or weeks, thus causing it to be out of sync with the seasonal pattern of rainfall.

The adoption of high-yield strains demanded additional capital investments during the initial stages of the agricultural cycle, but it also reduced some of the most physically demanding tasks associated with cultivation. The onerous work of uprooting weeds throughout the maturation period of the transplanted padi, for instance, was decreased significantly thanks to commercial herbicides recommended by agricultural extension officers. Like the pesticides and petrochemical-based fertilizers introduced at the same time, these herbicides were, and continue to be, essential components of the double-cropping packet.[3] Indeed, the successful cultivation of high-yield strains fully requires chemical inputs of this sort, regardless of whether planting takes place every six months, once a year, or less frequently. These inputs presuppose cash expenditures of approximately thirty ringgit per acre or government subsidization or other direct assistance. Although such aid has been frequently provided during the past decade, it has not always been guaranteed in advance or forthcoming when most needed—and without government assistance, many cultivators cannot afford to purchase the necessary inputs.

The use of commercial pesticides necessitates in addition cash outlays for fish to satisfy household food requirements, since the active ingredients of these chemical compounds kill off most riverine life in the flooded fields. The recent destruction of sawah fish, moreover, is not confined to the holdings actually laced with pesticides, for the chemicals are water borne and so end up in virtually all parcels of land watered by the local canal system. Households without the means to buy modern pesticides thus lose doubly: not only do they end up with less than optimal yields, but they also cannot catch fish.

The shift to high-yield rice also corresponded with—although it did not directly cause—a significant decline in the labor investments required for the early stages of field preparation. I refer here to the increasingly widespread use of hand-held mechanical tillers and four-wheel tractors for plowing, in lieu of the traction provided by human labor and, in some cases, oxen. Since these machines can plow in a single day or less the same acre that it takes a person twenty-one days to turn over,[4] they offer a distinct advantage in labor-short villages like Bogang. Here too, however, cash expenditures are unavoidable unless the government provides a sub-


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sidy, for a mechanized plow or tractor costs some M$41 to $49 per acre to rent. Some villagers can easily manage expenses of this scale; others cannot, especially since the total cash required for preparing and maintaining an acre of sawah can amount to M$80 or $90. Many Bogang residents whose monthly household incomes hover around or fall below the village median of M$240 (see table 9, p. 187) consider such expenses prohibitive.

Of far broader concern is overdependence on government assistance. In Bogang, for instance, the government absorbed much of the cost of tractor rental for the 1978–1979 planting season, and most households engaged in cultivation benefited directly from the subsidy. Twice-yearly planting (but not high-yield rice) having been abandoned in Bogang by the mid 1970s, the next planting season should have commenced in September 1979, yet it was delayed a full six months. According to many community residents, the season was effectively canceled because the government reneged on its promise to deliver free plowing services to all interested cultivators. More likely than not, the following season, which began in March 1980, would have seen all village fields still lying fallow were it not for the government's decision once again to underwrite the costs of mechanized plowing. As it turned out, only 110 of the 215 acres of sawah in and around Bogang—a mere 51 percent—were turned over by the tractors sent there in mid March. Decisions concerning the extent of the acreage and the particular fields to be plowed derived from the village headman's appraisal of different households' current commitments to cultivation. He later acknowledged that the area actually planted would be closer to 50 acres than the 110 acres he once thought. But even this figure was optimistic, for by the time I left the village in mid May, it appeared that only 20 to 30 percent of the plowed land (that is, some 10 to 15 percent of the village total) would be worked that season.

Other recent transitions in the production process can be seen in the harvest and in the subsequent husking of rice. Such shifts were not a necessary concomitant of the adoption of new rice strains suitable for double-cropping. Nevertheless, they were part of the more encompassing trends toward greater efficiency in the application of human labor on the one hand and mechanization cum monetization on the other.

The first of these shifts involved the replacement of finger-knives (tuai ) with sickles. A few elderly cultivators still prefer tuai, of course, and they contend that yields are invariably superior—and the cooked grain much


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tastier—if the traditional tool is utilized. Underlying this view is the belief that the life force of the padi is less frightened and offended by a delicate tuai cupped in the palm of the hand than by the awesome and painful sight of a large, gleaming sickle slicing the air and grain. Such beliefs have much greater currency than cultivators' choices concerning harvesting implements would lead one to assume. Many who opt for the labor-saving sickle, moreover, concede its inappropriateness on aesthetic and ritual grounds, allowing as well that the essential life force of the grain has long since fled downriver to the Straits of Malacca (cf. Lewis 1976, 83). Yet cultural considerations bearing on many domains of nature and spirits have been given the backseat of late, and they merely shrug, by way of explanation, that "Malays have become modern."

The labor requirements of working with tuai as opposed to sickles clearly differ, and without question the use of sickles in lieu of tuai has significantly decreased the extent to which cultivators seek extrahousehold assistance during the harvest. This fact is critical, for the harvest season constitutes one of the peak labor periods of the entire agricultural cycle, and the one in which households typically rely most heavily on the labor of other villagers. A massive reduction in the assistance needed during this stage of the cycle, in other words, is tantamount to an equally pronounced decline in the extrahousehold labor needed in rice agriculture in general. Thus, while the adoption of sickles no doubt resulted in a compressed harvest period and possibly larger yields, it also cut into labor exchanges significantly. Stoler's (1977, 88) data from Java indicate that the replacement of tuai with sickles can reduce the number of harvesters needed by as much as 60 percent, and I would expect a similar impact in Negeri Sembilan. Here, then, the large-scale decline in labor exchanges involving women is not simply a function of decreased padi production, but also a direct consequence of technological change.

The other recent shift in the production process appears in the displacement of traditional husking methods by machine milling, thus obviating the need for sisters and their close female kin and neighbors to work together in this endeavor. The customary postharvest preparation of grain involved the threshing of all padi obtained from the fields, followed by winnowing with shallow woven baskets (nairu ). These tasks completed, women stored their unhusked rice in household granaries a few yards from the house. Because long-season grain could be stored several years (unlike


171

"miracle rice," which "goes bad" after five or six months owing to discoloration and its greater susceptibility to weevils), household heads typically drew from the granary every few weeks however much padi the household would consume in that period of time. The grain was then spread out on woven mats in a sunny part of the compound for a few hours and dried. In the Inas area of the Kuala Pilah district adjoining Rembau, the husking itself was a two-stage affair entailing, first, the use of home-made milling machines (kisaran ) run by hand and, second, a foot-operated version of a mortar and pestle (lesong ) to complete the process (Lewis 1962, 264). This could have been the case in Rembau as well, although I never encountered kisaran and know only of the use of lesong.

Traditional milling occurred throughout much of the year, involving considerable informal labor exchange among the women of adjacent households. As a general rule, women seem always to have preferred working together rather than individually, particularly if the tasks at hand were strenuous, time-consuming, or easily distributed among two or more women laboring simultaneously or in turn.

The women assisting in the milling might receive tea and sweets or cakes from the household head, and they could of course count on reciprocal help when it came time to prepare their own grain later. As with many other instances of work sharing and labor exchange among women, these were as much social occasions as anything else, providing women with an additional opportunity to catch up on current gossip and news of village residents and local events. These work exchanges also met some of the women's needs for companionship and interaction, since women (and men) have apparently always felt that they should refrain from traveling about the village unless required to do so for reasons of domestic maintenance, production, exchange, or the realization of religious value.

The rhythmic and hypnotic thumpings of lesong are rarely heard in contemporary communities like Bogang. Today women prefer to patronize the truck-mounted mechanical mill that appears in the village on a regular (usually weekly) basis. Indeed, on most Tuesday mornings in Bogang anywhere from a handful to a dozen or more women—and at least as many bulging sacks of padi—gather next to the railroad tracks waiting for the miller (whose services are available at a government-controlled price of two cents per kati ). Mechanical milling would be in much greater demand if the satisfaction of household food requirements


172

relied more heavily on rice grown within the village. As it is, 57 percent (57 of 100) of the Bogang households for which I have data on the subject[5] buy at least three-quarters of their staple rice, and a full 36 percent (36 of 100) rely entirely on store-bought rice.[6] The bulk of this grain is purchased in nearby towns, and it is invariably husked and milled by the time it enters the community.

A few issues of broader significance require comment here. First, far less rice acreage is planted now than at any period in Bogang's history, as indicated by the effective cancellation of Bogang's fall 1979 planting and the mere 10 to 15 percent of village sawah that was planted during the following season. Second, the technological and organizational entailments of modern-day rice production are such that, even when land is worked, there is relatively little need for extrahousehold assistance and reciprocal labor exchange. These developments bear most heavily on women and have resulted in circumstances in which subsistence cooperation and exchange among sisters, female enates, and women in general are not only close to extinction but have also been superseded by rental (sharecropping) arrangements, which nowadays constitute the dominant links among households involved in padi production. We shall consider these points in turn.

The most dramatic trend in rice cultivation in Bogang over the past few decades is not the shift to new strains of quick-maturing grain but rather the sharp reduction in the total acreage of sawah worked on a regular basis. In the colonial period, villagers who did not plant all of their sawah were liable to receive summonses and fines from the District Office; this sanction, in conjunction with the high moral valuation of padi growing, was apparently quite effective in ensuring the annual cultivation of virtually all rice fields registered in the names of community residents. With the abandonment of this disincentive following independence, however, villagers had considerable choice regarding the extent of their holdings to be planted in a given season. This policy change might have made little difference in the amount of acreage a given household or community decided to work if yields averaged or exceeded some three hundred gantang per acre. Yet in the context of consistently low or radically declining yields, one would expect cultivators to respond to this shift in policy either by exploiting only the more productive of their holdings or, alternatively, by aban-


173

doning or renting out their own sawah and seeking work as sharecroppers on better land. In Bogang, where yields have fallen off drastically over the past two decades, such trends have been quite pronounced. Of all the households claiming rights over sawah, only 33.3 percent (30 of 90) planted their entire holdings in the 1978–1979 season.

The tendency of households with rights over sawah to work fewer holdings and less acreage appears to have coincided with a proliferation of tenancy arrangements in the form of sharecropping. This development stems in part from the presence within the village of fourteen households whose female members lack rights of proprietorship over sawah and have little if any chance of inheriting such rights in the future. As might be expected, most of these households are headed by women born outside of Bogang who moved to the village during the past twenty or so years. These women were not adopted into a local clan; some even hail from states other than Negeri Sembilan and so claim no formal descent affiliation whatsoever. These women are not only highly unlikely to inherit any sawah but also are effectively barred from purchasing any alienated sawah land, since virtually all of it is considered ancestral clan property, both in the eyes of the community and according to the titles held at the District Office. In decades past landlessness of the sort that has forced these women to labor as tenants was relatively rare, and in any case temporary, lasting only a generation or so. Until fairly recently women of extralocal birth could count on formal acceptance into one or another clan, or adoption by an adult woman in the village, either of which usually endowed them with usufruct and future inheritance rights over sawah and residential acreage. If subsistence guarantees of this nature did not prelude tenancy altogether, they certainly kept it in check. So, too, would a situation in which most households maintained all of their own sawah, albeit with periodic assistance from neighbors and kin, for any landless households that did exist would have relatively few opportunities to negotiate full-time sharecropping arrangements.

At present, in contrast, full-time tenancy is extremely widespread. Of all villagers engaged in season-long work during 1978–1979, a full 33 percent (30 of 91) were sharecroppers. The majority, or 53 percent (16 of 30), of these sharecroppers chose to work as tenants on relatively productive land rather than depend on their own marginal holdings.


174

Sharecropping arrangements involving sawah tend to be quite flexible and generally favorable to the tenants, particularly in comparison with those involving rubber. The latter are rigid and uniform, and regardless of the genealogical or social relationship between tenant and proprietor, tenants are invariably expected to provide owners with 50 percent of the income from their labor. With sawah, however, full-time tenants often retain well over half the produce from their efforts. Some proprietors encourage their tenants to keep as much of the grain as they see fit, or even all of it, and the workers do just that. Moreover, although genealogical proximity is likely to render the terms of sharecropping arrangements more favorable to the tenant, the converse is not always true. I know of a few instances where unrelated and socially distant tenants—some resident in Bogang, others in adjacent communities—were instructed to, and did, keep the entire yield from the acreage they tended.

At the same time, partners to sharecropping agreements do seem to prefer their relationships to be mediated by kinship. Of the forty-two cases of sharecropping in which Bogang residents cultivated local sawah, twelve persons (28.6 percent) labored on land held by a member of their own lineage or clan. Seven instances (16.7 percent) involved relationships in which tenants and owners were linked through affinal ties (that is, by virtue of one having a current or former spouse in the other's lineage or clan). In an additional five cases (11.9 percent) kin were connected in various other ways. While the eighteen remaining relationships (42.9 percent of the total) involved nonkin, many of these tenants were women without clan affiliation, locally resident collateral kin, or both. Owing to the circumstances of their birth or postmarital residence, individuals in this latter category are largely unable to avoid sharecropping arrangements with "strangers."

Even where demonstrable or putative kinship does not underlie the bonds linking tenants and owners, their relationships tend to be couched in kinship idioms and informed by the spirit of mutual aid and cooperation. One reason for this closeness is that virtually all local sawah is classified as ancestral property. Lands in this category are seen to exist because of the collective efforts of long-forgotten ancestors, who endured inordinate sacrifice for both their contemporaries and their descendants; the spirits of these exalted figures would certainly take offense at unkinsman-


175

like behavior concerning the use of ancestral property and the enjoyment of its benefits.

Yet in the final analysis, sharecropping relationships are forms of land rental, and villagers do occasionally use the term for "rent" (sewa ) to describe these arrangements. Idioms drawn from kinship, village citizenship, and modern commerce thus seem to be juxtaposed in a fairly comfortable alliance so far as most people are concerned. Nonetheless, a marked change in the relative significance of these idioms and their behavioral correlates is also evident. To appreciate this fact we need only consider that until fairly recently the institution of seraya provided villagers, especially political elite and ritual specialists, with the labor required to prepare fields and plant padi, just as assistance in the form of tolong-menolong enabled most cultivators to satisfy the bulk of their other extrahousehold manpower needs. As noted by Swift (1965, 48), the polysemic term seraya conveys meanings of "ordering" and "helping," in the sense of calling in one's debts and honoring them, respectively. It refers in particular to the custom whereby villagers formally announced both their readiness to begin production and their desire to organize a labor force for the agricultural tasks at hand. Participation in these endeavors was more or less obligatory for all who had benefited from the cultivators' ritual or political services during the year. Equally binding was the feeding of all workers by the proprietors of the land under preparation. All this was to change, however, when cash entered the local economy and debts began to be repaid with money rather than labor. Specifically, the combination of seraya and tolong-menolong gave way to a dependence on tolong-menolong and rental (sharecropping) arrangements, supplemented when necessary by short-term labor hire (Swift 1965, 48–49). More recently, this latter combination has been superseded by sharecropping arrangements alone, which are now the most pronounced of all interhousehold labor and economic relationships in padi growing.

Rubber, Cash, and Tenancy in the Village Economy

The majority of Bogang's households buy most of their rice, as well as virtually all of the fish, vegetables, tobacco, and other items essential to domestic maintenance such as condensed milk, tea, kerosene, cooking


176

utensils, clothing, and children's school supplies. All these purchases presuppose cash outlays. Furthermore, such items as mass-produced chairs, cupboards, kerosene stoves, and battery-operated radios have come to be regarded as basic furnishings and are also conspicuously present throughout the village. The same is true of household conveniences such as piped water and electricity. Twelve motorcycles and eight automobiles in the village—all privately owned—round out this list. The importance of cash in the local economy as a whole, and in terms of household living standards and prestige in particular, should be clear.

In these conditions, owning a moderately sized stand of rubber trees is of great concern to virtually all households in Bogang. A well-tended and high-yielding plot of three to four acres can net a conscientious tapper up to M$450 a month,[7] assuming, of course, that the worker holds rights of proprietorship over the land. But while nearly all of Bogang's households rely rather heavily on earnings from rubber trees tapped either by their own members or by sharecroppers, only 51.9 percent (55 of 106) actually own rubber acreage. Tenancy involving rubber is thus extremely prevalent and of far greater economic significance than sawah sharecropping.

The very nature of tenancy in rubber tapping on the one side and rice cultivation on the other contrasts markedly. The idiom of rental is dominant in the former instance, with rigid and uniform terms of tenancy arrangements regardless of genealogical or other proximity between the principal parties. Moreover, households without rubber acreage are not necessarily headed by women who lack membership and kin in one of the local descent groups. As a general rule—and again in sharp contrast to the situation with sawah—the more rubber land owned by a household, the higher its income and economic status. Thus identification of "well-off" and "poor" households tends to rest on household ownership of commercially valued land planted in rubber. This fact might seem to suggest continuity in the traditional criteria for economic standing and prestige. But radical disjunctions are evident here: because most rubber plots are not formally designated as ancestral (or customary) and are not held by virtue of pedigree or descent group membership, they can in fact be (though usually are not) freely sold. This situation has helped to undermine the economic and cultural significance of social distinctions based on descent and origin point, and simultaneously has reinforced a competing and cross-cutting social taxonomy based on control of cash-yielding productive resources.


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Significantly, however, many individuals who own rubber land and either cultivate it themselves or lease it out also labor as sharecroppers on other villagers' plots of sawah. These circumstances work against the cultural elaboration of social distinctions built up around notions of landedness and landlordism versus landlessness and tenancy. Similarly, even though it is fairly uncommon to find any one person or household whose rice and rubber lands are cared for by the same nonresident individual(s), it is nonetheless true that beneficent sharecropping terms in sawah production do counter community perceptions of such proprietors as uncaring or avaricious denizens of the community. The nature of productive relations centering around sawah thus tends to ameliorate the cultural, and to a lesser extent the social, impact of rigid tenancy arrangements in cashcropping (and the overall transformation of the local economy).

Bogang's community of rubber tappers consists of eighty-seven individuals distributed among sixty-nine households. This segment of the village population is younger and more predominantly male than the sawah labor force. If, moreover, we compare the extent of work undertaken by men and women in each of the two sectors (rubber and rice), the gender-based contrast would be more striking than the relevant figures indicate (see table 7). For one thing, females perform more sawah-related labor than males even when both participate in the same stages of rice cultivation. Furthermore, tapping, although obviously not confined to men, is generally considered a male activity since it falls within the rubric of cari duit (literally, "finding" or "getting money"). Hence, adult women tend to tap rubber only if they are widowed or divorced or if their husbands reside elsewhere. The few exceptions to this generalization lie with relatively low-income households in which both husband and wife must tap their own or someone else's trees to make ends meet.

Unlike rice cultivation, the tending and tapping of rubber trees is a highly individualistic and solitary endeavor. There are no peak labor seasons in which tappers seek out additional assistance to complete their work. Similarly, since rubber trees are perennials and yield for up to fifteen or twenty years after reaching maturity, seasonal preparations and maintenance of the sort required for the growing of rice are wholly unnecessary.

Villagers involved in tapping usually leave their homes shortly before daylight and walk or bicycle to the rubber fields, where they labor in solitude for three to six hours. These periods are not punctuated by much


178
 

Table 7. The Agricultural Labor Force of Contemporary Bogang

 

10–19
Years Old

 

20–29
Years Old

 

30–39
Years Old

 

40–49
Years Old

 

50–59
Years Old

 

60–69
Years Old

 

More than 70
Years Old

 

Total

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

 

Num-
ber

%

Rubber tappers

Females

  2

  2.3

 

 

  7

  8.1

 

11

12.6

 

  9

10.3

 

  4

  4.6

 

 

33

  37.9

Males

  9

10.3

 

10

11.5

 

  3

  3.5

 

  7

  8.1

 

  8

  9.2

 

11

12.6

 

  6

6.9

 

54

  62.1

Total

11

12.7

 

10

11.5

 

10

11.5

 

18

20.7

 

17

19.5

 

15

17.2

 

  6

6.9

 

87

100.0

Rice cultivators

Females

  1

  1.1

 

  2

  2.2

 

15

16.4

 

14

15.4

 

14

15.4

 

10

11.0

 

  3

3.3

 

59

  64.8

Males

  —

 

 

   1

  1.1

 

10

11.0

 

  7

  7.7

 

11

12.1

 

  3

3.3

 

32

  35.2

Total

  1

  1.1

 

  2

  2.2

 

  16

17.5

 

24

26.4

 

21

23.1

 

21

23.1

 

  6

6.6

 

91

100.0


179

conversation, since talk can be distracting and can lead to an imprecise paring away of the narrow strip of bark that allows the latex to flow into the collection cup. If cuts are too shallow, smaller volumes of latex will flow; if, however, cuts are too deep, vital tissues may be damaged, causing the tree to dry up prematurely and die.

The pace of tapping also prohibits casual socializing in the course of the morning's labor. Tappers must move quickly from tree to tree before the heat of the day thickens the latex. Then, after all trees are tapped the workers repeat their rounds, collecting the few ounces of liquid latex that have dripped into the cups in the hour or two since the strip of bark was first shaved off. Conversation only draws out this process. More generally, since tappers have work to do even after they have collected all of the day's latex, they are usually eager to return to the village as soon as possible.

The next phase of the tappers' daily activity is the only time they do seek the help of others—usually spouses or children. This is when they go to one of the village's two dozen or so rubber presses to complete the day's work. (These machines are privately held and made available to tappers either for a nominal monthly rent or for free, depending on the relationship between the press owners and the users.) Working at benches, the tappers pour their latex into metal containers resembling bread pans and mix in some formic acid, which transforms the liquid into a material the consistency of wet putty. They then dump the contents of each pan onto a smooth, clean surface and flatten it out by hand to prepare it for the manually operated press. The press squeezes out the excess water and further flattens each piece into a half-inch-thick sheet of uniform width and length. This phase of the processing requires two people, one to crank the wheel that turns the rollers and one to make sure the rough blocks of latex are properly fed into the press.

These tasks complete, the tappers return home with their sheets of latex and hang them out to dry. The sheets are left in the sun for a day or so before being placed for safekeeping beneath the house or on rafters in an interior room. They may be stored there for a few days or for months, depending on household cash requirements.

Latex can be converted into instant cash whenever the need arises. For this, villagers depend on Chinese brokers, who sell the rubber either to another broker or to a firm for further processing.


180

That no Malays are involved in the purchase of rubber from local producers is not particularly disconcerting to most villagers; residents of Bogang are acutely conscious of the broader pattern of Chinese dominance in virtually all entrepreneurial niches outside the village confines. Nonetheless, some men with whom I discussed the issue unabashedly preferred to do business with Chinese or Indians as opposed to Malays (cf. A. Wahab Alwee 1967, 31; Swift 1965, 32). One reason for this preference is that Chinese are explicitly businesslike, rarely disguising their priorities by gestures of hospitality or seemingly kinsmanlike behavior. Also, many villagers seem to welcome the possibility of pursuing self-interested interactions with non-Malays. This pattern testifies to a diffuse yet pervasive sentiment that considerations of material gain and self-interest should not figure into relationships among Malays. Although such ideals are increasingly difficult to uphold given the erosion of traditional norms and the concomitant monetization of much of the village economy, they are still central in rural Malay culture. This is partly due to the reluctant recognition of what might give way in circumstances in which the morality informing social obligation appears to impede individual or household gain.

Tenants, for instance, commonly emphasized that they sold their tapped rubber with the proprietors present owing to the proprietors' nervous concern that their workers might otherwise cheat them. In separate discussions, however, some of these same proprietors effectively disclaimed such anxieties, saying that their tenants handled all cash transactions on their own; a few also volunteered that they of course trusted their tenants, thus underscoring their reasons for not going along to the rubber agents' shops. Such delicate issues as trust and integrity are not openly discussed, but I suspect that flagrant abuses in this area are rare. Still, it is always possible that a tenant might deliberately underestimate the amount of rubber obtained from a proprietor's plot. I know of one Bogang resident who mistrusts tenants, and fellow villagers more generally, so much that he refuses to lease his rubber acreage at all, even though this results in the land lying unworked and hence in a substantially reduced household income. His position is that "(tenant) tappers end up with all of the meat, while the owners get only the sauce" (orang potong dapat daging, orang punya dapat kuah saja ).

Latent suspicions and tensions are additionally meaningful when we consider that 71 percent (39 of 55) of Bogang's tenant tappers work land


181

held by kin. Although the percentage of tenancy relationships between kin is larger in rubber tapping than in sawah sharecropping, this does not necessarily signify an across-the-board preference for entering into cash-based rental agreements with relatives (as opposed to "strangers"). Indeed, this comparatively high figure would seem to reflect limited, ambivalently realized tenancy options more than anything else. Of course, certain emotional satisfactions and other benefits, such as greater continuity in the relationship, may be derived from such arrangements between kin. The potential, however, for broad social disruption and spiritual discord is of much graver consequence when unresolved dissatisfaction exists with the relationship. Moreover, it seems true that villagers usually seek to separate ties of kinship from those based on the vagaries and self-serving nature of cash-based rental dependencies (cf. Swift 1965, 26, 62, 171). Thus, if a larger corpus of data and a broader range of tenancy opportunities were available, I would expect sharecropping arrangements focusing on rubber to involve more nonkin than they do at present.

In any case, most of Bogang's rubber tappers (63 percent, or 55 of 87) are tenants, and most of them labor for individuals categorized as kin. Here we see a radical departure from kinship and productive relations of the nineteenth century, which as a rule lacked the monetary coefficients of today, as well as the asymmetry emanating from differential access to scarce resources. Put differently, processes of twentieth-century economic development have entailed a profound restructuring of the bonds linking economic actors and all others once defined as social equals.

The infusion of cash into local economic relationships is manifest, then, both in the nature and incidence of rubber tenancy and in the way workers dispose of the product of their labor—that is, by selling it to agents of modern price-setting markets rather than using it for household consumption or intravillage distribution or exchange. Such dimensions of contemporary economic activity are profitably viewed alongside the essentially parallel trends in rice production. These trends in turn are best assessed in light of more encompassing processes that have witnessed the displacement of traditional subsistence pursuits and institutions by those centering on capital in the form of hard currency. The other side of this coin is the pronounced degree to which present-day households must rely on rubber tapping or other sources of cash income for the satisfaction of domestic needs.


182

Other Sources of Cash Income

Although the tapping and sale of rubber is the principal cash-producing activity throughout Bogang, many households draw on other sources of monthly income as well. These include cash remittances from nonresident kin (usually urban-dwelling children), money in the form of government salaries and pensions, and proceeds from local shopkeeping and other types of village trade. The relative importance of such earnings can be seen from table 8.[8] These data show additionally what an enormous significance monies from extralocal sources assume in the local economy, and in household subsistence levels especially. Indeed, the very centrality of these extralocal funds in village consumption and domestic maintenance is compelling evidence of the trajectory of twentieth-century economic change, and of the progressively narrowing viability of rural economic institutions in particular.

Cash remittances from children and other kin living in the city represent the most common source of income aside from the working or leasing out of rubber acreage, with 56.7 percent (59 of 104) of Bogang's households receiving money in this form. Some households, in fact, depend for their very survival on money provided by their nonresident members: fully 16.3 percent (17 of 104) of Bogang's households obtain at least half, and 7.7 percent (8 of 104) more than three-quarters, of their income this way.

Monthly remunerations for current or previous government service are far less common than cash gifts from children. Two additional facts about the households receiving money in this form stand out: first, these households rank among the wealthiest in all of Bogang; and second, their adult male inhabitants predominate in the secular village councils that nowadays constitute the principal organs of community government. Hence, these groups are not only ideally situated within the local corridors of power, but also enjoy privileged access to all state- and federally financed projects of potential economic benefit to Bogang residents.

Most other sources of monthly income in Bogang derive either from trade, conducted generally within the village proper, or from specialized services. Most of these activities presuppose cash transactions between local residents—which, as noted above, tend to be marked by distinct ambivalence.

The ritual assistance provided by curers (dukun )[9] merits brief mention


183
 

Table 8. Sources of Monthly Household Income in Contemporary Bogang, by Household Income Grouping (in Ringgit)

 

Less than M$150
(Household N = 31)

 

M$150–$299
(Household N = 31)

 

M$300–$449
(Household N = 20)

 

More than M$450
(Household N = 22)

 

Total
(Household N = 104)

 

Number
of
House-
holds

Mean
in
M$

 

Number
of
House-
holds

Mean
in
M$

 

Number
of
House-
holds

Mean
in
M$

 

Number
of
House-
holds

Mean
in
M$

 

Number
of
House-
holds

Mean
in
M$

Rubber earnings

23

48.2

 

29

113.8

 

17

189.2

 

19

254.9

 

88

146.0

Cash remittances

16

45.4

 

20

  63.4

 

10

109.8

 

13

110.8

 

59

  76.8

Government
pensions

  2

80.0

 

  1

100.0

 

  4

108.2

 

  8

270.6

 

15

190.5

Government
salaries

  —

 

    —

 

  1

230.0

 

  4

114.7

 

  5

137.8

Shopkeeping

  —

 

  3

150.0

 

  1

100.0

 

  3

170.0

 

  7

151.4

Manual labor

  —

 

  3

  51.0

 

  5

143.0

 

    —

 

  8

108.5

Curing

  1

55.0

 

  3

  50.0

 

    —

 

  1

  50.0

 

  5

  51.0

Mosque duties

  —

 

  1

  60.0

 

  1

    3.0

 

  1

    8.0

 

  3

  23.7

Vegetable sales

  —

 

  1

  15.0

 

  1

  11.0

 

    —

 

  2

  13.0

Fish sales

  —

 

    —

 

    —

 

  1

200.0

 

  1

200.0

Sewing/cloth
sales

  —

 

  1

    8.0

 

  1

  40.0

 

    —

 

  2

  24.0

Othera

  5

26.2

 

  6

154.8

 

  2

180.0

 

  4

426.3

 

17

183.8

NOTE : Based on 98 percent (104 of 106) of Bogang's households.

a Includes extralocal trade and business activities, welfare, and miscellaneous income.


184

here, for these largely instrumental transactions tend to be heavily cloaked in metaphors drawn from kinship and religious fraternity. Throughout healing rituals, for example, patients and dukun alike steer clear of all conversation bearing on matters of remuneration for services rendered. At the close of the session, then, when the patient shakes the dukun's hand, a few ringgit are subtly transferred to the curer. Neither party acknowledges this somewhat inconspicuous but awkwardly managed payment, for it is cast in kinship and Islamic idioms and categorized as sedekah , denoting alms and other voluntary offerings such as those made to the poor and to deceased kin. Also relevant is that by the end of the initial treatment the patient is considered the dukun's anak ubat (literally, "medicine child" or "child through curing").

The content of these ritually engendered bonds does not amount to much nowadays, but dukun can still prevail on their anak ubat for small favors. All such ties are reminiscent of those linking villagers of earlier decades with shamanic pawang who oversaw the performance of community-wide rituals associated with the agricultural cycle. Pawang not only received generally unwavering public loyalty and labor services from all beneficiaries of their ritual expertise, but they were also presented with annual offerings of uncooked rice and other produce from each cultivating household in their jurisdiction. Of interest, too, is that many Bogang residents explained the mid-twentieth-century demise of pawang and their craft by reference to their profiteering at the expense of fellow villagers who were slow to wake up to the pawang's "unorthodox hoaxes" (see below, chapter 9). Some people believe that a narrow concern with capital accumulation motivates certain of Bogang's contemporary dukun as well, although others consider these same curers as trustworthy and altruistic practitioners of sacred arts.

One other source of cash income warrants remark, but it is only available for a few months each year. I refer to the local collection and roadside sale of forest perennials, such as durian and petai. Because these species grow in hilly, forested regions of the sort females prefer to avoid, they are commonly harvested by adolescent and adult males.

Even though most villagers engaged in the harvesting of durian seem interested mainly in supplying their domestic coffers with as much of the prized fruit as possible, 19 percent (20 of 106) of Bogang's households also recorded supplemental incomes of, on average, M$50 to M$200 from


185

durian sales. Durian tends to be sold to Chinese on a frequent but irregular basis throughout its season (late June through early August).[10] But unlike petai, which are collected and sold during the same months, durian does not require that harvesters climb into the upper reaches of rain-forest growth; rather, the fruit simply falls to the ground when ripe.

Durian trees are often located deep in state land—and so can be harvested legitimately only by duly licensed persons—but they are also found on hilly orchard (dusun ) acreage alienated to individual proprietors. In the latter circumstances, sharecropping arrangements are analogous to those prevailing in the case of sawah—that is, they are inclined to be flexible and generally advantageous to the tenant. Similarly, the idiom of rental assumes relatively minor elaboration here, and is commonly supplanted by that of service, especially when young men gather durian on land vested in women of senior age or generational standing. Part of the reason for this is that many of the plots on which durian grow are designated ancestral and are held to have been planted by long-deceased forebears.[11]

Most of the other produce obtained from the forest or from village gardens is earmarked for household consumption rather than exchange or cash sale. This includes riverine resources, small animals hunted with shotguns, and numerous varieties of banana, some of which are planted in small garden plots, others, along with chilis and ginger, on residential acreage. The same holds for the stands of fruit-bearing shrubs and trees dotting domestic compounds, such as pineapple, papaya, mangosteen, rambutan, guava, and coconut. Only coconuts serve an additional function, for they also figure into the gifts of uncooked food that women offer to kin and neighbors to help defray wedding and funerary feast expenses. Similarly, some villagers occasionally sell coconuts, for three to six cents apiece, but this is a marginally productive activity that may bespeak financial desperation.

The cultural muting of cash transactions, rental arrangements, and differential access to strategic resources warrants remark again at this juncture. I suggested earlier that the prevalence and typically favorable conditions of sawah sharecropping work against a cultural elaboration of rubber tenancy as involving rigid, instrumental, and asymmetrical relationships centered on the sale and purchase of labor. In this and other areas—durian sharecropping, for example—idioms of kinship, disinterested service, and village citizenship all serve to channel and constrain local perceptions of


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the scope and force of twentieth-century economic change. Perhaps most striking is that these dynamics not only tend strongly to deemphasize socio-economic stratification within the community, but they also promote images of local society as composed of individuals and groups related as social equals.

Economic Stratification

In Bogang and the rest of Negeri Sembilan, present-day disparities in household subsistence levels reflect differential access to commercially valued rubber acreage and extralocal incomes, such as those obtained from salaried government employment. Access to one of these sources of wealth by no means precludes enjoyment of the other, however. Instead, the two tend to go hand in hand in a fairly common scenario wherein upwardly mobile males leave the state for a period of government service and return some years later with considerable savings, a handsome pension, or both, and hence the wherewithal to purchase rubber land for sharecroppers to work and the means to settle back to a comfortable and prestigious existence in the village.

As I mentioned before, many of the adult men of Bogang's wealthiest households receive impressive monthly pensions on account of extended service with the police, military, or railways of the Federated Malay States or Singapore or having been a teacher or clerk in a government office. These men are well versed in reading, writing, and formal speech, and generally quite adept at deciphering land application forms and other products of administrative bureaucracy. Such skills alone give them a marked advantage over the less urbane members of the community. Above all, though, these individuals comprise the rural segment of the new Malay elite. They tend to predominate on the secular village councils that nowadays constitute the principal organs of local government, and are therefore ideally situated to further enhance their own prestige and economic well-being. This is not to suggest an atomized Hobbesian society whose members forever strive to gain a competitive edge over their rivals, no matter what the social cost. It is simply to point out that, because state land and government aid are of limited availability and insufficient in amount to benefit the village majority, those holding positions on village councils, along with their allies, are the most likely to profit from federal and state-


187

level assistance. From this perspective, the rich do get richer while the poor, who continue to rely on income from tenancy or gifts from children, grow poorer, if only in a relative sense.

One of the most obvious indices of contemporary economic stratification in the rural sector appears in the broad spread and clustering of monthly household earnings (see table 9). In Bogang these sums range from M$13 to M$1,300, with a mean of M$286, which, although quite impressive by rural Southeast Asian standards, is rather biased in favor of the wealthy. Table 9 reveals that 16.3 percent (17 of 104) of Bogang's households bring in less than M$100 per month, and 30.8 percent (32 of 104) report monthly earnings below M$150. Similarly, over half, or 51.9 percent (54 of 104), of all households claim less than M$250 a month. In contrast, a striking 21.1 percent (22 of 104) receive upwards of M$450, with the vast majority, or 15.4 percent (16 of 104) of the village total, living on extremely comfortable monthly incomes exceeding M$550.

All such income differentials are expressed in household provisioning, if

 

Table 9. Distribution of Monthly Household Income in Contemporary
Bogang (in Ringgit)

Income

Number of
Households

% of Total
Households

Cumulative %

   >0–49

    9

    8.6

    8.6

    50–99

    8

    7.7

  16.3

100–149

  15

  14.4

  30.8

150–199

  12

  11.5

  42.3

200–249

  10

    9.6

  51.9

250–299

    8

    7.7

  59.6

300–349

    8

    7.7

  67.3

350–399

    6

    5.8

  73.1

400–449

    6

    5.8

  78.9

450–499

    3

    2.9

  81.8

500–549

    3

    2.9

  84.7

550–599

    7

    6.7

  91.4

600–649

    1

    0.9

  92.3

650–699

    5

    4.8

  97.1

700+

    3

    2.9

100.0

Total

104

100.0

100.0

NOTE : Based on 98 percent (104 of 106) of Bogang's households. Median = M$240.00; Mean = M$286.00.


188
 

Table 10. Distribution of Consumer Goods and Conveniences in Contemporary Bogang, by Household Income Grouping
(in Ringgit)

 

Less than M$ 150
(Household N = 32)

 

M$150–M$299
(Household N = 30)

 

M$300–M$449
(Household N = 20)

 

More than M$450
(Household N = 22)

 

Total
(Household N = 104)

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Chairs

14

43.8

 

27

90.0

 

16

80.0

 

22

100.0

 

79

76.0

Beds

22

68.8

 

28

93.3

 

19

95.0

 

22

100.0

 

91

87.5

Tables

14

43.8

 

26

86.7

 

16

80.0

 

21

  95.5

 

77

74.0

Kerosene stove

12

37.5

 

15

50.0

 

12

60.0

 

15

  68.2

 

54

51.9

Gas stove

  1

  3.1

 

  1

  3.3

 

  2

10.0

 

  8

  36.4

 

12

11.5

Rubber press

  3

  9.4

 

  9

30.0

 

  6

30.0

 

  9

  40.9

 

27

26.0

Sewing machine

10

31.3

 

16

53.3

 

12

60.0

 

18

  81.8

 

56

53.8

Refrigerator

  —

 

  2

  6.7

 

  3

15.0

 

11

  50.0

 

16

15.4

Radios

15

46.9

 

20

66.7

 

15

75.0

 

19

  86.4

 

69

66.3

Television

  5

15.6

 

  8

26.7

 

  3

15.0

 

20

  90.9

 

36

34.6

Electricity

14

43.8

 

19

63.3

 

14

70.0

 

21

  95.5

 

68

65.4

Piped water

  8

25.0

 

12

40.0

 

  9

45.0

 

18

  81.8

 

47

45.2

Bicycles

20

62.5

 

26

86.7

 

18

90.0

 

20

  90.9

 

84

80.8

Motorcycle

  —

 

  5

16.7

 

  2

10.0

 

  5

  22.7

 

12

11.5

Automobile

  —

 

  —

 

  2

10.0

 

  6

  27.3

 

  8

  7.7

NOTE : Based on 98 percent (104 of 106) of Bogang's households.


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only because the local cultural system accords prestige to those who invest wealth in consumer goods and other easily recognizable emblems of status. Table 10 presents data on the distribution of selected goods and services among households. Although no information on such matters as the frequency of feasts, the quality or style of residential quarters, or daily diet is provided, these also vary from one grouping to the next, being most pronounced at the two ends of the income continuum.

The existence of such variation raises two important questions. First, how has the erosion of traditional tenure institutions contributed to the twentieth-century concentration of resources within specific households and clusters thereof? Second, and relating to the cultural realization of socioeconomic stratification, why has local culture allowed for a selective recognition of such cleavage but simultaneously gone far toward denying it?

To take each of these issues in turn, I would first emphasize that present-day disparities in income levels and standards of living were unheard of in precolonial times. Although household subsistence levels have always varied according to differential access to strategic resources (cultivable land, for instance), rights over such resources were far more evenly distributed before colonial intervention and the commercial developments that followed. Numerous institutional mechanisms contributed to this more balanced situation, including sanctified conventions of tenure. Thus, a household's claims over agricultural land were only legitimate so long as its members (or nonresident dependents) contributed regularly to its exploitation. More precisely, if a plot of land lay fallow for three consecutive years, rights over it automatically passed to the kin group at large for reallocation to members in greater need. These nineteenth-century strictures embraced all acreage and were partially upheld by British authorities throughout the colonial interlude. However, these communalistic conventions hardly ever pertained to land planted in rubber or other export crops. Further, because most of the rubber land held by Rembau Malays since 1900 was not unambiguously classified as ancestral or customary property, it did not fall squarely within the divided title system underlying the effective operation of these communalistic traditions.

With the demise of divided title, no institutional means exist through which to counter, or even mitigate, either the disproportionate concentration of land among certain households or kin groups or the long-term


190
 

Table 11. Distribution of Rubber Acreage in Contemporary Bogang, by
Household (N = 106)

            Acreage

Number of
Households

% of Total
Households

0

51

48.1

>0.1–0.9

  4

  3.8

1.0–1.9

  7

  6.6

2.0–2.9

  6

  5.7

3.0–3.9

13

12.3

4.0–4.9

  8

  7.5

5.0–5.9

  4

  3.8

6.0–6.9

  5

  4.7

7.0–7.9

  1

  0.9

8.0+

  7

  6.6

land shortages or landlessness of others. Thus we find a highly inequitable distribution of rubber acreage in Bogang (see table 11),[12] with attendant income differentials. In a word, since contemporary households need not work their own rubber acreage in order to maintain rights over it, they have free reign both to lease it out to other villagers and to accumulate as much land as their capital and political connections permit.

Significantly, however, proprietorship over sawah allows for an appreciably different and far less radical perspective on all such developments regarding tenure. Rembau and other Negeri Sembilan women who relocate outside their natal communities effectively relinquish all rights to the proceeds of labor performed in their sawah. Additionally, these women essentially forfeit all claims to bequeath rights over such properties to potential heirs (their daughters), who may reside with them and have little intention of resettling in their former village. This situation not only contrasts sharply with otherwise comparable circumstances involving rights over rubber, but it also testifies to a certain conceptual continuity in the context of a profoundly transformed agrarian environment.

More generally, however we approach or attempt to assess economic stratification within communities like Bogang, we must appreciate that villagers themselves attach far less significance to specifically economic distinctions and cleavages among households than might be assumed. I have analyzed several factors that allow the conceptual deemphasis of social differentiation based on material wealth, especially noteworthy being the cul-


191

tural representation of sawah sharecropping in terms of reciprocal aid between social equals. The following chapter assesses other analogous phenomena, including cross-cutting kinship sentiments and loyalties, association with national political parties, and a long-standing feud concerning two dominant village lineages. Personal and social wealth, as we shall see, continue to be measured in terms of children; and prestige is still partly allocated according to descent affiliation and one's point of origin, in both a genealogical and a culturo-geographic sense. Ethnic variables are relevant here as well, especially the common attitude that the local poor—and the Malay population of the country as a whole—would enjoy an appreciably higher standard of living were it not for Chinese predominance in most entrepreneurial niches outside the village, and their disproportionate control of capital resources more generally.

The central point here, in short, is that the scope of economic differentiation in the village has yet to be realized in any correspondingly explicit ideological sense. Thus, even though processes of economic development have eroded innumerable social institutions and cultural forms, the latter have also served to channel and limit the overall impact of twentieth-century change.


192

6—
Kinship and Settlement Patterns

This chapter analyzes the ways historical transformations in the village and extralocal economy are realized in the composition, social ties, and spatial arrangements of individual households and lineages as well as Bogang's two "hamlets." Major shifts in economic and demographic factors have given rise to radical disjunctions in both inter-household relations and residential areas on the whole. While these discontinuities are especially apparent in the "new hamlet," their existence throughout Bogang points to villagewide tendencies toward atomized and largely autonomous domestic units consisting mostly of married couples and their offspring or previously married women and their (usually female) children. We will also see that such tendencies have been muted by the scope and force of constructs of origin-point, siblingship, and descent, and by mechanisms of feasting and adoption, all of which have played an extremely important role in promoting social and cultural continuity.

Identification with the Village

The residents of Bogang regard themselves as members of a single community of uniform culture that differs in various ways from other settlements.


193

This sense of belonging to a singular social body is enhanced by numerous secular institutions of relatively recent emergence: the office of village headman, the existence of village councils (and a hall for their meetings), a local chapter of the ruling political party, UMNO, and a community school. Of more ancient origin are the village mosque, with its trio of functionaries, the graveyard and the deceased ancestors buried there, and the shrines (keramat ) believed to house the physical remains and still-active spirits of Bogang's earliest culture heroes and sacred guardians. The corpus of myths pertaining to Bogang's founding and historical development obviously merits mention as well. Additionally, women boast a culinary expertise, expressed in a style of flavoring hot sauces, that identifies them as both distinct from and superior to the women elsewhere. Institutional and cultural factors of this sort reflect and bolster villagers' strong sense of identification with Bogang. So, too, do marriages involving village-level endogamy and the fact that former civil servants and other in-marrying males who have spent time outside the village typically return to Bogang and take up permanent residence there. The larger issue in all of this is the pervasive premise that all villagers are essentially kin (saudara ), if only in relation to the residents of other settlements (cf. Swift 1965, 143).

When villagers, including in-marrying males, travel in Rembau, they refer to themselves and are labeled by others as "Bogang people" (orang Bogang ). When villagers venture beyond Rembau, the social relevance of membership in the community of Bogang tends to give way to identification with Rembau, or simply Negeri Sembilan. This is not ethnographically unusual, although I would stress that much of an individual's social identity (and a good deal of negative stereotyping) derives from his or her association with a specific territorial domain. Village residents of a single lineage compound, for example, often characterize the behavior or social standing of large segments of Bogang's population by reference to where they live. Thus, many people, especially adolescent boys, who reside near a particular coffee shop are viewed by the members of neighboring compounds as "less than refined" (kurang halus ) or as troublemakers (orang jehat ). Similarly, the residents of another neighborhood are regarded as having marginal, even pariahlike, social status, even though their day-to-day behavior conforms to basic community norms. Still other villagers have the reputation of being sombong , that is, arrogant or unresponsive to social expectation, simply because of where they live.

Traditional patterns and ideologies pertaining to property and to post-


194

marital residence reinforce the association between particular enatic groups and specific territorial domains within the village. The nature and history of people's ties with residential land can also determine, both symbolically and concretely, how individuals and groups are classified. This situation should come as no surprise, since historical precedence in local settlement is still very important to the allocation of status and prestige. Persons claiming rights over ancestral land whose origins extend beyond village memory, for example, tend to enjoy greater prestige than those whose jural rights involve local property of more recent creation. Thus, although a woman's identity is still very much a function of descent-group affiliation and ranking, her residence within a particular part of the village, and the nature of her rights over homestead acreage, often tell more about her community standing and social universe. Similar circumstances prevail in the case of adult men as well, even though the situation of in-marrying males contrasts somewhat with that of married men of local origin.

In this chapter we will first consider Bogang's households—their significance for their residents, their kinship composition, and how their social space is defined. We then examine a single lineage and its compound, focusing on the relevance of such units for their members and in village society at large. Finally, we conclude with a comparison of Bogang's "old hamlet" and the recently settled "new hamlet."

Households and the Domestic Domain

The household is the origin point and locus of an individual's most valued and enduring personal relationships, public identity, and emotional mooring. The interior of a house—and to a lesser extent the surrounding yard—is also viewed as the private and somewhat exclusive domain of the individuals living there. In theory, then, whatever transpires within the confines of a house, or among its members, should not concern persons of other households: it is simply "none of their business." In practice, however, the concept of a domestic or private realm refers more to the relative social autonomy of individuals in their own homes, and to the fact that the adult members of a household are not usually beholden to anyone else so long as they appear to uphold basic community norms. But there is a catch here, and a problem for villagers: much of what goes on in the private domain is eminently public in that it can be heard and seen by immediate


195

neighbors, passersby, and others. Most houses, for that matter, rest on ancestral land over which sisters and other enatically related kin hold residual rights; this fact bears significantly on the married males of these households, and on the status of in-marrying males overall. In short, the notions of privacy and private domain are highly relative.

Household Size and Composition

Bogang's current population of 476 inhabitants is distributed among 106 separate households; the mean household thus consists of 4.5 individuals (see table 12). Households range in size from one to ten persons, although over three-quarters (78.3 percent) of these domestic units have six or fewer residents. Indeed, over half (57.5 percent) of the village's occupied houses claim from two to five members. The most common household size is five, accounting for 17.9 percent of all households. It should be noted, however, that these calculations and percentages reflect a focus on the cline of households in terms of size rather than the distribution or clustering of individuals in different-sized households. Specifically, twelve separate households in the village consist of a single individual, and sixteen others consist of only two members; the data are thus skewed in the direction of the smallest households. The final column of the table shows that

figure


196

over half (51.9 percent) of Bogang's people live in households with six or more members, and that an impressive 29 percent of the entire village population can be found in houses having 8–10 residents.

While virtually all single-person dwellings are associated with the lowest income quadrant, so too are some of the largest households. Interestingly, the elders of these latter households are regarded as fortunate in light of the emotional riches and social capital they gain through coresidence with children, grandchildren, and other kin—however economically productive or draining they may be. The underlying sentiment is suggested by a local expression that, in this context, can be translated as "the more, the merrier" (makin, ramai, makin sedap ); that is, almost all adult villagers prefer to eat, sleep, and live in the company of their children rather than under a separate roof.[1]

Household composition can be broken down into four basic patterns, three of which contain further internal subdivisions (see table 13). Each type, moreover, can be seen as a developmental variation on a single set of themes.

My typology of households based on interpersonal ties—that is, nuclear, conjugal, consanguineal, and individual—has no native counterpart in the sense of like indigenous categories. Nevertheless, the major analytic distinctions are useful for ordering the data. They also serve to emphasize features of domestic variation that are of considerable local relevance. Above all, however, they underscore the critical fact that a domestic unit consisting of a married (or formerly wed) woman and her dependent children is of far greater functional significance than is the same group plus the woman's husband. In short, while the term nuclear household (or nuclear family ) is typically associated with the latter configuration, I follow Goodenough (1970, 18–19) in restricting its use to domestic units consisting only of women and their resident dependents (that is, their sociological children, whether natural or adopted). The addition of the husband/father to the group does make a difference, of course, especially today. But this man's presence or absence may be—and in Negeri Sembilan definitely is—relatively unimportant to the jural standing, socialization, and overall development of children. Therefore, the "nucleus" of kinship consists of mother-child bonds and ties among siblings, and not the conjugal pair and progeny that Murdock (1949), Lévi-Strauss ([1949] 1969), and others regard as both the nuclear family and a cultural universal.


197
 

Table 13. Household Types in Contemporary Bogang

 

Number of
Households

% of Total
Households

Nuclear

Elementary nuclear

Mother, natural children

  11

  10.4

Mother, adopted children

    2

    1.9

Mother, natural and adopted children

    3

    2.8

Extended nuclear

Elementary nuclear, daughter's children

    8

    7.6

Elementary nuclear, daughter's husband

    2

    1.9

Conjugal

Minimal conjugal

Wife, husband

  12

  11.3

Elementary conjugal

Wife, husband, natural children

  39

  36.8

Wife, husband, adopted children

  11

  10.4

Extended conjugal

Elementary conjugal, daughter's husband

    1

    0.9

Elementary conjugal, husband's parents

    1

    0.9

Consanguineal

Elementary conjugal, wife's mother

    4

    3.8

Elementary conjugal, wife's brother

    2

    1.9

Single individual households

  10

    9.4

Total

106

100.0

In any event, 24.5 percent (26 of 106) of Bogang's households are what I would term nuclear. Most are headed by divorcées or widows, as opposed to women whose current husbands live elsewhere owing to military service, distant employment, or cohabitation with a second wife. Aside from having no paternally elaborated counterpart (that is, consisting solely of a man and his children), this arrangement occurs in extended form only in terms of links through women. Hence, historical continuity in domestic arrangements is considerable.

Conjugal households, in contrast, account for 60.4 percent (64 of 106) of the village's domestic units. Most of these—or 47.2 percent (50 of 106) of the entire village—involve a married couple and their children, which also represents a common pattern of earlier times. It is historically very interesting that the twelve conjugal households consisting solely of a


198
 

Table 14. Resident Population of Contemporary Bogang

 

Males

 

Females

 

Total

Age Cohort
(in years)

Number

Cumula-
  tive %

 

Number

Cumula-
  tive %

 

Number

Cumula-
  tive %

0–4

  24

  10.5

 

  18

    7.3

 

  42

    8.8

5–9

  36

  26.2

 

  36

  21.9

 

  72

  23.9

10–14

  42

  44.5

 

  34

  35.6

 

  76

  39.9

15–19

  29

  57.2

 

  25

  45.7

 

  54

  51.3

20–24

  12

  62.4

 

  11

  50.2

 

  23

  56.1

25–29

    7

  65.5

 

    7

  53.0

 

  14

  59.0

30–34

    1

  65.9

 

  10

  57.1

 

  11

  61.3

35–39

    5

  68.1

 

  15

  63.2

 

  20

  65.5

40–44

  11

  72.9

 

  10

  67.2

 

  21

  70.0

45–49

    8

  76.4

 

  12

  72.1

 

  20

  74.2

50–54

    7

  79.5

 

  18

  79.4

 

  25

  79.4

55–59

  10

  83.8

 

  11

  83.8

 

  21

  83.8

60–64

  14

  90.0

 

  17

  90.7

 

  31

  90.3

65–69

    9

  93.9

 

    5

  92.7

 

  14

  93.3

70–74

    6

  96.5

 

    6

  95.1

 

  12

  95.8

75–79

    2

  97.4

 

    7

  98.0

 

    9

  97.7

80–84

    5

  99.6

 

    3

  99.2

 

    8

  99.4

85–99

    1

100.0

 

    2

100.0

 

    3

100.0

Totals

229

   

247

   

476

 

married couple appear unlikely to include any children in the future. These are mostly elderly individuals past the age of reproduction; their children have either settled elsewhere in Bogang or, more often, migrated to rural development schemes or urban areas. Such two-person households were of course typical in previous decades and centuries, but they were mainly of temporary duration, consisting of newly married couples who had yet to bear or adopt children. More striking still, recently married couples are largely absent from the local community, as are natal residents of the village and in-marrying males in their twenties and thirties in general (see table 14). Consequently, we encounter both a greater percentage of single-person households than has probably ever before existed, and a bimodal age distribution that is undoubtedly far more pronounced than at any stage in history.

Even allowing far more single-person households at present, there is no


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major break with the past as regards the gender, age grade, and marital status of those who reside by themselves, for most are formerly married women aged fifty-five and over.

Single-person households and conjugal households inhabited solely by a woman and her husband share a basic feature in common: they span but a single generation. The relatively large number of such households, twelve and sixteen respectively—or 26.4 percent of Bogang's domestic units—testifies to a villagewide trend toward the generational retraction of domestic groupings (despite lower infant mortality rates and greater longevity), and represents an appreciable shift from previous decades. The larger issue, referred to above, is the increasingly polarized age structure of the village population, due to accelerated rates of out-migration involving virtually all youth over the age of eighteen, regardless of socioeconomic standing.[2]

In light of the great value placed on children and the profound dread of solitary existence, it is ironic that so many parents encourage their offspring to make lives for themselves outside the village. I recall one woman in her early fifties explaining forthrightly that she did not want any of her children (all of whom were males) to settle down to a rural existence. As she put it, "only the stupid ones stay in the village" (orang bodoh saja duduk kampung ). Unfortunately for her and others of her generation, many formerly resident children will probably never return to the village to live. This situation arouses considerable ambivalence and misgiving among parents, many of whom feel "left behind," if not abandoned, and also express anxious concern that their homes and compounds might stand empty, and their rice fields fallow, after their deaths.

Perhaps the most striking pattern in domestic group composition and variation in Bogang is the marked skewing in favor of females and links through women, which prevails at all levels. This skewing is most evident in the large percentage of households without any ever-married males—a full 29.2 percent (31 of 106), as compared with only 2.8 percent (3 of 106) for households without ever-married women. Expressed differently, more than ten times the number of households have no adult males than have no adult females. This situation highlights a basic social fact: women can and do live well enough without husbands and other adult males; men, in contrast, cannot really survive without wives or apart from other female kin.


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As a result, whereas formerly wed women are in many instances committed to remaining single, their male counterparts invariably remarry as quickly as possible.

Structural Complementarity in the Domestic Domain

There are well-developed social and cultural links between women and femaleness on the one hand, and the domestic realm on the other. Females enjoy unquestioned, essentially unconditional rights in their households and are generally expected to remain in their own compounds unless subsistence, exchange, or religious activities call for their presence elsewhere. Males are far less strongly associated with the domestic domain and are never tied to just one household in the course of their lives; they have residence and household rights largely because of privileges acquired through ongoing relationships with women (their mothers or wives).

Female involvement in the subsistence sector and in myriad domains of exchange is obviously both permitted and encouraged, but it should neither interfere with domestic work—food preparation, cleaning, childrearing, and so on—nor result in "mixing too much" with women, let alone men, of other households. The possibility that women may be unable to fulfill their domestic duties is one of the several reasons why men prefer that their wives neither tap rubber nor seek other employment outside the home. The overriding issue, however, is less conjugal or domestic delinquency than the moral and aesthetic tenet that women should not be seen walking around the village, and should consciously minimize the time they spend away from their homes.

Especially striking to the outside observer is that women rarely go to certain coffee shops, and they go to others primarily during their "off hours," when only a few, mostly neighboring men will likely be there purchasing supplies or enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. Additionally, although women may participate in Friday mosque services, because weekly mosque attendance is only obligatory for males women tend to avoid the mosque on Friday afternoons. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions, female presence at the mosque is minimal as compared with males.

To point to coffee shops and the mosque as male domains is not merely to say that women maintain a low profile in these areas since they are expected to (and invariably do) busy themselves with household chores to


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the exclusion of most other activities. It is to draw attention to more pervasive patterns, one being that men are allowed and encouraged to socialize outside the home to a far greater degree than are women. To appreciate this fact one need only recall the eminently valued tradition of temporary out-migration on the part of males (merantau ), and the absence of any corresponding tradition for females.

It remains to examine what goes on within the household. Here we will focus on the two activities villagers frequently cite as paramount: eating and praying. Most other individual and household concerns are in some way tied to these, and much of what villagers do and say relates to either the consumption and sharing of food or the immediate social relevance and ultimate (or afterworld) implications of conscientious prayer, or to both.

On the surface, it might appear that eating and praying in one's own home—as against, say, at a small-scale feast or a mosque gathering—would be relatively private activities. In one sense, of course, they are. Yet residential construction and the close proximity of most homes enable neighbors and passersby at any given time to see or hear which members of the household are praying and who—including nonresidents—might be eating there. Actually, the most relevant distinction here is that within the household husband and wife eat and pray together, whereas outside of their own home they virtually never do. More generally, husband and wife behave rather freely with one another in their own home, but they avoid association, let alone casual or vaguely intimate interaction, in all other contexts. This situation can be seen as paradigmatic: interactions between males and females, including husband and wife as well as brother and sister, should be limited as a rule and restricted to the household in particular. Males and females do in fact move in separate and typically non-overlapping spheres outside their own homes (aside from the partial exceptions encountered in local commerce). Only within the household do adults, or any males and females past the age of seven or eight, interact freely with members of the opposite sex. Men, moreover, do not usually visit one another or stop in on their nearest neighbors (that is, at the homes of their female affines and "brothers" through in-marriage) or other friends. And women usually socialize with their female friends either when the men are out or, when the men are at home, in a separate room. Thus, the only truly sanctioned cross-sex interaction occurs within the household, and then only between household members. This tolerance of male-


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female interaction is in many respects the most distinctive feature of the domestic domain and what sets it apart from the rest of village society.

In their own homes, husband and wife joke with and browbeat each other, use terms of address that in the presence of others would be considered overly intimate (hence unrefined and vulgar), display verbal affection, and engage in sexual relations—none of which would take place in the homes of others, or in their own homes if others were present. There are definite limits to this relative indulgence, however; indeed, the social distancing based on gender that occurs within the household seems to provide the model for sexual segregation in the society at large. Above all, though, the intimacy and indulgence permitted between husband and wife privately reflects their status as social equals, a fact that is partially denied in many public and especially ritual contexts where females are culturally defined as less than equal to males and the "closer to nature" of the two sexes (cf. Ortner 1974; and below, chapter 8).

The complementary relationship of husband and wife is perhaps most characteristic of the conjugal bond. Because males are portrayed as fundamentally different from, and less responsible than, females, wives tend to be accorded numerous duties that might otherwise devolve upon their husbands. Safeguarding household jewelry and cash, for example, is typically a female task, even though these valued items may derive from husbands' earnings on land obtained outside of marriage. More generally, wives usually manage the cash resources of their households, including the periodic doling out of sums to their husbands. Men occasionally appear less than enthusiastic about such an arrangement, but they also seem resigned to its inevitability. As one man wryly explained, "It's like death; no one wants to die, but once you're dead what can you do?"

The complementary responsibilities and activities in relation to household income—such that men go out and earn cash while their wives manage it at home (and also perhaps bring in capital in their own right)—are informed by gender constructs that also contribute to a pronounced favoring of female heirs. These same gender constructs, I might add, are realized in labor exchanges associated with feasting and in the rearing and informal adoption of children, both of which invariably involve females much more than males. Such activities clearly transcend the domestic domain (as do the affinal exchanges effected largely by women) and are also accorded almost unparalleled social and cultural value. Such factors indi-


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cate that the position and prestige of local women has not been seriously undermined by forces of colonialism and modern market institutions (see chapter 8; cf. Peletz 1987b). Moreover, they suggest that the relative exclusion of women from coffee shops and various mosque gatherings should be read not as an across-the-board devaluation of women but rather as an index of the complementary tasks, spheres, and more encompassing social roles of women and men both.

A more general point to bear in mind is that most women and men in Bogang belong not only to one or another household but also to more encompassing compounds defined in relation to a local lineage. We next consider the nature of such compounds, including the ways in which certain of the social dynamics we have explored are manifested in the ties among residentially clustered households, especially their female members.

The Hill Lineage and Its Compound

The internal structure and dynamics of the Hill lineage of the Lelahmaharaja clan are representative of the village as a whole, despite the group's marked prestige and power within Bogang. The following discussion will thus serve to elucidate the social entailments and other concomitants of compound residence and lineage membership. In one sense we are moving here from the least public facts and expressions of kinship—as revealed, for example, in eating and sleeping arrangements—to those of a more broadly social nature. For although the affairs of a lineage compound are, in theory, the somewhat exclusive concern of lineage personnel and in-marrying males of senior standing, they often end up being a matter of public record and villagewide interest. The lineage compound, moreover, serves both as the setting for collective exchanges and activities and as an important buffer between the wholly public realms of community life and the relatively private spheres of the domestic domain; its real capacity to mediate between these different interests, however, is ultimately limited by internal cleavages and contested claims to property, productive resources, and personal affection.

In comparison to other lineages and more encompassing descent units, the Hill lineage is extremely aggregated. Excluding those who have left the village altogether, all women and children of the lineage reside in a single compound. The Hill compound is in a centrally located area of Bogang's


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"old hamlet," one which is conceptualized in relation to the lineage, and to the adult women of its nine households in particular. Just as this compound constitutes the more or less continuously occupied ancestral homeland of the lineage, so too is it fairly unlikely that any of its inhabitants will relocate to other areas of the village in the immediate future. Indeed, if they were to leave their current homes, these wealthy and upwardly mobile individuals would more likely settle in the state capital, Seremban, or in Kuala Lumpur than elsewhere in the village or in other rural environs.

One striking feature of the Hill lineage is the highly developed sense of group membership and exclusivity, not only among the women and their spouses but also among nonresident children (a good many of whom work and live in cities and return to Bogang only on free weekends and national holidays). The clustering of all lineage households in a single compound obviously contributes to this phenomenon, as does the compound's proximity to the homesteads of certain other groups. On one side is the sister lineage, Valley, with whom Hill has long been embroiled in a bitter feud (see chapter 9); on another, the "upriver" segment of the Biduanda Dagang clan, which tends to be regarded by Hill and gentry clans in general as a sociologically distant and low-status social entity with whom marriage should definitely be avoided. Although at least some Hill women acknowledge a degree of siblingship with one neighboring line of Biduanda Dagang (emanating from a Meccan-born apical ancestress discussed below), the Hill group is essentially surrounded by outsiders, many of whom are either longstanding enemies or the staunch allies of adversaries.

The Hill lineage's sense of group membership and exclusivity is largely a product of political and economic factors. Some of these factors hark back to ancient times and point to various mechanisms whereby prestige and wealth are reproduced over the generations. Elsewhere in this chapter, for example, we will encounter instances of adoption by a nineteenth-century Undang. This man of renown was of the Hill lineage, and in generating clientlike relationships through adoption he increased the lineage's prestige and political clout as well as his own standing as a patron. More generally, the mere fact that he rose to the supreme office of Undang not only renders him the most famous and successful of all human village ancestors, but also translated into considerable prestige and political opportunity for his children. It is far from coincidental that at the turn of the century a


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good deal of village land was registered in his son's name, whereas virtually all other local acreage on the books was listed under women's names; that a generation or two later one of his descendants in the Hill lineage attained executive office at the state level; or that today the latter man's sister's son holds a powerful post in the federal government. This individual's brother, I might add, stands as the highest-ranked adat leader in Bogang.

The Hill lineage clearly has an impressive pedigree, and it has been very successful in realizing the capital benefits accruing from its genealogy, vertical ties, and enviable history of political connections. This is not to say, however, that the lineage necessarily acts in unison, with or without the aid of in-marrying males, to achieve economic or other objectives, or that all lineage households derive equal advantage by virtue of their association with the lineage. It is simply to bring into focus a set of political and economic factors that have contributed both to the lineage's prestigious and powerful position in contemporary Bogang and to its understandably well-developed sense of group membership and exclusivity. Regarding the latter point specifically, the notion of "us" versus "them" is more pronounced among members and spouses of the Hill lineage than among any other descent units or household clusters. This is not so much a behavioral or sociological distinction as a conceptual and emotional one; it is nonetheless an important factor in defining, generating, and solidifying political and economic relationships and interests.

The Hill lineage stands as the sole heir to the unique fortunes and legacies of Bogang's most illustrious (though notoriously unpopular) ancestor; yet we need not turn to history, or even to issues of pedigree or economic concentration, to find evidence of its unique placement in the village. Rather, concrete reinforcement of the lineage's separateness and genealogical homogeneity exists, in the form of low, rough-hewn, and partly overgrown fences—of barbed wire, bamboo, large branches, and lengths of old timber—that encircle the compound, setting it off from the fields, abandoned lots, and houseplots of neighbors. One also encounters fences of the same simple construction around certain houseplots belonging to members of the lineage. But these exist elsewhere in the village as well, and should not deflect our attention from the highly unusual occurrence of an entire lineage or lineage branch set off by a makeshift network of fences and occasional gates.

Malays seem to dislike the notion that "good fences make good neigh-


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bors." What, then, do the fences mean, and why were they built in the first place? The second of these questions is—at least superficially—the more easily answered. The stock response is that fences keep village domesticates, particularly goats, out of residential areas, which are frequently dotted with stands of flowers and fruit trees, all easily damaged by grazing animals. While this explanation is true in part, it is equally apparent to villagers that the marauding goat population can sooner or later make its way into (or out of) any area of the village. Also, since many village gates are left propped open, goats are not really discouraged by the mere existence of fences. Nor for that matter are intruders in the form of adolescent boys who, especially at night, may surreptitiously enter and lurk about a compound either with the intention of making off with personal items left near the houses (sandals or sheets of rubber, for instance) or in hopes of catching a glimpse of an unmarried girl.

Fences, then, do not really serve the purpose for which villagers claim they are built. They do, however, demarcate domains of relative autonomy and social control—and this, more than anything else, explains why they are constructed and maintained, as well as what they mean to those who live within or outside of them. In short, members of the Hill compound are ultimately concerned with setting themselves apart from and above others. The century-long concentration of wealth, political clout, and prestige within the lineage has given its members and spouses more to lose, not only through theft, malicious mischief, and gossip, but also as a result of shifts in personal allegiances and the distribution of power. Similarly, since the lineage has more to gain by maintaining and, if possible, upgrading its unique position in the village, it must take greater care to demarcate its social and spatial boundaries so as to avoid identification with unrelated neighbors, sister lineages, or the village majority. Although these tensions between kin group and community are evident elsewhere in Bogang, they are especially strong in the case of the Hill group—as the fences indicate.[3]

Thus far the discussion of the Hill lineage and its compound has proceeded in terms of social topography and lineage identity, and on a relatively abstract level. I have focused on its unique history and contemporary standing rather than its basic similarities with units of similar shape and structure. In continuing the discussion of the Hill lineage, I turn to data and issues having broader applicability insofar as they find generally comparable expression elsewhere in the old hamlet. These pertain to how the


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lineage is conceptualized (hence, to the vertical scope and overall distribution of a particular segment of genealogical knowledge), where authority resides within the lineage, and what types of relationships obtain among the group's socially active core, adult women of the grandparental generation.

The Hill lineage embraces individuals of four generations and collaterals as distantly related as fourth cousins (see figure 5). All told, the lineage claims 107 living members, most of whom work and live outside Bogang. Of those members currently inhabiting the village, only one, a married man in his fifties, does not reside within the lineage compound. (This individual is the clan subchief, who lives in a separate area of the village among his wife's kin.) The eldest person of the lineage resides in the middle of the compound and is a wizened but still energetic and forceful woman of approximately seventy-five; the youngest is a four-year-old boy. The age structure of the compound's enatic and overall population is markedly skewed (as is that of the village as a whole) owing to out-migration on the part of adolescents and young adults of both sexes. Thus, well over half of the Hill compound's adult enates are fifty-five and over. This skewing is even more pronounced for the compound as a whole, since most of the adult women live with husbands at least a few years their senior.

The most remotely recalled figures and connective links in the genealogy are the sisters Selbiah and Maimunah (see figure 5). Interestingly, when the grandchildren of the one sister describe how they are related to the grandchildren of the other, they point to this tie of sisterhood (although they frequently also specify that their own mothers were first cousins). They do not speak of common descent from the mother of Selbiah and Maimunah, whose name no one seems to know; nor do they refer to her antecedents, who are equally anonymous but further submerged in the amorphous category of "ancestors" (nenek-moyang ).

Precise knowledge of the relationship between Selbiah and Maimunah is not evenly distributed throughout the lineage. Moreover, there is little likelihood (or concern) that such knowledge will be passed on, particularly since "technical" information of the sort necessary for the construction of a lineage genealogy is typically of much greater interest to the anthropologist than to anyone in the village. Consequently, the younger descendants of Maimunah cannot specify their exact connection with their generational counterparts in Selbiah's line, or vice versa. Similarly, since no one in this


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[

figure
]

Figure 5.
Genealogy of the Hill Lineage of the Lelahmaharaja Clan, Showing Effects of Out-Migration


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generation knows the names of Selbiah and Maimunah, they too will eventually fade into anonymity. When this situation prevails throughout the lineage—and not merely at its lowest generational levels—the members of the Hill lineage will no longer constitute a single lineage branch (pangkal ). Instead, in another twenty or so years we will find two such units. Of greater relevance than this structural distinction—which is recognized but not usually emphasized by villagers—is the underlying fact that the precise relationship of the two lineage lines will not be known. It is not clear how this will affect attitudes and interactions among enates within the compound. Still, it seems reasonable to assume that eventually internal differentiation will be more sharply perceived and that a corresponding decline in the group's sense of unity and common purpose will occur. This is not to suggest that at present no intralineage cleavages or antagonisms exist. As we will see, lineage unity is, to paraphrase the Geertzes' (1975) observations for Bali, something to be achieved and maintained (if sought in the first place), and not a historical or timeless given.

To assess Hill lineage solidarity and the bonds among its consanguines on the whole, we will focus on the relationships of the eleven married (or formerly wed) women who regard the compound as their home, and on the distribution of prestige and authority among them. Eight of these women, ranging in age from forty-five to sixty-three, are of the same (grandparental) generation; further, only one woman is senior to them. Thus, the lineage core, and its most socially active component, is essentially a group of classificatory sisters from three related sibling sets. Wan, the seventy-five-year-old lineage elder, is the widowed mother of three of these women. In relation to others of the core generation, she has the standing of a mother's sister (MMZD) and the additional prestige of being the oldest living member of the lineage. Her status as a haji further reinforces her esteemed position within the lineage and throughout the village community. So, too, do the acquired wealth and largely achieved status of her politically prominent brother, now deceased, and that of her sons, daughters, and sons-in-law. Three of her children, it may be noted, have traveled to Mecca with their spouses, and all three of her sons-in-law enjoy substantial incomes (from pensions or other government monies in conjunction with rubber lands leased out to tenants).

Wan's position within the lineage is, at first glance at least, rather elusive. Like most women of her generation, she maintains a low profile in


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the compound and in the more public arenas of village life. She no longer works in the rice fields, for instance, but seems content to spend her time preparing spices, condiments, and sauces for the members of her house-hold and praying either at home or at the nearby village mosque. Aside from going to the mosque and occasional weddings, she rarely ventures outside the homestead area she inherited from her mother. Nevertheless, and although she does not involve herself in the everyday affairs of lineage households, she speaks with authority and exercises considerable influence over the lives of current and former compound residents, and over their interactions with outsiders. Thus, her own children and maternal nieces tend to defer to her wishes and directives, even though they are grandparents in their own right and of enviable social standing and influence in the larger community. The de facto locus of lineage authority, then, evidently need not be coterminous with the lineage core or its most socially active citizens or traditional political representatives. Instead, as in this case, authority may emanate from the eldest woman of the lineage, provided of course that she is not yet senile or otherwise incapacitated by old age. This situation occasionally poses serious problems for those of Wan's children who have extensive and active social networks or are politically well connected. All this will be clear when we consider Wan's role in generating and perpetuating the feud between the Hill group and its sister lineage, Valley, which has involved much of the entire village population.

Wan is the focal point and principal source of authority in the lineage. It is therefore fitting (though by no means inevitable) that her house is in the very center of the compound, allowing for a strategic view of most other residences and thus facilitating knowledge of the daily movements and activities of many of her kin. Moreover, since two of Wan's daughters live on either side of her, while the third and youngest lives with Wan (and will inherit the house), Wan is in constant touch with the most intimate members of her social universe. For this reason, and because she enjoys such easy access to the village mosque, she has refused numerous invitations to resettle in Kuala Lumpur to live with her wealthy son. There, she claims, servants do much of the cooking and other chores and would leave her with nothing to do all day long. The distance from her son's house to the nearest mosque also discourages her from moving, particularly since she sees her days as numbered and feels that old people like herself are best advised to pray conscientiously and to attend the mosque on a regular,


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preferably daily, basis. Even if daily mosque attendance in Kuala Lumpur were feasible, Wan would have to depend on the transportation provided by her son or a salaried servant in his household. In Wan's view, such dependence is definitely to be avoided.

Wan's household is distinctive in that neither of its female members actively participates in bilateral food or labor exchanges with other women in the compound. This is wholly acceptable, however, in light of Wan's advanced age and the fact that the adult daughter with whom she lives has long been afflicted with severe emotional disorders (widely attributed to the sorcery of a rejected suitor). Yet Wan's household continues to sponsor ritual feasts (kenduri ) when the occasion demands and has also been actively involved in the informal adoption of children born to other women of the lineage. A brief discussion of these institutions will provide additional insights into the nature of intralineage relations.

Feasting

Whenever Wan sponsors a ritual feast, all women of the lineage assist in the preparations, including the fixing of whatever uncooked food offerings are deemed appropriate by convention or contingency. Her two healthy daughters, as well as any female grandchildren who happen to be home at the time, shoulder the heaviest responsibilities before and during such feasts; all women of the compound, however, share in devoting the better part of a day (or even a few days) to helping out. This participation is less a function of Wan's esteemed position in the lineage than a basic imperative of lineage membership. Hence, whoever else might provide labor before, during, or after a ritual feast, women of the lineage usually show up earlier, work harder, and stay later than anyone else. They never complain, for they know that their efforts will be reciprocated by lineage sisters when the time comes; further, they share in the prestige that the lineage and the compound's population as a whole accrue from such feasts.

The only time that all locally resident members of the lineage and its compound work together and converge in a single locale is during ritual feasts. Although women perform the bulk of the labor involved, unmarried males of the lineage contribute as well. In-marrying men, in contrast, often do little more than pray together beforehand and then share in the feast itself. If the scale of the feast is such that additional dining or cooking


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structures are required, however, in-marrying men will gather the bamboo and other construction materials and erect temporary platforms and rain shelters adjacent to the sponsor's house.

Expressed differently, the institution of feasting provides villagers, especially women, a clear sense of who their most immediate and generally responsive kin are. Given the ritual and religious significance of the kenduri complex, and the fact that feasts are the most lively and enjoyable occasions for persons of all ages, it can also be said that the bonds among compound residents, and adult females in particular, are both sanctified and celebrated on these occasions. More generally, kenduri serve the crucial purpose of mobilizing lineage sentiment and galvanizing the group's sense of common purpose, shared destiny, and overall social identity.

Whether these latter concomitants of kenduri were more or less pronounced in decades past is, unfortunately, difficult to gauge. Some villagers claim that invitations to kenduri are more selectively extended now than a few decades ago, and that kenduri have become highly politicized. Although such claims are true, they pertain more to solidifications of cleavages and alliances among lineages (and factions formed around their principal luminaries) than to dissensions within lineages. This fact, too, will become quite apparent when we examine the feud between the Hill and Valley lineages.

By any measure, however, the shape of twentieth-century history has overly burdened the feasting complex; for even though the complex persists, most other traditions conducing toward the same ends have suffered irrevocable devitalization. The institution of feasting is therefore expected to accomplish far more than is in fact possible—especially given the proliferation of criteria for allocating prestige, the larger issue being increased cultural heterogeneity and socioeconomic stratification.

Integrally related to this latter issue, and of more immediate concern, is the relatively pronounced economic independence that women belonging to the same lineage enjoy. No Hill lineage women, for example, cooperated with one another during the 1978–1979 cultivation season. Those who did plant rice or lease out their fields chose to work for or engage as sharecroppers women from other lineages or clans. Similarly, all households in the compound derive their livelihood not from lands classed as ancestral but rather from recently acquired acreage (mostly in rubber) held on full title either individually or by a married couple. Hence, while women


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of the lineage do share mutual rights over homestead plots and sawah, these rights no longer entail intralineage bonds of agricultural cooperation or exchange. These dimensions of traditional relatedness used to involve not only an objective economic interdependence among the women of a lineage but also a conscious and ritually celebrated sense thereof. This has virtually vanished, however, and given way instead to atomistic and largely autonomous household units whose outside material support comes, if at all, not from immediate collaterals who are also close neighbors but from nonresident children. Little remains of the prior nexus except comparatively unproductive land rights, which, although a trove of great pride and symbolic significance, can be a source of bitter contention. This is particularly true when economic needs and incentives no longer counterbalance divisive intralineage antagonisms and status rivalries involving sisters, cousins, in-marrying males, and compound households on the whole. In sum, the balance of counterposed forces lying at the heart of lineage dynamics during the 1800s and before has become increasingly tenuous over the past century and at present is highly susceptible to invidious intralineage distinctions and other centripetal forces. We will return to this theme in due course.

We have seen that the Hill group is bound together by a single genealogical and territorial point of origin, allegiance and deference to Wan, relatively dense shared property rights within the lineage, and labor exchanges related to feasting. It remains to examine the other factors that unite these women and set them off from members of other lineages, such as the prevalence of informal adoptions within the lineage.

Adoption

The institution of (informal) adoption[4] serves to redistribute rights over children and enables married couples and formerly wed women to mitigate the social and emotional consequences of sterility, infertility, and infant mortality. It also allows the women of economically hard-pressed households to find "better homes" for some of their children. Of primary concern here, though, is not why adoption exists in the first place, but rather the types of genealogical bonds between natural and adoptive mothers.[5]

Figure 6 depicts the distribution and direction of adoptions in which


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figure

Figure 6.
Genealogy of the Hill Lineage of the Lelahmaharaja Clan, Showing Adoptions Involving Locally Resident Women as Natural or
Adoptive Mothers
Note: Each arrow indicates the transfer of a child from its natural mother to the adoptive mother. Arrows point to adoptive
mothers.


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adult women of the Hill lineage have stood as natural or adoptive mothers. Virtually all the transactions occurred between women of the lineage, the majority between women currently associated with one of its two major lines (or future branches). To the extent that sisters and first cousins transfer rights over children with one another more often than do women related more distantly, the institution of adoption also generates a conceptual cleavage within the lineage that is otherwise largely unmarked and generally devoid of explicit sociological correlates. Of perhaps greater structural significance, this line of cleavage will be the most directly affected when all genealogical information pertaining to the uppermost level of the enatic pedigree—that is, the sibling link between Selbiah and Maimunah—is lost. The distinction currently marked primarily by adoption will then assume a qualitatively different hue, for it will simultaneously coincide with and define the existence and boundaries of two separate lineage branches. The clustering of adoptions within analytically isolable segments of a largely undifferentiated lineage thus foreshadows the emergence therefrom of two (or more) less encompassing and structurally discrete units of descent.

Adoptions, then, tend to involve natural and adoptive mothers affiliated with the same lineage, and are typically aggregated within separate descent lines that have the current or impending status of lineage branches. These patterns testify to the pronounced preference—in the transfer of rights over children, but also in most other realms—for dealing with one's closest kin. Thus, and not surprisingly, natural and adoptive mothers are most often related as (natural) sisters. This social fact concretizes another level of distinction within the lineage, just as it engenders differentiation within the lineage branch itself by bounding, isolating, and solidifying sibling sets composed of sisters. Viewed in terms of either genealogical unit, and with respect to clans as well, the tendency for less inclusive groupings to emerge from larger ones that simultaneously constrain various dimensions of their separate identities and activities receives its penultimate expression at this level. The ultimate manifestation of such tendencies appears, of course, in the sibling set itself, most notably in the tensions and dynamics among adult siblings of the same sex.

The extreme modalities of affect and social interaction are most evident precisely in the area of same-sex sibling relations. Of greatest significance here is not that adult women linked as, for example, sisters depend on and


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support one another for the satisfaction of innumerable needs—which, in many contexts, could easily be pursued through other social avenues. Rather, this situation of interdependence often exists alongside antipathy, bordering at times on thinly veiled loathing, which is nonetheless almost always submerged—and in any case is effectively denied through feasting exchanges and other public behavior—whenever the moral obligations of female siblingship require it. The sentimental configuration among sisters is thus perhaps best summed up by the notion of hostile dependence. Of course, sisterhood should not be characterized in principally negative terms; even so, the generalized ambivalence that attaches to most interpersonal bonds happens to be exceptionally high in the case of women's attitudes toward their sisters. Hence, whereas the distribution of adoptions within a lineage points to the relative intensity and durability of the different social prerogatives and duties of female kin, it concurrently highlights what could be judged the most problematic and potentially divisive of all kin relations. The more general, theoretical point is that even while sibling ties among same-sex individuals often serve as conduits for the expression of lineage unity and solidarity, they may simultaneously undercut all such unity and positive affect (cf. Kelly 1977).

The ambivalences and tensions among women linked as sisters, and among same-sex adult siblings in general, exist in large part because of the structural equivalence infusing all such parallel-sex relationships. This equivalence has been discussed elsewhere and will be taken up below from a different perspective. Here I need only emphasize that relatedness of this nature gives rise to heavily weighted moral expectations among all parallel-sex siblings, which can be onerous at times as well as exceedingly difficult to fulfill.

I might also point out that sibling tensions of the sort discussed here are far less pronounced among individuals who have never wed, simply because their relationships tend to be mediated indirectly by their parents, especially their mother. These single people, moreover, usually either remain within their natal homes or leave the village altogether. Hence, because they do not establish separate living quarters within the lineage compound or elsewhere in the community, their interests tend to be focused on and defined in terms of a single household. Subsequent to marriage, in contrast, a partial but nonetheless marked divergence of interests occurs among siblings owing to their new conjugal and domestic responsibilities.


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The extent to which these may be wholly incompatible with enatic ties is considered in chapter 7. Suffice it to say that marriage and the creation of new household units often aggravate preexisting strains among siblings of the same sex, or in any event create a context conducive to their expression. This despite the fact that lineage continuity and social reproduction on the whole obviously hinge on the bearing of children, which, in this society at least, presupposes legitimate marriage. More generally, the institution of adoption must be viewed against all such dynamics, for, even if only at the conceptual level, adoption helps bridge the structural distance among sisters that is an inevitable consequence of their social reproduction and genealogical aging (cf. Kelly 1977).

Male Lineage Members

The scant attention devoted thus far to the men of the Hill lineage reflects the minimal role they play in most lineage affairs, owing partly to out-migration and the preeminence of female enates in all but a few domains of compound and household activity. As may be recalled from the Hill genealogy, none of the five men of the grandparental generation lives in the lineage compound. In fact, only one of them, who holds the title of clan subchief (buapak ), actually resides in the village. A comparable situation prevails among the married men of junior generational standing, none of whom have settled in Bogang either. Aside from the clan subchief, then, the eldest male of the lineage who lives in Bogang is roughly eighteen years old.

This situation affords little opportunity to discuss sibling antagonisms among adult men of the lineage. It warrants remark, however, that demands for political loyalty underwrite virtually all categories of brotherhood but are frequently honored in the breach (see chapter 7). In this latter connection we should bear in mind that the logic of succession to traditional as well as modern political office makes only partial provision for the structural equivalence of brothers. In the realm of clan titles, for example, rules of succession specify the particular localized clan or lineage that may furnish a candidate for office but usually do not indicate which fully enfranchised adult members merit preferential treatment as potential officeholders. Much of this holds as well for modern political titles, one critical difference being the far greater prestige that attaches to persons


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holding positions on certain community councils and, of course, to the village headman. All of this makes for profound resentment on the part of men whose brothers attain roles of leadership while they themselves muddle along as "mere villagers." Here again, then, we see the extreme modalities of same-sex siblingship, which on the one hand engender lineage unity and solidarity but on the other lead to a divisiveness that impedes the realization of common lineage interests.

One further point concerning political offices tied to lineage membership is that the exercise of legitimate sanctions and duties is often necessarily constrained by factors of residence and domestic sentiment. This situation can pose serious dilemmas for politically empowered males who find themselves obliged to conform to the wishes of their mothers or wives, even when this amounts to dereliction of official duties vis-à-vis other lineage members or the clan or village as a whole. Chapter 9 provides ample illustration of these dynamics; I need therefore only cite Wan's position of centrality within the lineage and her profound influence over her adult sons, one of whom is clan subchief. In the course of Bogang's highly charged "adat crisis," this son chose not to censure certain transgressions of his brother, Wan's other son, and in consequence has been boycotted by the other two lineages of the clan. It is difficult to ascertain precisely to what degree the clan subchief's public posture on this matter stemmed from filial loyalties and obligations, as opposed to those associated with immediate brotherhood. Even so, it is clear that narrow kinship loyalties of this sort not only compromise the nature of political representation and leadership more generally, but simultaneously undermine the broad spirit of kinship, and of siblingship in particular, that underlies clanship and village citizenship.

These dynamics all attest to considerable historical continuity. So, too, does the fact that adult males of the lineage still act as guardians over their unmarried sisters and close female cousins, despite that fact that many of these women do not reside in the lineage compound, or even in Bogang. Such guardianship is especially evident in the realm of sexuality, for brothers and enatic cousins continue to be charged with, and to take seriously, the responsibility of safeguarding the virginity and moral standing of unmarried women—upon which rests the honor and prestige of the whole lineage. This situation goes a long way toward explaining the sense of out-


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rage and betrayal that young men display when close female enates engage in sexual impropriety. As far as male guardians are concerned, such action amounts to a form of treason, for it constitutes a grave violation of siblingship trust and other sacrosanct norms. Cross-sex siblingship will be further discussed in the following chapter. I need only add here that complementarity rather than equivalence continues to characterize this variant of siblingship, and that this complementarity usually precludes the buildup of antagonisms encountered among adult siblings of the same sex.

The preceding discussion should convey a sense of the structure and dynamics not only of the Hill lineage but also of the other lineages and compounds in Bogang. It is important to recall that Hill constitutes one of three lineages of the Lelahmaharaja clan, which in turn is but one of three major clans represented in Bogang's old hamlet. We will now look at other settlement patterns and household clusters in the old hamlet, both in general and in relation to their new hamlet counterparts.

Variation in Settlement Patterns and Household Clusters

Map 3 provides an overview of Bogang village settlement in relation to such physical landmarks as the nearby mountain range, the local river and its tributary, and the railroad tracks connecting Singapore with Kuala Lumpur and points farther north, as well as such public structures as the mosque and the prayer house, the village meeting house, and community stores or coffee shops. Most important, the map reveals a pronounced clustering of domestic units in accordance with the descent affiliation of household heads. The dotted lines around occupied houses signify common membership in a local clan (or lineage); hence, the households in which most females and unmarried males reside are surrounded by those of enatically related kin. The principal exception lies with the twenty-two households located across from, and on the upriver side of, the road running roughly parallel to the mountains. The settlement pattern of this area of the village, known as the new hamlet (kampung baru ), differs markedly from that of the old hamlet, and it stands at the other end of the continuum from the residentially clustered Hill lineage of the Lelahmaharaja clan.


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[

figure
]

Map 3.
Contemporary Bogang, Showing Settlement of Major Descent Units


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The Old Hamlet

In sharp contrast to the new hamlet, then, most household units in the old hamlet lie very close to households comprising enates in the same lineage, and the same lineage branch in particular. Given the much larger spread and population of the old hamlet, this phenomenon is clearly villagewide. Viewed from a different angle, lineages and lineage branches (and to a lesser extent clans) tend to be aggregated into one or two territorially and conceptually distinct regions within the village.[6]

As we have seen, the settlement pattern and enatic composition of the Hill compound testify to that lineage's enviable pedigree and long history of impressive political connections. Additionally, patronage activities of former Hill luminaries account for the genealogically heterogeneous composition of one of the two principal settlements of the Biduanda Dagang clan.[7] Let us now briefly consider the Biduanda Dagang clan's two "neighborhoods."

All but a few of the women associated with the Biduanda Dagang clan reside in one of two village neighborhoods, the upriver or the downriver. The two segments of the clan are of such disparate origin and pedigree that intermarriage is permissible as far as many (but not all) clan members are concerned.

The upriver segment of the clan is not only highly variegated in terms of the parentage and ancestral homelands of adult females (and in-marrying males), but it also embraces three separate lines of descent. Hence, we are not dealing here with a single lineage compound, or even with a compound that invariably and "throughout history" has been associated with a particular clan.

Fatimah, the head of the house set off from all the others (see map 3), is the fifty-five-year-old granddaughter of a Chinese woman who was born in Singapore and adopted while quite young by the nineteenth-century Hill lineage luminary who became Undang. Fatimah's parents and collateral ascendants are all dead, and she has neither siblings nor any natural children. For these and other reasons, Fatimah views herself as having no kin either within the village or outside. In this regard she is extremely atypical; all the more so since she adopted a former neighbor's daughter and reared her as her own for a number of years.


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The second line of descent within the upriver segment of the Biduanda Dagang clan is represented by the consanguineally related individuals of three separate domestic groups. The enates of these clustered households also reckon their descent from a woman who was adopted, albeit in quite different circumstances, by the same nineteenth-century Undang who adopted Fatimah's grandmother. In this instance, though, the adoptee was originally a slave (hamba ) who had been purchased in Mecca and brought back to the village to serve her master and his household. Eventually the lowly woman was emancipated, cleansed in a public purification ritual, and given land by her master. Owing to genealogical revision by the former slave's living descendants, this arguably benevolent man is now regarded—at least by members of the three households at issue—as having been merely the adoptive father, rather than the father and former owner, of the Mecca-born apical ancestress. Other villagers, however, if questioned on the matter, tend to emphasize (although in whispers, and with occasional tones of pity) the group's ignoble origins and permanently tainted pedigree. At the same time, some female members of the adjacent and extremely well connected Hill lineage do acknowledge a degree of siblingship with the enates of these Biduanda Dagang households. This recognition of siblingship stems not from common descent, or even from residential proximity, but rather from rights enjoyed by women of both groups over lands once residually vested in, and perhaps partially cleared by, the same nineteenth-century Undang.

The five remaining households of the upriver segment of the Biduanda Dagang clan represent the third separate line of descent in that settlement area. As with the previous example, the women and children of these households constitute both a local lineage and a lineage branch. Similarly, even though they trace their descent from a Biduanda Dagang community who fled wartorn Sungei Ujong in the late nineteenth century, their presence in Bogang, and in this region of the village in particular, also presupposed political largesse on the part of long-deceased gentry leaders, including perhaps the same Undang mentioned above. Their clan affiliation and their relatively recent immigration to the area cause them to be regarded as of decidedly lower birth and social standing than most other villagers. Their peripheral social status, together with that of the other upriver Biduanda Dagang women, is likewise reinforced and reproduced over the


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generations by their practice of marrying either unrelated males of the same clan or itinerant Javanese (see chapter 7). The Javanese men in particular invariably lack descent affiliation, collateral kin, and competence in standard Malay (let alone the local dialect); they also occupy the most marginal positions in the community's social hierarchy.

The second and only other Biduanda Dagang community, the downriver segment of the clan, is residentially more isolated (see map 3), being located in a physically separate and conceptually distinct enclave known as the "banana grove" (tanjung pisang ). For reasons not entirely clear to me, they bury their kin in a graveyard located some distance away from the inhabited and agricultural areas of the village, even though the Bogang community cemetery lies only a few hundred yards from one corner of their compound. This practice bespeaks and simultaneously reinforces both their social and residential segregation from the village mainstream and their historically conditional ties—as Biduanda Dagang—with village land.

It merits remark, however, that the members born in this neighborhood seem less directly targeted, as compared with the remainder of the clan, by gentry concerns to avoid marriage with anyone of the Biduanda Dagang group. One possible explanation for this disparity might lie with the relatively homogeneous pedigree of the "banana grove's" enatic core; specifically, that its members are all related through ties of matriliny and are not held to have descended from either slaves or comparatively recent refugee immigrants. It is also relevant that none of the males who have married into this community in local memory have been of Javanese birth or ancestry.

The Lelahmaharaja clan, for its part, is the best-represented descent unit in the entire village, in terms of both numbers of households and the percentage of Bogang's population that it includes in its membership. The clan comprises three lineages that are viewed as related like sisters. In sharp contrast to the situation in other clans, resident members of the Lelahmaharaja clan are acutely aware of both the lineage to which they belong and the modern constraints and benefits entailed in lineage membership. These facts can be explained in part by the settlement within the village of all local clan officers—that is, the clan subchief and the three lineage leaders. Had these men married women from other communities, as occurred


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with the heads of the Sediaraja clan, they probably would have gone to live in their wives' natal compounds. If so, they would be less able to mobilize supporters and galvanize lineage sentiment. The more decisive issue, though, is the intraclan feud alluded to earlier, which involves all three lineages and amounts to an alliance of two of them, the River and Valley groups, against the wealthy and extremely well connected Hill group.

The Lelahmaharaja clan's River lineage is dispersed in three noncontiguous settlements, all close to the railroad tracks. Each residential area seems associated with a distinct branch of the lineage. Although a generation or two back female elders probably could specify the genealogical ties among all lineage members, those links are no longer known, owing to terminological practices (teknonymy, birth-order names, and an explicit prohibition on using the names of elders in address) that limit the scope of vertical genealogical knowledge. Nevertheless, adult women do acknowledge their common lineage affiliation and the bonds of classificatory sisterhood that link them and mark their distinctiveness vis-à-vis persons and segments of other Lelahmaharaja lineages.

The clan's Valley lineage claims as its ancestral homeland the area currently settled by the members of eight Valley houses. The adult women of an additional three Valley residences located on the other side of the railroad tracks were also born in that area of the village, as was the head of another household in the new hamlet. The dispersal of the Valley lineage in three distinct and distant areas of the village testifies to the purchase by in-marrying males, a generation or two ago, of noncontiguous plots of homestead land; yet it seems not to have caused an appreciable erosion of lineage solidarity or a decline in the conceptual significance of lineage affiliation. Various factors account for this continuity, the most pronounced being the long-standing feud between the luminaries and spouses of the Valley lineage on the one side and those of the Hill lineage on the other. These two sister lineages occupy adjacent ancestral compounds in a spatial arrangement analogous to that usually obtaining between actual sisters and their households. But here, as in many other areas, siblingship is fraught with extreme ambivalence. Especially in this case, status rivalry, big-man politicking, and competition for socially valued resources (such as personal supporters and state lands suitable for rubber trees) all contribute to the dilution—some would say the very denial—of the prescriptive amity of


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sibling relations. What emerges, however, is not a clan with three undifferentiated major lines of descent, but rather one in which these lines (or, more accurately, the members, spouses, and political leaders of two, and to a lesser degree all three) stand in antagonistic opposition to one another. Status competitions and antagonisms of a comparable sort do of course prevail among individuals, particularly women, of single lineages, and among actual brothers as well as sisters (although rarely between cross-sex siblings). But these dissensions do not reverberate so profoundly throughout village society. For that matter, neither cleavages between the "haves" (orang senang ) and "have-nots" (orang susah ) nor between supporters of the two opposed political parties are as pronounced or as public as the well-institutionalized feud between these two sister lineages of Lelahmaharaja.

The absence of any such feud or rivalry in the Sediaraja clan could help to explain why a good number of Sediaraja adults were uncertain about the name of their lineage or contradicted themselves on the matter in the course of formal interviews.[8] In short, even though all but a few of the households associated with this demographically well-represented gentry clan are aggregated in two residential areas, the jural status of the clan's larger settlement, boasting some fifteen households, remains less than clear. It might be that the Sediaraja descent grouping glossed Upland encompasses two lineages rather than a single unit of that order. This would be consistent with otherwise problematic native statements that there are three Sediaraja lineages within the community.

In any event, the overwhelming majority of Sediaraja women were born in Bogang and take great pride in the undisputed conviction that their maternal predecessors "always" lived there and were the "rulers" (raja ) of the village, along with Lelahmaharaja ancestors, for hundreds of years prior to British administration. At this level, issues of origin point, historical precedence, and descent affiliation are unambiguous and are likewise a matter of prestige and public record.

One of the most general themes to be gleaned from the material presented here is that concepts of origin point, siblingship, and descent continue to assume critical importance not only in how individuals and collectivities orient themselves toward their social environment, but also in how they categorize both themselves and various areas in the village. Yet although these generalizations apply throughout the community, they refer


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most specifically to the old hamlet, the settlement pattern of which is highly differentiated in terms of kinship (especially descent) affiliation. It remains to consider how these phenomena are manifested in the new hamlet, where no such differentiation occurs.

The New Hamlet

All but two or three of the twenty-two occupied houses across the dirt road from the old hamlet were built since the 1950s, and the vast majority of houseplots there are also recent acquisitions from the government. Another particularly striking fact about the new hamlet is that most of the adult women who reside there live at considerable distance from their sisters and other close female enates. This often reflects a conscious decision by married women, their spouses, or both, to live apart from the wife's natal compound and thus beyond the usual reach and frequent meddlings of the wife's mother and sisters, collateral kin, and male in-laws. A sizable portion of new-hamlet women hail from outside Bogang, and some were born in Malacca and other neighboring states that have no matriliny or adat perpatih traditions. Insofar as formal adoption into a clan has occurred very rarely for the past few decades, a relatively high percentage of the adult females in the new hamlet lack both clan affiliation and locally resident collateral consanguines.

These comments should not suggest that the inhabitants of the new hamlet are emotionally, socially, or economically disadvantaged because they live among neighbors with whom they have no genealogical ties. True, other "more established" villagers of the old hamlet might regard them as such, or at least as generally distinctive in this regard. But it is important to recall that proximate residence, casual neighborly exchanges of food and labor, and a system of reference and address bolstered by a kinship and religious ideology that stresses ties of siblingship over those of descent, all serve to convert nonkin into kin and to minimize social distance on the whole. In brief, there are no grounds for assuming that new-hamlet women encounter any difficulty in mobilizing the requisite labor resources or contributions of food for funerary or engagement and marriage feasts. More generally, and as elsewhere in Bogang, where neighbors tend to be close enates, many new-hamlet women behave toward one another—at least on the surface—as members of a single lineage.


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Lacking, however, is the sense of closure, corporateness, and shared pedigree implied by common lineage membership. Probably, too, women of the new hamlet do not think and feel about one another as do lineage sisters, let alone women who have the same mother or maternal grandmother. Although villagers would state the matter in terms of flesh (or milk) rather than blood, they do subscribe to a version of the Western view that blood is thicker than water. Terminological and behavioral conventions aside, in other words, villagers clearly recognize the distinction between kin and nonkin and behave accordingly. To do otherwise—that is, to collapse the distinction altogether—would be a grave offense to relatives, particularly close kin; it should be remembered that many of these women do have sisters and other enatic kin elsewhere in Bogang or in neighboring communities.

My contention that kinship cuts both ways is also directly relevant to the new hamlet, for the possibly less-encompassing, affectively weaker, and more conditional sort of amity characteristic of relations among new-hamlet women may well coincide with a less pronounced degree of ambivalence than that found among sisters and other closely related female enates. Whatever else these women have in common, such as disparate origins, or commonly lack, such as sawah, they generally do not share rights to property either with their immediate neighbors or with other members of the new hamlet. Nor are many of them destined to be bound together in future co-heirship, for most homestead plots and agricultural holdings claimed by new-hamlet inhabitants are held by unrelated individuals or married couples on the basis of full title over which neighbors and other villagers have no jural interest or control. Consequently, a major source and symbol of petty disputes and ongoing feuds elsewhere in Bogang—namely, joint claims to provisional or residual rights over land—is largely absent from the new hamlet.

Also noticeably inconspicuous in the new hamlet, or at least comparatively insignificant, are social commonality and differentiation based on descent or other kinship constructs. To the extent that this area of the village stands as a separate social community, one can say that kinship is relatively unimportant to its internal organization.

New-hamlet adoptions, for instance, do not replicate conceptual cleavages of the type associated with adoptions in the old hamlet. Although the distribution of genealogical ties between natural and adoptive mothers is


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essentially the same as in the old hamlet, adoption does not bound and solidify female sibling sets, or other groups of women, that are residentially aggregated. Rather, since new-hamlet sibling sets tend to be dispersed over wide areas, adoption reinforces bonds between sisters and other close female enates who live far apart. New-hamlet adoptions thus differ from their old-hamlet counterparts in that they enhance the genealogical distinctiveness and autonomy of residentially proximate women. More generally, new-hamlet adoptions decrease the likelihood that the new hamlet will become internally differentiated through membership in one or another kinlike social category.

Affiliation with one of the major national-level political parties may, of course, serve some of the classificatory purposes associated with kinship elsewhere in the village. Since issues of kinship and politics are discussed elsewhere (chapter 9), I would only emphasize here that many new-hamlet residents are philosophically, if not actively, allied with the opposition party. This alliance unites many new-hamlet adults into a loose, but nonexclusive, interest group. It also sets them in sharp opposition—in ways that kinship, for instance, cannot—both to new-hamlet supporters of the dominant party (UMNO) and to Bogang's political elite, who stand behind UMNO, reside in the old hamlet, and are linked through descent or marriage with the extremely wealthy Hill lineage. The conceptual organization of a community or village neighborhood along modern political lines, however, is no substitute for social organization based on kinship. For one thing, political loyalties and alliances tend to be mercurial, and mere association with a political party does not necessarily gain one very much. Additionally, the entire domain of politics is widely held to be anathema and polluting, for it brings out the worst in people, including strife and intense hatred even among siblings. Even so, what is perhaps most striking about the new hamlet is not that political affiliation and proximate residence provide planes for sociability and cleavage, but merely that they constitute the dominant considerations in these areas, since kinship cannot.

Depending in part on the acreage of existing houseplots and the availability of suitable residential land elsewhere in the new hamlet, many of these residential compounds could conceivably become the loci of more densely populated settlements, each associated with a separate line of descent. A similar developmental course might be envisioned for all of the residential and clustering patterns discussed thus far. In actuality, however,


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traditional developmental cycles of the sort outlined in chapter 2 have become increasingly uncommon owing to intravillage dispersal and, more importantly, to accelerated rates of out-migration for both males and females. Moreover, no emergent descent line or lineage branch in the entire village will ever become a jurally distinct lineage or clan, for the adat political hierarchy no longer has the institutional means to confer altered political status on descent units, the total number of which is permanently frozen in adat texts. Thus, even though traditional cycles of domestic group development are variously expressed in both of Bogang's hamlets, they are destined to be far less dominant in village social topography in the future.

Another difference between Bogang's two hamlets lies in the immediate social fields of in-marrying males. Married men residing in the new hamlet need not contend with affinal kin on a day-to-day basis, and they enjoy a measure of personal and domestic autonomy typically unknown to their old-hamlet counterparts. But as affinal relatedness also cuts both ways, neither can new-hamlet males necessarily look to men in adjacent households when seeking support for a particular cause, political campaign, or faction. Men in the old hamlet, in contrast, can turn for such purposes to residentially proximate males, that is, to their "brothers" through in-marriage (biras ) (see chapter 7).

The major analytic distinction to be gleaned from a comparison of the two hamlets, then, is in terms of structural variation of the sort noted above, together with a prevalence of attenuated enatic kinship and concentrated title rather than provisional proprietorship. The two hamlets' socio-economic contrasts, for example, are far less pronounced than is the case with certain descent compounds in the old hamlet. This in turn works against an identification between hamlet residence and economic standing, even though it also situates the disproportionately wealthy and politically well-connected households of the Hill lineage compound in conceptual opposition to virtually all other social and residential groups in the entire village.

One final point to bear in mind is that the new hamlet includes just over one-fifth of all Bogang's households. This is to say that the majority of the village population still resides in lineage compounds, or structurally comparable household clusters, whose internal dynamics and tensions continue to be informed by the long-enshrined imperatives of siblingship, descent, and other modalities of kinship. The social significance and cultural


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meanings of contemporary kinship, and descent affiliation in particular, do of course vary from one area of the old hamlet to the next, but underlying uniformities are also evident, many of which are realized in the institutions of feasting and adoption. These institutions continue to highlight the structural centrality of bonds among sisters and other close female enates, and simultaneously counter the social consequences of the historically diminished importance of cooperative production and shared rights in rice land.


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7—
Marriage and Affinal Bonds

This chapter focuses on contemporary marriage and affinal relatedness, including the implications of upward shifts in age at first marriage, declines in the incidence of unions between persons categorized as kin, and the marked falling off of all variants of local endogamy. I also briefly assess present-day affinal exchange and marriage celebration, declining divorce rates in Negeri Sembilan, and the distribution of divorce in contemporary Bogang.

Rates and Choices in Marriage

Bogang's resident population of 476 individuals consists of 206 persons in the "ever married" category and 270 who have yet to marry, 90 percent of whom are age nineteen and under. Virtually all the individuals in the latter group will marry when they attain the appropriate age, the few exceptions being persons considered of unsound body or mind and women whose mothers consistently demand exorbitant marital payments from potential suitors. In short, as throughout history, marriage leading to parenthood


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and adult status is expected of all villagers. Likewise, everyone who has yet to marry assumes that they, too, will sooner or later be matched with, or choose, a spouse and have offspring of their own.

Marriage is viewed as socially desirable and necessary, economically advantageous, and both enjoined and sanctified by Allah and the traditions of ancestors. The institution of marriage thus retains its most basic historical features as well as its central stature in local society and culture. Similarly, childless marriages of more than a few years' duration are still essentially unheard of, since the mechanism and overall ease of informal adoption effectively counters the social consequences of sterility, infertility, and infant mortality. Childbirth in the absence of legitimizing marriage, however, does not exist. Extramarital sexual activity, a heinous, broadly tainting offense, is rare by Western standards. Marriage, then, is still, as in the past, both the expected and eminently "natural" norm and the only path to adulthood—although it should not be equated with adulthood itself, which, to emphasize a point made earlier, derives only from culturally sanctioned parenthood.

The universal expectation of marriage is succinctly expressed in formalized verbal interchange concerning relatively young villagers about whom one lacks precise social information. Here, inquiries concerning a person's marital status typically precede all other questions bearing on his or her general social standing. In attempting to discern the marital status and broader age-grade membership of adolescents and their immediate seniors, moreover, Malays do not ask, "Are you married?" but instead, "Are you already married?" In the case of someone who has yet to wed, the response is never a simple "no"; the only acceptable answer is "not yet," which expresses intent as well as unequivocal acceptance of the norm. The same "not yet," it may be noted, is the only appropriate rejoinder to questions pertaining to whether a young couple has children—which is invariably the first question put to strangers or distant relatives whose married state has just been confirmed. Concerns with affinal connectedness notwithstanding, the institution of marriage is commonly viewed in light of its reproductive functions and contributions to social continuity.

Various other attitudes toward marriage have changed over time, however, one being that girls need not be married off by age fourteen or fifteen, as occurred up until the 1930s, but should instead reach age twenty or twenty-one before they wed. Table 15 reveals a progressive rise in fe-


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Table 15. Mean Age at First Marriage, by Decade of Marriage, for Persons
Born in Bogang

 

Pre-1930

  1930–
1939

  1940–
1949

  1950–
1959

  1960–
1969

  1970–
1979

  1970–
1979
relative
to
pre-1930

Females

15.1

16.6

16.9

17.3

19.1

21.1

+6.0

Males

22.4

23.4

22.4

22.5

24.3

25.0

+2.6

Age of male
relative to
femalea

+7.3

+6.8

+5.5

+5.2

+5.2

+3.9

-3.4

NOTE : Based on data pertaining to persons born in Bogang who today reside either in the village or elsewhere.

a Refers solely to mean age differentials between men and women at first marriage. Mean age differences between husbands and wives per se are somewhat higher, since roughly 18.9 percent (17 of 90) of the women for whom I have information were married to divorcés, widowers, or men with one or more current wives. (The corresponding figure for men is 6.1 percent [4 of 65].)

male age at first marriage, and a current norm of 21.1 years.[1] Such trends prevail in part owing to contemporary convictions that early female marriage was a convenience of former and culturally backward times, and that girls today should complete their formal education and acquire some work experience, preferably of a nonagricultural sort, before taking husbands. Since the age at which young men marry has remained far more constant over time, the age differential between bride and groom at first marriage has markedly declined.

Without question, the delayed onset of initial marriage has occasioned new problems for parents and enatic guardians, who must now contend with an additional five to seven years of female adolescence and sexuality. These problems are compounded by the increasing legitimacy of Western notions of "romantic love," which, as we will see, have altered traditional male-female relations, and at the expense of conventional criteria underlying spouse choice in particular.

Table 16 reveals that approximately two-thirds of individuals in the "ever married" sample have had but one spouse. Roughly one-quarter have been married twice. Most of the individuals in the four-plus category are men with a history of serial monogamy, as opposed to polygyny, one


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Table 16. Frequency of Marriage for Current Residents of Bogang

 

Individuals
Married
Once

 

Individuals
Married
Twice

 

Individuals
Married
Three Times

 

Individuals
Married Four
or More Times

   
 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Total
Number of
Marriages

Mean

Females
(N = 127)

86

67.7

 

30

23.6

 

8

6.3

 

3

2.4

184

1.45

Males
(N = 88)

58

65.9

 

22

25.0

 

4

4.5

 

4

4.5

137

1.56

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by row.


235

of whom acknowledged having had more than ten wives and as many divorces. The practice of polygyny contributes to the incidence of multiple marriages among men, but it is fairly uncommon and typically limited to two wives at any given time. (Less than 8 percent of Bogang women and 11 percent of the men in the sample have ever been partners to polygynous arrangements; each instance involved a man with two spouses.)

Throughout Bogang the general attitude is that neither divorce nor widowhood should preclude remarriage, and that in most cases the formerly wed are better off to seek out a new marital partner than to remain single. Society as a whole is also held to derive clear benefit, in the sense of being better protected, if sexually active adults are able to satisfy their physical needs in the context of legitimate unions. As a consequence, divorced and widowed women under forty-five years of age encounter strong pressures to find or accept new husbands lest they disrupt other conjugal relationships or cause community scandal. Such concerns appear far less pronounced with respect to older women owing to the local assumption that sexuality greatly declines among females after age fifty. Divorced or widowed males, in contrast, need no such encouragement, insofar as men are always eager to remarry, even if they find themselves suddenly widowed or divorced at the age of sixty or sixty-five. Indeed, table 17 reveals that less than 4 percent (3 of 88) of Bogang's "ever married" men are currently widowed or divorced, as opposed to a full 27.5 percent (35 of 127) of the women. Expressed differently, Bogang's community of formerly married adults is only 7.9 percent (3 of 38) male and 92.1 percent (35 of 38) female.

In sum, remarriage occurs frequently, especially for men, virtually all of whom are married at the time of their deaths. Various factors account for this situation, including social pressures as well as wholly pragmatic considerations concerning the advantages of economic cooperation and the sexual division of labor and resource allocation, most notably houses and land. The occurrence of multiple marriage, however, must also be examined in light of the prevalence of divorce. Polygyny aside, second and subsequent marriages occur only as a result of terminated unions, the over-whelming majority of which follow from divorce rather than death (see table 18). The broader issue here is that differential marriage rates within the village, and among persons of the same sex in particular, are best approached by focusing on the causes, distribution, and implications of


236
 

Table 17. Current Marital Status of Bogang Residents, by Age Cohort

 

Never
Married

 

Currently
Married

 

Widowed

 

Divorced

 

Formerly
Marrieda

 

Total

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Females

70+

    —

 

  5

  27.8

 

  7

38.9

 

  4

22.2

 

2

11.1

 

  18

100.0

60–69

    —

 

12

  54.6

 

  9

40.9

 

  —

  —

 

1

  4.5

 

  22

100.0

50–59

    —

 

23

  79.3

 

  3

10.3

 

  2

  6.9

 

1

  3.5

 

  29

100.0

40–49

    —

 

19

  86.4

 

  1

  4.5

 

  2

  9.1

 

  —

 

  22

100.0

30–39

    2

    8.0

 

20

  80.0

 

  1

  4.0

 

  2

  8.0

 

  —

 

  25

100.0

20–29

    6

  33.3

 

12

  66.7

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

  18

100.0

0–19

112

  99.1

 

  1

    0.9

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

113

100.0

Totals

120

   

92

   

21

   

10

   

4

   

247

100.0

Males

70+

    —

     —

 

13

  86.6

 

  1

  6.7

 

  1

  6.7

 

  —

 

  15

100.0

60–69

    —

     —

 

25

100.0

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

  25

100.0

50–59

    —

     —

 

18

100.0

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

  18

100.0

40–49

    1

    5.0

 

18

  90.0

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

1

  5.0

 

  20

100.0

30–39

    1

  12.5

 

  7

  87.5

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

    8

100.0

20–29

  17

  81.0

 

  4

  19.0

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

  21

100.0

0–19

131

100.0

 

     —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

  —

 

  —

 

131

100.0

Totals

150

   

85

   

  1

   

  1

   

1

   

238

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by row.

a Incomplete data pertaining to dissolution of marriage.


237
 

Table 18. Status of Marriages for Current Residents of Bogang

 

Ongoing

 

Terminated
by Divorce

 

Terminated
by Death

   
 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Total Number of Marriages

Divorce as % of Terminated Marriages

Females
(N = 127)

92

52.0

 

56

31.6

 

29

16.4

177a

65.9

Males
(N = 88)

85

65.4

 

33

25.4

 

12

  9.2

130a

73.3

a Excludes incomplete data on the termination of seven marriages.


238

divorce. These topics will be addressed below, after we examine recent trends in spouse choice and marital exchange.

Before the turn of the century, the ideal groom-to-be was minimally an industrious man with a demonstrated competence in agricultural and trading activities, as well as Koranic recitation, adat lore, various elocutionary skills, and one or another domain of ritual knowledge (ilmu ). He was also at least a few years older than his bride-to-be, of generally comparable status and untainted pedigree, wholly free of physical disabilities, and a previously unwed bachelor, rather than a divorcé, a widower, or a man with one or more current wives. Further, he stood as a nonenatic relative, preferably a close cross-cousin such as a MBS or FZS. In any event, he should have been a man born in the village or elsewhere in the district of Rembau who was held to be of the "Malay race" and not simply a Muslim (or a Malay) by virtue of conversion, cultural assimilation, or both. Corresponding qualities were sought in brides-to-be, one principal difference being that a girl's prior marital status and virginity were of greater social concern than her potential husband's. A girl's competence in cooking, washing, sewing, and agricultural labor also counted for much more than her mastery of Koranic verse and verbal skills, since the latter, although not wholly confined to men, fell squarely within the male and public domain.

Traditional marriages were arranged, with senior kin, especially female enates, playing the principal role in spouse selection. The custom of arranged marriage coincided with a strongly sanctioned sexual segregation, such that most brides and grooms never really interacted prior to their weddings. Romantic love, as conceptualized in the West, was a nonissue. To the extent that positive enduring sentiments akin to those characteristic of Western marriage did exist, they developed long after the formation of marriage ties.

The practice of arranged marriage served to reproduce the social control enjoyed by elders, who conveyed their own standards and wishes through spouse selection (and other areas of marital management) and could in fact gain considerable prestige and utilitarian benefit from an ideal union. As discussed in chapter 2 and below, numerous advantages derived from solidifying relations and generating exchange networks with nonenatic kin residing in Bogang or elsewhere in Rembau, particularly if the eligible marriage partners met the other qualifications outlined above.

In Negeri Sembilan, we would expect declines in the incidence of ar-


239

ranged marriage—in conjunction with changes in the criteria for spouse selection—to transform or disrupt conventional exchange and social relations, and to engender new lines of alliance and cleavage. This process is quite clear in twentieth-century Bogang, for, along with the proliferation of "free marriages," there has been a progressive devaluation of kin connectedness and genealogical and territorial origins, as well as a trend toward purely economic and prestige criteria dominating most other issues concerned with the suitability of potential spouses. Table 19 provides a chronologically graded breakdown of marital choice in terms of husband and wife's kinship relationship prior to marriage. Viewed from the perspective of women, and contrasting the pre-1960 era with 1970–1979, one can see critical reductions in the incidence of FZS and other patrilateral unions, as well as those involving MBS and other matrilateral kin. (It should be noted, though, that marriages with FZS and MBS were rather uncommon even before 1960, accounting for less than 12 percent [14 of 118] of all pre-1960 marriages for which I have data.)[2] In addition, a far more encompassing historical process is now evident, whereby all categories of kin are increasingly passed over in favor of persons without any prior ties of kinship. More than three-quarters of all marriages in the 1970–1979 period, for instance, involved wholly unrelated individuals. For women, this upward shift represents a 25 percent change over the pre-1960 period, and for men, even larger.

Since village matchmakers and spouses-to-be nowadays commonly turn to unrelated individuals for marriage partners, we must ask where all of these "strangers" or "other people," as they are known, are coming from. If the spouses of Bogang's inhabitants hail from Bogang itself, or primarily from the (relatively) culturally homogeneous district of Rembau, one could expect some continuity in the maintenance and spatial disposition of traditional affinal networks. But this is not the case. As can be seen from table 20, the trend toward unions with strangers has coincided with a marked decline in all varieties of territorial endogamy. A comparison of the pre-1960 era with 1970–1979 reveals a 43 percent decline in intravillage marriage, and decreases of 38 percent and 22 percent for endogamy at the levels of district and state, respectively. Particularly striking is the attendant rise in the rate of marriage with persons not from Negeri Sembilan—198 percent from before 1960 to 1979.

Marriage with individuals of other states can only accentuate the social


240
 

Table 19. Marital Choice of Persons Born in Bogang, by Period of Marriage

     
 

Pre-1960

 

1960–1969

 

1970–1979

 

Total

 
 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

Pre-1960 Relative
to 1970–1979 (in %)

Females

Patrilateral kin

                       

FZSa

    7

    5.9

 

  1

    2.5

 

  1

    2.5

 

    9

    4.6

-57.6

Other patrilaterals

  11

    9.3

 

  3

    7.7

 

  2

    5.0

 

  16

    8.1

-46.2

Matrilateral kin

MBSb

    7

    5.9

 

    —

 

  1

    2.5

 

    8

    4.1

-57.6

Other matrilaterals

  10

    8.5

 

  2

    5.2

 

  3

    7.5

 

  15

    7.6

-11.8

Unspecified kin

  10

    8.5

 

  3

    7.7

 

  2

    5.0

 

  15

    7.6

-41.2

Unrelated

  73

  61.9

 

30

  76.9

 

31

  77.5

 

134

  68.0

+25.2

Total

118

100.0

 

39

100.0

 

40

100.0

 

197

100.0

 

Males

Patrilateral kin

                       

FZDc

    5

    6.6

 

    —

 

  1

    2.0

 

    6

    3.8

-69.7

Other patrilaterals

    7

    9.2

 

  1

    2.9

 

  1

    2.0

 

    9

    5.7

-78.3

Matrilateral kin

                       

MBDd

    5

    6.6

 

  1

    2.9

 

  1

    2.0

 

    7

    4.4

-69.7

Other matrilaterals

    6

    7.9

 

  3

    8.8

 

  2

    4.1

 

  11

    6.9

-48.1

Unspecified kin

    4

    5.2

 

  2

    5.9

 

  3

    6.1

 

    9

    5.6

+17.3

Unrelated

  49

  64.5

 

27

  79.5

 

41

  83.8

 

117

  73.6

+29.9

Total

  76

100.0

 

34

100.0

 

49

100.0

 

159

100.0

 

NOTE : Based on data pertaining to persons born in Bogang who today reside either in the village or elsewhere.

a FZS includes FZS, FZstepS, FMZDDS, FMZDS.

b MBS includes MBS, MMBDS, MMBS.

c FZD includes FZD, FZstepD, FMZDDD, FMZDD.

d MBD includes MBD, MMBDD, MMBD.


241
 

Table 20. Residential Origins of Spouses of Persons Born in Bogang, by Period of Marriage

 

Pre-1960

 

1960–1969

 

1970–1979

 

Total

 

Origin of
Spouse

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

 

Number

%

1970–1979 Relative to Pre-1960 (in %)

Bogang Village

Husbands

  25

  25.0

 

  8

  21.6

 

  7

  20.0

 

  40

  23.3

       -20.0

Wives

  12

  63.2

 

  5

  23.8

 

  6

  15.8

 

  23

  29.5

       -75.0

Total

  37

  31.1

 

13

  22.4

 

13

  17.8

 

  63

  25.2

       -42.8

Rembau District (includes Bogang)

Husbands

  86

  86.0

 

32

  86.5

 

20

  57.1

 

138

  80.2

       -33.6

Wives

  17

  89.5

 

13

  57.1

 

19

  50.0

 

  49

  61.5

       -44.1

Total

103

  86.6

 

45

  77.6

 

39

  53.4

 

187

  74.8

       -38.3

Negeri Sembilan State (includes Rembau)

Husbands

  90

  90.0

 

33

  89.2

 

25

  71.4

 

148

  86.0

       -20.7

Wives

  17

  89.5

 

15

  71.4

 

26

  68.4

 

  58

  74.4

       -23.6

Total

107

  89.9

 

48

  82.8

 

51

  69.9

 

206

  82.4

       -22.2

Outside Negeri Sembilan

Husbands

  10

  10.0

 

  4

  10.8

 

10

  28.6

 

  24

  14.0

    +186.0

Wives

    2

  10.5

 

  6

  28.6

 

12

  31.6

 

  20

  25.6

    +201.0

Total

  12

  10.1

 

10

  17.2

 

22

  30.1

 

  44

  17.6

    +198.0

Grand total for period

Husbands

100

100.0

 

37

100.0

 

35

100.0

 

172

100.0

 

Wives

  19

100.0

 

21

100.0

 

38

100.0

 

  78

100.0

 

Total

119

100.0

 

58

100.0

 

73

100.0

 

250

100.0

 

NOTE : Based on data pertaining to persons born in Bogang who today reside either in the village or outside.


242

isolation discussed in the preceding chapter. For one thing, affinal exchange and other interactions among in-laws grow more cumbersome and expensive as the distance separating the kin of husband and wife increases. In addition, and especially nowadays, a man from outside Negeri Sembilan is unlikely to hold the institutions of adat perpatih in high regard. If such a man takes a Negeri Sembilan woman as his wife—and many are notoriously reluctant to do so—he will be less than enthusiastic to settle in his wife's natal compound and live among her kin. Of major concern here are perceptions of excessively restrictive property conventions, which continue to receive bad press throughout the Peninsula, not only as remnants of backward times, but also as being out of keeping with Islamic orthodoxy and unfair to male progeny. Also relevant are widespread views that Negeri Sembilan women have long been the inheritors and merciless practitioners of sorcery and various forms of "love magic," against which men have less than a fighting chance should they appear to lose interest in or otherwise cross their wives. As a result, men from outside Negeri Sembilan commonly avoid marriage with local women, or else they settle at a comfortable distance from affinal kin if they do decide in favor of a Negeri Sembilan woman.

To further complicate the situation, a growing number of males born and wed in Negeri Sembilan share many of these same sentiments. This is readily apparent from the settlement pattern and kinship composition of Bogang's new hamlet, where numerous adult men live who managed to break from, and not simply postpone, uxorilocal residence. In one sense, however, such cases are but the tip of the iceberg, the remainder of which appears in the absence from the village of large numbers of former residents between the ages of twenty and forty. Needless to say, all of this makes for extremely dispersed lineage membership and social isolation.

Men from other states do of course marry Negeri Sembilan women and proceed to settle in their wives' natal compounds. Although the aggregation of lineage membership need not be compromised in such cases, many of these individuals are in a sense cultural liabilities, for they typically know next to nothing of the extensive lore, or the symbols and meanings, of adat perpatih. They are thus wholly unable to contribute to the reproduction of that encompassing domain of cultural knowledge—tied in with etiquette, ritual exchange, local spirits, indeed all of social life—that, through benign


243

neglect coupled with Islamic and other homogenizing and essentially modernizing forces, is presently languishing on the verge of extinction.

Cultural reproduction notwithstanding, the avoidance of all kin as potential spouses has pronounced implications for local social relations. This passing over of everyone with whom one has a history of collective residential or associational ties has fostered the demise of a basic mechanism of cohesion and alliance, for present-day marriages and affinal transactions tend not to join non-enatic kin from Bogang itself or from other villages within Rembau. Instead, they typically link one particular household and lineage branch with persons and groups of extralocal birth who reside far from the village. This externalizing process is consistent with twentieth-century shifts in property and productive relations and is in fact a direct consequence of basic economic transformations, including the monetization of most productive transactions and relationships, processes of economic concentration and stratification, and stepped-up out-migration by both males and females. Hence, spouses are increasingly sought from among urban co-workers, salaried government employees, and others of comparable social standing who show some economic promise. To paraphrase one man's assessment of these trends, "a potential spouse's status [pangkat ] counts for everything nowadays, whereas questions of ancestry and descent [keturunan ] amount to nothing."

The progressive dissociation and ever-widening gap between status and ancestry has undermined institutions of affinal exchange and interdependence both within the village and among communities that share an essentially uniform culture. Moreover, as concerns with prestige and status-group endogamy take precedence over all the other potential benefits and disadvantages of legitimate unions, marriage serves increasingly to stratify the village economically and to erode the basic cultural homogeneity deriving from residents' common ancestry and shared experience. All such trends have seriously alienated the middle-aged and elderly, who rightfully conclude that community youth reject many of their fundamental values and notions of propriety. Additionally, some older residents feel deeply betrayed by the newly wed and their parents—especially the wealthiest among them—since marriage with outsiders can convey the message that eligible youth of local birth are somehow "not good enough" for these individuals. As with incestuous unions, as well as specifically political be-


244

trayal and treason, the cardinal issue here is loyalty to collective norms, or, more precisely, what is perceived to be overt disloyalty motivated by narrow self-interest (cf. Schneider 1976, 167).

Thus far the discussion of marital choice has centered on historical changes in the conceptualization of preferred and ideal spouses, and in the frequency of marriage with genealogically defined conjugal partners. These issues pertain to one side of the marriage coin and have no direct bearing on the current status of traditional prohibitions relating to marriage or sexual behavior on the whole. Indeed, there is little evidence to suggest a marked conceptual relaxation—let alone actual transgressions—of traditional injunctions associated with marriage or sexual behavior.[3] That is to say, the kinship-based regulation of marriage and sexual activity has not broken down but is instead undergoing certain highly specific changes.

Historical continuity in the conceptualization of incestuous unions and cross-sexual impropriety appears most strikingly in attitudes and interactions involving brothers and sisters of the same parent(s). A culturally enjoined avoidance continues to characterize brother-sister relationships throughout virtually all stages of their lives. With the onset of puberty, for example, failure to distance oneself from a sibling of the opposite sex leads to intense feelings of embarrassment and shame (malu ). Cross-sex agemates of the same lineage branch and lineage exhibit many of these basic qualities of tension and avoidance. So, too, though to a lesser extent, do "weekend villagers," most of whom are unmarried or recently wed young people who work and live in urban areas and return home on weekends. With "weekend villagers," however, something akin to joking relationships occasionally develops, in that these individuals may engage in suggestive verbal banter and repartees of a sort altogether absent from other cross-sex interactions. Unmarried males in their late teens and early twenties are permitted greater leeway in this area than their female counterparts, but they, too, are likely to be chastised for being cheeky and "itchy" (gatal ) if they act overly familiar with females of their generation.

In the end, males still are responsible for safeguarding the interests and sexuality of same-generation females within the lineage, and lineage branch especially, and are therefore strongly discouraged from any actions that might jeopardize these women's moral standing in the eyes of the community at large. Such responsibilities have grown progressively burdensome in recent decades, the more so because females are now at least twenty


245

years of age when they first marry, not fourteen or fifteen. This fact alone can lead to seriously strained relations between young men and their lineage sisters, since young women today enjoy much greater freedom of movement than they used to and believe that they should select their own marital partners, not accept spouses of others' choosing.

Affinal Exchange and the Celebration of Marriage

Present-day marital transactions include one major addition to customary cycles of affinal prestation. This involves mostly gifts of food and apparel, or pemberian ("gifts," "presents"), along with cash payments, or hantaran ("things that are brought, delivered, or sent"), all of which pass from the groom's to the bride's side at about the same time as the handing over of marriage gold (mas kawin ).

The pemberian consists partly of elaborately decorated cakes and other beautifully garnished food dishes destined for postwedding consumption; it may also include makeup, a handbag, shoes, and the like, which are put away for the bride's later use. The hantaran is a negotiated sum corresponding generally to the status of the bride's immediate kin and the groom's presumed earning ability, even though it also varies in accordance with the circumstances of the wedding. Thus it can exceed M$1,500, but it may amount to a nominal, embarrassingly small fee, as in the case of "shotgun weddings." This money, which originates in the groom's natal household, is narrowly conceived as a gift to the bride. Yet since it is commonly used by the bride's parents to help defray wedding expenses, effective rights of disposal lie with them rather than with the bride herself. In this sense it constitutes a structural analogue to the bride's mother's share of the adat money (wang adat ), which it has basically superseded both in monetary and prestige value.[4] In historical terms, this sum of money can also be seen as partial compensation to the bride's mother, who nowadays neither gains a residentially proximate son-in-law on her daughter's marriage nor retains full rights over her married daughter, since most newlywed couples settle in Kuala Lumpur or other urban areas, not in the woman's natal compound.

The temporal dimension of present-day marital exchange also differs from that of the preindependence era. For one thing, three-day weddings, known locally as bergolek , have effectively been abandoned in favor of ritu-


246

ally streamlined and less expensive ceremonies lasting only one day. The elaborate weddings of earlier decades included displays of the Undang's sacred regalia, which were blessed and sanctified by shamanic pawang and then carried about in circumambulatory processions harking back to pre-Islamic (Hindu) times. In contrast, contemporary weddings not only dispense with these features but also require that most marital transactions be conducted within twenty-four hours. These shifts are seen as having numerous advantages, both in reducing the sponsors' wedding costs and in greatly simplifying the logistical problems of nonresident kin. Yet a clear trade-off exists, for certain exchanges and wedding rituals must be performed in a rather hurried, haphazard fashion—or left out entirely—lest the most basic transactions and events (or what are currently defined as such) not be concluded within the allotted time frame.

This inattentiveness to the adat of marriage and affinal exchange is a source of great concern to middle-aged and elderly villagers. The problem is not merely that local youth know next to nothing of adat, although this is patently true. Rather—and in some ways far worse—too few adults seem to care about the proper orchestration of adat rituals or whether the cultural knowledge underlying these rituals will endure. Even those who do show a sincere commitment in such matters often do not know the proper meanings and order of the ritual sequences in question. Further aggravating this situation is the fact that the highest-ranked clan officer in all of Bogang (the clan subchief of the prestigious Lelahmaharaja clan, who belongs to the Hill lineage) has himself transgressed a basic tenet of adat and is thus barred from overseeing the engagement and marriage rituals for most persons in his clan. As will be discussed in chapter 9, the circumstances surrounding this transgression have precipitated the villagewide schism known as the adat crisis (krisis adat ). Owing to the lines of cleavage and alliance engendered by this profound moral dilemma, marital exchange, together with the institutions of feasting and prayer, has become highly politicized.

The other major temporal shift in marital prestation derives from the same economic considerations responsible for weddings being compressed into a single day. Interestingly, this second trend moves in the opposite direction, insofar as the creation and full sanctioning of conjugal bonds occur over a period of months, even a year or more, rather than three or four days. I refer to the increasing prevalence of conditional or deferred unions, known as nikah gantung , or "hanging marriages." In these in-


247

stances the specifically Islamic dimensions of marriage ritual, the akad nikah, assume preeminence, and are performed much as in a standard wedding. As a result, the marriage is wholly acceptable in the eyes of Allah and Islamic religious law. The critical difference is that the hantaran is not presented to the bride's relatives or spokesmen until well after the union is religiously solemnized. Instead, the two groups of kin involved agree to postpone its payment; they then reconvene over a series of ritual feasts (known as bersatu , "to make one") to effect all outstanding transactions and thereby fully legitimize the marriage. During the intervening period, which may range from a few months to a year or more, the couple joined in conditional wedlock must refrain from all physical contact, not to mention sexual activity and cohabitation. Any breach of these injunctions results in severe censure, for, however acceptable and final the marriage is from a strictly Islamic perspective, so far as the community at large is concerned the couple do not yet enjoy the full status of husband and wife.

One advantage of these unions is that an eligible bachelor who can raise some but not all of the capital required for marriage payments and feasting expenses can still publicize his desire to wed a particular girl and simultaneously establish provisional but nonetheless exclusive conjugal rights over her. A deferred marriage may be of even greater benefit to the girl's relatives, who can thereby disperse marriage costs, the brunt of which they shoulder, over a period of months. Issues of conjugal maintenance are also relevant, since the man is expected to support his wife even though she resides in separate quarters (typically with her own parents). In the case of a husband who serves in the army or police or has salaried civil-service employment, this financial assistance may be an appreciable and much-welcomed addition to the wife's household coffers (Lewis 1962, 180), especially because her parents will have major expenses when they sponsor the rituals and feasting that finalize the marriage.

Another incentive for deferred unions is to minimize the shame and embarrassment of cross-sex impropriety. If an unmarried youth is known or presumed to have been overly intimate with someone of the opposite sex, one possible solution is to plan immediately for a deferred marriage. Such an alternative exists only if sexual activity is assumed not to have occurred; if, however, this assumption is not widely held, the only acceptable recourse is a "shotgun wedding," or bidan terjun —a term that calls to mind the unexpected, and hence hurried, calling of a midwife, as happens when a pregnant woman experiences labor contractions sooner than anticipated.


248

Before turning to some other hallmarks of contemporary marital prestations and weddings, I should stress that affinal exchanges and marriage feasts provide the principal occasions for the households of bride and groom to publicize and render concrete their most zealously treasured claims to status and prestige. Stated differently, a household stands to gain (or lose) considerable esteem by dint of the weddings it sponsors for its children. Aside from the issue of cash outlays, the ritually demonstrated commitment to things modern (and Western) bears heavily on one's prestige standing in the eyes of the community. Expressions of such cultural affinities may be advanced in myriad ways, such as in the attire of bride and groom, the display of marital payments, and the music accompanying the wedding; indeed, rivalries among wedding sponsors can become extremely intense, with one-upmanship knowing no bounds in terms of extravagance and creativity. Further, since all but shotgun weddings are usually broadly advertised up to a year in advance, and are discussed for months or even years afterward, these competitions are of extensive duration and are forever being revived by pointed references to the quantities of food and cash consumed in the course of marriage festivities.

But while everyone eagerly recalls the most lavish and joyous weddings, most people prefer to forget those hastily arranged unions effected for the purpose of containing community scandal. Such marriages, which cluster among low-income households, bring enduring shame and embarrassment to the parents and lineages of the two individuals concerned. Most relevant in the present context, all such weddings deprive parents of the opportunity both to display their household wealth and urbanity and to substantiate their claims to impressive social networks (as would, under normal circumstances, be revealed by the volume of guests and the number of local notables among them). When a forced marriage involves a couple's only child, a once-in-a-lifetime chance is effectively lost. The personal and social honor at issue in such a loss accounts for the morose atmosphere permeating shotgun weddings, for everyone can appreciate what is at stake. More generally, a proper wedding, let alone one that bespeaks a certain amount of prestige, requires months, even years, of capital accumulation and planning. Thus, both on logical and empirical grounds, the wealthy are ideally situated to retain or upgrade their positions of esteem through the weddings they sponsor, just as the poor are the most likely to slide (further) down the prestige ladder.


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Among the most sought after and costly additions to contemporary wedding festivities are energetic performances by amateur "rock 'n' roll" bands. Unmarried males embrace these innovations with great enthusiasm, if only because the entertainment attracts large crowds and thus allows them a rare opportunity to gaze at unwed females. It also offers them a chance to engage in Western-style dance should they get up enough courage to ask a single girl to accompany them to the wooden dance platform. Few village girls risk soiling their reputations (or incurring the wrath of their parents) by accepting such invitations; but there are usually a few "out-of-town" girls who accompany the musicians and tirelessly accept most requests to dance—thereby providing excellent negative examples of ideal female behavior so far as most adults are concerned.

Even the adults who pay for such modern entertainment, however, sense that it is at sharp variance with Islamic codes of conduct, which are generally interpreted as prohibiting dancing, associated forms of hedonism, and all carefree abandon. Here, then, the contemporary requirements of advancing or simply maintaining one's prestige within the community entail an explicit violation of God's will. This problem has in turn spawned what might emerge as a further innovation in the cycle of marriage rituals sponsored by the rich—that is, postwedding feasting aimed at expiating the sins that attend weddings celebrated with Western-style music and dance. I attended one such evening feast, which the wealthy mother of the groom described as essentially twofold in objective: first (though not necessarily of greater importance), to obtain Allah's blessing for the newlywed couple; and second, to effect an across-the-board cleansing (kasih bersih semua ). The groom's mother, who sponsored the affair along with her husband, elaborated on the "cleansing" as follows (which I paraphrase from field notes):

All of the young people wanted a modern, Western-sounding band to play at the wedding, like the ones we had at the marriages of our other children. So we made provisions for the music and dancing, even though Allah doesn't approve of these sinful doings. Since it is especially wrong for those of us who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca to sponsor or otherwise participate in such things, this feast is to ask forgiveness or pardon [ampun ] from God.

Various issues strike us when we stop to consider the symbolic importance at weddings of Western-style music and "pop rock" dancing. Perhaps


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most obvious is the explicit clash in ethos symbolized by the wane of long-established musical forms of the stylized gong and rebana drum variety, and their progressive displacement by modern music built around the eminently suggestive lyrics and gyrations of long-haired young men sporting bell-bottoms and dark glasses. These clashes sometimes take on a literal "battle of the bands" aspect, as when men seated on the verandah of a wedding sponsor's house commence a gong and drum sequence accompanied by rhythmic chanting, only to find their Sufistic praise of the Prophet drowned out by overamplified electric instruments. Such competitions may occur repeatedly over the course of a single evening, since the hire of both types of musicians is increasingly seen as the ideal, however beyond the financial reach of many households it may be. Such clashes can, of course, be less fierce, as when guests flock to the evening wedding festivities expecting to see and hear conventional music but are greeted instead by a modern band running through Malaysia's current pop hits.

For adult villagers, the most disconcerting feature in all this is youthful disregard of sanctified bodies of religious knowledge and normative constraints. I was told on numerous occasions, for example, that many adolescents living in Bogang cannot even speak Malay properly, as indicated by their difficulties in passing secondary-school language examinations. Worse yet, they act as if they were immortal, which is to say they evince no concern with—or fear of—God or the afterlife. The elderly find a ready explanation for these errant ways: things Western and profane, especially the contemporary fads and fashions touted in the mass media and urban centers, have seduced youth away from substance of true value.

In summary, shifts in marital exchanges and wedding festivities attest to social processes generated largely by economic transformation and Western-oriented modernization. So, too, do major changes in such areas as age at first marriage, cross-cousin unions, and endogamy. It remains to consider how these broadly ramifying trends are realized in marriage durability and in the nexus of affinal institutions.

The Distribution and Decline of Divorce

In chapter 2 we noted that nineteenth-century divorce resulted in the immediate and permanent rupture of affinal exchange between the kin of estranged husband and wife. A man's divorce effectively canceled his rights


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both to the house he likely built and provisioned himself and to all land that he and his wife prepared for residential or agricultural purposes. Additionally, upon divorce the husband had to leave his wife's compound and also sever his relations with his own children. Divorce was perhaps less disruptive for women, for they neither relocated nor lost contact with their offspring as a consequence. Nonetheless, even though divorcées bore no particular stigma and could remarry easily enough, a woman's divorce could also be traumatic and regrettable.[5] Most of these generalizations hold at present as well. Why, then, are divorce rates so high, especially since Malays strive for harmony with everyone in their social universe?

Divorce accounts for over 65 percent of all terminated unions in which current female residents of the village have been involved, and 73 percent in the case of males (see table 18, above). Such data constitute incontrovertible evidence as to the prevalence of this phenomenon. As we shall see presently, the ease of obtaining divorce clearly contributes to its high incidence. So, too, do numerous other factors, including relatively mild social and economic implications of divorce as compared with other societies. In the final analysis, however, divorce rates in Bogang and Negeri Sembilan as a whole are best approached by focusing on the problematic position of married men in relation to their affines, and on affinal demands on male productivity in particular.

Although I am concerned here with divorce (cerai [hidup ]) in its most final form, I should point out that divorce as a process comprises three distinct stages. Each stage is effected by a husband reciting the divorce formula, "I repudiate you," to his wife. One such repudiation, or talak , is not irreversible so long as it is revoked within one hundred days. The same holds for the second talak. Three repudiations, however, constitute an irrevocable divorce; persons thus separated are no longer considered husband and wife. Should they resolve their differences and decide to resume cohabitation or sexual relations, they are required to marry again, which can in turn occur only if the woman has been married and irrevocably divorced in the meantime, and has in each case also observed the one-hundred-day-long edah restrictions (see Taylor [1929] 1970, 113–114; Djamour 1959, 110–113).

Divorce is primarily a male prerogative so far as Islamic doctrine and village ideology are concerned, especially since males alone are entitled to utter formal repudiations.[6] A woman may, however, given proper grounds,


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request a decree of divorce from the local kadi. If she convinces the kadi that her husband has abused her or failed to provide her with financial maintenance (nafkah ) for over four months, for example, her marriage will be judged irrevocably terminated. But since female initiative of this sort occurs relatively infrequently, the majority of those who appear before the kadi to pursue or simply register divorce are males.

Even though women enjoy fewer jural prerogatives with regard to divorce than do men, other, more cathartic strategies exist that are virtually guaranteed to result in divorce should they so desire. One such strategy involves a woman leaving her husband and returning to her mother's home. Aside from conveying the unambiguous message that she no longer seeks her spouse's company or partnership, this action causes the husband extreme embarrassment and shame. As a general rule, the only face-saving alternative available to a man so abandoned and humiliated is to fully repudiate his wife. Thus, tactics of shaming are both widespread and highly effective.

It should be evident that divorces are rather easily procured. Equally important, the cash expenditures involved in divorce are usually negligible—a minor registration fee. For that matter, the financial responsibilities of divorcés are frequently nominal, since it is virtually impossible for women to obtain child support from former husbands who fail to cooperate and in any case typically relocate to other villages. The legal and economic requirements of divorce, then, do not necessarily hinder its occurrence. But neither do they actually encourage divorce, for they are really relevant only in situations where marriage bonds or affinal roles are strained or marked by antagonism. We are left, then, with questions concerning the manifestations and structural origins of these tensions.

Throughout Bogang I encountered remarkable consensus regarding the divisive issues in marriage and the assignment of "fault" in divorce—that is, that husbands feel the tensions of marriage more acutely than wives, and that the husband's, rather than the wife's, behavior is usually the major cause of divorce. More generally, marital difficulties and divorce derive from a man's being insufficiently attentive to his obligations as husband and son-in-law. These points are well illustrated by the comments of two current residents of Bogang.

Musa, a man in his early forties, said that divorce arose because many married men simply "don't follow the established rules" (tak ikut per -


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aturan ): they're lazy, too quick to sell off household possessions, and basically expect to "eat for free." Male pride and self-righteousness figure in as well, Musa observed, particularly since men commonly refuse to acknowledge any of their faults or poor decisions.

A slightly older man named Abdul Ghani, who served for twenty-five years as a clerk at the office of Rembau's Islamic magistrate, which certifies all local marriages and divorces and attempts conjugal reconciliations wherever possible, expressed similar views. In Abdul Ghani's experience, men are usually to blame in situations of divorce because they are not straightforward in their dealings with their wives. The basic problem is that too many men like "the good life"; they enjoy gambling and alcohol[7] and are overly inclined to purchase on credit. Aside from wasting their earnings instead of handing them over to their wives, men often run up debts and then falsely tell their wives that the outstanding debts have been paid off.

The other side of the coin, in Abdul Ghani's view, is interference by the wife's mother and her other close kin. By virtue of residential proximity alone, a woman's immediate relatives usually know what goes on within her household and how her husband behaves both in and outside of the home. Fundamentally, the pressures from a man's in-laws can be overbearing at times, especially since affinal kin nowadays often goad in-marrying males into buying their wives Western-style consumer goods, such as radios, televisions, and refrigerators, that are frequently beyond the men's means.

Of course, such affinal demands are nothing new. Contested rights over the productivity of in-marrying males have always marked affinal relations and social reproduction, as well as been a major cause of divorce. What is new is that today's married men share a much narrower range of social and economic interests with their enates. Accordingly, the contested rights no longer involve two groups of enates linked through marriage; instead, they typically involve a solitary man's strivings to maintain his personal and economic autonomy, and to a lesser extent the autonomy of his household, in the face of countervailing pressures from his wife's kin.

A more general theme running throughout the data on divorce is that a man's prerogatives and obligations as a father are rarely at issue in divorce, whereas his role as a husband and in-law is frequently the source of major contention. Essentially, then, a man's ties with his children are not felt to


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be especially problematic, from either his own perspective or that of his wife or her kin. (This should come as no surprise, since a man's wife and immediate affines assume the bulk of childrearing and socialization responsibilities, and since a man's role as father is not nearly so socially necessary or culturally valued as that of a woman as mother.) Interests and privileges regarding children, then, do not seem to exert any destabilizing effects on marriage. But neither do they work in the opposite direction, for if they did we would expect far fewer divorces subsequent to the birth or adoption of a couple's first child than in fact occur; we would also encounter more concern with rights over the children of individuals contemplating or actually party to divorce.

Instead, we find a situation in which tensions focusing on married men's productivity as husbands and in-laws are the dynamic and determining factors in the relative durability of marriage bonds. Such tensions can, if present in any scope or force, go a long way toward destroying a marriage; if relatively absent, however, they can generate the conditions under which a marital union will likely endure until one spouse dies. My references to degrees or levels of tension, antagonism, and the like, are admittedly rather imprecise, being based on villagers' after-the-fact reconstructions of their own subjective experiences. Nonetheless, as we shall see, the data suggest that such tensions vary significantly, and are at the highest pitch—or at least most acutely felt—in the case of in-marrying males of low economic standing or promise. In these men's lives, the discrepancies between affinal demands and their own successes as household entrepreneurs are most pronounced. For that matter, because married men judged to be poor providers usually lack proprietary rights to rubber land, concerns with property loss through divorce cannot exert any stabilizing influence on their marriages.

The situation is strikingly different for village men who are considered "good providers," men with impressive incomes from rubber acreage they themselves acquired (and work or lease out), from government pensions, or both. A wealthy man, or one who displays economic promise, is best situated to satisfy affinal demands for household commodities and other emblems of prestige. Moreover, a man with substantial capital investments either in his wife's home or in land within her village has much to lose as a result of divorce. So, too, does his wife. On both sides, then, the incentives and satisfactions of economics and prestige contribute to the durability of the marriage.


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Table 21. Frequency of Divorce for Current Residents of Bogang, by
Household Income (in Ringgit)

 

Number
Ever
Married

Number of
Divorces

Percentage of
Divorce Among
Ever Married
Individuals

Females with monthly
household income of

     

        0–99

18

15

  83.3

    100–199

30

16

  53.3

    200–299

23

11

  47.8

    300–399

17

  8

  47.1

    400–499

10

  4

  40.0

    500–599

15

  0

    0.0

    600+

12

  1

    8.3

        Total

125a

55

  44.0

Males with monthly
household income of

     

        0–99

  7

10

142.9

    100–199

22

13

  59.1

    200–299

15

  1

    6.7

    300–399

13

  2

  15.4

    400–499

10

  4

  40.0

    500–599

11

  2

  18.2

    600+

10

  1

  10.0

        Total

88

33

  37.5

a Excludes two females for whom data are incomplete.

These arguments are consistent with a striking feature of divorce data that has eluded previous observers, that is, the inverse correlation between monthly household income and the number of divorces per ever-married resident. Specifically, we find a marked concentration of divorce among households at the lowest end of the income scale, and a generally progressive decline in the divorce rate as income increases (see table 21). These associations exist for persons of both sexes, although they are more uniform for women. Among households earning less than M$100 per month, for instance, the female divorce rate is 83.3 percent (15 of 18). This figure diminishes to 53.3 percent (16 of 30) for women of households with monthly incomes in the M$100–199 range and continues to decrease at a moderate rate as monthly household earnings rise from M$200 to M$499. In the next income bracket the rate drops to 0.0 percent (0 of 15); there-


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after it is a mere 8.3 percent (1 of 12). Questions of causality aside, this means that women living in the poorest households are likely to have experienced at least one divorce, whereas their female counterparts in the richest segment of the community have effectively avoided divorce altogether. Since I have indicated that the same directional trends can be discerned for the males in the sample, these latter generalizations may be applied to Bogang's population of ever-married men as well.

The data in table 21 reveal associations rather than causality, but they do support my argument that conjugal and affinal tensions are at their highest pitch—or the least likely to be resolved within the confines of marriage—among households with the lowest incomes. As for Bogang's wealthiest residents, and the ever-married men among them especially, such tensions either are less severe or are dealt with in the context of marriage, rather than at its expense. One partial explanation for this circumstance is that most male members of Bogang's socioeconomic elite enjoy positions of privilege thanks to their long careers in government employ. Their salaries and pensions then enabled them to purchase commercially valuable rubber acreage, which in turn generated additional wealth over the years. Also, civil service employment has usually involved considerable geographic mobility, as in the Federated Malay States Railways or a branch of Singapore's armed forces, which could easily postpone a newly wed government servant's uxorilocal residence for up to twenty years, after which time he would retire with a pension and settle in his wife's natal compound. This is not to imply that these men had no contact with their wives or affines during the course of government service. It is to suggest that their domestic circumstances largely precluded the progressive buildup of antagonisms and hostilities between married men and their residentially proximate in-laws, tensions that are especially disruptive during the first six or so years of marriage.

Of further interest here is the fact that many of Bogang's socioeconomic elite are married to women of the Hill lineage of the Lelahmaharaja clan, which is the descent unit at the top of Bogang's status hierarchy as well as the core around which the local political structure revolves. The privileged economic standing of the households associated with this lineage, together with the lineage's low rate of female divorce (the lowest in the village, with 0.18 divorces per ever-married female, as compared with the village mean of 0.44), derives from productive resources obtained not


257

through inheritance but through the efforts of in-marrying males still alive, many of whom draw handsome government pensions. Simply stated, the wives of these men married very well. That they did so can be explained largely by the prestige of their own lineage as measured by its residential origins and untainted pedigree, and by its having among its members a number of highly placed political luminaries. For these women and their husbands, the prospect of property and prestige loss upon divorce works effectively to control any conjugal and affinal antagonisms that may arise in the course of marriage. Also, such stresses would be less prevalent in the upper-income brackets in any case, since in-marrying males of impressive economic standing can satisfy affinal demands on their productivity. Historically increased concerns with status-group endogamy and the resultant concentrations of wealth within the elite stratum, then, lead me to expect that low rates of divorce will prevail within this lineage in the future.

Not surprisingly, the exceedingly marginal Biduanda Dagang clan records the highest divorce rate in the village (0.76 divorces per ever-married female). This clan, having always occupied the bottom rung of the prestige ladder owing to its comparatively recent migration to the village and to its ancestors including Meccan-born slaves and other non-Malays, has been extremely limited in its ability to obtain productive or high-ranking males as husbands. It has therefore had to settle for itinerant Javanese or unrelated men affiliated with other lines of the (non-exogamous) clan, who tend to be of inferior economic standing and potential—otherwise they would find wives elsewhere. Thus, when conjugal or affinal tensions arise, these men have relatively little incentive to maintain the bonds with their wives, and vice versa. This is especially true given the usual absence here of jointly acquired land over which each partner to a union would stand to lose rights (that is, a half-claim) in consequence of divorce. The constraints working against divorce are thus very weak; moreover, this situation will likely prevail into the future, for the dynamics in operation here tend to reproduce themselves from one generation to the next.

The interpretations presented thus far have dealt with marriage durability more or less synchronically, and in terms of a single nexus of structural entailments whose refractions differ according to socioeconomic and prestige variables. This approach allows, I believe, insights far more powerful than those offered by earlier observers such as Swift (1958; 1965, 133


258

et passim), who explained the distribution of divorce in the Jelebu district of Negeri Sembilan with reference to factors of psychology and personality.[8] I would also contend that the analyses presented here are relevant to historical trends that have been misconstrued by Swift (1965, 132–134) and other investigators (e.g., DeMoubray 1931, 205; de Josselin de Jong 1951, 162).

It has been widely assumed that the weakening of enatic bonds would cause divorce rates to rise, since disgruntled spouses would be less susceptible to pressures from enates and affines, who, according to this perspective, generally strive to effect reconciliation and in any event exert an ultimately stabilizing influence on marriage. In my view, this position rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of enatic and affinal ties, and also be-speaks a failure to grasp certain of the most critical dynamics and tensions in the system of property and social relations. Of more immediate concern, though, is the fact that divorce rates have actually diminished quite radically in recent decades, a change that is consistent with historical processes discussed here and in previous chapters.

The phenomenal decline in state- and district-level rates of divorce (measured in terms of divorces recorded each year as a percentage of marriages registered over the same period of time) can be seen from table 22. The earliest figures, which pertain to the 1940s, indicate a state-level divorce rate of 65 percent. The corresponding rate for the 1950s is much lower, and is approximately 51.5 percent. Statewide data for the 1960s are not available, but the figures for the 1970s point to a further decline, and to a state-level rate of divorce of 14.7 percent.[9]

This trend, I would argue, is by no means confined to the post-1940 era; rather, it probably dates from the earliest decades of colonial rule. Moreover, the same set of factors that accounts for divorce patterns in contemporary Bogang is at work here: the historically variable, but nearly always problematic, structural ties between in-marrying males and their affines, and the tensions arising from affinal demands on men's productivity. In other words, the issue is a married man's relative autonomy among his wife's kin. And it is precisely in this area that married men have made such enormous advances in this century, and during the postindependence era especially, even though these gains—if they are in fact to be regarded as such—are quite unevenly distributed throughout present-day villages.

More generally, enatic kin have lost much of the social control they once


259
 

Table 22. Muslim Divorce Rates in Negeri Sembilan, by Divorce as Percentage of Marriages, 1945–1979

 

  Rembau District

 

    Jelebu District

 

State Total

 

  Number

  %

 

  Number

  %

 

Number

  %

1945–1949

n.a.

   

n.a.

   

7,701/11,850

65.0

1950–1960

n.a.

   

1,154/2,054

56.2

 

5,264/10,228

  51.5a

1965–1969

279/1,429

19.5

 

n.a.

   

n.a.

 

1970–1979

572/3,692

15.5

 

  376/1,759

21.4

 

3,234/21,930

14.7

SOURCES : Figures for Negeri Sembilan 1945–1953: Djamour (1959, 136); for Jelebu 1950–1960: Swift (1965, 119); for Rembau 1965–1969: Pejabat Kadi, Rembau; and for Rembau, Jelebu, and Negeri Sembilan 1970–1979: Pejabat Kadi Besar, Negeri Sembilan.

NOTE : Includes data on non-Malay Muslims, who account for some 5–6 percent of the state's total Muslim population. Excludes data on revocations (rujuk ), which are infrequent in relation to divorce (e.g., 12.4 revocations were recorded for every 100 divorces registered in Jelebu during the period 1950–1960, and 14.4 for every 100 divorces in Negeri Sembilan during the period 1970–1979).

a Based on 1950–1953 data.

exercised over in-marrying males and their labor power, owing to the infusion of cash into the village and other processes of economic development. Hence, significant reductions in divorce rates would be expected, insofar as the more encompassing trend—the emergence of progressively individualistic atomized household units—has occurred at the expense of siblingship and other matrilineal ties linking spouses with their respective enates. These ties appear increasingly incapable of seriously disrupting marriages, even though they still do cause stress and antagonism and, of course, continue to contribute to divorce.

Married Men and Their Affines

The preceding discussions elucidated various aspects of continuity and change in the relationships established through marriage, but dealt largely with affinal bonds in the aggregate. A more comprehensive assessment of persistence and transformation in the domain of affinity requires that we examine some of these relationships in greater detail.

Twentieth-century trends in affinal relations are well illustrated in the settlement pattern and kinship composition of Bogang's new hamlet. To oversimplify, married men of the new hamlet do not reside among their


260

affinal (or enatic) kin, and have consciously chosen to distance themselves from their affines owing to tensions and demands that they can now literally afford to do without.

The situations that new-hamlet men escaped are structurally identical to those currently confronting the adult men of Bogang's much larger old hamlet. Affinal relations in the old hamlet continue to be characterized by tensions, even though they differ significantly from their counterparts of earlier decades. Indeed, although old-hamlet men enjoy greater economic and jural autonomy vis-à-vis affines, they are still morally and socially bound to abide their affines' wishes as long as they reside among them. This is especially true for men who live in houses built on ancestral land over which their wives' enates enjoy residual, if not provisional, rights.

I was told, for example, that the verandah of a house built on ancestral land belongs to the wife's kin, who may use it as a meeting place or hall (dewan ), and that a man has legitimate powers only in the central region of his wife's house that is bounded by the "four thresholds" (bendul yang empat ). Thus, a man's affines may enter his garden and climb up to his verandah on almost any pretext, but they may not enter the area marked off by the four thresholds without appropriate cause and good intentions. This authority evidently does not obtain in houses situated on nonancestral land, for there a man may refuse his affines permission to enter his garden as well as his home. Both instances involve a paradox, however, since the interior of a home is still defined as the women's domain, just as the verandah continues to be strongly associated with men and maleness.

In the case of homes on ancestral property, then, in-marrying males must continue to defer to their affines with respect to activities occurring outside the four thresholds, and as long as they are within these architectural boundaries they are beholden only to their wives. As for houses on nonancestral property, husbands need not entertain or host their affines at all, even though they must of course consider their wives' sensibilities.

All this would seem to suggest significant variation between Bogang's two hamlets, since the newer of these residential enclaves is composed entirely of households built on nonancestral acreage. In actuality, however, the social and cultural realization of such variation is minimal at best. For even if a man is not subject to pressures or meddling from his affines, he remains constrained by basic constructs of gender that are shared by his wife, children, and neighbors, as well as village society as a whole (see


261

chapter 8). While these constructs shape behavior in a multitude of diverse contexts, their relevance here lies in their contributing to what men jokingly refer to at times as "queen control," or kwin kontrol .[10] This term, denoting situations in which women either dominate their husbands or assume the greater role in decision making, aptly summarizes an important dimension of domestic reality in both of Bogang's hamlets. Thus, what would appear to be a major contrast between the new and old hamlets—the differential standing of married men in their own homes—dissolves. The significant contrast is that new-hamlet men need not be bothered with their affines and that they are unable to turn to them should they seek support for some personal reason or political cause.

Let us move now beyond the domestic realm and look at a married man's other affinal relationships. The old hamlet is an appropriate focus for discussion, insofar as most of Bogang's inhabitants live there and also because the married men of this hamlet generally reside among their immediate affines.

A married man must contend first and foremost with his wife's parents, and his wife's mother in particular. These ties are characterized by latent tension and basic avoidance; when the son-in-law encounters or otherwise interacts with either of his wife's parents, let alone the two of them together, formal deference is the rule. In general, his parents-in-law will call on him—to pay a social visit or request favors or services—not vice versa. Although the generational difference by itself is an important factor here, it is less significant than the man's standing as guest in relation to his parents-in-law, who enjoy the status of hosts, having provided him with his wife, land to cultivate and on which to live, and perhaps a house as well (as when his wife is their youngest daughter). Interestingly, it is precisely because his parents-in-law bestowed the property rights from which he and his wife derive benefit and obligation that they are potentially his best allies, at least in their capacity to forestall and, if necessary, mediate conflicts over land and other property rights involving his wife and her sisters as future co-heirs. In these disputes, it may be noted, the mother need not assume an especially active role as mediator, for her mere existence exerts a moderating influence on the sisters' relationships.

A married man's ties with his wife's sisters are likewise rigidly structured and usually marked by avoidance. They neither seek one another out nor converse freely when they do interact, such as during preparations for


262

feasts held in the lineage compound. As far as the villagers are concerned, this is as it should be. Physical intimacy with a sister of one's wife is still among the most reprehensible of all moral offenses (even though "anticipatory sororate" and sororal polygyny no longer meet with capital punishment).[11] Sororatic marriage with the sister of a deceased wife, however, though rare, is still permitted, and continues to be seen as an ideal remarriage for a widowed man with young children.[12]

A married man's relationships with his wife's brothers and her mother's brothers are profitably viewed in the light of the extremely formal bonds between women and their male siblings, and in terms of cross-sex siblingship in general. A woman's adult brothers usually live some distance from their natal compound, and even when these men marry women from their own community, they rarely visit or interact with their sisters. Stated simply, a woman's brothers and mother's brothers influence her affairs but little once she marries. True, these men do have rights to the produce of fruit trees planted on residential land classed as ancestral, and also to ancestral sawah should they participate in its cultivation and harvest. Such prerogatives, however, are not usually exercised, and in most areas adult cross-sex siblings lack common interests, in land or anything else. In and of themselves these facts need not contribute to harmonious relationships—witness competitive ties among brothers—but they do effect a divergence of life concerns as well as relatively extreme geographic dispersion. Consequently, men who reside uxorilocally upon marriage tend not to have major problems with their wives' male (as opposed to female) enates.

A married man does encounter difficulties, however, in his dealings with other men who have married into his wife's lineage. These individuals include his father-in-law, as well as the men married to his wife's lineage sisters, that is, his biras , or "brothers" through in-marriage. Because they—and he—are in-marrying males (orang semenda ), they are all identically situated with respect to the wife's lineage and clan (tempat semenda ); they are also usually total strangers to one another prior to marriage, deriving from separate lines of descent and dispersed geographic origins.

Village men linked as biras nonetheless generally live in aggregated households. The behavioral imperatives of residential proximity further structure and intensify their relationships of mutual interdependence and social commonality. Owing largely to the feasting complex, for example,


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these men eat, pray, and engage in other ceremonial activities together far more than with anyone else, for almost every ritual feast includes, at the very least, all socially active adults living in the compound(s) of the wife's lineage branch, if not lineage. The ritual celebration of marriage, moreover, being typically on a scale that demands the construction of large wooden or bamboo platforms with thatch roofs to be used both in the preparation and serving of food and to shelter participants from rain, requires extensive cooperation and labor exchange among men linked as biras. Ad hoc work groups formed for fishing expeditions, too, usually have as their core closely related female enates and their husbands. Although an analogous situation once prevailed in the context of traditional rice production, neither economic cooperation and exchange nor residential proximity generated the resentments and antagonisms among biras with which we are concerned. Rather, the problems that did arise—and still prevail—were a consequence of the structurally enforced interdependence among biras that exists in the absence of any centripetal mechanisms guaranteeing a man unconditional political backing from the others in this group. Demands for political loyalty and support are in fact the hallmark of biras ties, and bonds among adult males in general. Needless to say, such demands can be far more frequent and intense—and responses to them much further from the ideal—among residentially proximate biras whose relationships may be put to the test on a regular basis.

As seen by the rest of the community, "brothers" through marriage with the female collaterals of a single lineage constitute an interest group in the most basic sense; and to a lesser extent the same holds for all men married to the women of any one lineage, regardless of their generation. These men, as noted above, are enjoined to support and further one another's concerns, if only because their personal strivings and social identities are merged with those of their own wives, who themselves are sisters or close enates, as well as immediate neighbors. As compared with their wives and offspring, however, the married men of a lineage compound have relatively weak emotional and social involvements, both with one another and with the enatically related residents of other compound households. As a general rule, there is little visiting or genuine friendship among them, despite their residential aggregation. Nor do these men share rights in one another's offspring, for such rights are distributed and reallocated among natural and adoptive mothers, not their husbands.


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Especially at present, moreover, a man's financial standing—and hence, that of his household—is only minimally bound up with the economic well-being of his biras and their households, who at any rate are far more likely to constitute a drain on his labor and capital resources than to further his chances of economic advance. Perhaps more to the point, biras are in competition by virtue of the status rivalries among their wives, who are almost certain to view one another's successes with marked ambivalence. Thus, although the community at large sees married men as acting on behalf of their spouses and the latter's immediate kin, the very households to whom they pledge their loyalty may view them in a wholly different light. This in turn means that while the backing a man receives from his biras may be conditional at times, it is generally far more substantial and reliable than that forthcoming from men who are not his principal allies, since these men's loyalties are defined by their ties with their own wives.

Of broader concern is that the conceptualization and force of biras bonds undercut and contradict the logic of enatic morality that prevails among males affiliated by descent with a particular lineage or clan. More specifically, since actual brothers invariably marry women of different lineages, if not altogether separate clans, they are constrained to honor their respective biras relationships over those with their own brothers.

There is yet another level at which the institution of biras contradicts normative theories of brotherhood, simultaneously ensuring their highly qualified realization in social action. I refer to the siblingship said to obtain among all Muslims, and most emphatically—both according to formal theory and in village practice—among men. Islamic ritual and ideology argue quite pointedly for a united community of Muslim believers with no internal subdivisions or opposed allegiances, for all who follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad are held to be identically situated with respect to God and therefore of equal standing in relation to one another. These sacred bonds of equality and commonality, in short, supersede the particularistic and cross-cutting ties of kinship and residence. Here I may cite al-Ghazali, the eminent Muslim philosopher, who explored the nature of Islamic brotherhood in some depth.[13] Commencing with a quote from the scriptures, al-Ghazali wrote:

The Muslim is brother to the Muslim. He does not wrong him, does not forsake him, does not betray him. What treachery and desertion to abandon him to


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the rending of his honor! It is like abandoning him to the rending of his flesh . . . which is why God . . . compared it with the eating of carrion meat. For He said: "Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his brother's corpse?"

Elsewhere in the essays, al-Ghazali emphasized that

[Islamic] fellowship is a bond of flesh, like the bond of blood-kinship. . . . [Indeed,] brotherhood is a contract on the same footing as kinship; once it is contracted the duty is confirmed, and that which the contract entails must be fulfilled. . . . Brotherhood is provision for the vicissitudes and accidents of time. . . . Brotherhood in religion is firmer than brotherhood in kinship.

Here lies the essential contradiction for villagers of present-day Bogang, for brotherhood in religion would seem to be even more elusive and unobtainable now than at any point in the past. Cross-cutting affinal ties are not the only factors accounting for this situation, but they certainly constitute an appreciable obstacle to the realization of a broad siblingship commonality. More generally, the ambivalences characteristic of relationships among biras continue to derive from structurally induced tensions that have always permeated this domain of affinal relatedness. When one recalls as well that most other variants of affinal ties are marked by analogous structural tensions, it becomes clear that the realm of affinity in contemporary villages such as Bogang shares a good many similarities with its counterparts of earlier decades and the nineteenth century as a whole.


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8—
Property and Inheritance

Anthropological inquiries into twentieth-century changes in Negeri Sembilan's system of property and inheritance relations have been primarily synchronic in approach and have invariably focused on some aspect of filiation or descent; the most common conclusion is that "the system has broken down" (or is well along the road to decay) and has given rise to a system characterized by bilaterality or patriliny.

In this chapter I start with a clean slate and the most basic of questions: What types of shifts have occurred in property and inheritance institutions, and what continuities, if any, can be discerned? As we will see, the demise of divided title and most other twentieth-century developments in property and inheritance concern principles and bonds of siblingship more than descent constructs or the conceptual units or social groupings associated therewith. Despite disjunctions in property relationships among various categories of siblings, however, continuities in basic modalities of siblingship have also played a critical role in maintaining traditional property bonds that remain central to the overall nexus of social relations. The reproduction of long-established concepts of gender has worked similarly,


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such that daughters continue to be strongly favored over sons with respect to the devolution of rights over houses, residential plots, and most other categories of land. In sum, even though the emergence of proprietorship based on full rather than divided title has excluded enatically related female collaterals from the inheritance of rights to houses and land, property ties between successive generations of lineally related women still constitute the central links through which such rights flow.

General Attitudes toward Property

To ascertain twentieth-century shifts in villagers' attitudes toward property, we would best focus our attention on noncustomary property, which tends not to be encrusted by legal definitions and restrictions that obscure villagers' preferences and attitudes concerning the use and conveyance of property rights. The question thus becomes, How is noncustomary property dealt with, and what types of rights are associated with it? Further, in what areas can proprietors exercise autonomy in terms of loan, mortgage, sale, or other forms of right conveyance, and to what degree is partial or complete autonomy actually manifest? Finally, how does the contemporary taxonomy of property and property rights relate to basic nineteenth-century distinctions among economic sectors or spheres, such as those associated with subsistence and reciprocal exchange, prestige goods and luxury items, and the like? Since issues of this latter sort are in some ways the most fundamental of all, I will first assess the degree to which historical consistency prevails in this area.

Throughout the subsistence sector we find considerable historical continuity in modes of acquiring, utilizing, and conveying property rights. As regards land and houses, to take examples of corporeal property of the utmost utilitarian and symbolic value, property rights are still most honorably obtained through inheritance or purchase, and most honorably conveyed through inheritance, postmortem inheritance in particular—that is, freely given to junior kin. Land and houses remain earmarked for basic needs of subsistence and shelter and for the domestic maintenance of progeny, even though they may confer prestige on their proprietors as well. Rights over these items tend not to be bartered, sold, or otherwise made available on the market; in brief, they have not become commodities for exchange.


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The mortgage or sale of land tends to occur only in situations of acute economic necessity and even then is a source of embarrassment and shame, causing others to "view one thinly." Land sale for the purpose of financing a trip to Mecca is also inappropriate and is experienced by kin and nonkin alike as somewhat unsettling. This is less a function of the history of specific land properties than a manifestation of the view that land is to be preserved and maintained both for household subsistence requirements and for the future needs of children who are eminently deserving, jurally entitled to shares of inheritance, or both. This same view shapes attitudes toward houses, which are never rented, pawned, mortgaged, or sold.[1]

All such views as to the proper uses and conveyance of land and houses are of great antiquity, and have been neither undermined nor significantly transformed by economic processes or other forces of modernization. To gloss over such basic facts when considering the monetization of various segments of the economy would be to lose sight of a crucial thread of historical continuity in property concepts and relations.

Most types of agricultural (as distinct from primary forest) produce, too, are still used for domestic consumption and have not become exchangeable commodities. Liquid and coagulated latex are the obvious exceptions, but only partially rather than across the board. As discussed in chapter 5, the inhabitants of Bogang do not market rubber in the community or to other Malays. The same is true for rice. This situation seems to have obtained for decades, and even when locally grown rice was sold it was apparently done so at prices fixed by custom as opposed to market supply and demand (NSAR 1888, 6; R. Hill 1977, 126, 137–138).

The fruit of coconuts, papaya, and other trees grown on residential plots is likewise consumed by the household, or offered as gifts to neighbors and guests, rather than sold. In short, there is a basic distinction between eating (makan ) and selling (jual ), and assuming that agricultural or forest produce is edible or can be processed for eventual home consumption, it should be eaten and shared rather than sold. The overriding concern is that village relationships be mediated by reciprocity in exchange—and hence be warm, personal, and continuous—rather than by barter or the transfer of cash or commodities through hired labor. Thus, even when durian and other orchard produce is marketed along the roadside, it is typically sold to unrelated Malays of other communities or to Chinese. Moreover, some durian sellers acknowledge they could command a much


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higher price for their fruits but feel constrained to charge below what the market will bear, since the produce derives from trees painstakingly planted and tended by ancestors who would disapprove of any profiteering by descendants.

Such generalized sentiments recall the rights enjoyed by males in relation to the ancestral sawah vested in their sisters. These rights are known as makan hasil , which means literally "to eat the yield." This particular expression and category of privilege once stood as a basic metaphor for traditional rights over land on the whole. In the case at hand it amounted to males claiming a share of the harvest of their sisters' land in proportion to their contributed labor. If they did not participate in producing the crop, however, such claims could not be lodged. Clearly, then, the maintenance of property rights hinged on the productive use of property over time. While this situation still applies to most land, it does not apply to acreage planted in rubber, insofar as rights over rubber plots have always been relatively autonomous vis-à-vis other categories and taxonomic schemes of property. For obvious reasons relating to the local importance of rubber acreage and the cash earnings derived therefrom, this relative autonomy helped foster the demise of major components of the property system, simultaneously severing it from its cultural basis in notions of origin point and diachrony.

Domesticated fowl, for their part, are generally raised for household subsistence needs and not with an eye toward future exchange or sale. This is all too apparent to those who find themselves forced by the prospect of a sudden or unexpectedly large ritual feast to attempt the purchase of domesticated chicken from neighbors or friends. Typically only those individuals who are owed debts can claim any success in this area. Such is the case with the village headman of Bogang, who is also a renowned curer specializing in the treatment of poisoning and sorcery. As his wife put it, "He has cured quite a few people and is very clever in finding people willing to sell him their chickens."

Goats, sheep, cattle, and oxen also serve as subsistence guarantees; the owners of bovines derive prestige as well from having such readily apparent stores of wealth at their disposal. Although livestock are easily enough sold outside the village and thereby converted into hard cash, villagers usually raise them either as a hedge against hard times or for the weddings of their children, when, rather than being sold to help defray feasting and


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other expenses, they are instead slaughtered to feed, honor, and impress the guests.[2] Although appreciable historical continuity might be supposed here, it is well to bear in mind that domesticated animals, especially bovines, were an important source of cash for luxury items and the pilgrimage to Mecca before the local economy was transformed and cash cropping became widespread. Hence, the economic functions that these animals once served have not only been assumed by other property in the form of rubber land, but they have also been conceptually recast and situated more squarely within the domain of subsistence as commercially valued acreage has spiraled in importance, both in the village economy as a whole and in the local taxonomy of property and property rights.

This overview of villagers' attitudes and behavior concerning the use and conveyance of rights over land, houses, agricultural produce, and domesticated animals illustrates how little subsistence property has been redefined as a commodity to be freely exchanged or sold. Labor, of course, has been commoditized—most notably the labor of males engaged in rubber tapping. Land itself, however, has largely escaped this process (but see Fett 1983, 79–80).

Prestige goods and luxury items display an equally pronounced consistency over time. I am not speaking here merely of ancestral items, such as inherited bridal ornamentation, but refer also to newly purchased gold given to women in the course of engagement and wedding rituals and during the hair-clipping ceremonies performed when they are three or four years of age. As with land and houses, in other words, gold is best acquired through purchase, gift, or inheritance, and thereafter conveyed as a gift, typically as a postmortem bequest. In the interim it should be safeguarded, added to if possible, and never parted with on account of subsistence or accumulative concerns, however important these may be. Thus, while many women over fifty years old boast finely crafted and extremely valuable bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and other ornaments of high-quality gold, none of them would ever pawn or sell any of these possessions unless forced to do so by otherwise unmanageable funerary expenses.

These traditional attitudes encompass the phenomenon of conversion, whereby prestige items, for example, or the monetary returns therefrom, are channeled into the subsistence domain, as well as the related process of conveyance, which may involve the retaining of goods or wealth within a particular economic sector while utilizing them for purposes other than


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those originally intended.[3] Thus, however strongly a woman yearns to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and thereby attain exalted spiritual standing and social prestige, she would never sell off her gold to help finance the journey—this despite the fact that rising to haji status is perhaps the most cherished dream of all villagers, and clearly within the reach of many couples should they choose to liquidate their gold assets.

Issues of conversion and conveyance aside, it is also true that gold with ancestral standing has a higher prestige value than gold with a less distant origin point. Just as the value of such gold is enhanced over the years (since the passage of time leads ultimately to death and inheritance), so does the improper use and transfer of ancestral gold occasion greater moral opprobrium.

The other side of the coin in all of this is the modern-day ease with which household earnings from the sale of agricultural produce and labor can be converted into luxury items and mass-produced consumer goods, the possession and display of which may bring considerable prestige. As we have seen, the availability and distribution of such items is strongly connected with the progressive centrality of cash in the local economy and attendant processes of economic stratification; they are, moreover, profoundly significant in how villagers perceive their own and one another's socioeconomic standing. I would only add here that the influx of Westernstyle consumer goods and fashions—such as kerosene and gas stoves, refrigerators, radios, motorcycles, televisions, automobiles, and ready-made clothes—has not only generated new and cross-cutting indices of status but also served to profane traditional categories of prestige and luxury.

It merits mention as well that many of the more valued prestige symbols in today's village are not of enduring quality and are thus unlikely to be conveyed through a gift or inheritance transaction. Televisions, for example, are frequently leased by the month from Chinese in nearby towns. Rights of proprietorship over these commodities are qualitatively different from those over such prestige items as gold jewelry, being essentially divided between urban Chinese and a household's adult residents. In one important sense this particular property relationship is a paradigm for twentieth-century change in property and social relations, for here individual household units are not only disconnected from one another—rather than linked—by virtue of socially valued property ties, but they are also bound to urban Chinese and the encompassing market networks they


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so effectively mediate. To appreciate the point we need only recall that all residents of Bogang who sell latex do so to Chinese middlemen, and that the practice of hiring Chinese carpenters to build village houses has supplanted the collective "barn raising" traditions of earlier times, as well as largely displaced Malay carpenters.

In sum, even though household earnings are easily converted into emblems of prestige, the boundaries of traditional economic sectors remain more or less intact, with the partial but noteworthy exception of labor (agricultural and otherwise). This exception deserves special emphasis in light of the transformation of productive relations discussed in chapter 5.

Nineteenth-century labor exchanges were couched in a nexus of idioms drawn from kinship, reciprocity, and essentially disinterested service, and they typically occurred in one of two forms. In the first, glossed tolong-menolong, or "mutual assistance," groups of female proprietors, aided at times by their spouses and other male kin, joined together for the more labor-intensive stages of cultivation, proceeding from one woman's fields to the next in accordance with the varying labor and production requirements of each plot. Here, notions of sisterhood, common lineage membership, and egalitarianism and interdependence among cultivators provided the basic idioms for the provisioning and exchange of labor, and for the realization of domestic subsistence guarantees on the whole. The second institution, seraya, differed in concept from tolong-menolong in that it could also draw directly on debt repayments from beneficiaries of certain specialized services, particularly various indispensable and otherwise largely unobtainable ritual services. The ranks of those who called in their debts through seraya were thus composed of persons who both knew and performed the sacred arts, namely midwives (bidan ), curers and exorcists (dukun ), and the elite pawang. These repositories of esoteric lore apparently delegated much of their agricultural work to villagers who stood essentially as their clients. More explicitly political and asymmetric, though not necessarily culturally defined as such, were the seraya generated at the bidding of clan chiefs and Rembau's Undang. These seraya especially entailed service to ruling patrons whose mandates called for pursuing public affairs in the best interests of their adherents.

Significantly, both of these institutions have all but disappeared owing to political and economic processes that have not only progressively narrowed the field of social obligation but also generated the view that specialized


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practitioners are most appropriately compensated by on-the-spot cash payments. This is not to suggest that clan chiefs or midwives are placed in the same social category as fishmongers or local dry-good peddlers. It is simply to underscore that labor provisioning of the sort considered here is not forthcoming on a voluntary (or any other) basis and that debts for services rendered are of exceedingly short-term duration. It is to emphasize as well that individuals vested with traditional titles no longer enjoy the privileged positions they once did and are thus incapable of commanding extrahousehold labor solely on the basis of their unique skills or regalia.

The individuals who provide these specialized services have thus witnessed an appreciable narrowing of their legitimate claims over both the labor and the loyalties of those who benefit from their expertise. Such developments are not merely by-products of a situation in which the sanctions, authorities, and functions once concentrated among clan leaders and ritual practitioners are nowadays diffused among officials associated with Islamic administrative hierarchies and secular bureaucracies. Rather, they are a logical and empirically evident outcome of social and cultural trends precipitated primarily by economic processes that encourage individual and household autonomy at the expense of vertical ties as well as interdependence among households and larger groupings comprising social equals.

Viewed in terms of the village majority, the marked contraction of social and moral obligations linking domestic units is but one manifestation of the progressive concentration within individual households of rights over labor and other forms of property. The long-range manifestations of such trends appear in varied guises, one of which is symbolized by the decline of the agricultural rituals discouraged by Dato Abdullah and like-minded members of the Malay elite beginning in the 1920s, and by foreign-born Muslims during the second half of the nineteenth century. The performance of berpuar and related sacred ceremonies associated with local shrines testified to the protective powers of the spirits of pioneering culture heroes credited with transforming Bogang and much of the rest of Rembau into a habitable region conducive to social reproduction and cultural florescence. All such rituals were predicated on the sanctified axiom that these spirits not only shared rights of proprietorship over all the land in and around the village, but were in fact responsible for the very creation


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of these rights. The broader theme, which local elders occasionally address, is that rituals like berpuar amount to gestures of reciprocity by the beneficiaries of the local spirits' protection, based on their common bonds of proprietorship. To raise this issue, however, is also to draw attention to the fact that the decline of berpuar and other local rituals constitutes a symbolic and public negation of those bonds of proprietorship that link long-deceased ancestral figures with the living. Of course, the beliefs underlying the performance of such rituals persist among most villagers over forty years of age (see chapter 9). Yet the symbolic disjunction does exist; it is, moreover, clearly recognized by elders, who, as discussed earlier, attribute diminishing rice yields to the actions—or, more precisely, the nonactions—of guardian (but nonetheless potentially malevolent) spirits gravely incensed by collective behavioral denials of their roles in proprietorship and community affairs in general.

The narrowing field of social and moral obligation thus impinges on relationships not only among the living but also with the realms of the spirits and the dead. The concentration of property rights among the living, and among individuals and their household groups in particular, also finds a structural analogue in the fact that Allah is increasingly viewed as monopolizing all of the spiritual energy and power once seen as concentrated in Him as well as in sacred shrines, traditional curers and exorcists, and various local spirits (see chapter 9).[4]

Shifts in Property Rights Conveyed through Inheritance

I have already noted that property rights are most commonly transferred through inheritance. Here I will examine continuity and disjunction both in the nature of such rights and in the direction of their transmission. These issues are analytically distinct and will be dealt with accordingly. I will first consider various issues bearing on the rights at stake in inheritance; thereafter, and also in the following section, I address historical and contemporary ethnographic data pertaining to the genealogical links involved in the intergenerational flow of rights over property, particularly houses and land.

One salient feature of precolonial property institutions was the explicit differentiation between "acquired" and "ancestral" holdings and the rights thereover. Underlying this distinction was the longitudinal dimension, or


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diachronic grading, of the taxonomic scheme, through which land was reclassified over time such that all acreage acquired through individual or conjugal effort was ultimately redefined as the ancestral property of enatic segments. This reclassification occurred more or less automatically upon inheritance. Hence, any previously unalienated land cleared by a woman and her husband came to be provisionally vested in their daughters, subject to the residual control of the daughters' enates—that is, it became ancestral. The daughters and all future recipients of these provisional rights were thus constrained in their dealings with the property in ways the original proprietors never were.

Over the course of the past century, however, an exceedingly selective juridical bolstering of the property system occurred. As discussed in chapters 3 and 4, certain features of the system were formally reinforced by the colonial state, whereas others were either left intact or eviscerated through administrative fiat. More specifically, whereas traditional restrictions on the transfer of rights over ancestral holdings were codified and frozen in various colonial enactments (many of which remain in force even at present), there was no corresponding attempt to preserve the diachrony that was both inherent in the system and central to its reproduction. Thus, while most land titles first registered before 1910 were designated as "customary"—which was intended as a synonym for ancestral—holdings not so labeled were never formally reclassified upon inheritance. This failure to record the necessary changes in cadastral surveys and village titles had no immediate implications so long as consensus obtained among potential heirs and those individuals empowered to validate the conveyance of postmortem property rights. If, however, disagreement arose as to the precise shares of intestate property due this or that individual or class of heirs, satisfactory resolutions could be extremely problematic, if not impossible, to effect.

Further complicating this picture were historically variable attitudes among state officials, the traditional elite, and villagers themselves concerning the proper relationship between long-established property traditions and Islamic religious codes pertaining to inheritance and property in general. Islamic property law recognizes no distinction between ancestral and nonancestral property; nor does it allow for the diachrony with which we are concerned. Without question, the existence of an alternative set of property and inheritance codes bearing the stamp of Islam provided vil-


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lagers and state officials alike with an ideological precedent and rationale for gradually relaxing numerous constraints associated with precolonial property institutions.

We should also bear in mind that we are dealing with well-financed religious hierarchies backed by the state and empowered to act independently of the wishes of those persons most directly involved in the devolution of rights over land. The distinction is important if only because present-day settlement officers adhere to a policy that expressly disavows the history of all land and focuses only on its official status (as customary or noncustomary) in deciding whether it falls within the domain of Islamic law or should be partitioned instead according to the relevant adat conventions as interpreted by clan leaders. So far as the contemporary state is concerned, there are still two categories of land and land rights but no mechanism whereby noncustomary property is redefined upon inheritance.

With the juridical elimination of diachrony from property relations, divided title persists, at least in a technical sense, only in the case of sawah, residential acreage, and other lands formally designated as customary. Virtually all such holdings date from before 1910, for beginning in the second decade of the twentieth century, by which time commercially valued plots of rubber had been well integrated into the local economy, there were hardly any new lands registered as customary. Although many of these holdings were subject to various clan restrictions through the end of the colonial period, this situation no longer prevails due to the augmented charters of Islamic bodies and their stepped-up involvement in the property, marital, and other affairs of village inhabitants. Contemporary notions of land proprietorship are thus markedly different from those of earlier decades, let alone those of the nineteenth century, primarily on account of the emergence and spread of undivided title (or fee-simple interest), which has gradually displaced conventions of divided title.

In sum, even if we assume for the sake of argument that females are nowadays the sole recipients of land rights dating from after 1910, we must recognize that because such rights fall outside the system of divided title, they are wholly concentrated among the individuals whose names actually appear on cadastral surveys. From this perspective, the effective demise of the system's diachrony bears most directly on the classificatory siblingship of collateral enates. Shifts in these and other modalities of


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siblingship in turn provide the analytic key to continuity and disjunction in the nexus of property relations.

Aside from the state's position regarding the classification of land, it remains to emphasize that villagers themselves do not usually operate with the same set of conceptual categories invoked by settlement officers and Islamic magistrates. Numerous factors account for this situation, including disagreements about whether a particular plot of land ought to be subject to Islamic property codes and lack of consensus as to the actual nature of these codes as well as their application in any given circumstance.

Proprietors, moreover, often view all plots (and categories) of inherited land as ancestral and therefore feel morally bound, at least in certain contexts, to treat them as such. Because one's land rights are not usually mortgaged, sold, or otherwise formally alienated before death, the moral imperatives at issue typically come into play only when a proprietor informs children and other immediate kin of his or her wishes concerning the future devolution of rights over that property. Such information is conveyed to close relatives in a highly variable, extremely casual way, and rarely in the guise of a formal will. More important, just as villagers are generally loath to transgress even the implicit desires of deceased kin, and mothers especially, so too do they tend to view all inherited land as most appropriately passed on to daughters, regardless of Islamic provisions highlighting the jural prerogatives of sons in this area. Assuming formal agreement on the part of males who might otherwise receive shares of their parents' acreage, such sentiments are easily enough accommodated by religious officials, who commonly aim only to ensure that all potential heirs, as defined by Islam, are advised of their privileges with respect to inheritable property. Even when sons might well derive substantial material benefit by exercising these privileges, they too generally agree that women have a greater need for subsistence guarantees in the form of land than do men. In short, it is by no means unusual for men to relinquish such claims in favor of their sisters.

One might thus contend that the elimination of diachrony from the system is relative rather than absolute, since villagers themselves still hold to an implicit reclassification of property over time in consequence of inheritance even though the state does not. There is some merit in this contention, although the resolution of contrasting policy positions invariably


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favors the state. More precisely, the state always has the upper hand both in determining property distribution and in the analytically prior domain of defining the rights associated with inheritable property. Having recently decreed that all land not designated as customary is to be dealt with in accordance with Islamic conventions, the postcolonial state further undermined the system of divided title as well as the jural dimensions of the diachrony central to its reproduction. The extent to which a reclassification of land and land rights still occurs as a result of inheritance may be seen, then, as a conceptual or cultural phenomenon severed from its earlier juridical foundations.

After having considered various state, regional, and national developments, both economic and otherwise, we turn now to certain modalities of nineteenth-century property transmission through which subsequent change in the property system as a whole was channeled. The marriage payments and inheritance practices in question not only allowed for structural continuity but also simultaneously provided the template for the partial systemic collapse analyzed above.

Of greatest relevance here are the assets a groom brought to his marriage (harta pembawa ), which could—and ideally did—include rights to cash, livestock, and other movables that he obtained from his parents or sisters (hence from a narrow range of his kin) through premortem inheritance. The conveyance of such properties to a groom diminished the conjugal or familial fund over which his parents and sisters enjoyed rights, and in much the same fashion as occurred with the engagement rings, marriage gold (mas kawin ), and other marriage payments.

The harta pembawa complex is of particular significance insofar as a married man could legitimately designate his children as heirs to this property, which his enates could otherwise claim upon his decease. Since such paternal provisioning (tentukan ) could include rights over the nonancestral portion of the harta pembawa property he brought to the union, it functioned in essence as an extension of harta pembawa. More generally, paternal provisioning can be seen as an extension of harta pembawa even when the rights at issue centered entirely on the husband's share of conjugal earnings. This is to say that the institution of harta pembawa embodied the structural logic informing all variants of paternal provisioning and that the narrow provisioning of a man at marriage prefigured the distribution of his property to his children (that is, just as his mother's sisters and her


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other collateral enates did not contribute to his harta pembawa or other marriage payments, so too might his own sisters and other collateral enates be excluded from inheriting rights to the property he left at his death). Viewed from this perspective, the harta pembawa complex provided the structural precedent not only for paternal provisioning but also for the colonial-era erosion of property rights grounded in the ties of siblingship and descent that linked married or formerly married men with their sisters and other collateral enates.

The phenomenon of paternal provisioning merits consideration apart from its connections with harta pembawa as well. Its mere ideological existence testified to a man's prerogative to favor his own children over enatic kin in matters of inheritance. This privilege served primarily to qualify the rights of sisters and other immediate enates with respect to the yields of a married man's labor, and to highlight the rights of his own offspring, who belonged to an altogether separate clan.

Of course, the aforementioned rights of a man's sisters and other immediate enates need not have been compromised to any significant degree if his son had married his father's sister's daughter. In such cases the property conveyed via paternal provisioning might be brought to the son's marriage as harta pembawa, utilized to help sustain the domestic unit established with the father's sister's daughter, and thenceforth conveyed to the son's own children, who would be associated with the same descent line and residential compound as his (the son's) father's sister. As noted earlier, however, unions of this sort were probably fairly uncommon in the nineteenth century (even though they may have been seen as ideal) and in any event constitute a very small percentage of the marriages in the villagewide sample discussed in chapter 7. These cases aside, it is clear that the practice of paternal provisioning obstructed the flow of property rights from a deceased man to his sister for the ultimate benefit of her offspring and thus impinged directly on the traditional entailments of cross-sex sibling bonds. Of far broader concern is that a woman's resultant inability to lay claim to the fruits of a deceased brother's labor foreshadowed both the historical linealization of inheritance and the concentration of title among individual households.

These trends are profitably viewed in relation to historical shifts in the significance of paternal provisioning, most of which concern the property rights at stake after a married man's death. Rembau men, it may be re-


280

called, first acquired commercially valued acreage in their own names beginning in 1888 or 1889; by that time they had already realized extremely lucrative returns from trading activities, all of which greatly enhanced the financial stakes at issue upon their decease. As a result, a reassessment and partial collapse of the cultural distinction between movable and immovable property occurred. This realignment of property concepts is evident by 1890, by which time Rembau's indigenous leaders had decided that a dead man's rights over jointly acquired movables (cash, livestock, and so forth) should thenceforth devolve on his children rather than his enatic survivors, and that his rights over conjugally acquired land could revert to his enates. Rembau's leaders were thus not only equating land with movable property that had always been divisible between spouses or their enatic representatives on the termination of a marriage, but they were also effectively upgrading the stakes at issue in paternal provisioning, since its occurrence or nonoccurrence could now effect the devolution of rights over jointly obtained lands as well.

Beginning around 1890, then, the legitimacy of a child's claims to his or her father's share of conjugally acquired movable goods was no longer contingent on the prior occurrence of paternal provisioning. As the traditional sine qua non for children to advance legitimate claims in this area was, in effect, written out of existence, their rights over certain of their father's properties were strengthened at the direct expense of competing jural interests vested in his sisters and other collateral enates.

Congruent developments date from the early part of this century, as in the ways the notion of capital interest (bunga ) was accommodated within the conceptual framework of inheritance. Before 1900, since little if any capital interest usually accrued to the property a man brought to his marriage, no indigenous policy was needed for the distribution of such interest on the dissolution of a marriage. Owing to the widespread purchase of rubber land by males, however, this facet of inheritance soon assumed critical importance. A man might possess potentially valuable acreage suitable for rubber cultivation before his wedding, or he might inherit rights over such property in the course of his marriage. Assuming the land was developed, what was to become of the increase in value, which could be phenomenal? Historical reports vary, but by the late 1920s a general consensus seems to have emerged that the enates of the decedent could claim as his personal estate only the original value of the land, and not the in-


281

crease or the land itself, both of which fell within the category of jointly acquired earnings with its attendant restrictions. In such cases the practice of paternal provisioning clearly resulted in further losses to enatic kin, who might otherwise have obtained up to one-half of the capital interest at issue as well as a half-share of all conjugal earnings.

A recurrent theme in many of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century changes examined here is that the interests of a man's wife and children came to receive priority over those of his sisters and their offspring. Such being the case, to what extent did these and attendant shifts represent departures from the precolonial state of property and inheritance affairs? To answer this question we must assess the genealogical ties and categories of property implicated in precolonial paternal provisioning, which provided the structural basis for later changes in inheritance, including those reinforced by the state or by developments within Islam.

First off I might stress the obvious fact that paternal provisioning emphasized links of patrifiliation at the expense of rights and interests inhering in the cross-sex siblingship and other enatic ties that joined married men with their matrilineal kin. Further, the enatic prerogatives initially undercut by paternal provisioning of jointly acquired earnings centered on movable goods, not land. Likewise, whereas children might inherit shares of their father's conjugally obtained cash, livestock, and weapons through paternal provisioning, they did not gain land rights in this way. These same generalizations apply to paternal provisioning involving a married man's personal estate, for here too we are dealing exclusively with movables (of a nonancestral sort). Significantly, though, the conveyance of property rights from men directly to their children seems not to have caused that property to be recategorized as ancestral. Although such a recategorization would occur if the property passed thereafter to the children's enatic kin, there is an additional structural precedent here for subsequent transformations in property institutions. I refer to the existence of a category of property which not only passed from a man to his offspring but which also retained its nonancestral status despite inheritance.

In sum, to point up that previously inherited land is no longer formally defined as ancestral is to emphasize once again that processes of change over the past century have resulted less in a breakdown of property institutions generally than in a realignment of the relationship between movable goods and certain categories of land. It is to underscore as well the emer-


282

gence of a conceptual disjunction between commercially valued rubber holdings and all other types of land (that is, residential acreage, sawah, and fruit orchards), and an attendant process whereby rubber plots and rights over them came to be associated with the property category centered on movable goods. In time, of course, this likening of rights over rubber plots to those pertaining to livestock, weapons, and such became subject to a process analogous to what Flannery (1972, 413) has referred to as evolutionary promotion—in short, an elevation within the conceptual system that ultimately rendered all land subject to generally comparable jural definitions. The emergence and spread of undivided title at the expense of earlier divided-title forms of proprietorship is but one facet of this process. Such developments were, moreover, effectively anticipated in the practice of paternal provisioning, as well as in the analytically prior domain of harta pembawa. Generally, then, there is considerable justification for viewing all shifts in the social links and categories of inheritable property rights as involving a progressive realignment and reweighting of traditional structural principles and property constructs, rather than the creation ex nihilo of a wholly distinct nexus of property or social constructs.

Female Heirship and the Reproduction of Matriliny

To what extent do the shifts outlined above constitute significant departures from precolonial patterns, whereby rights over previously inherited land typically devolved on a female proprietor's enates? More specifically, how has enatic heirship fared over the past seventy or so years, and how have female enates in particular made out in light of property, inheritance, and other economic changes?

A summary answer to these questions is fourfold. First, female heirs continue to be favored over males with respect to all categories of land titles that have been previously conveyed through inheritance. Second, a consistent and positive association exists between the temporal origin point of land rights on the one hand and the likelihood that such rights will be vested in women on the other; in other words, the more distant the origin point of a particular land title, the greater the chances that women will hold the rights to it (see also Fett 1983; Stivens 1985). Third, one long-range correlate of such trends is the maintenance and reproduction of a generally unbroken chain of property ties among matrilineally related women. Fourth, and perhaps of greatest theoretical relevance, patterns of


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this nature derive largely from the interplay of principles of siblingship and gender, which thus perpetuate the conceptual significance and social entailments of matrifiliation and enatic descent and inheritance.

The implications of this situation force a major revision of earlier thinking about many features of Negeri Sembilan society and culture. The anthropological literature on Negeri Sembilan is replete with predictions and actual claims about the supposed transformation of inheritance relationships in favor of explicitly patrilineal or bilateral arrangements. De Josselin de Jong (1960, 165, 190), for instance, points to a shift whereby Islamic law governs the devolution of rights over jointly acquired acreage. A. Wahab Alwee (1967, 40–41) goes even further, proposing that "newly opened land [has] follow[ed] the Islamic laws of inheritance" ever since the mid 1920s, which decade also witnessed the beginning of a shift from matriliny to patriliny in the inheritance of rights over all noncustomary plots.[5] Swift (1965, 172) asserts that sons tend to receive rubber lands, while daughters get residential and rice acreage, and that these patterns prevail regardless of the "legal status" of the land—by which he apparently means its cultural categorization as customary, noncustomary but ancestral, or noncustomary and nonancestral. Lewis (1962, 192–193) posits a generally comparable situation, contending that male children acquire larger shares of noncustomary rubber land through inheritance than do their sisters but are almost invariably excluded from inheriting noncustomary and customary rice and residential acreage. Here, too, the previous history of proprietorship over noncustomary land is regarded as a nonissue, and we are left with the impression that the devolution of rights over such land is characterized by bilaterality and, in the case of rubber holdings, a bias toward sons.

The basic problem with all such views is that they are products of essentially synchronic inquiries. Since they do not build on historical data obtained from cadastral surveys and household interviews, they fail to grasp the significance of the diachrony within the inheritance system. As a result, these views are wholly inconsistent with the fact that females are far more likely than males to inherit rights over previously inherited land in all agricultural categories, and that this dynamic serves to reproduce a form of matriliny.

Some of the data supporting my assertions are summarized in table 23. These data derive from a detailed study of all District Land Office records for the village of Bogang, which span the period 1888–1980 and thus


284
 

Table 23. Land Titles Registered to Females in Bogang, 1888–1980 (in %)

 

Date of Initial Registration

Diachronic
Perspective,
1890–1980

1888–1889

  1890–1909

  1910–1919

   1920–1929

   1930–1949

   1950–1959

   1960–1969

   1970–1979

 

93.2a

  —

  —

   —

   —

   —

     —

1890

93.2

  —

  —

   —

   —

   —

     —

1900

91.4

    66.3a

  —

   —

   —

   —

     —

1910

88.2

  78.9

     45.4a

   —

   —

   —

     —

1920

85.9

  93.8

   45.9

    56.5a

   —

   —

     —

1930

87.7

  93.4

   49.7

  56.5

   —

   —

     —

1940

86.0

  94.7

   54.5

   61.5

  33.7a

   —

     —

1950

90.4

  94.5

   57.1

  62.7

39.1

    43.9a

     —

1960

93.0

  96.5

   67.2

   68.0

60.9

  52.0

      15.2a

1970

93.0

  96.5

   69.9

   71.9

60.9

  63.0

    25.6

        58.2a

1980

92.3

  98.4

   71.7

   74.6

60.9

  63.0

    38.8

      59.4

Number of titlesb

56

24

95

30

9

24

114

114

Total acreagec

285.8

   96.2

180.2

   50.2

28.1

  40.9

   220.7

   214.1

Mean acreagec

5.1

    4.0

     1.9

     1.7

   3.1

    1.7

1.9

1.9

a At registration.

b Total number of titles first registered during the column's time interval; variations along the row reflect changes in state land policies.

c For all titles first registered during the column's time interval; variations along the row reflect changes in state land policies.


285

extend back to the very first year that land titles were recorded in written form. The collection and analysis of this material represents the first systematic attempt to examine female heirship in Negeri Sembilan from a diachronic perspective capable of illuminating the temporal dynamics of the system of inheritance itself.[6] This material reveals that females still enjoy a privileged position in heirship, even in the case of land first registered in the past few decades. The tendency holds during the post-1909 era on the whole—that is, throughout the period in which lands were no longer formally redefined as ancestral in consequence of inheritance or designated legally as customary.

The fact that females still enjoy a privileged position in heirship is clear from table 23, where the percentages of land titles registered to females increase markedly over time in six of the eight columns. The exceptions are the first and last columns, which show no significant change. In the case of the last column, too little time has passed for any significant change to have occurred. In the first column, showing land titles first registered in 1888–1889, 93.2 percent were under female proprietorship at the time of initial registration, and fully 92.3 percent of these same titles were still under female proprietorship in 1980. The second column shows that, in 1890–1909, a smaller percentage of the land titles were under female proprietorship at initial registration than was the case in the preceding interval (66.3 percent and 93.2 percent, respectively). This relative decline in female proprietorship at the point of initial registration has nothing to do with inheritance; it merely reflects the increasingly pronounced impact of British colonial policies that encouraged males to purchase and register previously unalienated state lands in their own names. The second column as a whole, however, reveals significant historical increases in female proprietorship between initial registration and later decades, which are of course a result of females being favored in inheritance.[7] The data summarized in the remaining columns of table 23 are generally consistent with both these trends, reflecting greater male involvement in the acquisition and registration of previously unalienated land on the one hand and increases in female proprietorship over time through inheritance on the other.

The second trend just noted can be seen in summary form by reading the 1980 row of table 23 from right to left. I should emphasize that the increase in female proprietorship of land through inheritance is


286

not confined to titles first registered before 1909, nearly all of which are designated legally as customary. The trend can also be discerned, though less strikingly, for land titles first registered after 1909, over 95 percent of which are, and always have been, designated as noncustomary. Particularly significant, too, is that this trend obtains with respect to all categories of land—including rubber.

What, then, of the contentions of earlier observers? Regarding the suggestion that the devolution of rights over newly opened lands, such as rubber holdings purchased from the state in the course of marriage, tends to be governed by Islamic law, it is certainly true that sons are occasionally awarded shares of the land that their parents acquired through conjugal effort. If this were not the case, increases in female proprietorship over time would be even more pronounced. The frequent implication by other scholars that, owing to Islamic influences, male shares are usually twice the size or value of those allotted to female offspring, however, is entirely unfounded. Even at present the property laws of Islam are commonly interpreted by villagers to mean only that sons merit inclusion in heirship, not that they are entitled to shares of inheritance larger than their sisters. Throughout most of the twentieth century, furthermore, secular and religious officials with authority over the distribution of intestate property rights seem to have held the same basic view, and in any event sought primarily to inform potential heirs (as defined by Islam) of their jural prerogatives in this area. Male children, I might reiterate, commonly choose to forego their legitimate claims in favor of their sisters.

Nor is there any evidence for a mid-1920s shift toward patrilineal inheritance of noncustomary land. The inclusion of sons as heirs to land jointly acquired by a married couple dos not generate patrilineal inheritance. For even if sons retain such land until they die, it typically then passes to their sisters, wives, or daughters, and subsequently from mother to daughter. Moreover, a great many of the heirs one would expect to encounter under patrilineal inheritance (F, FB, FBS, FBD, BS, BD, and SS, among others) have never been incorporated into the theory or practice of Negeri Sembilan inheritance. Comparable arguments could be advanced with respect to the system's putative evolution toward bilaterality (cf. von Benda-Beckmann 1979, 373–375).

The evidence given here is highly consistent with a complementary corpus of data, obtained from structured interviews at each of Bogang's 106 households, pertaining to proprietors' intentions or wishes concerning the


287

future devolution of rights over their houses, house plots, and agricultural acreage. Let us first consider the anticipated inheritance of rights over currently occupied houses, ninety-nine cases of which (93.4 percent of the village total) are suitable for analysis (see table 24). In 84.9 percent of households, the intended heirs are the natural or adopted daughters of current household heads (defined in most instances as the eldest resident female). The future heirs of another 11.1 percent are sisters, sisters' daughters, or other lineage females; in these cases proprietors have no daughters of their own and live on land registered as customary. Although some of these people could conceivably disassemble and relocate their houses with an eye to bequeathing them to their sons, most proprietors feel morally bound to pass over sons and all male relatives in favor of female collaterals in the matriline, regardless of who financed the construction of the house.

The question of why the vast majority of village houses will pass to daughters and other females in the matriline might be seen as a nonissue, since more than three-quarters of Bogang's residential structures rest on customary land. In other words, many owners who might wish to bequeath their homes to their sons could not do so without relocating onto noncustomary land. Such a possibility, moreover, does not really exist in the case of houses inherited, as opposed to constructed, by current owners. Although one could argue that houses pass to daughters or other female enates in the lineage owing to jural conventions originating in centuries past, which do not correspond with contemporary notions of propriety and inheritance, such arguments gloss over a critical issue: people of both sexes clearly prefer to bestow rights over houses on their daughters rather than—and to the exclusion of—their sons, regardless of whether the rights entail full or provisional title. This is so even in the few instances where houses are owned partly or fully by men. In fact, 86 percent (19 of 22) of the houses situated on noncustomary holdings are expected to pass to daughters.

The future devolution of rights to the homestead plots on which Bogang's currently occupied houses rest is much the same as for houses. As table 25 indicates, daughters and other females sharing lineage membership with the current household heads will be the heirs in approximately 92 percent of the cases at issue.[8]

Data pertaining to the anticipated inheritance of rights over Bogang's agricultural acreage are summarized in tables 26, 27, and 28, revealing patterns similar to those pertaining to houses and houseplots. This data,


288
 

Table 24. Anticipated Inheritance of Rights over Currently Occupied Houses in Bogang, by Land Category

 

Customary

 

Noncustomary,
Inherited

 

Noncustomary,
Purchased

 

Total

Relationship of Heirs
to Household Heads

Number

  %

 

Number

  %

 

Number

  %

 

Number

  %

Natural daughters

62

80.5

 

  5

100.0

 

14

   82.3

 

81

81.8

Adopted daughters

  3

   3.9

 

    —

 

    —

 

  3

   3.1

Other female enates

11

14.3

 

    —

 

    —

 

11

11.1

Natural sons

  1

   1.3

 

    —

 

   1

   5.9

 

  2

   2.0

Adopted sons

    —

 

    —

 

   1

   5.9

 

  1

   1.0

Nonenatic grandchildren

    —

 

    —

 

   1

   5.9

 

  1

    1.0

Total

77

100.0

 

  5

100.0

 

17

100.0

 

99

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by column.


289
 

Table 25. Anticipated Inheritance of Rights over Currently Occupied Residential Acreage in Bogang, by Land Category

 

Customary

 

Noncustomary,
Inherited

 

Noncustomary,
Purchased

 

Total

Relationship of Heirs
to Household Heads

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

Natural daughters

62

  78.5

 

5

83.3

 

  9

52.9

 

   76

  74.5

Adopted daughters

  3

    3.8

 

1

16.7

 

 

    4

    3.9

Other female enates

14

  17.7

 

 

 

  14

  13.7

Daughters and sons,
equally

  —

 

 

  1

5.9

 

    1

    1.0

Daughters and sons,
sons larger share

  —

 

 

  5

29.4

 

    5

    4.9

Adopted sons

  —

 

 

  1

5.9

 

    1

    1.0

Nonenatic grandchildren

  —

 

 

  1

5.9

 

    1

    1.0

Total

79

100.0

 

6

100.0

 

17

100.0

 

102

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by column.


290
 

Table 26. Anticipated Inheritance of Rights over Rice Acreage in Bogang, by Land Category

 

Customary

 

Noncustomary,
Inherited

 

Noncustomary,
Purchased

 

Total

Relationship
of Heirs to
Household Heads

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

 

Number of
Plot Shares

  %

Natural daughters

61

  83.6

 

2

100.0

 

2

100.0

 

65

  84.4

Adopted daughters

  7

    9.6

 

 

 

  7

    9.1

Other female enates

  5

    6.8

 

 

 

  5

    6.5

Total

73

100.0

 

2

100.0

 

2

100.0

 

77

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by column.


291
 

Table 27. Anticipated Inheritance of Rights over Fruit Acreage in Bogang, by Land Category

 

Customary

 

Noncustomary,
Inherited

 

Noncustomary,
Purchased

 

Total

Relationship of Heirs
to Household Heads

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

Natural daughters

14

  73.7

 

2

  50.0

 

  5

  41.6

 

21

  60.0

Adopted daughters

  2

  10.5

 

 

 

  2

    5.7

Other female enates

  2

  10.5

 

 

 

  2

    5.7

Daughters and sons, equally

 

1

  25.0

 

 

  1

    2.9

Daughters and/or sons

 

 

  2

  16.7

 

  2

    5.7

Daughters and sons, sons
larger share

  1

    5.3

 

1

  25.0

 

  2

  16.7

 

  4

  11.4

Sons

 

 

  3

  25.0

 

  3

    8.6

Total

19

100.0

 

4

100.0

 

12

100.0

 

35

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by column.


292
 

Table 28. Anticipated Inheritance of Rights over Rubber Acreage in Bogang, by Land Category

 

Customary

 

Noncustomary,
Inherited

 

Noncustomary,
Purchased

 

Total

Relationship of Heirs
to Household Heads

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

 

Number
of Plot
Shares

  %

Natural daughters

  8

  61.5

 

  4

  40.0

 

  7

  18.4

 

19

  31.2

Adopted daughters

  1

    7.7

 

  2

  20.0

 

  4

  10.5

 

  7

  11.5

Other female enates

  1

    7.7

 

   —

 

  —

   —

 

  1

    1.6

Daughters and sons, equally

   —

 

  4

  40.0

 

  5

  13.2

 

  9

  14.8

Daughters and/or sons

  3

  23.1

 

   —

 

  3

    7.9

 

  6

    9.8

Daughters and sons, sons
larger share

   —

 

   —

 

  8

  21.1

 

  8

  13.1

Sons

   —

 

   —

 

11

  28.9

 

11

  18.0

Total

13

100.0

 

10

100.0

 

38

100.0

 

61

100.0

NOTE : In all cases, percentages are by column.


293

however, is far from comprehensive, partly because interviewees did not always divulge the full extent of their holdings.

In any event, table 26 suggests that rights over all sawah will pass to daughters or other female enates of household heads, regardless of the nature of the property rights at issue or whether the land is designated as customary or noncustomary. As for fruit orchards (table 27), the female enates of household heads will be favored overwhelmingly in the case of customary land, and to some extent in the case of noncustomary acreage as well. The least likelihood of female heirship as regards orchards is in noncustomary holdings purchased by current proprietors—resembling the case of residential acreage. Viewed conversely, male progeny are far more likely to receive shares of their parents' purchased rather than inherited noncustomary orchards and homestead plots.

The devolution of rights over land planted in rubber (table 28) is subject to the same set of temporal dynamics. Thus, we need not follow earlier observers in invoking a separate set of genealogical links or structural principles to account for the inheritance of rubber land or its relationship to other modalities of inheritance. At the same time, if we consider only residential plots and all types of agricultural holdings that have never before been inherited, the highest estimates for future male heirship are clearly those pertaining to rubber. This situation certainly derives in part from the fact that rubber land is utilized solely to generate cash income and is therefore strongly associated with domestic entrepreneurs, hence males. Yet the conceptual link between males and rubber land does not preclude females from inheriting purchased noncustomary rubber lands. For that matter, the conceptual link is far less pronounced with regard to noncustomary rubber lands that have already been inherited at least once, as evidenced by the projection that females will be the exclusive heirs in 60 percent of cases, joining their brothers in heirship in the remaining 40 percent.

The larger explanation for the extent of male inclusion in rubber acreage heirship lies with notions of siblingship and the pervasive view that brothers and sisters ought to be accorded equivalent shares of their parents' estate. The point is frequently made that, since daughters will inherit rights to houses, sawah, and residential acreage, sons should get at least some rubber land. Providing sons with access to rubber holdings is all the more important in light of the much-reduced economic and political significance of males' traditional inheritance shares, such as weapons and clan titles.


294

Beneath this concern with equivalence, however, is a more fundamental concern to provide daughters with property that will enable them to fend for themselves and their children if they are abandoned by or outlive their husbands. Rubber lands have become important components of such inheritance shares owing to declines in the economic value of women's rice plots. These factors help explain why so many women are expected to inherit rubber plots as well as rice and residential land, and why many, if not most, men will probably be bequeathed smaller shares than their sisters.

Siblingship and Gender in Inheritance

To account for the fact that female heirs have been favored over males throughout the past century, it is useful to examine local constructs of siblingship and gender. The social and especially the moral implications of these constructs demonstrate the uselessness of arguments resting on vacuous notions of "cultural lag" or "the dead hand of tradition" to explain this favoring of females; they also allow for powerful insights into continuity and change in property transactions and myriad other dimensions of social relations.

As I have stated, in recent decades neither the clan structure nor its associated sanctions—or those of other political or administrative bodies—have been instrumental in promoting villagers' adherence to practices that tended to exclude males from the inheritance of rights to noncustomary land or the houses thereon. In point of fact quite the opposite has occurred, inasmuch as twentieth-century forces of Islamic nationalism and reform have underscored Koranic perspectives on the privileged position of sons vis-à-vis daughters. We might also recall villagers' historically stepped-up strivings to orient their activities to Islamic idioms, and the fact that individuals with extralocal religious training perceive much of adat as incongruent with Islamic orthodoxy.

A crucial factor in the continuity at issue here is that moral obligations are generally felt to be of far greater scope and force with regard to daughters than to sons. This attitude is manifested in proprietors' explanations of why sons are or are not likely to inherit rights to the noncustomary land vested in a household member. Many individuals who desire or expect such holdings to pass partly or wholly to their sons referred to the religious and jural entailments of being Muslim. The question of sons desir-


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ing, needing, or deserving shares of their parents' land, however, rarely arose. In marked contrast, those who intended effectively to exclude male offspring from such inheritance did not refer to formal duties codified in sacred texts, but spoke instead of affection for their daughters, who were far more needy and deserving of land than sons.

The broader theme is realized in the local view that adult males should bestow land rights on certain female relatives—including their sisters and daughters, and of course their wives, but not mothers or any other female kin—so as to contribute to the current and future well-being of these women. Such views attest to a pervasive concern that women not be left unprovided for owing to the death or desertion of husbands, who should assume protective and "elder-brotherly" (abang ) roles in relation to their wives but commonly fall short of the ideal. The comportment of husbands and fathers, and of in-marrying males generally, is implicitly judged by the ideals pertaining to the treatment their wives and children should receive from enatically related elder brothers. Just as disjunctions between theory and practice in this area account strongly for villagers' frequently negative appraisals of the behavior of in-marrying males, so too do these same appraisals underwrite those aspects of the gender ideology that portray males as inherently different from females and ultimately far less responsible and reliable. In short, notions of siblingship inform gender constructs and likewise conduce toward a favoring of female heirs.

Present-day gender ideology appears highly congruent with its counterpart of centuries past and quite likely to be reproduced in its contemporary form for some time to come. This ideology specifies and encodes models for the proper—that is, the God-given and "natural"—activities, roles, and relationships of men and women, and does so in accordance with local premises concerning the "innate differences" between male and female personality and behavior patterns. Here women are depicted as the more sacrificing and reliable of the two sexes, and far more deserving and in need of assistance and support than men. The personal sacrifices of women are in fact enshrined in myths of origin and both encountered and recalled in diverse contexts of contemporary village experience and activity. Women's emotional reliability and sense of social responsibility are also the subject of considerable cultural elaboration, particularly given the relative absence of such with regard to men. In the eyes of males and females alike, women are less given to mistreating or abandoning kin—be they same-sex siblings,


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spouses, children, or parents—than are men. Similarly, they are much quicker than men to patch up differences and heal the occasionally strained bonds of cooperation and friendship linking them with relatives and other villagers. All this is reflected in the notion that women are "soft-hearted" (hati lembut ), whereas men have "hard hearts" (hati keras ).

Local perceptions of the innate differences between males and females figure into the bestowal of rights over houses and the overall thrust of property transactions at two critical points, both of which villagers commonly cite when they explain their adat to outsiders. First, since females are seen as the weaker and more vulnerable of the two sexes and more likely than males to assume a dominant role in childrearing, they require substantial protection and assistance from their parents and kin. It is universally assumed, for example, that all females will eventually marry and become mothers. Equally widespread is the conviction that having a house, along with part of a house plot and a stretch of cultivable land, will satisfy at least some of a mother's material needs and will also enable her to provide her offspring with shelter and subsistence. A mother may well have to fend for herself and her children for months at a time, since married men often take leave of their wives' communities for extended periods. Given the age differential at marriage, women also tend to outlive their husbands and therefore must have resources to fall back on if they are to survive, let alone live somewhat comfortably.

But women must be prepared not merely for the temporary absence or death of the household entrepreneur. Marriage itself is seen as a tenuous arrangement, a man's loyalties to his wife and children provisional, even capricious. The theme of desertion by husbands and fathers frequently dominates in villagers' explanations of why adequately providing for their daughters is so important. In this connection villagers also refer to the circumstances of outmigration (merantau ) and the demonstrated ability of males to eke out a living and make do whether they find themselves in their natal communities, among affinal kin, or in distant and culturally foreign locales such as Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. According to this perspective, men are simply more adaptable and therefore do not require institutionalized subsistence guarantees of the sort usually extended to women. In the final analysis, however, it is on account of male infidelity and whim that women require sustained assistance from their kin. Property in the form of houses and land has long been central to such assistance.


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The other major reason why daughters tend to receive most, and sometimes all, of a household's land lies in the understanding that proprietors may someday depend on their heirs for nurturance and support. The unquestioned assumption that reciprocity should underlie the relationship between parents and their children is of critical importance in this regard, for children incur lifelong debts to their parents, which can never be repaid in full. Such debts of gratitude devolve on heirs and nonheirs alike, but children singled out for heirship stand especially beholden to their parents. At the same time, of course, children's support and aid are neither fully guaranteed in advance nor necessarily forthcoming when most needed.

One way of increasing the likelihood that a child will respond appropriately during hard times is to forestall the formal transmission of household property rights as long as possible, even if this means—as it usually does—going to the grave with unallotted holdings. This approach is straightforward in its logic and appeal: children who look after their mothers or parents during sickness and old age will receive the larger share or even all of the household property; those who do not will be left less, and perhaps none at all. Both contemporary experience and traditional lore testify to the value, though not the infallibility, of this approach. Similarly, villagers take as a given fact of nature that daughters will respond more compassionately than sons to their parents' hardships, whether or not future inheritance figures into the picture. Promises to sons concerning future heirship would not likely alter this fact appreciably. In any case, there remains the overriding concern to provide fully for daughters who might be neglected or abandoned by their husbands. Giving sons a share in the land that would otherwise pass exclusively to daughters might undercut the women's subsistence guarantees, leaving them less able to cope on their own. Worse yet, it could lead to the forcible mortgage or sale of that property owing to mismanagement, failure to pay taxes, or debts on the part of male co-heirs (that is, the women's brothers).

Issues relating to women's sexuality, particularly that of sisters, enter in here as well in that villagers argue a direct correlation between female landlessness and prostitution. Adults of both sexes boast that very few Negeri Sembilan women become prostitutes, referring by way of explanation to the subsistence guarantees extended to them through inheritance. Such guarantees are said not to exist among Malays elsewhere in the Peninsula owing to what some villagers regard as the "more Islamic" adat


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temenggong. In local lore the Malay women of Kelantan serve as the negative case par excellence, for it is widely believed that female landlessness from male biases in inheritance forces many Kelantanese women into petty trade as well as prostitution. Bequeathing land to sons thus makes these men indirectly responsible for their sisters' highly inappropriate sexual behavior. This could occur even if the actions of male co-heirs did not result in the squandering of resources in which their sisters also held interests. In almost all cases we are speaking of rather limited quantities of productive land conveyed through inheritance; hence, the inclusion of male progeny as co-heirs could easily diminish their sisters' shares by just enough to preclude year-round satisfaction of domestic needs.

The continued biases against male heirs might also be seen as evidence of an attempt to preserve complementarity among cross-sex siblings, and this in the face of strong historical pressures to mute (or transform) this complementarity and promote a more pronounced (or simply restructured) sibling equivalence. After all, many villagers interpret Islamic property codes to mean only that sons are entitled to inheritance shares equal to those of their sisters. Yet in many cases even this view is resisted, for it enhances the likelihood of arguments and antagonisms between brothers and sisters, thereby undercutting the protective role and disinterestedness that should characterize brothers' behavior toward their sisters.[9]

Gender Ideology, Female Heirship, and the Autonomy of Women

The gender ideology that I have outlined here raises important theoretical issues regarding the comparative study of women in society and culture. For one thing, much of the foregoing would seem to suggest a local perception of men as somehow "closer to nature" than women, since so often men are seen as the more likely to act on their base or animal impulses (nafsu ) and ipso facto as less bound than women by social and cultural constraints of the sort separating humanity from the animal domain and nature in general. In certain respects such a view does exist and is shared by males and females alike. This fact would thus appear to pose problems for Ortner's (1974) thesis that women are everywhere held to be "closer to nature" than males and therefore the "less cultural" of the two sexes (as well as culturally devalued and socially secondary as a group).


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In fact, however, no such problems exist, for in the final analysis men and women alike feel that women are the "closer to nature," both in the general sense of having more natural affinities and in the more limited sense of being more able to threaten the established order. To appreciate this point and the apparent contradiction with perceptions of males as the more capricious, self-interested, and libidinally driven of the two sexes, we need only look to metaphors of biology and reproduction. These provide the key not only to numerous features of the gender ideology but also to many of the mechanisms by which this ideology promotes continuity in the favoring of female heirs.

More broadly, I suggest that it is precisely because this ideology portrays females as the weaker and in some sense the "less cultural" sex that they are accorded the larger shares of inheritance and subsistence guarantees, which in turn provide them with a material base (although not the only one) allowing them considerable autonomy and social control relative to males.

These contentions are profitably viewed in light of Malay notions of human nature and the fact that villagers frequently refer to the existence of two opposed elements or forces forever struggling within the individual. These forces are rationality or intellect (akal ) on the one hand and desire, lust, or passion (nafsu ) on the other. The point is often made that, much as proper actions testify to the dominance, however temporary, of rationality over passion, a "good person" (orang baik ) is one whose general behavior appears governed by the intellect rather than desire or lust. Conversely, improper actions and comportment that is less than refined bespeak an inability or lack of concern to control the baser impulses. Behavior seen as contravening social codes is not merely aesthetically offensive (tak sedap ) and unrefined (kurang halus ), but it also reflects faulty or incomplete socialization. Hence, individuals whose comportment is considered seriously improper are sometimes referred to as "less than fully taught" (kurang ajar ); they are thus accorded an intermediate standing between the world of animals and nature—where moral codes do not exist and thus need not be learned—and the rule-governed realm of humanity. We must ask, then, why females emerge in the final analysis as the more passionate and lustful of the two sexes, and therefore the less rational and cultural.

One explanation I encountered for the "greater animality" of females was rooted in procreative behavior and interpretations of the ease with


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which males achieve sexual satisfaction (orgasm) as compared with their wives. According to this perspective, men are the more quickly gratified in intercourse because their sexual longings are simply less intense. That women are possessed by greater lust is evidenced by their desire to continue lovemaking even after their husbands have collapsed in satisfaction. I should remark, however, that these comments surfaced in discussions with male villagers and that I was unable to broach this particular subject with females. Yet since I found little disagreement between men and women on any issues related to procreation, gender, and the like, I assume that women interpret such things similarly. In any event, women clearly regard menstrual blood as extremely dirty and polluting, as do men, and both take very seriously all Islamic proscriptions concerning menstruating women's physical contact with the Koran as well as their involvement in prayer, fasting, and mosque activities. Menstrual blood is in fact referred to, by women and men alike, as "dirty blood" (darah kotor ), just as menstruation is likened to the moon's arrival (kedatangan bulan ) and a flood (banjir ). Since dirt or dirty blood, following Douglas (1966), may be viewed as matter out of place, hence disorder, the conceptual linkage between menstruation, lunar cycles, and flooding argues even more strongly for the association of women with nature and natural threats to established orders.

Numerous other areas would support the contention that local culture fosters a more intimate association with nature on the part of females than males.[10] I wish here, however, merely to suggest that the social implications of gender ideologies that portray females as "closer to nature" than males are far more variegated than commonly recognized. Specifically, I would emphasize that these gender constructs may go far toward guaranteeing women rights over houses, land, and other forms of property and thereby relatively privileged positions of autonomy and social control vis-à-vis brothers, husbands, and men in other kinship and social roles.

In sum, females in Bogang and elsewhere in Rembau and Negeri Sembilan continue to be strongly favored over males in the inheritance of rights to houses, residential acreage, and most other categories of land, despite the colonial-era demise of divided title and numerous other precolonial property and inheritance conventions. Women's privileged position with respect to rights over houses and homestead plots contributes to the residential clustering of female kin and likewise promotes the dispersal


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of their brothers and other male relatives. Accordingly, enatically related women continue to comprise the stable and solidary membership of contiguous households, lineage compounds, and residential settlements generally. Most men spend the better part of their married lives residing among their wives' immediate kin, where they are inevitably defined as inmarrying males beholden to their affines—which situation necessarily limits their authority over their wives and children and otherwise constrains their behavior both within the domestic domain and beyond. Thus men are typically unable to dominate or coerce women, either as individuals or in groups.

The continued favoring of female heirs is generally congruent with present-day gender ideology, which has remained largely intact from the nineteenth century to the present. This ideology also informs gender-based distinctions in production and exchange. Thus, it is a major force in ensuring that residentially aggregated female kin still assume most of the labor associated with rice cultivation, in addition to much of the responsibility for the maintenance and reproduction of socially valued exchange. Female predominance in these spheres affords women numerous opportunities to congregate together and to distance themselves, both physically and conceptually, from the domestic domain and the myriad entailments of caring for their husbands and children. In light of the recent decline of exchanges associated with rice cultivation and processing and villagers' much-reduced dependence on rice production, female exchanges keyed to ritual feasting and the creation and maintenance of affinal bonds are of particular analytic significance. Women's activities in these public arenas are both indispensable and a source of considerable prestige in the eyes of all villagers. They also feed into local views that women are more responsible than men when it comes to honoring kinship and social obligations, especially those involving the nurturance and provisioning of spouses and children. These views are, as we have seen, integral to a largely implicit but widely redounding ideology of gender that depicts men as more prone than women to capricious behavior and perfectly willing to abandon their wives and children when difficulties arise. This ideology, moreover, helps to explain why females are seen as requiring greater subsistence guarantees than males, and why so many females still end up with the lion's shares of their parents' estates.

More generally, the reproduction of this ideology has played a crucial


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role in guaranteeing Negeri Sembilan women many of their precolonial prerogatives—including their relatively privileged positions of autonomy and social control. The data examined here should thus encourage a critical reassessment of the widely held view, espoused by Engels ([1884] 1972), Boserup (1970), Goody (1973, 1976), Sacks (1974), and others, that colonialism and modern market forces necessarily undermine the position of women in agrarian societies. Despite the general validity of many of these analysts' propositions, their universal applicability cannot be empirically justified (cf. Stoler [1977, 76], Peletz [1987b]).


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9—
Social Change and Cultural Continuity

This chapter focuses on an intraclan feud in Bogang known as the "adat crisis" (krisis adat ). The events and ramifications of this social drama provide a critical window on continuity and change in local society and culture, elucidating general features of social process as well. So, too, do the entailments of ritual change and cultural rationalization, which are taken up in the final section of the chapter. To summarize, I argue that numerous dynamics and schisms continue to be framed in the symbols and imagery of adat and that these latter cultural phenomena still serve as the foci around which local sentiment is galvanized. I also contend that the twentieth century has witnessed a narrowing of adat's semantic range, which trend, ironically, attests strongly to the overwhelming cultural centrality of adat in village society.

Bogang's Adat Crisis

Bogang's adat crisis comprises a series of events that occurred in the mid 1960s. Both the incidents and their present-day repercussions merit careful


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consideration for a number of reasons, particularly for what they reveal about personal and kin-based loyalties as well as about the scope and force of adat idioms in the rapidly modernizing Negeri Sembilan of today. It should be noted, however, that certain details of the events in question are hazy, even contradictory, reflecting discrepant contemporary accounts as well as after-the-fact embellishments and divergent reconstructions.

In major outline, the sequence of events occurred as follows. A young boy named Isa stole some sugarcane from a garden belonging to Hamzah, a fellow clansman (Lelahmaharaja) affiliated with Bogang's wealthiest and most prestigious lineage (Hill). Incensed by the theft, Hamzah struck Isa, thereby seriously alienating the boy's kin and violating a fundamental adat injunction against assaulting persons of the same clan. Isa's close relatives considered taking the case to court but later decided on an adat resolution to the problem. Shortly thereafter local clan leaders met to weigh the evidence and to determine the most appropriate course of action. After pronouncing Hamzah guilty, they ordered him to host Isa's kin at a ritual feast. Since Hamzah's older brother, Ibrahim, happened to be the local clan's highest-ranking official (that is, the clan subchief), it was his responsibility to see that Hamzah paid his retribution to young Isa's kin. But for various reasons—some quite obvious, others less so—Hamzah's brother did not pursue the matter with vigor. Almost everyone in the community saw his failure to enforce justice as a dereliction of duty, the principal exception being persons associated through descent or marriage with his lineage, who had little choice but to support him. Other villagers brought the matter to the attention of the clan chief and finally to the Undang himself. These officials concurred with earlier decisions regarding Hamzah's culpability and ordered Hamzah's brother to oversee the sponsoring of the feast and other retribution. Owing to a multitude of contemporary political considerations, however, they did not exercise their authority to remove Ibrahim from office, even though it was soon clear that the feast would never take place.

To this day the matter has not been resolved, and Hamzah's brother still enjoys the title of clan subchief, the most prestigious adat title in Bogang. This situation lies at the heart of what community residents refer to as the adat crisis, which is manifested both in the general boycotting of the clan subchief and in the sharp antagonisms between his wealthy and politically well-connected lineage and the other two lineages of the clan. As one ex-


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ample, the clan subchief is not called on to preside over the engagement or marital exchanges involving persons from other lineages of his clan. Consequently, all such exchanges are in certain critical respects out of keeping with "the way things should be," as ordained by the traditions of ancestors. Individuals associated with his lineage, moreover, are commonly excluded from feasts sponsored by the other lineages, and vice versa. Further reifying this cleavage is the villagewide schism defined in terms of support for one or the other of the two national political parties. The clan subchief and his backers are allied with the ruling party, UMNO, whereas their principal adversaries in the adat crisis stand firmly behind the opposition group, PAS. Marriage rituals and the entire institution of feasting have thus become highly politicized. So, too, has prayer itself, for feasting centers around collective prayer and the sharing of food, and many members of the opposed political parties prefer not to pray—or eat—together. I will return to these issues in a more detailed analysis of the events leading up to and perpetuating the crisis.

I have already noted that the crisis dates from about 1965, which is when the eight- or nine-year-old Isa stole one or more stalks of sugar cane from another villager's garden. Although such petty thefts by youngsters were by no means unheard of, they typically reflected badly both on the children's upbringing and on their parents and immediate collaterals. These actions might, however, be written off simply as childhood or teenage shenanigans, especially if the offender's prior behavior had never drawn criticism from fellow villagers or if his kin enjoyed relatively high status in the community. Regardless of anyone's verdict concerning such a young thief's character, it would be extremely inappropriate to strike a child or young teenager caught stealing garden produce. Here, though, the owner of the garden, a married man named Hamzah, did strike the young Isa, who by almost every account was plainly guilty of the theft.

Unfortunately, it was never clear to me if Hamzah caught Isa red-handed and hit him then or caught up with him later. What's more, there was little consensus as to the severity of the retaliation, or even as to whether Hamzah struck Isa with an open hand or a clenched fist. The more reliable accounts indicate that Hamzah did not witness the actual theft but that he definitely overreacted when he later encountered Isa walking along the railroad tracks, for he grabbed the boy by his shirt and struck him about the head with enough force to bloody his lip. The inci-


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dent generated considerable commotion—especially since any form of physical assault is extremely rare—and a sizable crowd of onlookers soon gathered. Some of those present decided Isa's condition required medical attention and so he was taken to the local hospital for treatment. The doctor in charge apparently felt that his injuries were not all that serious and did not merit Isa's remaining in the hospital.

When Isa's kin heard of the altercation they considered taking Hamzah to court on charges of assault. They reportedly went through the preliminary stages necessary for the initiation of judiciary action, although this may well have been a bluff and nothing more. At any rate, this approach was probably all the more appealing because one of the boy's close relatives worked at either the local or state-level court. As such, he may have been able to expedite the proceedings or, better yet, to contribute toward a court settlement in Isa's favor. As it turned out, however, a short-lived reconciliation was effected, and Isa's kin decided not to pursue the matter in court but to resolve the conflict within the village, in accordance with the appropriate adat traditions. It was (and still is) generally preferred to find a village-level solution to disputes of this sort rather than call on outside authorities, and this case was no exception. Indeed, it is safe to assume that virtually everyone involved experienced great relief—and a renewed sense of faith in the workings and relevance of adat—when the boy's side signaled their willingness to drop the idea of court litigation in favor of an adat resolution.

To appreciate the workings of adat justice we need to recall that the kinship relationship of the principal parties in a dispute is very important, both with respect to the person responsible for investigating the background and details of the conflict and in terms of the restitution or punishment and its enforcement. In the altercation at hand, the most salient feature of Hamzah's errant behavior was that the boy he struck belonged to one of his own clan's lineages. (Had Isa been affiliated with Hamzah's lineage, or with another clan, the incident and its ramifications would have assumed altogether different dimensions.) In theory, then, whoever was head of Hamzah's lineage bore full responsibility for convening local lineage elders to obtain accurate information concerning exactly what happened. In this case the de facto head of the lineage, holding the superior title of clan subchief, was also Hamzah's brother, Ibrahim (see figure 7).[1] By virtue of office, Ibrahim had the constitutional duty not only to see that


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figure

Figure 7.
Principal Actors in Bogang's Adat Crisis

lineage elders agreed on the compensation owed the boy's kin, but also to ensure its prompt payment. The head of the boy's lineage had a comparable jural mandate, which included investigating the incident in the first place; calling a meeting of his constituents; helping them to reach a consensus on the restitution due them; and finally, seeing that the agreed-upon payment was in fact forthcoming. The two leaders were also expected to negotiate a settlement with each other if necessary and to cooperate with other lineage heads of the local clan as well as any higher ranking adat figures (such as the clan chief) brought in on the matter.

It was apparently in this latter connection that major problems first arose, for when villagers trace the roots of the feuding and factionalism that still dominate political dynamics and loyalties, they frequently cite conflicting loyalties and obligations, highly partisan behavior, and dereliction of duty, all on the part of Hamzah's brother Ibrahim. The basic issue was that although Ibrahim met with the three lineage heads of the clan and


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seemed to concur with their decision on patching up relations between the two lineages, he did not proceed to enforce the payment of retribution—this despite the fact that as clan subchief he should have played the dominant role in settling the affair to the satisfaction of all concerned. His jural and moral responsibilities were not only to the members of his lineage but also, and more importantly, to the entire local clan; thus, loyalties to his lineage and close kin should have yielded to the broader issue of clan solidarity and the upholding of adat.

The verdict was that Hamzah should slaughter a goat and sponsor a ritual feast (kenduri ) at one of the village shrines (keramat ) to which Isa's kin, and presumably Isa himself, would be invited. Additionally, the lineage heads and clan subchief reportedly all agreed on the fine for which Hamzah stood liable—to wit, one bahara (M$7.20), this being a standard unit for the calculation of adat fines. This money, if paid, would have been claimed by the clan chief (Dato Perba ) and then partially redistributed among the four clan officers in the village. Hamzah, however, never paid the fine, nor—and far more serious—did he ever sponsor the ritual feast that would have symbolized both an acknowledgment of his wrongdoing and his remorse and goodwill toward the boy's lineage. Of perhaps greater historical relevance, these acts of contrition would have contributed both to the viability of concepts and processes of adat justice and to a general sense that the dominant values grounded in adat still held meaning for the conduct of daily affairs. Since nothing of this sort occurred, and in fact the subsequent stalemate worked in the opposite direction, the question emerges as to what forces led to the nonpayment of retribution.

The most general answer to this question lies in the nature of historical change over the past century and, more specifically, in the imposition and consolidation of modern governmental bureaucracies that deprived adat leaders of their control over effective sanctions. These trends fostered conditions conducive to the nonpayment of retribution and the ensuing crisis, all of which would have been inconceivable before the twentieth century or at least would have been of temporary duration and relatively minor significance in village history. This is not to suggest that traditional sanctions were always effective or that intraclan or other political feuding rarely occurred before the events leading to Bogang's adat crisis. It is to point out instead that in earlier times, if retribution were not paid, the affair


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would have been settled by force of arms resulting in the impeachment or murder of the clan subchief, resettlement by the boy's lineage, or some combination thereof. In the contemporary era, however, such alternative solutions do not exist owing to the state's consolidation of power and its monopoly on the exercise of legitimate force, in conjunction with the current realities of demography and land acquisition, which render any sort of resettlement virtually impossible.

Yet history is certainly not the sole explanation here, since the loyalties and actions of particular individuals—however much a product and barometer of historical change—both precipitated and drew out the crisis. Here the plot thickens and we must focus on relations of kinship and social control within Hamzah's lineage, which seem to have precluded the payment of retribution. I refer to an essential fact not yet mentioned, namely, that when the incident occurred Hamzah and Ibrahim's mother not only was alive and residing in the village but also was the eldest, thus the most esteemed and influential, woman in the entire lineage. The mother, Wan (see chapter 6), apparently felt Hamzah's reaction to the theft of his sugarcane justified and not deserving of any censure. She refused to abide the supposedly unanimous verdict of the adat leaders and ordered both of her sons to ignore it.

Her position of loyalty to Hamzah created serious problems for Ibrahim in his capacity as subchief. Were he to insist that Hamzah pay the fine and sponsor the feast at the village shrine, he would so anger and alienate his mother that she might well disown him. (Indeed, she reportedly told him as much.) Nor could Ibrahim sidestep the issue by paying the fine and sponsoring the feast himself, for this would have amounted to an acknowledgment of Hamzah's guilt and a breach of fraternal and filial loyalty in his mother's eyes. And yet if Ibrahim adhered to his mother's wishes he clearly ran the risk of being discredited by Isa's lineage and possibly by other segments of the clan as well. In any case, Ibrahim chose to defer to his mother, ostensibly so as to remain on good terms with her and avoid being cast in the role of disobedient and ungrateful son, even though such deference meant dereliction of official duty and abrogation of moral responsibility. His overriding filial allegiance was not immediately apparent to members of the other lineages, however, for, as already noted, he had seemingly agreed to the particulars of the retribution during a meeting with the three


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lineage heads. On that occasion, and for a short while thereafter, it was assumed that he would effect the payment of the fine and ensure Hamzah's holding the feast.

As the weeks passed it became increasingly obvious that Ibrahim was not seriously committed to compelling his brother to make the prescribed amends. The three lineage heads soon recognized that their only recourse lay in soliciting the intervention of the Dato Perba, Ibrahim's political superior and chief of the entire clan. This man lived in a village a few miles from Bogang and, like all his predecessors, was the second-highest-ranked adat figure in Rembau, being junior only to the Undang. By dint of office and regalia alone, his wisdom and authority in clan matters were above question, at least in theory. The three lineage heads were therefore confident that the Dato Perba would acknowledge the validity of their claims against the clan subchief, and would also insist on the latter's compliance with their decision concerning Hamzah's restitution. Indeed, the Dato Perba reportedly sided with them to the extent of concurring on Hamzah's guilt, and he ordered Ibrahim to insist that Hamzah honor his debt to the boy's lineage. Unfortunately for almost everyone involved, however, the Dato Perba's intervention proved ineffective. Consequently, and as a final resort, the matter was taken to the Undang. Here again the boy's kin looked forward to a binding decision involving some censure of Ibrahim's comportment as clan subchief, and an eventual end to the stalemate.

It may have been at this stage that a precise timetable for the payment of retribution was established (although some such details were probably considered at an earlier phase in the mounting crisis). The decisive—and ultimately divisive—issue is that the deadline passed, as did the subsequent one-hundred-day grace period. In fact, by mid 1980 the situation remained essentially unchanged, the critical differences being the progressive buildup of antagonisms and resentment between Ibrahim as clan subchief on the one hand and the three lineage heads on the other, and the attendant solidification of alliances and oppositions centering on the principal actors and their most loyal supporters.

Before turning to the various ramifications of the crisis, we might consider why neither the clan chief nor the Undang demanded Ibrahim's resignation once it became clear he had no intention of executing his responsibilities in the matter. They could have done so, of course, and in the view of many Bogang residents they should have, given their mandate to up-


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hold justice and maintain the integrity of traditional offices. That they adopted instead a position of benign neglect as regards Ibrahim's dereliction of duty is one of the more distressing aspects of the entire crisis, for villagers tend to interpret this action (or nonaction) as colored, if not determined, by considerations of power, status, money, and politics—all of which should have been irrelevant in the case at hand.

To elaborate, both at the time of his assault on young Isa and throughout the ensuing crisis, Hamzah held a federal government appointment of considerable importance. Owing to his prominent position—not to mention a salary of astronomical dimensions, by local standards—Hamzah enjoyed almost unparalleled prestige in Rembau and the rest of Negeri Sembilan. In addition, because of his presumed close connections with state and other federal government officials, villagers regarded Hamzah as capable of exercising inordinate influence over the clan chief and the Undang. Villagers therefore assumed that these latter figures responded accordingly, especially to Hamzah's strategic placement within the corridors of power. In brief, the stock explanation as to why neither of these leaders called for Ibrahim's resignation is that they either bowed to deftly applied pressures or anticipated heavy political fallout if they pursued the issue to its logical conclusion. Expressed in one of the many village euphemisms, "they were playing politics" (dia main politik ). Worse yet—although villagers define this as an integral dimension of virtually all political behavior—their actions constituted a complete disregard of sanctified concepts of local justice and retribution, as well as the moral order in its entirety. In an era of all-consuming secularization, rapid erosion of long sacrosanct rural institutions, and pervasive uncertainty as to the viability of established local custom, these events assumed a profound and disconcerting symbolic significance. For, to paraphrase a comment I heard on numerous occasions, "if those at the top don't adhere to adat, why should anyone else?"

Let us now look at the subsequent ramifications and manifestations of this collective dilemma in greater detail. I should underscore that Ibrahim and Hamzah's entire lineage appears to have endorsed Ibrahim's general position throughout the whole affair. So too, it seems, did all of the men married to Ibrahim's lineage sisters, for in general the males who marry into a particular lineage do band together in political and most other broadly social affairs (and hence tend to be classified in terms of their


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affinal connections rather than their own descent affiliations). Whether Ibrahim's affinal supporters were spurred by loyalty to Ibrahim, his brother Hamzah, or the two men's mother, they did stand basically united behind Ibrahim's decision not to force Hamzah to pay the adat fine or host the prescribed feast. Such at any rate was the public stance these men adopted, and I suspect that they also advised Ibrahim not to go ahead and sponsor the feast himself. Here again some motivational elements elude us, and a critical factor may well have been the long history of strained relations between Ibrahim's lineage and that of Isa. In any case, the prior existence of bad blood between the two groups definitely figured into the perpetuation of the crisis and its subsequent transformation into a villagewide affair with polarizing implications for group prayer, public animal slaughter, and officiation at adat rituals, as well as village leadership and affiliation with national political parties.[2]

The circumstances responsible for the preexisting antagonisms between the two groups are probably far more complex than most contemporary villagers (or I) realize, and could easily date to early in the century, if not before. Nevertheless, dynamic factors of more recent origin occasionally assume dominance in villagers' accounts of these strained relations, which would seem significant in the generation and sustenance of the tensions in question. I refer to the existence within each camp of a few men regarded as both well versed in the art of public, persuasive speech and resourceful in mobilizing sentiment and resources for "getting things done"—in brief,