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12 The Embattled Chronologer The Politics of the Calendar
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The 1980 Controversy over the Dates for Nale

Using our knowledge of other lunar calendars, we can now reexamine the events of 1980 to understand why the synchronization of the sea worm swarming and the nale festivities did not work in that particular year. Traditionally, the Rato Nale used seasonal indications and rudimentary astronomy to fix the advent of the "bitter months" (wulla padu ). Once that date was fixed he simply "counted out" and named four other moons (Habu, Mangata, Nale Kiyo, and Nale Bokolo) to determine when the worm swarming would come. Usually this date fell late in February. My records, for example, indicate that sea worms did swarm in some abundance on February 27, 1981, and on February 15, 1982. However, this disjunction between Kodi moons and Roman months has meant that at times the dates predicted by the Rato Nale do not fall in February—as in 1980, when the worms swarmed in greatest abundance on March 10.

Only much later did I realize that the Rato Nale had in fact forecast this date, but no one had listened to him. On October 30, 1979, just a month after my arrival on the island, I went to visit him in Tossi because of rumors that "a ritual" was being performed that day. The ritual, at which we arrived too late to hear the full invocations, turned out to be the "roasting of the bitter chicken" (tunu manu padu ), which began the four-month ritual silence of the bitter months. On that day, the Rato Nale had put in motion the naming and counting of months: hence, the moon during which the ceremony occurred bore the name Wulla Padu; the following one, which began November 19, was called Wulla Habu; on December 19 came Wulla Mangata; on January 17, Nale Kiyo; and February 16 signaled the first appearance of the Wulla Nale Bokolo. By consulting an astronomical almanac,[5] one can reconstruct the lunar months


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as they were named in the traditional system and realize why the Rato Nale had told government officials he was "not yet ready" to announce the date of the pasola at the beginning of February. The new moon, which made its first appearance on February 16, did not become full until March 1, and it reached its zenith on March 3; the sea worms swarmed seven nights after that moment, on March 10, 1980. The swarming of the nale worms is a particularly appropriate event for this intercalation, because it is pegged both to a lunar phase (the seventh night after a full moon) and a solar season (the height of the rainy season). In contrast, the padu sacrifices do not occur at any specified phase of the moon but are determined purely by seasonal markers—and their impact on the "measuring of the year" can be understood only retroactively by checking the lunar phase in which the sacrifice occurs so the significance of naming the new moon for the yearly calendar will be appreciated.

The functioning of the traditional calendar and its mode of intercalation can be further checked by reconstructing the rest of the lunar months for the period 1979-88 (table 9). We know that the sea worms swarmed for the nale festivities and pasola performances on February 27, 1981 (because I saw them), and on February 15, 1982 (because I asked an informant to send me a letter to confirm the date). We also know that on two recent occasions—in 1984 and again in 1988—the pasola was held in February, but the worms did not put in an appearance until March (March 6, 1984, and March 10, 1988). Performing the rituals without the sea worms is considered inauspicious, since the timing and abundance of the sea worm swarming is said to indicate the timing and abundance of the harvest. "If there are many sea worms, then the year [ndoyo ] will be a good one," people say, using the term ndoyo in its original Austronesian sense (Nilsson 1920, 96) to mean "season" or "agricultural produce."

The blame for mounting these rites at an inauspicious time does not belong to the Rato Nale, for my records of the padu ceremonies indicate that they were held at the correct time to keep the named moons in sync with the seasons. Rather, the government officials did not heed the priest's predictions but insisted on holding the nale festivities "in February" adhering to the Roman calendar. In 1980, namely, the padu sacrifices—which I attended were held on November 5, at the end of a lunar month (October 9-November 8) that was designated Wulla Padu Kodi. This naming of the month could have been determined in either of two ways: (1) the Rato Nale could have observed seasonal indicators and decided that


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Table 9. A Speculative Model for Sea Worm Intercalation

Known Dates for the Jousting (Pasola) and Sea Worm Swarming (Nale)

Speculative Dates Based on Published Lunar Calendars

1980

pasola

Feb. 12

   
 

hale

Mar. 10

   

1981

pasola

Feb. 27

   
 

nale

Feb. 27

   

1982

pasola

Feb. 15

   
 

hale

Feb. 15

   

1983

   

pasola

Feb. 7

     

hale

Feb. 7

1984

pasola

Feb. 9

   
 

hale

Mar. 6

   

1985

   

pasola

Feb. 23

     

hale

Feb. 23

1986

   

pasola

Feb. 12

     

hale

Feb. 12

1987

   

pasola

Feb. 6

     

nale

Feb. 6

1988

pasola

Feb. 13

   
 

hale

Mar. 10

   

Source: For the speculative dates I consulted theAstronomical Almanac, 1980-88 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office); for the period before 1980 it is called theAmerican Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac.

If the speculative dates are correct, then after three years a "lag" between the lunar and the solar cycles causes the sea worm swarming to fall in March instead of February. In order to keep his predictions accurate, the Rato Nale would have had to add an intercalary month at padu in 1979, 1983, and 1987. The dates that 1 recorded for the padu ceremony in 1979 seem to indicate that he did so, but official pressures to hold the ceremony in February defeated these efforts and have made the intercalation a retrospective "correcting" instead of a use of traditional methods of timekeeping. If the proper relation between padu and nale were observed, it seems that the swarming could be kept in sync with the Kodi months, but not with the government ones.

the bitter months must come "later" in that particular year, or (2) the Rato Nale could have used the timing of the sea worm swarming in 1980 to determine the moon names retrospectively . Since the worms swarmed on March 10, he would consider the moon from February 16 to March 15 as Wulla Nale Bokolo and simply count out eight more moons until the proper time for Wulla Padu.

Either method would have allowed him to predict the next swarming, which occurred in the moon that ran from February 4 to March 5—coming, on schedule, seven nights after the full moon "sat" on February


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20. My questions about what method he used to determine this chronology elicited an ambivalent response:

My grandmother Mbiri Nale told me to watch the signs of the year [tanda ndoyo ]. She repeated these verses about the coming of the bitter months:

When the dust of the dry season
     swirls

Ba na kambukongo a mara tana

When patches appear in dry grass

Ba na kolokongo a rumba rara

The chickens must be readied for

Tanaka ena a manu

Closing off the cycle of the dry season

Na tondanya la handomo mara tana

Returning to the cycle of the sea
     worms

Na hambalingo na hawungo wulla
     nale

For our mother of the sea worms

Tanaka inya nono nale

Who floated off like fibers in the tides

Na lingo na pa tenango kandiyako

For our father of the ipu fish

Tanaka bapa ipu mbaha

Who vanished like the coconut leaves

Na lingo naikya pa ledengo kalama

Bringing you back from the floods

A konggolo ghu waingo loko la

Returning from the swarming waves

A waliku ghu mbanu nale la

The signs she said to watch for were the winds of the end of the dry season, which blow the dust in little circles, the closing of dedap blossoms [nduka katota , also the name of the moon just before Padu Lamboya], and the absence of small fish [teppe, ighya katapa ] in the ocean. These all show that the rains will not be long in coming.

The interview that I conducted in 1980 did not go further than this, because at the time I did not realize how important the timing of the padu sacrifices was to the whole calendar. When I returned to Kodi in 1988, however, and once again saw the pasola performed in the absence of the sea worms, I realized that a more complex calculation was necessary to keep the Kodi moons in accord with the solar year, and nale with pasola . I asked if the task of the Rato Nale involved not only counting the moons but also watching the stars, and in particular if he paid attention to the Pleiades. He responded: "There are some stars that are called the signs of the year [tanda ndoyo ]. They are seven stars [mandune pitu ] that appear low in the horizon at dusk at the end of the dry season. This is a sign that we should begin planting soon [tanda tondo ] because the rains will be here soon. But the bitter sacrifice [padu ] must be performed before these stars are visible, so the stars do not tell us how to count the moons." On Sumba, the Pleiades are usually not seen until late November, when they rise just


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after sunset. Ra Holo's response here seems to admit to some use of astronomical observation, but he distinguishes between his own task—which is a specialized ritual duty, that of naming the moons in order to predict the arrival of the sea worms—and the more generalized popular knowledge of the wet and dry seasons.

It might appear, from the speculative model I have presented, that the gaps in the sea worm swarming form an almost exact analogue to the Western calendrical "leap year" and that, therefore, it would be possible to achieve the intercalation simply by inserting an additional month every fourth year. This may in fact have been attempted (as it was in Western history), but such a solution would approximate the relation between solar and lunar years only inexactly. If three months were inserted over the course of eight years (as the dates I have given suggest should be done), the remainder after the solar year (365.24 days) was divided by the lunar synodic month (29.53 days) would be approximately 3/8, or .368. If four months were intercalated over the course of eleven years, the remainder would be about 4/11, or .3636 (Aveni 1989, 113). However, any simple mechanical rule would allow for some slippage, and thus probably for some retrospective correction. In fact, the system only works at all because it is determined to be vague and open to social interpretation (Leach 1954a, 120).


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